Updated 2 months ago

Traffic in Indonesia can be overwhelming, and road discipline and conditions are rather poor. Consequently, many foreigners opt to simply hire a driver if they wish to have their own car. However, if you do value your independence in this regard, and prefer to travel in the comfort of your own vehicle, then read this article to find out more.

If you decide to drive in Indonesia, be wary of obstacles on the road that you may not have encountered before. These can include motorcycles and bicycles that are carrying obstructive items or several people on the back, food carts stopping without warning, animals crossing the street, and all sorts of vehicles cutting you from any side to pass. While driving can be a fascinating experience, foreigners involved in even minor traffic violations or accidents can easily be exploited, so it's important to always drive as safely as possible, follow all regulations, and remain vigilant to avoid any possible collisions.

Be aware that many road junctions are congested with traffic, which sometimes makes it unclear whose right of way it is. Many Indonesian drivers also have a tendency to ignore the red lights, especially at night, so be extremely cautious when pulling up to a junction. Many streets in Indonesia are quite narrow, and parked cars can further restrict the space. In addition, it's important to proceed with extra care during the rainy season when many major roads in Sumatra, Kalimantan, and Sulawesi become flooded.

Fuel prices can vary between different places, but petrol is also relatively affordable. There are toll roads around big cities, which serve to reduce congestion, but charges are generally low and it’s arguably worth taking these roads to avoid sitting in traffic.

If you are set on driving in Indonesia but don't want to buy a car, then rental can be very cheap, but you have to be over 23 years old.

Road regulations

In Indonesia, people drive on the left-hand side of the road, and standard international driving laws apply. However, in addition to following these, you will need to drive with a fluorescent safety jacket, warning triangle, first aid kit, and fire extinguisher in your car. It can also come in handy to carry a spare set of bulbs with you.

If you drive in Indonesia, you should always be able to present an international driver's licence, as well as car registration and insurance documents. A minimum of third party insurance is also compulsory and you must carry valid proof of this.

You can drive using an international driving permit that has been issued in Indonesia, as well as your driver's licence from your home country. Alternatively, you can have the international driving permit issued in your home country before you leave, but this may need to be endorsed by the Indonesian licensing office in Jakarta once you arrive.

Indonesia is not part of the 1949 Geneva Convention on Road Traffic, so you aren't allowed to drive with only your original driver's license.

The speed limit is 50kph in urban areas in Indonesia, and 100kph on a motorway, but the only proper motorways in the country are in Java. There are a few fixed speed cameras in some places, but the police tend to rather use handheld devices and stop anyone speeding and issue a ticket and fine.

Although the law may state that only the driver and the front seat passenger needs to wear a seatbelt, it's advisable that everyone in a moving vehicle should always wear one for their safety. Likewise, there are no laws stating car seat requirements for children, but if you rent a car and have kids, then it's advisable to request for suitable seats to be fitted before you collect the car.

Despite the fact that Indonesia is a secular country, it has a strong Islamic influence, and there is zero tolerance for those caught driving under the influence of alcohol — the penalties are severe and can include corporal punishment, prison, and extradition.

Indonesian driver's license

Only foreigners who live in Indonesia on a KITAS or KITAP visa and meet the specific age requirements are allowed to have a local license. An Indonesian driver's license (called a Surat Ijin Mengemudi, which is abbreviated to SIM) is now valid for foreigners for five years, after it needs to be renewed.

Expats can apply for a SIM in their region of residence in Indonesia. It is particularly handy because it also serves as another form of photo ID, meaning that you will no longer have to carry your passport around with you.

The Indonesian police issues driver’s licenses, so you will need to visit your local mid-level police station (called a polresta, poltabes or polres, depending on where you live). To find out where your nearest one is, simply search online for 'polres' and the name of your area. You can even now pre-register your application online and, to apply for a licence, you should be prepared to submit the following documents:

  • Your passport
  • A photocopy of the passport pages that contain identity information, your visa and entry stamp
  • The original and a copy of your KITAS or KITAP card
  • The original and a copy of any valid driver’s license(s) you already have
  • A medical certificate (surat kesehatan) from a medical check, which usually just tests your eyes and blood pressure.
  • The originals and copies of the two identity cards required for foreigners (KTP-OA and SKTT)

If you are applying for more than one type of license, then you will need to make separate copies for each license and pay for separate SIM applications.

Even if you already have a valid foreign driver’s license, you will still be required to pass a theory test, which is a series of 30 multiple choice questions that you have 30 minutes to complete (there should be an English version of the exam, but you are allowed to bring a translator if not). You will need to answer 21 questions correctly or you will be required to take the test again seven days later.

If this is your first Indonesian driver's license, you will also need to pass a practical exam that consists of showing that you have mastered basic manoeuvres and skills. Although a motorbike or a car with manual transmission will be provided for the test, it is arguably better to bring your own vehicle if you have a small one, as you may be more comfortable driving your own.

Useful Phrases in Indonesia

I have broken down - Saya telah dirobohkan

I have a flat tyre - Saya memiliki ban kempes

I have been in an accident - Saya telah dalam kecelakaan

Where is the police station? - Dimanakah kantor polisi?

Where can I buy petrol? - Dimana saya bisa membeli bensin?

 Useful links:
Theory test practice questions
Pre-registration of driving licence
National Police of Indonesia

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