With the world’s 4th largest population, at around 275 million and rising, Indonesia offers a ton of promise for jobs of all levels into the mid-2000s. It may be hot and still developing, but it’s an attractive destination for many expats, from Asian countries such as Korea and China, and from Western countries, too.
Overview of the expat job market in Indonesia
If you’re an expat planning to find a job in Indonesia, Jakarta is the natural start. It’s the hub of finance and activity for the country, with some 11 million residents, but if you factor in the whole metro area (Jabodetabek), it’s many more.
There are slums and rough parts, areas to steer clear from, but if you’re living in the higher-level expat world, you’ll find top-end accommodations, malls, and you don’t need to be in harm’s way other than dealing with the traffic.
The service and tourism sectors are heavy employers, but they don’t concern a director or top-level manager unless they’re overseeing such business.
Among both the major local companies and the MNCs, financial positions employ the most expats because such positions are almost always present in every company. They include:
- Finance Manager
- Financial Controller
- Commercial Manager
- Head of Financial
- Financial Expert
- Head of Accounting
- Accounting Expert
According to the Ministry of Manpower (in Bahasa), from the total of 90,036 expats in Indonesia, 41,460 (46%) of them are occupying managerial and consulting positions related to finance and sales.
You’ll also find ample MNCs, like Toyota, Exxon Mobil, and Maybank. So, while finance is a natural entry point for many expats, you’ll find the other top-level roles as well. Just keep in mind that, unlike countries such as Singapore, Indonesia does present some higher hurdles. So, even if you’re a more skilled professional, something like English teaching may help you find your way in.
Another road in is through NGOs, aid agencies, and the United Nations, which all maintain strong presences in this growing and still quite rural or semi-rural economy.
Ways to find a job
As a professional, and especially these days, it’s more likely you’ll be job hunting and arranging things before you go.
General job-hunting websites
There are several well-known job hunting sites:
And really…LinkedIn. The ubiquitous LinkedIn may be as good a place as any. And, being LinkedIn, you can also get the info who’s doing the hiring and you can contact current workers in target companies. Do so; it’s always invaluable.
Find out what jobs and companies that match your skills. And be sure to optimize and localize your CV/resume. You’ll need to prove you can do the work a local cannot do.
There are plenty of agencies that recruit expatriates, including:
Actually, there are many more. Ask around, check their site and then check out their recruiters’ profiles on LinkedIn. Often they may be outsourcing to regional offices in common Asian hubs like Singapore or India. Keep in mind that those recruiters have probably never set foot in the country and they are out to make commissions.
They usually don’t have your personal interests in mind, and many are young and inexperienced themselves. They just want to place you and get their commissions.
That is not at all to say you should avoid them. They can help you get a foot in. But do the research yourself and don’t rely on what they tell you.
Ways of networking
There are active only forums for expats in Indonesia, as the country has long attracted a considerable number of NGO and UN workers. It’s an attractive and exotic place for them, with plenty of work to do.
Bali is also Indonesia, even with its distinct characteristics, so that obviously also factors into the high amount of expat info on the country.
Use these forums to gain info, especially on regulations, which can be strict in Indonesia. You can also ask about the culture and characteristics of the country. Some recommendations are:
A forum that gives information to expatriates. This forum contains news about regulations and expatriate’s life.
This website contains information on events and open forums for expatriates in Jakarta:
A site that gives information for expats who are planning to find a job in Indonesia. There’s a lot of information about expats’ communities and events in Indonesia.
Work visas and other conditions in Indonesia
To live and work in Indonesia, a work permit and visa are needed.
These will depend on the requirements of the position you’re applying for. Generally, for every expats there are semi-residency visas in Indonesia called VITAS, ITAS, and KITAS. These are the entryways to visas.
You need a sponsor in Indonesia to help you on your behalf at the immigration office.
- VITAS (visa izin tinggal terbatas), is a temporary visa. You’ll get this from the Indonesian Embassy/Consulate before you go to Indonesia.
- ITAS (izin tinggal terbatas), is a temporary stay permit. This is stamped yearly to show you have temporary residence status.
- KITAS is a card that serves as a temporary stay permit. You can only get this after the immigration department gives you an ITAS. It’s like an ID card that shows your ITAS immigration status.
You can be automatically sponsored by the company that hired you. The company will take care of your work permit. If you already have a VITAS, apply for a KITAS (which is valid for 5 years). It costs around US$60–170 for a 2-year permit (Ministry of Foreign Affairs). Many firms can assist with the process, but for an exec, your company should be taking care of this and, hopefully, doing what it can to make your entry (and exit) as smooth as possible.
The same goes for visas, of which the main types are a business visa, though this is only valid for 60 days, such as for short-term projects in which you may come in, do work, and leave. Your company will need an IMTA to hire and sponsor you as an employee.
You’ll find lots more resources on the ins and outs of Indonesian visas here.
According to Indonesia Expat, the highest-paying jobs in Indonesia for expats are in the service industry, which includes finance, corporate consulting, and banking.
Monthly salaries in this industry range from $1,500 (Mid-Level Manager and Consultant) to $20,000 (Financial Controller, Finance Director or Chief Financial Officer).
For an English teacher or International Organization worker, earnings are more along the lines of $650–1,050/month. That’s a lot more than most locals and will still let you live a reasonably comfortable life, if not luxurious.
Regulations in Indonesia are not completely friendly for expatriates. Indonesian governmental policy doesn’t want companies in Indonesia hiring expats for work that can be done by Indonesians.
Naturally, it’s a stance that’s the same most anywhere in the world. Indonesia is not an “immigrant” country per se, and it has high literacy and, at the higher-income levels at least, a well-educated and capable, though young, population.
This can pose problems for younger people, except as English teachers or NGO workers, and unless they have an external placement by a company. The more likely path for my clients, though, is through a multinational. They need your expertise and smooth the way in for you.
The New York Times states that since 2018, an expatriate who has been or will be employed in Indonesia must take an Indonesian language course (at least 6 months).
This will add to your agenda in the first 6 months of working in Indonesia. The good thing is that you’ll be quite familiar and easy to socialize with the community so that you can feel at home working in Indonesia. The challenge of course is the study itself.
But really, this is quite a wonderful policy. If you’re given the time to study and if your company or someone else is footing the bill, it’s a valuable opportunity for you to increase your interaction with, and enjoyment of, your new home.
Weather and food
The weather in Indonesia can be rough on people from northern climates.
Prepare yourself for cool (relatively speaking) mornings and hot afternoons. Mugginess and humidity are the norms. You will sweat.
Indonesian food also tends to be spicy. It may not be the brutal spice you get in Thailand or Latin America, but it can do damage to a sensitive and untrained Western stomach. Find some local Indonesian restaurants, go there, and ask them to make it at a normal level of spice for an Indonesian.
You will, however, find plenty of Western food chains as well. If you go full expat and stick in the expat bubble, you can give your stomach a break.
Job interview process
Job recruitment in Indonesia usually contains written and oral tests.
After an online written test, the company will invite you for an interview. The verbal interview process will not be unfamiliar if you’re working with a multinational. And you may well be speaking with regional directors and managers who aren’t even in the country.
Some companies prefer to outsource at least the initial stages to agencies. But the same applies.
If you’re going to Indonesia, you’ll still have to put your suit on even if it’s in the 30s Celsius/90s Fahrenheit. Don’t overdo it with perfume or stinky deodorant. A hand towel for wiping perspiration will help.
Whether online or in-person, prepare formal attire. For men, that’s a white shirt, conservative tie, and a dark suit. For women, a business blouse/top and be sure your skirt covers your knees and isn’t too tight to reveal your curves.
Indonesia apart from Bali is a strongly Muslim country, and even though it’s added a Southeast Asia style to that and is not as strict as in, say, many Arab countries, women are expected to tone down their appearances.
Be on time
Although Indonesians are known for their laid-back culture, don’t try to adopt this custom. You’re still in the out-group, and it won’t make a good impression.
Be sure to arrive early for your interview so that your interviewer is not kept waiting. In Indonesia, that also means allowing plenty of time for traffic.
Shake hands with the interviewer (if hygiene rules permit), and allow them to take the lead. Show respect by calling them Mr. or Ms. (or Dr.).
Speak softly and clearly, as speaking loudly is often considered impolite. As in Malaysia, Singapore, Japan, most places in Asia, being composed and not being disagreeable shows your maturity and respect.
The big Western greeting, broad smile, and show of assertiveness will not reflect well on you here. Be patient; you’ll get your chance to show your worth.
What to ask your potential employer in Indonesia
Here are five questions you may want to ask your interviewer:
What do I have to achieve in this role?
Asking this question shows your desire to succeed and help the company.
You show your positivity and readiness to face challenges. The person interviewing you is likely to be your boss. This shows that, even if you’re high-ranking, you’re aware that there are expectations and you have to work hard.
Please tell me more about the company’s structure and chain of command.
Asking this shows your desire to get to know the individuals at the company in addition to the systems in place.
Seniority and hierarchy are valued. Maybe not to Japanese, Chinese, and Korean levels, but the young folks don’t come in and start skyrocketing based on their individual performance, like in the U.S. This question shows your desire to learn what’s in place and to understand and adapt to it.
Where is the company aiming to be in 5 years?
Of course, you want some job security and you want to be part of a growing team. This also shows you’re interested in where the company is heading, and not just where you are heading. You can also ask this question about the specific office and/or department you’re hoping to work in.
What is this company culture like?
Even if you’ve done some research on corporate culture, first-hand experience is key. This isn’t an area where recruiters will be of much help. Use the question when you’re talking to a potential boss or colleague.
What will my coworkers expect of me?
As you’re likely going to be in the minority as an expatriate, get an idea of what they want from you. If they expect you to be a savior with all the answers, consider if you’re really ready to take on that level of expectation.
Generally, it’s good to know how you’ll be welcomed onto the team, and how you can go about becoming part of the in-group. This question helps you get there.
Conclusion on finding jobs for expats in Indonesia
Working in Indonesia will most likely be an amazing and rewarding experience, filled with challenges, nuance, and some new approaches to working.
Get your CV and/or resume in order. As well as your LinkedIn page. I can apply my CPRW training and on-the-ground lived experience in Asia to help you with this. Read about IntResume services here.
You have to prepare yourself mentally for a long bureaucratic process. In this regard, check intensively about how much assistance the company provides. Especially if you’re among their first foreign hires, make sure they have the HR capacity to smooth your way in.
Then start studying Bahasa!