Jakarta's networking etiquette

The networking etiquette in Jakarta
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Updated 2022-09-26 12:32

It can sometimes be difficult, as an expat, to build a professional network in your new host country, especially in Indonesia, where the business culture is made up of unspoken rules. To leave a positive and lasting impression on potential business partners, you need to understand and respect local business etiquette, as well as some basic principles.

To work in Indonesia, you will need to establish a good social network. Jakarta is not only the largest and most populous city in the Indonesian archipelago, but it is also the business center of Indonesia. Setting up a social or professional network there can be relatively easy, in particular, if you have already found a job in Jakarta. But you will need to show respect for the Indonesian culture and way of life. You will particularly need to be very attentive to the social hierarchy that needs to be taken into account at all times when interacting with local rofessionals.

Social hierarchy in Jakarta

Just like other Asiatic cultures, Indonesians attach great importance to social hierarchy. Each person has their place in society based on age, status, seniority, etc. Although you should respect everyone you interact with, you will need to show even more respect to those at the top. As a rule of thumb, the older and more senior a person is, the higher their position in the hierarchy.

Be absolutely sure to give priority to greeting those at the highest level of the hierarchy by addressing them the proper way.

In business circles, address men as "Sir", "Bapak" or "Pak". Women should be addressed as "Madam", "Miss" (if you know she is not yet married), "Ibu" or "Bu".

Do not call people "Mas" or "Mbak" unless invited to do so. It is considered rude and disrespectful.

Body language in Jakarta

In Jakarta, humility and respect are valued. While self-confidence is welcome in a business context, it should not be mistaken for arrogance.

In that sense, body language is crucial:

  • The left hand is considered impure! Therefore, do not use it to receive and give things, to shake hands, or to eat.
  • Avoid pointing with your index finger, especially at other people. Use your whole palm or thumb instead.
  • Do not cross your hands in front of your chest. It is regarded as a sign of arrogance.
  • Don't put your hands on your hips when standing for the same reason.
  • Avoid showing the soles of your feet when seated, especially to other people.
  • Always return a smile to people who smile at you.

The dress code in Jakarta

For business meetings in Jakarta, the dress code adheres to international standards. For formal business events, men wear suits and ties, while women wear blouses, skirts, pants or dresses.

Some networking events may be less strict on dress codes while still encouraging elegance and casualness.

Don't wear revealing clothing, especially if you're meeting locals for business reasons. Avoid shorts, ripped jeans, sleeveless tops, etc., even if you are going to a very casual meeting. Wear modest, more conservative clothing as a sign of respect.

Business cards in Jakarta

Exchanging business cards is a great way to expand your network. As in other Asian countries, business cards are handled with care and respect in Jakarta. So, when you give or receive a business card, use your right hand or both hands. Avoid using your left hand. It is also important to place your received business cards with respect, for example in your wallet or purse.

Business cards written in English are tolerated, but it is always better to have cards written in English on one side and in Indonesian on the other. Also, make sure your titles and contact information are clearly displayed to avoid confusion.

Topics of conversation in Jakarta

In general, Indonesians like to talk about everything. However, some topics are taboo, especially at a business or networking event. Conversations about sex, material goods, ethnic or religious stereotypes, politics and religion are to be avoided. But if the topic is brought up by someone, be as polite as possible and keep control of the discussion, even diverting the conversation to topics such as families, local communities, food, interesting events and places, stories from your home country, etc.

Moreover, keep in mind that Jakartans will not hesitate to ask personal questions, such as marital status, age and religion. These topics are common, so don't be surprised!

Good to know:

If you are an atheist, it is recommended that you choose a religion and change the subject.

Business meals in Jakarta

You may be invited to have dinner with your business partners. In such case, upon arriving, greet your host and all those present according to their position in the social hierarchy. Wait until you are invited by your host before taking your seat. Likewise, do not start eating until your host has started eating or has invited the guests to eat.

It is worth noting that Indonesians seldom drink alcohol in general, even more so as a large part of the population is of the Muslim faith. While Indonesian culture does not condemn alcohol consumption, it does not encourage it either. Therefore, unless your host offers you a glass of wine, avoid ordering alcoholic beverages during business dinners in Jakarta.

Useful links:

Asian Link Business - professional label in Indonesia

Career Addict - professional etiquette in Indonesia

We do our best to provide accurate and up to date information. However, if you have noticed any inaccuracies in this article, please let us know in the comments section below.