Finding a job and working in Indonesia

Updated 2022-09-20 21:10

As one of the major regional economic powerhouses in Southeast Asia, Indonesia attracts foreign professionals looking for opportunities to work. In exchange, the country provides one of the highest standards of living in Southeast Asia.

Long on the sidelines of global economic development, Indonesia has experienced accelerated urbanization and growth over the past 20 years. This is mirrored across a large section of the country, especially in the major cities, through the development of products and services for the population. The country's cities are constantly growing, and the trend is not limited to its capital city, Jakarta. If you want to live and work in Indonesia, do not hesitate to explore the country to find the ideal city and the best professional opportunities. There are all kinds of opportunities.
According to UNFPA (the United Nations Population Fund), 59% of Java's population now live in urban areas, and this figure is expected to rise to 78% by 2035. This globally means that Indonesia is slowly but surely moving from a predominantly rural society to one where two-thirds of its population live in urban areas. As such, employment opportunities are expected to go on the rise, especially in the tourism sector, as well as English language tutoring, for instance. This trend is bringing many new needs and necessary changes throughout the country, and expatriates can take advantage of the situation.
Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic in Indonesia, the island of Java experienced a large emigration wave. Many Indonesian citizens were leaving their country or islands to seek a better life elsewhere or to escape Java's overpopulation. Surprisingly, the population of the main Indonesian island never stopped growing, showing, by the same way, that there was still a large number of immigrants who were keeping the balance of island's population.
In an article published by McKinsey, it is stated that the percentage of the Indonesian population living in urban areas is expected to reach 71% by 2030. This would imply increased spending in many sectors such as financial services, entertainment and retail. Because of this urbanization trend, opportunities in the infrastructure and real estate sectors are expected to surge in Indonesia's fast-growing cities.
McKinsey's research also highlights the fact that Indonesians value brands more than consumers in many other developing countries. Even if there is a general preference for local brands (especially in the food and beverage industry), multinational companies have a bright future in Indonesia, as long as they are willing to develop a marketing strategy that resonates with local consumers.
Remember that government policy requires foreigners working in Indonesia to be experts in their fields. Thus, if you qualify for a position, your employer will need to demonstrate that you have the necessary skills, credentials and experience, provide a letter of recommendation, and also prove that no Indonesian is capable of doing the same job. This documentation is usually in the form of a letter of recommendation from the company that employs you, explaining why you were preferred to a local citizen for a particular position.
To be able to live and work in Indonesia, you will also need to obtain a work permit (IMTA), a limited stay visa (KITAS) and a multiple exit permit (MERP). Moreover, you will need to show patience and resilience, as the process takes between two and three months to complete. However, as a salaried expatriate, you will be able to enter Indonesia immediately after obtaining the work visa, usually within two months of filing the application. Also, note that defaulters are subject to severe penalties.

Job protection in Indonesia

In addition, you should bear in mind that the Indonesian government has always been very protective of domestic employment. This has traditionally been a requirement for being elected in this country. It is all about managing the country's attractiveness for doing business and the political will to guarantee access to better employment opportunities to the local population. This policy has become so prevalent over the years in Indonesia that employment across entire economic sectors was simply made unavailable to expatriates.
Likewise, foreign investment in many sectors of the local economy was virtually banned, much to the dismay of the international community. A Negative Income List was even published, listing all the sectors where only Indonesian citizens could invest. Many of Indonesia's economic partners have called on the local authorities to review this investment policy over the years, but to no avail, until recently.
But with the Covid-19 pandemic having had a dramatic economic impact on the country's economy, Indonesian authorities have lately come around to a more positive stance toward foreign investors. Such a strategy is expected to help the country revive its economy, according to national policymakers. The Negative Income List has been replaced by a Positive Income List, and all local economic sectors have been opened to foreign investment, except for certain practices considered illegal. There are six sectors that are still banned: narcotics, fishing of endangered marine species, chemical weaponry, casinos and gambling, production of ozone-depleting chemicals, and coral mining (for housing, jewelry and other purposes).
This new policy of openness to investment should also, by boomerang effect, allow foreigners to access more employment opportunities throughout the archipelago and in a greater number of sectors.

Labor laws in Indonesia

In Indonesia, employment matters are governed by the country's labor laws, which must be followed and cannot be circumvented on a contractual basis.
Generally, fundamental working rights stand as follows:
  • A maximum work week of 40 hours, over five or six days,
  • At least one-half hour break for every four hours worked,
  • Overtime not to exceed three hours per day and 14 hours per week,
  • 12 days of annual leave per year (applicable from the second year of employment),
  • Official holidays,
  • Menstrual leave (up to two days per month), maternity leave (three months) and miscarriage leave (1.5 months) with a doctor's note,
  • Mandatory social security programs provided by BPJS Ketenagakerjaan and BPJS Kesehatan,
  • Old age benefits,
  • Health insurance,
  • A contract termination package based on last monthly salary and length of service, including severance pay, seniority pay, and compensation for remaining annual leave, repatriation costs, medical costs, and housing costs.

How to find a job in Indonesia?

Many international companies have offices in Indonesia, and most of them are located around the capital, Jakarta, on the island of Java. So, if you work in such a company, why not request an internal transfer? This opportunity not only facilitates the procedures for obtaining a work permit but also makes the transition abroad much easier since it will be the responsibility of the company to carry out most of the administrative procedures necessary for your expatriation. If you do not have this option, you can contact companies based in Indonesia that offer jobs in your field directly. Most of them publish job offers on their websites, so you can apply directly online.
With the help of the Internet, you can always browse through specialized job boards such as Job Street, Jobs DB or Monster to find out which jobs match your profile.
It's a good idea to upload your resume to a business-focused social networking service, such as LinkedIn, and sign up for a job forum, such as, to get advice from Indonesia-based expats. Also, consider getting a free CV review at TopCV.
Word of mouth is also a great way to learn about opportunities if you have friends or contacts in Indonesia. If you're off on a scouting trip, don't forget to keep an eye out for networking events in Indonesia or simply hire a recruitment agency in the area where you want to work.

Indonesia's work culture

The work culture in Indonesia tends to be more relaxed, which is great news for potential expatriates. This is understandable, as Indonesians are known for their friendliness, bright smiles and openness to others. It is customary for employees to say "thank you" to each other after a day of work. This is even the case after perhaps less productive days, or when goals are not met. It is a way for employees to show their gratitude for the efforts and dedication of their colleagues.
Here's a little tip to make your integration easier. In Indonesian, "thank you" is said "Terima Kasih". Don't hesitate to learn a few words or expressions of the local language; your colleagues will be delighted to see that you are making an effort and will only welcome you more warmly into their team. It is also a tradition in some companies to shake hands with all your colleagues when you arrive at the office and before you go home at night, always as a sign of respect. Beware, you may be considered rude if you don't, so ask your colleagues about the company's habits on your first day on the job.
As a result, you will usually not have too much trouble finding a company with a warm and fulfilling work environment in Indonesia. Work-life balance is also very important for most local companies. In fact, local bosses have realized that a happy employee is more productive and that everyone needs to rest. Overwork is, therefore, rare in Indonesia. Nevertheless, seriousness is still required at work, as well as respect for the hierarchy, which is of utmost importance. There is no question of challenging your boss's decisions and even less of doing so in front of your colleagues, which could be considered a serious offense punishable by a work warning.

As is generally the case in many Asian countries, conflict management, both at work and outside of work, is peculiar. In general, Indonesians prefer to avoid it altogether. They tend to be very tolerant of mistakes at work and of those who fail to achieve their goals. But even in this warm and tolerant environment, conflicts are sometimes inevitable. If this happens, be sure to discuss it calmly with the person involved in private, as public settlements are frowned upon and may also result in a warning for the people involved.
Finally, when it comes to the dress code at work, local customs are rather conservative. Business leaders in Indonesia expect you to dress neatly and professionally. For men, jackets are often the norm, or long-sleeved shirts at best. Women, on the other hand, can wear skirts or pants, but only if the clothes are not too tight. Also, necklines should be avoided. Indeed, wearing clothes considered provocative at work can be extremely shocking in Indonesia. It is, therefore, better to abstain.
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