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?
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.
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?