We’ve all seen them – those newly arrived expats – fresh off the boat (or most likely the plane)! The overwhelming sensory flood newcomers feel during their first weeks in Indonesia is topped off by the challenge of the enormous task ahead of them – getting settled into their new lives in Indonesia.
Witness the newly arrived expat wife stressed out due to the overwhelming demands put upon her by the family to get their home and personal lives in smooth running order as soon as possible. Witness the expat businessman, who, after his days of initial orientation, begins to face the often subtle challenges of learning to work within a totally different cultural context. Witness the expat kids, who enter an international school environment, often for the first time, and try to find their niche amongst the widely diversified student body.
What do all expat family members have in common? The need to Hit the Ground Running! Here’s a list of 11 things newly arrived expat families can do, either during a familiarization trip (also known as a ‘look-see’) to Jakarta prior to the move, or during the first weeks in Jakarta. Don’t stay at home bemoaning the foreign-ness of it all – get out there and dive into the challenge!
A familiarization trip provides expats intending to reside in Indonesia the opportunity to explore alternatives for housing and schooling as well as to better acquaint themselves with the living conditions, lifestyle and the availability of local services and goods. With the knowledge gained future residents can return home and be better prepared to plan the move before they actually start packing.
Get a crash course orientation to Jakarta so that you can explore various neighborhoods and housing options. Sit down with a real estate agent and look at a big fold-out map of Jakarta noting the location of the working spouse’s office, the school/s your children are most likely to attend, and the neighborhoods with good proximity to these as well as recreation, shopping and community events venues.
Based on your proximity criteria, drive through neighborhoods that you may be interested in living in as well as those generally favored by expats to get a feel for the surroundings. View a few houses in your preferred neighborhoods so you can see what is available within your budget.
You will be faced with the constant headache of heavy traffic during your stay in Jakarta. Take a test drive to see how long it takes to travel from prospective neighborhoods to the office, school/s and leisure activity venues. Test the commute during peak rush hours in the morning and evening. Your family members will be making these journeys daily, so check traffic patterns out carefully before deciding which neighborhood to live in.
The decision where to live in Jakarta will be influenced by several factors:
Affordability – Your company will provide you with a budget for housing. The budget will quickly narrow down the standard of rental property and location. In the past, most property owners require lump sum rental payments of one to three years in advance. It is currently commonplace that landlords are asking a minimum of 2 years contracts for houses and 1 year for apartments. Ensure that your company is prepared to pay your rent up front, if housing is a part of your compensation package.Rental accommodation can be fully or partially furnished or unfurnished. Ask your company if there is an allowance for purchasing furniture and household necessities. This will help you decide what to ship. If you like a particular house but it lacks appliances, you might be able to negotiate with the landlord to provide these items. Be specific about what brands are acceptable to you as some landlords may buy inferior products just to fulfill the requirement of providing the appliance.
Travel time from home to the office and schools – You will be faced with traffic jams in large cities in Indonesia. Evaluate how long it would take to travel from your prospective housing to the office, schools and leisure activities. Before renting a house or apartment, test the commute during peak rush hours in the morning and evening. You and your children will be making these journeys throughout your stay, so check this out carefully.
Proximity to recreation, social or sporting facilities – List activities that your family would most probably participate in. For example, sporting activities, music lessons or club activities. Ask your real estate agent to show you where prominent expat activity and sports centers are. You may chose to be active in expatriate community associations, so it would be worthwhile to visit these associations and evaluate what activities are available. Supermarkets and shopping malls are found throughout Jakarta. It may also be useful to measure travel time to these facilities as well.
There are numerous international schools in Jakarta and one each in most other major cities – enough choice for most parents! Check to see that there is space available for your child. Contact the schools for an appointment prior to your arrival so that the enrollment staff can be prepared for your visit during your look-see trip. Bring along your children’s curriculum (current and future) and report cards so that you may be able to discuss appropriate grade placement with school staff. Ask about school bus services and commute times to the various residential areas you are considering living in as this will affect your choice of housing.
Most international schools will require a formal application which will involve an application fee. The main expenses are the tuition fees and the school development bond. These expenses are high; negotiate with your sponsoring company so they will fully cover these costs. Currently many of the international schools are full and have a waiting list for many grades. It is important to apply as soon as you have confirmed your relocation to ensure your child will be able to attend the school of your choice.
Business Associations, Community organizations and sports organizations are at the core of the expat lifestyle. Their activities fill up our free time and their social causes fill our hearts. Visit the offices of organizations you may be interested in joining to begin learning about community activities. Attend the monthly meeting, special event or newcomers functions sponsored by these and other organizations, if they fit into your schedule; newcomers are always welcome. Information on upcoming community events can be found in the announcements section of the Jakarta Post classifieds.
Visit several malls to familiarize yourself with what can and cannot be obtained in Indonesia. Visit a Hero supermarket (located in most major malls), as well as the Sogo Food Hall, Ranch Market or Kem Chicks to see what foodstuffs are readily available and what they cost. Then you’ll have a better idea of what items, if any, you may want to stock up on in your home country and send in your shipment. If you’ve got the time, visit some of the furniture stores to see what is available as it may influence what furniture you decide to bring from home.
Visit major medical service providers to determine what medical services are available. Ask specific questions of clinic specialists if you have a particular medical condition that will need to be treated during your stay in Indonesia. Visit International SOS Tel. 750-5980.
Confirm that any medication you or your family members require can be easily obtained in Indonesia. Bring the generic names from home. You may want to check at an apotik (pharmacy), or consult the staff at International SOS, and ask if they have the medication in stock, or can get it. If there is confusion about the names (medications may be sold under different brand names in Indonesia) you may ask to see the pharmacist’s IIMS book; this book lists (in English) all drugs available with generic, brand and manufacturer’s information. A word of caution: the filler in a generic drug may be different than the brand name drug therefore it is best to consult a doctor prior to switching to a generic to ensure there should not be any unwanted reactions or side effects.
Buy a Bahasa Indonesia book and language tape at a bookstore (try Periplus, Books and Beyond or Kinokunia bookstores in Plaza Indonesia) to start familiarizing yourself with the sound of the national language. Learning Bahasa Indonesia will greatly ease communications during your stay.
Meet with your employer to determine what help they can give you in setting up your new household in Indonesia. Don’t assume that the company staff are there full time to help you – find out for sure how much hands-on support you’ll have from the company.
For example, will the office provide a temporary car and driver for the first month until you get one of your own? Having a car and a driver that knows his way around town will certainly help you Hit the Ground Running! If not, use a Silver Bird Executive Taxi (Tel. 794-1234 or 798-1234) on a daily basis as their drivers are very familiar with the destinations around town favored by expats. Request a driver who speaks English.
If you are concerned about your pet’s care and health during your stay in Indonesia, visit a full-service pet store and talk to the professionals about how best to transport your pet to Indonesia and any special considerations to ensure your pet’s health during your stay. You may want to discuss with your employer not only the importing of a pet but also the exporting upon completion of your posting, as this can turn out to be quite costly. Because of the presence of rabies in Indonesia exporting an animal to other countries can require long quarantine times and extensive vaccinations.
Socialize with other expats you meet and ask about their experiences. Newcomers often feel shy about asking questions. Don’t! The only stupid question you will ever have is the one you don’t ask! Of course you will have a multitude of questions – you are moving across the world into a totally foreign culture, which functions 100% different than anything you’ve experienced before in your life. Questions are okay.
Make it a point to ask every expat you meet at least two questions. Even ask the same questions – and see what different answers you get. Every expat’s experience is different and what may work for one person may not work for another.