Moving to Jakarta: 10 Things I Should Have Packed

After I found out I was moving to Jakarta, I only had three weeks to fly “home” to California, pack my life into two suitcases, and get to Indonesia’s capital city.  I didn’t have time to prepare or do the proper research about what to bring.  I didn’t do much shopping back in the US because I figured most everything I needed would be way cheaper in Indonesia.  Well, after living in Jakarta for the past six weeks, I’ve learned that the most random things are either super hard to find or ridiculously overpriced.  So, for anyone who’s planning on moving to Jakarta, here are a few things you should consider packing:

1) Butter knives – Utensils were one of the first things Aaron and I set out to buy when we moved into our apartment.  So we went to our local department store and grabbed a pack of forks and spoons.  But as we looked around and didn’t see any butter knives.  Figuring they were just sold out, we stopped by another store in the mall.  Once again there were plenty of forks and spoons, but no knives.  I’ve been here for six weeks and butter knives are still eluding me.  To be fair, I did find knives at one store.  But for $6 a pop, I just couldn’t bring myself to buy them.

Do you see any knives in this picture? Me neither…

2) Shower curtain rod – While I really like our apartment, the bathroom is the one thing I don’t particularly love.  It feels like a sad, damp, windowless cell.  The shower is tiny and whenever I bathe the entire bathroom floor gets flooded.  Why, you ask?  Well, because I still cannot find a shower curtain rod.   It took me two weeks to finally locate a shower curtain (at Ace Hardware of all places).  But I have still had no luck finding an actual rod to hang the curtain on!

3) Dishware – This is not something I even considered bringing when I moved to Jakarta.  But after browsing through expat forums I found a lot of people who regretted not bringing their own dishes.  Unlike the US, Indonesia doesn’t have any regulations when it comes to what they put in these types of products.  Everything from plates to cups can have lead in them which makes me slightly uncomfortable.  Not to mention, dishware is surprisingly expensive here – think $8-$12 for a really tacky porcelain plate.  I could buy super cute stuff at Cost Plus back in the US for less money.

4) Top sheet & duvet cover – When we moved into our apartment, the bedding was provided.  But when I climbed into bed that first night I realized the landlord hadn’t included a top sheet.  I went to the store a few days later and rummaged through the bedding section and found no sign of a sheet.  I’ve been to so many stores over the past month and nothing.  I guess they don’t do the whole top sheet thing here.  In Indonesia, a fitted sheet and a comforter is the norm.  So if you’re moving to Jakarta make sure to pack a couple sets of sheets.  Bringing along a duvet to cover your comforter is also a good idea, as they are really expensive here.

5) Bottle of wine – I spent two months backpacking around Indonesia earlier this year, so I was aware that alcohol is not only hard to come by in this predominantly-Muslim country, but it’s insanely expensive.  After reading this blogger’s list of things to bring to Jakarta I decided to bring a bottle of tequila and a bottle of bourbon to Jakarta, as these are pretty tough to find here.  However, I’m now kicking myself for not smuggling a nice bottle of wine into the country.  My boyfriend’s brother is a winemaker and I’m always spoiled with super nice wines when I’m back home in California.  It’s kind of a bummer that even the most horrid of wines cost over 400,000 rupiah ($40 USD) in Jakarta.

The Ojai Vineyard wine
Ah, I’m missing all of those wine tastings at The Ojai Vineyard tasting room!

6) Clothes – When I decided to take off and travel the world last year I gave away almost all of my clothing.  And, yes, this is something I deeply regretted as I was packing to move to Jakarta.  I pretty much only had my backpacking clothes.  Regardless, I decided not to do my shopping back in the US because I figured clothes would be ten times cheaper in Jakarta.  This is not the case.  It’s totally possible to find decent deals on clothes in Indonesia, but a lot of times items are actually more expensive than in the US.  Another factor I didn’t take into consideration is that Indonesian women are tiny.  I’m not a big person, at all.  But I’m also not a size zero.  And it’s actually a little tough to find cute things in my size.  (For a more detailed account on the struggle of finding clothes in Jakarta, read this post.)

7) Pots & pans – Again, it didn’t even cross my mind to pack my own pots and pans (they are currently living a lonely existence in mom’s garage in San Diego).  In hindsight, I should have just brought them.  When I first got here, I purchased two pans for about $15-$20 each.  It doesn’t seem like a bad deal but, as I’m quickly learning, quality is hard to come by in Indonesia.  Even if you do pay top dollar for a product there’s no guarantee that it won’t break immediately.  The handles on both pans are so loose that they’re becoming dangerous to use.  They’re only six weeks old and need to be replaced.  And I have a feeling that’s going to be a recurring issue.

8) Kraft Mac & Cheese – Okay, I did actually bring one box with me.  But, like any true-blooded American, I ate it a long time ago.  And, sadly, I have yet to find a box of my beautiful Kraft Mac & Cheese!  I almost wept with joy when I stumbled across two types of mac and cheese at the grocery store last weekend.  While I haven’t sampled them yet, I have to be realistic about my expectations.  And with a name like MagicTime, it probably won’t hold a candle to Kraft.  No offense.

mac and cheese
Seriously, MagicAroni & Cheese? It can’t be good, can it?

9) Towels – I feel like I’m going on and on about how overpriced household items are here.  But it’s true.  If you’re moving to Indonesia, you’ll find that a lot of things are overpriced and of poor value.  And towels are no exception.  The best deal I found on a bath towel was $9 – but these were discounted.  They typically cost around $12-$18 for a single towel and the quality is awful.  If possible, I highly suggest packing your own.

10) Toiletries – If you’re particular about face wash, lotions, makeup, or any other toiletry, make sure to bring extra of everything.  It’s pretty tough to find all the western products that I’m used to.  I’ve been lucky enough to stumble across of few of my go-to’s but I’ve found that these items are really expensive and not worth the cost.  For example, I love Cetaphil facewash.  While it is available in a lot of drugstores in Jakarta, it costs three times what I pay back home.  Luckily I brought three huge bottles along with me but I’m already ruing the day I run out!

I’m sure I’ll be adding to this list as time goes on.  Also, for anyone who is planning on moving to Jakarta, I found the blogs Stumble Abroad and The Diplomatic Wife to be great resources.

UPDATE: The Diplomatic Wife wrote an amazing post dedicated to shopping for all of these hard-to-find items in Jakarta.  For anyone who’s planning on moving to Jakarta – or is new to the city, like me – be sure to check it out here.  

What would be the top 3 things you would pack if you were moving to Jakarta (or anywhere for that matter)?

About Justine

Justine Lopez is a California native who always seems to take the unconventional route in life. She also suffers from a serious case of wanderlust. In 2013, she set out on a yearlong round-the-world journey and never looked back. Since then she's lived the expat life in both Jakarta and Phnom Penh. She's now living and working as a freelance writer in Beijing. As she meanders her way through Asia she's always seeking out great vegetarian food, budget travel deals and amazing new travel destinations.

27 thoughts on “Moving to Jakarta: 10 Things I Should Have Packed

  1. When I’ve moved abroad, I’ve tended to bring contact lenses (well, as many as I can afford to purchase), contact lens solution and clothes.

    It’s hard to think of only three items but actually, I didn’t bring any contact lens solution with me when I moved to the UK. Mainly because my suitcase was already unbelieved packed. Fortunately, I’ve found relatively inexpensive contact lens solution here in this country. I really haven’t need to buy much clothes since I’ve been here – mainly running equipment. But I’ve found places where I can buy clothes inexpensively.
    Rashaad recently posted…The Great North Run

    1. Since I was so rushed during my move I didn’t really do the best packing job. But bringing extras of all the toiletries that I use daily was the one thing I did do. Similar to you with your contact lens supplies, I made sure to bring tons of face wash, sunscreen, deodorant, etc., especially the brands I knew I wouldn’t be able to find here. Although I am currently wishing I would have brought even more of everything…oh well!

  2. Hi Justine! I was wondering how much luggage/boxes you brought with you on your move, and if you could share approx. what it cost you for shipping. (Did you ship this stuff or bring with you when you flew over as excess luggage?) I will be taking a year off for work next year and plan to travel and freelance (photography/writing) as I go….but I am also open to big change (I think!!) so we’ll see. My intro story to my upcoming year off is found on my very 1st post at:

    I enjoy following you!

    1. Hi Tawna! That’s so exciting that you’re embarking on such a long journey. What a great opportunity! When I moved I only brought my backpacking backpack and a large duffel bag. But my situation is a bit weird because before I moved here I was backpacking for a year. And before that I pretty much sold everything I own. So I honestly didn’t have much to bring. I didn’t ship anything. I just made sure than when I purchased my plane tickets there were no extra fees for my baggage. So I didn’t actually pay anything. I just left the longest comment on your blog about packing advice. As you can tell I LOVE talking about this stuff so if you ever want any advice or anything feel free to shoot me an email 🙂

  3. Haha, this post is hilarious, and I totally commiserate. It is crazy the stuff you take for granted, coming from North America. Things are slowly changing here in Seoul, but when we first moved here, we had trouble finding a lot of the same things. Sheets were really hard, we have butter knives, but forks are sure hard to find, and good deodorant. Um, kinda impossible.

    I wanted to ask though, do they have any Korean skin care brands down there? They are pretty amazing, and maybe they’d be cheaper than North American brands? I use innisfree and Missha, and I find them to be super high quality for a reasonable price…
    Shelley recently posted…The Breakdown: Stockholm

    1. Ha, I’m glad you see the humor in it Shelley! It is so funny how hard it is to find the most random things. Like, what is up with the no butter knife thing in Indonesia? And the fact that you can’t find forks in Seoul is too funny. When I was traveling around SE Asia I realized that some countries don’t do the sheet thing. But it totally slipped my mind as I was packing to come here. Plus, I figured I would be able to find them somewhere. Ugh, I just ran out of one of my two sticks of deodorant that I brought with me. I should have brought more!

      About the Korean skin care thing, I’ve noticed that in my neighborhood there are a bunch Korean-oriented businesses, including a salon. We must have a large Korean population here, so I will definitely check it out! Thanks for the tip!!

  4. I have to admit, I was really surprised by some of the things on this list (who would have guessed butter knives would be such a luxurious commodity?), but it just goes to show how traveling runs roughshod over the status quo and makes us question what we take for granted.

    I wonder if maybe there are other places you could be shopping for your household goods? I can’t imagine that most Indonesians could afford the inflated prices you have been encountering, which makes me wonder where they must be shopping? Have you been checking the local markets and places like that? I just can’t believe Indonesians are paying nearly $20 for a towel, and surely they can’t be drip drying after a shower… right?!?
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…London Love

    1. I’ve been really surprised too. And I agree that there’s no way your average Indonesian can afford these prices. I do live in a middle class neighborhood so there’s no doubt that the prices I’m encountering reflect that. I’m finding a lot of these things in fairly upscale malls that cater to expats and wealthier Indonesians, but even going to an average store I’m finding that these items are still much more expensive than I would have expected. I keep wondering if people actually pay these prices and, if not, where they’re shopping. I totally agree that there HAVE to be more affordable options. Maybe once I get my bearings a little more I’ll be able to find some of these items for less money! I’m planning to go to Chinatown this weekend, which supposedly has a huge market. I’m thinking I’ll be able to find some stuff there 🙂

  5. You brought Bourbon with you? A girl after my own (kentucky) heart! After visiting Jakarta, I would have never guessed you’d have trouble finding some of that stuff. Hope you find some butter knives and towels soon! 🙂
    Katie recently posted…Ethical Travel Guide

    1. It’s Kentucky Bourbon! I’m surprised that I’m having trouble finding these things too. I rented an apartment in Thailand last year and do I remember that towels were really expensive their too. But, seriously, there have to be cheap towels out there! I just haven’t found the right places to shop yet. I’m guessing Indonesians just don’t use butter knives or top sheets, so things like that are really hard to find. I already bought towels, because I have to have towels! But when a saw that a single knife cost $6 I figured I would just hold off. And at this point I’ve grown pretty accustomed to spreading things with the back of a spoon 🙂

  6. $40 for a bottle of wine! I would die… thats crazy about the prices. I wonder if they have online shops? Everyone in china uses Taobao, maybe there is some sort of equivalent? even if not I think taobao ships all over asia and you could get a towel for less then $20.

    I really wish I had brought more clothes with me. I was all “I’ll be a minimalist” but now its been 6 months and all my clothes are tattered. I did bring a bottle of bourbon with me too 🙂
    Rebekah recently posted…Portland Maine

    1. I know, right? The taxes on alcohol are insane here (especially for anything that’s imported). I found some Balinese wine for $15 but I’m kinda scared to try it. Maybe it’s good though! I hadn’t even thought of ordering online. I’ll have to do some research to find out what’s out there. But, yeah, that’s a great idea for household stuff!

      I totally hear you with the trying to be minimalist thing. I guess living out of a backpack for a year made me think I didn’t really need to bring much in terms of clothing. But people here dress pretty nicely and my jeans and t-shirts aren’t really cutting it! Ha, funny that you brought a bottle of bourbon too! Great minds… 😉

  7. I can certainly relate to the towels! Bought one there and was shocked at how expensive it was. I got mine for around $13 but I could have easily bought one in Singapore for half the price. Although I can see that the quality was quite good but it’s just the principle of it, I suppose, especially since I could have gotten it cheaper in Singapore. When I was in Korea, big towels are also just as expensive because they sell and use smaller towels so I ended up paying around $15 for a big towel and I didn’t have any other options like design or color. It was that or nothing. I suppose, it’s a case of demand and supply…:)
    sha recently posted…Snow is No Fun Alone

    1. Ok, so I’m not the only one who thinks that towels are crazily expensive in Jakarta! I was beginning to think it was just me 🙂 I would think things would be more expensive in Singapore, but I guess that’s not the case when it comes to towels. That’s funny that large towels are also very expensive in Korea. I had a similar experience here. I didn’t have much choice over the color/patter either, since there just aren’t that many options.

      1. Well, I think it’s because big towels are essentials so everyone would need to get one. There are those expensive and luxurious ones but there are also cheap ones here.

        The towels used in Korea tend to be the slightly bigger than hand towels so I went out to get a big one instead which was when I found out how expensive the big ones were. There were like one whole shelf of small towels in all sorts of colors and designs yet only 2 choice of big towels available…haha…:)
        sha recently posted…Snow is No Fun Alone

        1. Ha, I think it’s so interesting that they primarily use small towels in Korea. The lack of color choices is funny too. I went to buy an extra comforter for my bed. And they were all $40 and up. I didn’t really want to spend that much money so I found one that was on sale for $20. The only catch was that there was only one pattern — it was blue and white and didn’t seem so bad. But when I got home and unfolded it i realized it says “Baby” all over it. I bought a baby’s comforter! Hey, at least it was cheap, right?

    1. Packing is so important. I completely underestimated how important it was. But, only having two weeks to pack to move across the world is a pretty difficult feat! That being said, if I could do it over again I would totally do it differently!!

  8. Hey Justine! Thanks for linking to my blog post about moving to Jakarta! I was going to write you a long response and I decided to put it all in a similar blog post that I was writing anyway. I hope that you will find some of the information useful. Though I am sure that there are many more options now, I have always wanted to share these shopping tips on my blog:

    I would love to hear your thoughts on them! I wonder if they are still applicable a year after I’ve left!

    1. No problem! Thanks for linking to mine 😉 Your site has been my go-to resource since I’ve moved to Jakarta. And, seriously, thank you again for writing such a detailed follow-up post with so many great Jakarta shopping tips. It is a lifesaver. I might finally get that shower curtain rod! And I know it’ll be an incredible resource for all of those other newbie Jakarta expats out there who no doubt are having the same issues I’m having. This city can be tough to navigate so it’s really wonderful getting advice from someone who lived here for a few years. Thanks again 🙂

  9. I would never think they don’t have knives there… ever!! Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I’m planning to move there, but I’m still not sure for how long and knowing such little things really helps me feel better prepared.

    1. I’m so glad I could help you out Monica! I did actually find dinner knives eventually. But they were really pricey! If you have any other questions just let me know! The biggest thing is to remember to bring bath towels and sheets! I packed both for Cambodia (which I’m leaving for today!). When are you moving?

  10. Hi Justin Lopez, you can contact me by email if you have a chance to visit jakarta again. Might be i can help you for something you need for housestuff.

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