Get used to lots of zeros
Those visiting Indonesia and first time expats often comment on the vast exchange difference between the native currency – ‘Rupiah’ and their home countries currency. As of the time of writing (January 2017), 1 British pound is equivalent to over 16,000 rupiahs.
Apart from feeling like a millionaire briefly whilst you visit the ATM, expats and travelers are expected to deal with a lot of zeros which can sometimes be a bit overwhelming for those not used to reading such a large number on their bill.
Hunt around for the best deals
It may be confusing at first, but pricing in Indonesia is driven less by economics and more by social perception, so you are likely to get a bit confused when spending different amounts for the same thing.
Let’s say you buy a nasi goreng that costs 20,000 rupiahs but there’s another stall down the street selling the same dish for only 12,000. Pricing can be a bit random and you may be caught out a few times overspending (remember to count all those zeros more than once), but you are likely to get the hang of scoping out the cheapest street food, transport, and essentials after a while.
Invest in a good mosquito net
If you’ve ever visited or lived in a tropical country, then you’ll know that insects live in abundance, and Indonesia is no exception. The country has one of the world’s richest and most diverse collections of animals, plants, and insects – of which mosquitoes are the most annoying. Therefore, Investing in a decent mosquito net is a requisite for life in Indonesia, to keep both the mosquitoes and any other many-legged crawly things out of your bed.
You may also be worrying about malarial infections and that’s perfectly reasonable. Just be aware that the chances of contracting malaria are not that high – especially if you live in the city, like Jakarta or Bali. Malarial mosquitoes are usually located in the Eastern areas of the country. Dengue fever and chikungunya, both mosquito borne diseases are prevalent however in Bali and you need to take precaution in covering up.
Make an effort to learn the language/culture
Like any expat in any foreign country, learning or at least attempting to speak their language while you reside in that country is considered a sign of respect to their language and tradition. However, with over 17,000 islands and over 300 native languages, there can be a lot of different dialects and languages to consider!
The main languages are Javanese and Sudanese, although Bahasa Indonesia is considered the official language of the country. A lot of Indonesians will speak to you in a form of ‘Pidgin’ English – a simplified form of communication between people who have limited grasps of each other’s native tongue.
Expect to pay out the nose for alcohol
If there’s one thing Western expats notice when they arrive in Bali is the price of alcoholic beverages. Despite the relatively low cost of living in general, wine and spirits command much higher prices – due in part to the steep taxes imposed on imported liquor (plus the fact that Indonesia is the largest Muslim-majority population in the world may play some part in it).
Thankfully you can pick up local beer rather cheap – around Rp 15,000 (£0.91), though if you prefer a bit of the grape then an imported bottle of wine can set you back over Rp 300,000 (£18.25).
With a 90% import tariff on wine and a staggering 150% tariff on spirits, it’s no surprise that the tipple is so expensive (and like the prohibition days of the USA, the black-market alcohol trade in Indonesia is booming).
Try the cobra blood shots
It may be the lack of alcohol talking to you but after a few weeks of tee-totality, those cobra blood cocktails sold on the street are starting to look increasingly enticing.
Boasting various health benefits including healthier skin and increased sexual stamina, drinking cobra blood is quite popular. The blood is often mixed with arak (local liquor) and served alongside cobra meat satay.
If you’re in the area, why not check out Jakarta’s King Cobra restaurant – where you can eat and drink all kinds of snake (including the king cobra which would set you back roughly Rp 3,338,500 (£200).
Adjust to the Pace of Indonesian life
Indonesia is an island nation and with island life comes a slower pace and a gentler way of living (certainly truer the more rural you go). People aren’t rushing to get things done like they do in the West and the locals are happy with their pace of life. It might take a bit of time to get used to some of the differences, the cultural oddities, and the high alcohol prices, but overall, you’ll be glad you took the time to adjust.
About the author:
This post was written by Alex, who has spent time exploring the many wonders of Asia – including Indonesia, Thailand, and Cambodia. Alex works for Currency UK, who offer foreign exchange services to businesses, individuals, and expats worldwide.
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