Your guide to expat life in Indonesia

Working in Indonesia

With abundant natural resources, a key trading location and numerous thriving industries, Indonesia has the largest economy in Southeast Asia. Entrepreneurs play an important role in the country’s growth and there are plenty of opportunities for expats to join the local workforce.

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Doing business

Indonesia was ranked 72nd out of 190 countries in The World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business Survey for 2018, scoring particularly well for getting credit and resolving insolvency.

In a country with hundreds of ethnic groups, you’ll probably work with people from a wide range of cultures and backgrounds. The official business language is Bahasa Indonesian – so it’s worth taking lessons if you’ll be working with locals. English and Dutch are also spoken in business circles in big cities like Jakarta.

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Business culture

Cultural identities in Indonesia have been influenced by Chinese, European, Indian and Arabic traditions. This diversity means that business practices will depend on where you work and the ethnic groups you’re dealing with.

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Management style

If you’re from a country with an egalitarian approach to management, you may struggle with Indonesia’s strict hierarchical style. Decisions are made from the top down, with little room for input from lower levels.

Communication style

Indonesians avoid confrontation – so they may not always say what they mean. Keep this in mind when you’re working with locals and try to push for clarity without coming across as aggressive.

Titles

It’s important to show respect for colleagues and business associates by using their correct title. In general, you should always address someone by their full title and name. For people in senior positions, you should use ‘bapak’, the equivalent of sir or madam.

Meetings

Indonesians usually spend a lot of time building trust and developing relationships with their associates – so be prepared for numerous meetings before a final decision is made. Raising your voice during negotiations will rarely be successful.

Fast facts

Business language

Bahasa Indonesian is the main business language, but English is widely used in Jakarta and most multinational companies.

Business hours

Usually from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Many offices open until 1pm on Saturdays – and some close on Friday afternoons for Muslim prayers.

Dress

Businessmen and women dress conservatively in Indonesia. Men usually wear suits and ties, although more casual long-sleeved batik shirts are sometimes acceptable. Women must keep their shoulders and legs covered.

Greeting

Always extend your right hand when you greet Indonesian colleagues. You can accompany a handshake with a slight nod of the head and the word ‘selamat’, meaning peace. Don’t shake a woman’s hand unless she initiates it.

Gifts

Gift-giving etiquette varies depending on which ethnic group you’re dealing with, but there are a few general rules. For example, always hand over a gift with your right hand and don’t give alcohol or pork products, which are forbidden in Muslim culture.

Gender equality

Indonesia is still a patriarchal society and women can encounter discrimination in the workplace, with men holding more senior positions and earning higher salaries. But the business world as a whole supports gender equality and some women are promoted to top executive roles.

Expat salaries

Expats in Indonesia earn well compared to many other expat destinations. They also usually enjoy benefits like housing and education allowances, medical insurance and sometimes even a travel allowance.

Research the culture well and ensure you have adequate local support from your employer.

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All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in August 2017. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you are aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.