Updated 5 months ago

Located on the island of Sumatra, just inland from the Port of Belawan, Medan is regarded as one of Indonesia's most notable gastronomic destinations, as well as the gateway to the wilds of northern Sumatra.

Proportionately, there is a bigger Chinese community living in Medan than in Jakarta, with a significant Tamil population as well, both of which contribute to the city's unique culinary diversity and gastronomic delights— be sure to visit Jalan Semarang at night for Chinese food. It is also arguably one of the most tolerant cities in Indonesia and, although it is nowhere near as big as Jakarta, Medan has doubled in size over the past couple of decades and is now home to a population of approximately 2.5 million, with condominiums and hotels popping up to support this influx.

One of the bonuses of living in Medan is that it makes for a very convenient base from which to travel to other parts of Indonesia as well as Malaysia (particularly to Penang and Kuala Lumpur). This means that you are only one hour away from the charm of Malaysia and its excellent healthcare.

Where to live in Medan

Although Medan is an urban stronghold, there are only a few high-rise buildings and far fewer skyscrapers than in other big Indonesian cities. Some parts of the city are notably more developed than others. The influence of former Dutch colonisers can still be seen in a lot of the old architecture, and many city-dwellers live in four-storey houses that are similar to those found in the Netherlands. Most of the historic buildings are located quite close to each other, near Kesawan, which is the oldest street in Medan and used to be the economic heart of the city.

Expats living here can generally get more for their Indonesian rupiah than in many other cities in Indonesia, but housing prices vary greatly depending on the quality, size and location.

The majority of expatriates in Medan live in either the Taman Setia Budi (Tasbi) area or in one of the complexes near Polonia, the old airport. There are a few high-rise apartment buildings in Medan, but most expats also tend to live in houses in large-gated communities. The housing complexes that are particularly popular with expats are Setia Budi, Bumi Asri, and Cemara Asri. Royal Sumatra and Citra Garden are other well-run complexes that are popular with families, as both have good access to Medan Independent School.

Medan has very limited public transportation, so it's advisable for expatriates to have their own car or motorbike, and it's worth renting accommodation that is close to your place of work to save you time and energy on the chaotic roads. With an estimated 5 million motorised vehicles, the road network is close to saturation point. The M3 monorail project and a rapid-transit bus network have been proposed to replace the private minibuses, but this remains to be seen.

It is also worth noting that Medan is known to have issues with blackouts, and although these happen all over Indonesia, they are significantly more frequent in Medan than in cities such as Bandung and Jakarta. It is therefore advisable to ensure that your accommodation has a generator or to invest in one if need be.

Finding accommodation in Medan

One of the best ways to find out about places to live in Medan is from other expatriates. If you wish to meet other foreigners and enjoy an inexpensive drink, then the Medan Club is a popular expatriate hang-out and a great place to make friends and get local information.

The city comes alive after sunset, and Medan has numerous nightlife options, from wine bars to exclusive hotels. Notable expat institutions are The Traders, and O'Flaherty's Bar and Restaurant, which is particularly busy on a Friday night. The Entrance Music Temple is also a trendy nightspot. It is located in the Grand Aston Hotel and is very popular with expats living in Medan.

Otherwise, it is a good idea to search on a specialised website or contact an estate agent in Medan to help you to find accommodation that suits your needs and budget.

 Useful links:

Rumah Mewah Medan
Air BnB
Medan, Sumatran & Indonesian News for Expats 

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