One Year in Jakarta: Pros and Cons of Living Abroad

My recent move to Jakarta, Indonesia, was a sudden one.  I literally had three weeks’ notice to move across the world.  My few weeks back home in California were spent shopping for hard-to-find items, freaking out about what to pack and cramming in visits with family and friends.  Time flew by and I barely had a moment to digest just how big this move was.

Marveling at the gorgeous sky during my very long flight from LAX to Jakarta.

Travel is one of my biggest passions in life, so of course I am thrilled about this sudden turn of events.  But I am moving to Indonesia, so it’s only natural to have some trepidations.

5 reasons I’m nervous about moving to Jakarta:

Food – I realize this sounds ridiculous.  Indonesia has some fabulous food, from sweet and spicy nasi goreng (fried rice) to peanut-drenched gado-gado (an Indonesian salad) to fiery sambal (chili sauce).

gado gado
This creamy peanut sauce is heavenly!

Despite all of these mouthwatering culinary creations, there are certain things Indonesia lacks when it comes to food.  Not only do I hail from Southern California but I’m half Mexican and I am obsessed with Mexican food.  I eat burritos like a fiend and I honestly put salsa on everything (from sandwiches to mac and cheese).  So as I was grocery shopping at Carrefour (a large chain in Indonesia) I panicked when I couldn’t find any Mexican staples.  I wheeled my cart frantically from aisle to aisle looking in vain for black beans, tortillas, salsa and avocados.  My heart dropped when I reached the dairy section; the cheese selection consists of an absurdly large variety of quick-melt cheeses, a few kinds of Kraft sliced cheese and one kind of cheddar (which costs $7 for an 8-ounce package).  Sigh.  I am going to miss Mexican food dearly.  And though I’ll try my best to make my own, something tells me this is going to be tough given the scant supplies.

Time change – Jakarta is 14 hours ahead of California.  I recently spent months traveling in Southeast Asia so I am pretty used to dealing with the time change.  But such a drastic difference makes it really challenging to connect with my friends and family back home.

Aaron and I at A's game
Aaron and I tailgating at an A’s game. We are the coolest!

I am also a huge sports fan.  And the time change makes it nearly impossible to watch baseball games, as they are usually on very early in Jakarta.  I am a diehard Oakland A’s fan.  My team is having an incredible year and they are one of the top picks to win the World Series (though I’m pretty sure I just jinxed it).  So far it’s been really tough to keep up with games.  And the thought of missing out on such an amazing season of baseball is enough to make me shed a tear.

Tienda Oakland
I stumbled across this tienda (store) in Lago Atitlán, Guatemala. Though I know the owners have no clue who the Oakland A’s are, I was overjoyed that the sign was painted in the A’s colors, green and gold.

Finding a job – This is probably the scariest part about moving to Indonesia.  Given that I only had three weeks’ notice to move, I didn’t really have a chance to set up a job before my arrival.  So now I find myself in a foreign country, with no contacts, attempting to find work.  After a year of travel my financial situation is not exactly ideal, but adding to the financial pressure is the fact that I need a job in order to stay in the country for longer than 60 days (the maximum amount of time allotted by a tourist visa).  Another complication is that foreigners are only allowed to work in certain fields, limiting me to teaching English.  While I do have an M.A. in communications – which qualifies me to teach English – I’ve never actually taught before.  Teaching is way out of my comfort zone, so I’m not kidding when I say I’m super nervous about this prospect.

Living in a big city – I have always dreamed of living in a city like the Big Apple, but now I find myself living in the Big Durian – yep, that’s what Jakarta is affectionately called.

Durians are everywhere in Jakarta. This huge, prickly fruit has an unmistakable stench. It’s so strong that the fruit is banned from airplanes and many Indonesian hotels.

Now that I’m here I find city life to be slightly daunting.  Indonesia is the fourth largest country in the world.  Over 10 million people inhabit downtown Jakarta, making it the largest city in all of Southeast Asia and the 13th most populous city on Earth.  It’s crazy!

Being more independent – I know this one sounds weird.  But it’s true.  Aaron and I have been traveling side by side for a year.  We’ve done virtually everything together.  We’ve lived in tiny hotels rooms, endured the many frustrations that come with travel (such as an anniversary from hell and travel blunders in Colombia and Indonesia) and experienced some unforgettable travel moments.  We are incredibly close.  So as he ventures off to his new job, attends conferences in remote cities and works long hours, I know I’ll be seeing much less of him than I’m used to.  And while I’m excited about the prospect of depending on myself a lot more and proving that I can do things on my own, I know that being in a big, foreign city without my best friend constantly by my side is going to be a tough transition for me.

OK, that’s enough over-thinking.  Now onto the reasons why I am incredibly jazzed and grateful to have this experience!

5 reasons I’m excited to move to Jakarta:

Travel – As a seasoned traveler, living in Indonesia is an incredible opportunity.  I spent two months traveling around the islands of Java and Bali earlier this year.  And while I had some incredible experiences motorbiking around perfect islands and lounging on stunning beaches, there were so many things I didn’t have time to do.  After I left Indonesia, I stumbled across blogs such as 2 Tickets to Wonderland and From Shores to Skylines, which made it even more apparent that I’d missed out on so many amazing travel experiences.  Indonesia is a massive country and even though I spent two whole months here, I feel like I only saw a sliver of what this country has to offer.  And my list of places to travel in Indonesia just keeps growing longer.

I love Gili Trawangan. This island has some of the most beautiful water I’ve ever seen.

So now that I’m lucky enough to live here I plan to take full advantage of the fact that I’m a short plane flight away from diving off the coast of Sulawesi, hiking around Rinca Island, getting off the beaten track in Papua and relaxing on Sumatra’s Lake Toba.  Suffice it to say, living in Indonesia is this traveler’s dream come true!

Stepping outside of my comfort zone – You would think this would be categorized as a con but being pushed outside of my comfort zone is something I really love about traveling.  I’m a pretty shy person by nature so when I travel it pushes me to do things I would never find myself doing in my “normal” life back home.  Everything about Indonesia is foreign to me, from the religion (Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country) to the customs to the language.  I am constantly being stared at and giggled at, which is amusing but also makes me highly uncomfortable.  But something that I love about being here is that every little thing is new and foreign to me.  I feel like a child navigating the world for the first time.  Little things like going to the grocery store, crossing the street and getting a local phone number are an adventure.  These things can be scary, but it’s all a learning process.  It all helps me grow as a person.

Having a place to call home – Until I moved into my apartment in Jakarta three days ago I’d been living out of my backpack for exactly 370 days.  In that time I visited two continents, seven countries, 41 cities and 58 hotels rooms.  And despite the fact that I love traveling, I was definitely getting a bit road weary.  As I was moving into my apartment I realized that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve actually hung my dresses in a closet or placed my toiletries into a drawer.

view of jakarta
High rises with Jakarta sprawling into the distance.
My little 2-bedroom apartment.

I went shopping to buy groceries and household items for my place.  And while I hated spending money on all this stuff (being an expat is way more expensive than being a backpacker!), it’s kind of nice knowing that I’ll have a place to call home for the next year.  There’s a lot of freedom that comes with not having a lot of possessions – living out of a backpack and not having a home.  But I’m ready to have a little bit of consistency…for a little while anyway!

Having an income – I can’t even imagine how good it’s going to feel to have a paycheck again.  Sadly I have to find a job before this becomes a reality, but it’s all the more motivation to become employed, stat!  Traveling for year, even on a strict backpacker’s budget, adds up.  And while I saved like a madwoman to be able to do this, and although I still have a decent chunk of change left, my anxiety level will subside substantially once I start making and saving money again.

Living the dream – I get to live abroad.  I get to call Jakarta my home.  And I get to travel to exotic locations on weekends and holidays.  It really is a dream come true.  I’ve been traveling for years and while I daydreamed of living in pretty much every country I’ve ever visited, I’m not sure I thought it would ever actually happen.  This will be an experience I will never forget and I’m honestly just grateful to have this opportunity!

Have you ever dreamed of living in another country?  What are some of the pros and cons of living abroad?

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.

42 thoughts on “One Year in Jakarta: Pros and Cons of Living Abroad

    1. Very true Lucia! I suppose the scary things are part of what I love about traveling. I think it’s important to get out of your comfort zone every now and again. And I am sure out of my comfort zone now! But so far so good 🙂

    1. I’ve been here a week and I’ve only picked up a few words. But, yes, I’m really interested in learning Bahasa. Aaron and I are able to take free classes through his job, so we definitely plan to learn as much as possible!

  1. Hmm, food wise, I’ve got say that you need to explore the malls there to get what you want. My friend told me of how she took time to figure out where to get different things. Like we both love japanese food and things so she brought me to this mall which was more oriented towards japan…I’m pretty sure mexican food staples can be found somewhere…if not..just come over to SG to stock up or I can bring over some for you when I’m there next next week…it’s not an issue for me…:)

    Other than that, have fun! But I would have to say it’ll probably take time for you to get accustomed to jakarta. I’ve been travelling there so often since my friend started working there that I’ve gotten used to some things but I remember how it used to throw me off. Living there is definitely different from being a tourist there….good luck and e-mail me if you need any help…I do have a few indonesian friends there too…:)

    1. Sha, you’re so sweet to offer to bring me Mexican food supplies 🙂 I actually found red beans at the market yesterday! And we’re going to cook up some beans today. I’ve also found a recipe to make my own arepas (something I became obsessed with in Colombia). And my boyfriend makes some killer salsa. I think we’re going to be okay. But I haven’t found avocados yet. Maybe they’re not in season? Anyway, I think it will just take a little time to see which stores offer the different ingredients I’m looking for. And thank you for offering help. I’ll let you know if I need anything 🙂

      1. Hmm…avocados are not really native to asia I think so you may need to look for more specialised stores to see whether they bring them in. We don’t really use them in asian dishes, that’s why.

        And I don’t mind bringing over anything that you need..I do that all the time for my friends in jakarta. I’ve even brought over pre-made mix for a friend there who was craving a dish…haha..:)

        1. For some reason I thought there were giant avocados everywhere in Asia…now I’m not so sure! Ha, that’s so nice that you’re able to bring those hard-to-find items to your friends. I’m sure they appreciate it! I will definitely let you know if I need anything. Thanks for the offer 🙂

          1. Lol…I’m not too sure about that though, I seem to recall that the avocados here are imported but I’m pretty sure you’ll manage to find them…i usually joke that my bag is always heavier going rather than returning because of all these “requests”…haha…;)

  2. Many congratulations Justine, this is an exciting adventure.

    It reminds me of a few years back when I left home to go and live and work in Saudi Arabia for over a year. It was a culture completely different to mine. However it was a great world experience and education. I was also able to form a view of the country which was entirely my own, not one shaped my media.

    I would recommend building up a network of local friends and of expats. Find a good community of expats through either sport/social circles. It helps with connections back home which you can dip in and out of.

    As for following your team at home, well The A’s are a big name who should have some exposure. My favourite team at home in the UK are a team you will not have heard of. Even though they receive national coverage on satellite TV many in the UK have no idea who they are. The internet has come on a long way since I was in Saudi so I’m sure you’ll have access to updates.

    Pardon me asking but I’m a little confused. I get the impression you have gone to Jakarta because Aaron is now working there? Then you talk about “my” apartment as opposed to “our” apartment? Are you not allowed to stay together?

    1. Thanks for dropping by! That’s awesome you had the chance to live in Saudi Arabia. I’m sure that was an amazing experience. I’m definitely excited about this new opportunity. And it is cool to be able to form a personal and unique view of this country that’s not based solely on the media.

      I definitely agree that forming a community will be key to getting the most out of this experience. And it will also help us to not get as homesick! And, yes, I’ve definitely been able to get news about the A’s. I’ve been streaming games, but the internet connection at our apartment isn’t always strong enough. It makes watching games slightly frustrating!

      Ha, sorry for the confusion! It is our apartment 🙂 And, yes, we are allowed to live together. I don’t think things are quite as strict in Jakarta as they are in places like Saudi Arabia. But we are being put up by Aaron’s work. If we’d had to rent the apartment on our own maybe we would have had a more difficult time. I’m not sure…

    1. Aww, thank you Cindy! Aaron’s first day of work went really well today! We are both excited about what this year will bring. But we already miss the family. And Jake. And Woofie!

  3. This sounds like such an incredible adventure! I’m sure you’ll overcome all the downsides and aspects of the move that are making you nervous, and soon grow to love your life there. And at least if you’re ever feeling down, you can look at your 5 positive reasons to remind you how awesome your life is! Best of luck in your new home! 🙂

  4. Yayy I’m so excited for you!! I love the little apartment, and that Jakarta is nicknamed the Big Durian. I hate durian, that smell will haunt me for life. You’ll find work no problem I’m sure, it doesn’t matter that you’re not technically a “teacher” because you speak English AND have a degree and in many instances that is more than enough. Sad about the Mexican food though. Southeast Asia is notorious for being a cheese-free zone. Good luck with everything! Can’t wait to hear more!

    1. I love the little apartment too! I started cracking up the first time I learned Jakarta was called the Big Durian. It’s too funny. I’ve smelled durian on way too many occasions but I’ve never actually tried it before. One of my goals during my year in Jakarta is to try durian. Maybe I’ll learn to love it, but probably not. I hope I’ll be able to find a job soon. I’m still very nervous about it and though I know it will all work out, I’ll feel so much better once I have the job thing sorted out. Ugh, the no cheese thing makes me really sad. There was so much cheese in Colombia…

  5. Your apartment is soooo cute!!! BTW – I’ll be in Mexico by the end of the week, so don’t look at my instagram for a while, it’s bound to be Mexican food fest! 😉 I think I might be just as excited to live vicariously through you for the next year. Soak it all in for both of us, since my other half won’t let me move there – haha! Can I send you my Indonesia bucket list (yes, it deserves it’s own bucket list) so you can check a few things off for me?

    1. OK, first of all, you’re going to be in Mexico this week? I will definitely be looking at your Instagram. And drooling over your food photos 🙂 Mexico is amazing!! Where are you going?? And, yes, please feel free to send your Indonesia bucket list … I would love to look it over. I want to make sure I don’t miss out on any travel experiences while I’m here!!!

      1. Yup – I leave in 2 days! I’m pumped, we’re flying into Cancun (and leaving as quickly as possible), renting a car and road-tripping it across the Yucatan! Any suggestions??? I’ll email you!!

        1. That’s so exciting!! Mexico is such a great country. And the food…don’t get me started! Hmm, I’ve been to Cancun and Chiapas in the south, so I’m not sure I can be of too much help. Obviously you have to go to Chichen Itza if you haven’t been before. I think it’s so cool that you’re taking a road trip. You’re going to have such an amazing time!!!

  6. Congratulations on your big move! I can totally understand your trepidation. I’m not sure how I would feel about moving all the way around the world. Of course, now that I have kids, that would be a much taller task, so I applaud you for doing it while you can. And, like you said, it presents you with some awesome opportunities to travel! Congrats, good luck, and I can’t wait to hear more about it!

    1. Thanks Greg! Moving anywhere is always scary, let alone to another country. Ha, yes, this move would be much more complicated if I had kids 😉 All in all I’m really happy with our decision to make this move. I’m super excited about what the next year has in store for us, especially in terms of travel!!

  7. Thanks for your honest thoughts on moving abroad. I think it is only rational to analyze an opportunity like this from both sides. I often forget to do this, and get caught up in excitement, until the negative parts kick in and a quite opposite emotion sets in. It is important to be frank with yourself about the good and bad of every situation. Despite your worries, I think you will have an amazing year in Indonesia and I since you are making it a home, I am sure you will make lots of friends and miss it when (if?) you leave. I look forward to hearing about your adventures!

    1. Thanks Katie. I am a total over-thinker so it’s completely normal for me to analyze both sides of every situation! Ha, I can totally understand getting caught up in the excitement of things, especially when it comes to travel. I think we’re all guilty of that on some level. It’s so weird to think about how I’ll feel about living in Jakarta/Indonesia in a year’s time. I’m sure there are things that I will miss if/when it comes time to leave. I mean, after traveling in the country earlier this year I was completely smitten with it. And I was really sad to leave. Something tells me I’m going to like living here 🙂

  8. Despite the pros and cons, it’s fun moving to a new country (though I have never done that) for a traveler. I have hopped many cities in India and it has taught me a lot. All the best for your life in Jakarta!

  9. I hate to say it but you are going to miss Mexican food! Since visiting the US I miss it desperately; you just cannot find anything close outside of the Americas IMO.

    1. I know 🙁 I’m very spoiled because Southern California has some of the best Mexican food in the world! Plus, the Mexican side of my family cooks amazing Mexican food. I will definitely be missing it! But I will try my best to recreate it here in Jakarta 🙂

  10. as Indonesian, I would say I have love-hate relationship with Jakarta, I love the fact that we can find lots of international restaurants (foods) and malls but I hate the crowd and traffic jams. If you are vegetarian, you should definitely visit Jejamuran restaurant at Yogyakarta, it’s otw to Borobudur. It has arrays of vegetarian menus, mainly from mushrooms (that is why the restaurant called Je-jamur-an). They have mushrooms satay with delish peanut sauce, mushroom currys, etc.

    1. Hi Ana. I definitely agree that the crowds and traffic in Jakarta get old very quickly! But the food is something I’m loving. I feel like Indonesian food is very vegetarian friendly, especially compared to other Southeast Asian countries. I love that there’s is tempeh everywhere and I put sambal on everything 🙂 Thanks for the restaurant recommendation. It sounds delicious and I will definitely visit next time I’m in Yogyakarta!

  11. Hi Justine, have you tried Grand Lucky Supermarket at SCBD sudirman? That’s where the expats go for their fav brands from back home. Also Kemchick in Kemang or Pacific Place. But I heard Grand Lucky is the cheapest. I usually go to Ranch Market because it’s closer to where I live, just google them, they have several locations. These places have more varieties of cheese than carrefour! I think carrefour provides mostly local brands. Avocados are common though, I saw them in almost every supermarkets 🙂 it’s one the local fruit, really. I had a tree growing in my previous home 🙂

    As for tv shows like HHI (love it!) and some sports, it’s available if you get a cable tv. I’m using First Media now. Many of my fav series are shown within 24 hours as they aired in the US/UK like the Walking Dead and Downton Abbey (love them!)

    Just give me a shout if you need local ‘expertise’ or trying to find your way around this crazy city that I love 😀 I have been living here for 13 years plus, I may not now ‘everything’ but seems like my husband does LOL

    1. I’ll have to check out those supermarkets. I live near Central Park Mall and both supermarkets have pretty meager cheese sections:( The Carrefour has started carrying avocados but they are always rock hard and for some reason they rarely ripen. I don’t get it! I buy them all the time and do all the tricks to ripen them (put them in a paper bag, etc.) but nothing!

      Hmm, I don’t know what cable I have but I do get Fox Sports, which helps me to get my sports fix. Otherwise we pretty much download or stream our favorite shows. I’m so behind on Walking Dead (like seasons behind)!

      Wow, you’ve been here for 13 years?! I will definitely reach out! Jakarta is a crazy place to get to know. I’m slowly but surely starting to figure it out!

      1. I think you can find ripe avocados in traditional markets, but I seldom went to the wet markets, because, well it’s wet lol.. They are cheaper though. You can also find them at local fruit vendors. Let me ask a friend who lives in your area, she might know one.

        I always bought hard avocados and just leave them on the counter, they got softer in days. May be it depends on the variety? idk..

        Yes, I’m Indonesian but I’m not a local Jakartan, so when I read your posts they remind me of those times I was struggling myself in this big alien city. But again, you are a very brave girl! I think you are doing better than me haha…
        Imma recently posted…Home Office

        1. There is a wet market around here, but it’s a bit out of the way so I don’t go very often. I’ve kind of just learned to live without avocados, even when they do ripen they’re just not the same as the avocados I get back in California! Jakarta is a pretty crazy city to adjust to. I still have a hard time wrapping my mind around how big it is!

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    1. This is such great information for people who are living in Jakarta. I wish I would have spent more time seeking out a reliable wholesale guide! My life probably would have been a lot easier 😉

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