The Nitty Gritty of Finding a Job in Indonesia

A responsible person probably would have found a job before they actually moved to Indonesia.  That’s the proper order to do things.  But, no one said that I was responsible.  In all fairness to myself, I found out that I was moving to Jakarta only three weeks before I arrived.  Suffice it to say, I didn’t have a lot of time to plan.  Those hectic weeks were filled up with getting back to the US from Colombia (where I’d been traveling when I received the news), cramming in visits with family and friends, and trying my best to pack my life’s possessions into two overstuffed suitcases.  While finding a job was on my mind, I didn’t have the time to really think about it, let alone make arrangements.  I had no other choice but to figure out my employment situation once I landed in Indonesia.  I mean, how hard could it be, right?

Jakarta, Indonesia
It’s a big city. Surely somebody will want to hire a smart and talented girl like me!

Well, it turns out that finding a job in Indonesia is complicated

As I alluded to in a previous post, I’ve been struggling to find a job in Jakarta.  Not having a job has been the most challenging part of my life as an expat so far.  After going three months without having any viable leads, the whole thing really started to take its toll on me emotionally, and I don’t think it’s any secret that I was starting to get a little down on Jakarta.  All of this inspired me to take a break from the city and escape to beachside town of Kuta, Bali.  I’m happy to report that after a much needed mini-vacation I’m doing a lot better.  Not only did my week-long trip help me gain some much needed perspective, but since my return I’ve had a few employment opportunities come my way.  For the first time in nearly four months there is a glimmer of hope on the job front!  In no way does this mean that all of my problems are solved.  I’m still facing a whole slew of obstacles – I’ll get to those soon.  And I still struggle daily to deal with my current predicament.  Seriously, is it just me or does Indonesia just makes it really hard for expats to live and work here?

I realize that working abroad can be a complicated process.  I wasn’t necessarily expecting to land here and find a job within a week or two (or even a month).  But I also didn’t expect to go almost four months without working.  As an expat, finding a job in Indonesia seems to be much more difficult compared to other Southeast Asian countries, like Thailand.  Foreigners who want to live and work here must navigate a complex system of visas, play time-consuming waiting games, and be open to working outside of their field in order to get a job.

So why is it so complicated, you ask?

The first obstacle is that foreigners have to be an “expert” in their field in order to work in Indonesia.  This means that you either have years of professional experience (often 5-10 years) under your belt, or you possess a bachelor’s degree in your field.  But, even if you are considered to be an “expert” by Indonesian standards you will not be hired if a native Indonesian is qualified to do the same job.  While this rule makes things hard on me, the reasoning behind it does make some sense to me.  Because of the high unemployment rates throughout Indonesia, the government doesn’t want foreigners to flock to the country and steal all of the jobs from local residents.

This highly enforced law typically limits expats, like me, in terms of what we’re able to do here.  A lot of English-speaking foreigners tend to fall back on teaching English, which is what I’d always planned to do in Jakarta.  I really didn’t think it would be too difficult to find a gig teaching English here.  I’ve met so many people on the road who have taught English in Asia without having prior experience or a degree.  But, in Indonesia, I was surprised to find out that foreigners must have very specific qualification in order to teach.  From my understanding, foreigners need to be a native-English speaker and hold a B.A. in either English or American/British Literature, or have a teaching certificate to get hired.  A simple TESOL certificate won’t cut it.  These prerequisites are strictly adhered to.  Even though I don’t have previous experience teaching English, I do have a degree in American Literature, which somehow makes me an “expert.”  I’m lucky that I just so happen to have the right degree.  Hooray, studying literature in college finally aided me in getting a job!  Oh, wait, just kidding.  It’s not that easy.  There is just one more major hurdle – that pesky work visa, also known as KITAS.

finding a job in jakarta
This is pretty much what my days look like – drinking coffee and looking for jobs.

To legally work in Indonesia, foreigners need to obtain what is called a KITAS.  This is a visa that allows expats to legally work in the country for 12 months.  It is highly illegal to work here without this permit.  And although a lot of foreigners do work without this visa, the act of working illegally is punishable by deportation and/or up to five years in prison.  And considering this law is widely enforced, working illegally is not a risk I’m comfortable taking.

The catch-22 is that companies don’t just hand out work visas to foreigners.  There is a lengthy bureaucratic process and it takes anywhere from 3-4 months to finalize the visa.  And, unfortunately, employees can’t legally start working until the KITAS is approved.  Not only does the KITAS pose all sorts of complications for me, but it’s a pain for companies too.  There is a sky-high stack of paperwork to fill out and even after waiting all that time, there’s no guarantee that the visa will get approved.  Additionally, the visa fees cost the company upwards of $1,200 USD.  The lengthy wait and the astronomical cost makes hiring foreigners pretty unappealing to Indonesian business owners.  Since I started my job hunt a few months ago, I’ve been offered positions by quite a few companies who were more than happy to pay me a decent salary to work illegally.  Not only does this eliminate the visa fees, but I’d be able to start working immediately.  Again, working illegally is not a risk I’m willing to take.

Not only do I need a visa to work here, but I need it to live here.  Without a visa I have to leave the country every 30-60 days.  Basically upon entering Indonesia, foreigners must purchase a visa on arrival (VOA) which costs roughly $35 USD.  This visa can be extended for 30 days, one time.  I have no other option but to leave every two months.  So far I’ve done one visa run (my first ever solo trip to Penang, Malaysia).  And I’ll be leaving again in a couple of weeks to go to Singapore.  While I’m obviously excited to have the opportunity to do some traveling, all of these plane flights and visa fees add up.  The thought of having to fork out hundreds of dollars every couple of months for the foreseeable future frustrates me immeasurably.

Things are looking up, however.  I was finally offered a legit job a few weeks ago.  It’s an English-teaching position with a company that’s actually willing to sponsor me for a KITAS.  I’m currently in the process of signing piles of paperwork, ordering notarized transcripts and degrees from the US, and getting medical checkups to prove that I’m not on drugs and don’t have HIV.  Once I get all this stuff organized (it can take up to a month to wait on those transcripts), my prospective employer will submit my application to the Indonesian government.  And then the 3-4 month waiting process commences.

Like I said, even then, there’s no guarantee.  A lot of foreigners go through this lengthy and expensive process only to be denied KITAS approval a few months into the application review.  Rumor has it that over the past year it has become increasingly difficult for foreigners to obtain work visas in Indonesia, mainly because of the current political environment.  But, honestly, it’s not something I completely understand.

Maybe moving to Jakarta without arranging a job first wasn’t the most brilliant decision I’ve ever made.  Oh well, I’ll just add it to the list.  I knew living here would pose all sorts of challenges and this is just one of them.  Living in Jakarta has been one big learning experience for me, and I’m grateful for that.  And after nearly four months, I can honesty say the job issue is the only real drawback to living here.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s a big drawback.  But, at least now I have some hope that I will be earning a paycheck again soon.  Fingers crossed!

Are you surprised to hear that Indonesia has so many rules and regulation when it comes to hiring foreigners?  Have you ever worked abroad?  What sorts of challenges did you face?

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.

37 thoughts on “The Nitty Gritty of Finding a Job in Indonesia

  1. Whoa, who knew it was so hard to work in Indonesia! Unfortunate to hear teaching English isn’t so easy there as other parts of Asia, but I’m sure they’re just trying to protect themselves. Thailand and other countries with more lax teaching requirements end up attracting a lot of kids just looking to party while living in a beautiful tropical setting and who are far from qualified or dedicated teachers–turnover is incredibly high and their students end up getting a crappy education (people wonder why Thais don’t speak English very well–well there’s one reason). Anyway, hopefully you get this job (I have no doubt you are qualified!) and can start working soon! Good luck!
    Leah recently posted…Getting Our Nature On At The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve

    1. It is crazy, right? Some days I wonder if it’s just me…I’m actually curious about what other people’s experiences finding jobs abroad have been like. I know you worked in Thailand, is the process anywhere near this complex? How long did it take you to find a job? That is really sad that other countries allow just any native-English speaker to teach English. I can only imagine what happens in some of those classrooms! But it’s weird too that I’m considered to be an “expert” in teaching English in Indonesia. How does being a lit major qualify me? I don’t know, the whole system is pretty laughable if you ask me. But it is Southeast Asia, so things are supposed to be a little crazy 😉 Thanks for the good luck wishes :) I hope I get this job too!

      1. It definitely wasn’t quite this hard to find a job in Thailand, but like I said, they take a TEFL/TESOL or a university degree (in ANY subject) or in some cases, just the fact that you’re a native speaker will do the trick. The easiest way to get a work permit in Thailand is through a private school as they are the ones who can afford to pay foreign teachers and therefore also have the money to pay for your work permit. My first job was easy to come by through friends (working under the table at a language school) but I had to wait awhile to start applying for private school jobs. I wasn’t unemployed long, really!
        Leah recently posted…Unconventional Milestones: My 100th Post & A Pura Vida Giveaway

        1. Interesting. That’s kind of how I envisioned the process to be like in Indonesia. I knew that I needed a visa to work here but I didn’t know just how hard visas were to come by. It used to only take 6 weeks to get approved. Now it’s 3 months and the government is really choosy about who they approve. Plus, it’s an election year here so there are all sorts of politics at play. Oh well, this is just going to be another one of my crazy adventures in life. It wouldn’t be my life if it wasn’t a little bit crazy 😉

  2. It really sounds like it’s been difficult recently, I have every thing crossed for you that this job comes through. I know how tough it is to be out of work whilst searching, it’s not something I’m looking forward to doing once I’m in Aus. Things will pick up for sure, hopefully you’ll hear good news soon.
    Hannah recently posted…In discussion with Simon Reeve

    1. Thanks Hannah! The process is definitely much more complex and time consuming than I anticipated. My advice to anyone who’s moving to a new country is to do your research before you get there. I wish I would have had the time to arrange a job before I landed here. Oh well, everything happens for a reason. And I’m excited that good things are finally starting to come my way :) What are you thinking of doing once you get to Australia?

  3. that sounds so frustrating. Getting a job in china was super easy, its getting a good job thats a bit harder. I had to get so many crazy medical tests including a lot of STD tests that I found sort of insulting/amusing. Hopefully this job works out well for you. I go crazy when I’m unemployed.
    Rebekah recently posted…China: Month 8

    1. I’m kind of surprised to hear that getting a job in China was easy. I’ve heard that they have all sorts of crazy visa requirements and medical tests. Ha, I’m getting pretty familiar with the medical test thing. I think it’s very odd that being tested for HIV is such a big part of it…but being tested for STD’s?! That’s just odd!

    1. Ha, it has been crazy. I just assumed teaching English would be a cinch anywhere in Southeast Asia. Hopefully anyone who’s planning on living in Indonesia will learn from my mistakes. It’s totally doable, but having the time to plan is key if you want to live here! Yes, if you want to travel here it’s important to know that you’ll have to exit the country after 60 days. If you do overstay your visa you’ll be charged 20 USD per day!

    1. The requirement of having to be a native English speaker makes me sad. I do feel bad for all those people out there who speak excellent English (like you) and are completely capable of teaching but can’t because they’re not from the US, the UK, Canada or Australia. It doesn’t seem fair. I can see why you just gave up :(

    1. I was really surprised that you had to have a real teaching certificate too. I made sure to get my TESOL certificate before I got here (since I don’t have prior teaching experience). But the TESOL certificate means nothing, the only reason I’m qualified to teach is because I’m a native English speaker and I have an American Literature degree…super random. The English level is low compared to almost every other Asian country. I actually think they might be doing themselves a disservice by being so strict about hiring foreigners. A lot of the English teachers in Jakarta are Indonesian. And while they speak decent enough English to have a conversation, they are far from being experts. They seem to pass on a lot grammatical errors, slang, etc. when they teach.

  4. I am putting good thoughts out there for you that all goes through. I know how frustrating it must be not working when you really want to, especially since you are super smart and capable. It is very surprising it’s so hard to get a legit job with visa, especially because there seems to be so many job postings for Indonesia. Because of that I thought it would be an easy process. Getting a job in China comparably seems like a breeze. Honestly your story along with other horror stories I have read about working/finding jobs in Indonesia will probably keep me from trying to work there. But I still want to travel there! I wish you all the best!

    1. Thanks Terra! I really don’t think things would have been nearly as complicated if I’d had a little time to plan ahead. I mean most people don’t just pick up and move to a new country with no notice. Plus, Aaron was able to get his visa arranged fairly quickly and with relatively no hassle. I don’t want to completely deter people from living and working here. Interesting that you’ve seen so many job posting for Indo. Can you send me a few links? I’m just curious to check them out (plus it wouldn’t hurt to have some backups!). I am also so surprised to hear that the process in China is easier than Indonesia. With all of China’s crazy laws I just assumed getting a job there would be super complicated. Oh, you HAVE to travel here. I’ve barely scratched the surface but I feel like I find a new place I want to visit in Indo every day. When are you guys going to start traveling? Do you think you’ll visit Indonesia before August? I would be so great to see you guys :)

      1. Justine,
        My goto place to look for teaching jobs is: Dave’s esl cafe. It not only has a job board, but resources for teachers. Most of the oother I look at are bookmarked on my computer (which I’m not around for a few more days…but when I do get home I will email you the links) And don’t worry, you haven’t deterred me from wanting to travel there, I just don’t feel inclined to work there per say. We start traveling again come February(which I am very much looking forward to) and I am hoping to get to Indo before August but I have no idea what life with throw our way and where we will actually be come August. But I’m going to try my best as I would love to see you and Mr. Anderson!

        1. Yes, I’ve been to Dave’s. That would be great if you’d send me a few links to your go-to sites. Hopefully, you guys make it to Indo while we’re still living here. But I know how random travel can be. You never know where you might end up! I’m so excited for you guys to be on the road again :)

  5. Oh goodness, I can only imagine how incredibly stressful this entire experience has been for you. I think a lot of countries have the whole “only hire foreigners who are able to do jobs that locals can’t do themselves” policy, which is why I think so many people wind up teaching English. How lucky that you have a degree in the appropriate area—it’s funny how those things work out, isn’t it? I’m sure when you were taking your American Lit courses that you imagined they’d qualify you to get a job in Jakarta!

    I think the lesson here definitely seems to be that it pays to arrange something in advance when moving abroad, no matter the country! I’m enough of a planner that although I know that often there are many opportunities that you can only find in person, I’d be way too anxious and stressed to make such a big leap without something in place. I get that it wasn’t possible in your case, so I’m glad that something is finally in motion for you!
    Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) recently posted…Mini Budget Breakdown: Paris Travel Costs

    1. Ha, it’s so random that my degree is one of the few that qualifies me to teach here. I don’t know what I was thinking when I chose Lit as my major, but teaching English in Indonesia was definitely not something that crossed my mind 😉 It’s weird how things work out like that. The funny thing is that I also have a degree in mass communications but if I were to show that to the Indonesian government they would automatically rejected my visa. Apparently anything journalism related is frowned upon here and gets you an immediate rejection for visas!

      Yes, the lesson for everyone else out there is plan way, way ahead when looking to move abroad. I agree with you, I don’t like having things unplanned. It has definitely caused all sorts of stress. But I think taking a step back and realizing everything is going to be okay has helped a lot. And now things are starting to go my way, which is nice for a change :)

  6. Oh Wow! I honestly had no idea it would be so difficult in Indonesia. It’s crazy it’s so complicated! I’ve worked abroad in a few places and nothing was as complicated as this! ‘m so sorry you’ve had all this stress! But I would definitely have done the same as you and moved there anyway. There’s no way I’d stay at home if my husband was moving to Indonesia ha! I hope the rest of the process goes smoothly and you enjoy the rest of your unemployment time :-)
    Joella in Beijing recently posted…Gili Air: Birthday Paradise

    1. I’m surprised that nowhere else seems to be this complicated. I was beginning to wonder if it was just Indonesia or if maybe teaching English was harder than people were letting on. I think it’s safe to say that the issue is just with Indonesia!! Ha, I will enjoy my unemployment time for sure. It is nice that it gives me time to do the things I enjoy doing. I’m going to relish it while I can 😉

  7. I’m sorry to hear about this. I’ve been unemployed before with no chance of even going anywhere for a break and i recall being very depressed over it so glad that the break did you good.

    I think, though, it’s more a matter of timing rather than of getting one for your case. Since you moved in the middle of a school term, most schools are most probably not looking into hiring new teachers so places are probably filled up for the school year.

    Also, maybe the change in government is leading to changes in the immigration system too, just as it did for Singapore’s. After all, if their students are not going to need English for their future, just hiring locals at a lower cost would be sufficient for their standards, I imagine.

    And perhaps, just as another perspective of course, I’m glad to know that they do take education there seriously enough to implement such requirements because then it can help them improve their standards in the future.

    But regardless, I’m happy that you managed to get a job! Yay! Hopefully your visa application will be approved soon and you can stop worrying too much about it. Good luck!
    sha recently posted…Travel Backpack Review: Osprey Farpoint 40

    1. Unemployment can be really tough to deal with mentally. I guess we all deal with it sooner or later! I so agree with you about the bad timing of my move. After talking with Siti I realized that moving here right when school started was going to pose all sorts of challenges. It pretty much took the hope of working at an international, grammar or high school off the table. I’ve mainly had to look at English education centers like English First because they hire year round.

      The political situation and the election have also posed all sorts of challenges. For the past year Indonesia has made it much more difficult for foreigners to work here. Oddly, it’s mainly impacted those of us who are trying to teach English. In some ways I think their strict standards are good, but I can’t say I think all these rules are really benefiting the country or the education system. But I’m not going to rant about that here 😉 I do agree that it’s easier and way cheaper to hire Indonesians to teach. There are a lot of reasons (mainly time and cost) why hiring a foreigners isn’t the ideal option for business owners. It’s been stressful to be thrown in the middle of such a complex country. But things are looking up which is nice. And, despite all the stress, I’m really happy to be here :)

      1. Yeah,whether or not it benefits them is really questionable, I agree, but at least the government is trying to set some standard and that is progress, I feel.

        I do wonder why they are targetting the foreign english teachers though, maybe because it’s the easiest way for someone to get a job there? Anyway, at least you already have something lined up and that is at least happy news to have..looking forward to some confirmation soon…
        sha recently posted…Travel Backpack Review: Osprey Farpoint 40

        1. I think the reason they’re are targeting English teachers is because that’s what most foreigners come here to do. But also there was a huge scandal in Jakarta earlier this year involving expat teachers. It’s been a big deal here and it’s definitely had an impact.

    1. I truly don’t know a thing about teaching or about landing a teaching job. Shhh…don’t tell anyone. It definitely seems like an awesome way to be able to keep traveling and live in other countries. Teaching definitely wouldn’t be my first choice, but given Indonesia’s constraints on allowing foreigners to work in their fields of expertise, teaching is kind of the easiest (if not the only) option. Indonesia does make it difficult!

  8. Wow, this all reminds me of some of the trials I had trying to live in Germany! Many parts of Europe also have these tough employment standards, and most companies are not willing to sponsor a visa. I tried to find side work as a nanny or English tutor, or something, but even those jobs were scarce. Luckily I was attended school and I didn’t need to work, I just wanted to, so I just gave up after a little while. But working overseas sometimes is a lot harder than people think, but I am sure something will come up for you sooner rather than later!
    Katie
    Katie @WorldWideVegetarian.com recently posted…What I Saw in Chicago

    1. I’ve heard that finding a job in a lot of Western European countries is next to impossible, which kind of makes sense because it would be AMAZING to work in pretty much every European country. I think working abroad can be really tricky. You definitely have to do your research to pull it off. That being said, Indonesia is really over the top in terms of how they deal with foreigners. Let’s just say that living here has been a very eyeopening and interesting experience thus far!

  9. Me, as an indonesian, really surprise with this fact. I have a lot of philipines friends who work as a teacher here, but they get the job before go here. Have you ever tried to be freelance contributor in indonesian online magazine with english language?

    Cheers,
    Cuni
    Cuni Candrika recently posted…Pulau Harapan (Palsu)

    1. I think I’m in a bit of a weird situation because I only had three weeks’ notice about my move. So I really didn’t have time to plan ahead. It’s completely possible to work here as a foreigner but the visa can take many months to get processed. Planning ahead is definitely key!

  10. Hello Justine, I just found your blog while searching for informations about living in Indonesia, and finally got some really insight information about how hard is to find a job there.

    I’m thinking about moving to Bali for 1 year with my gf to work and start an online business there. She has a degree on tourism and I work in tourism marketing, do you know if they let international workers work in tourism there?

    Usually it’s easy for me to find work in hotels, because I work mainly with social media marketing, but if the law is really strong about protecting the local workers, I may have to rethink the whole idea of moving soon to Bali.

    Just loved your blog and already read 8/9 of your blog posts, thanks for sharing all this great things.

    All the best :)

    1. Hi Gonçalo. Thanks for dropping by and I’m glad I could shed a little bit of light on the job thing for you. First of all, I think working as a foreigner on Java (where I am) and Bali are two totally different things. Sometimes I think that my life would be a whole lot easier if I were based in Bali!

      One of the biggest things about finding a job is that you have to be considered an “expert” in your field. Since you have experience in tourism marketing, you can definitely do that in Indonesia. And I would think you’d be able to find a job in Bali since it’s such a major tourist hub. That being said, getting a work visa (KITAS) is a beast and takes anywhere between 3-5 months. My best advice is to plan ahead. Perhaps it’s easier in Bali but I still haven’t been able to get one in Jakarta (no one seems to want to deal with the hassle and cost).

      Given that there are so many foreigners who stay long term in Bali (not so much in Jakarta) obviously people are finding a way to do it. I do have a feeling a lot of people just work illegally.

      Feel free to let me know if you have any other questions. And let me know how it turns out. I’m always interested to see what other people’s experiences are like :)

  11. I am married to an Indonesian and i love it there but I had to leave my son and wife due to the fact that I simply can’t find a job there although me and my wife have been looking for the past two years.Is there a group or organization to help expats married to locals fin jobs there?

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