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Living in Indonesia

Are you planning on living in Indonesia? Indonesia is an amazing country full of cultural and natural highlights. If you are considering living in Indonesia as an expatriate, read our guide for more information on Indonesia’s various regions, transportation, visa options and more.
Indonesia's rich cultural tradition reaches back thousands of years.
  • Indonesia has been subject to colonialism from the 16th to the 20th century; the official language is Bahasa and the predominant religion is Islam.
  • Its capital, Jakarta, is overcrowded and hectic, but the country offers many cultural and natural highlights, such as the island of Bali.
  • Traveling by plane is the easiest way to get around; in cities trains, buses, and taxis are a good means of transport.
  • There are different visas for various needs and/or occasions.


With a population of over 259 million, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. If you are planning on relocating to Indonesia, you will be living on the world’s largest archipelago, consisting of 17,508 or even 18,307 islands, depending on who you ask.

Only a third of the islands are inhabited, and scientists predict that about 1,500 of them will disappear by 2050. Because of their multitude, these islands have much to offer in the way of diversity. This does not only concern local flora and fauna, but also includes Indonesia’s fascinating cultural history.

Indonesia: A History Marked by Colonialism

The first human being living in Indonesia was Homo erectus or “Java Man”, as he is colloquially called. This fact places the origins of human life on the archipelago at about half a million years ago. As you can imagine, much has happened and changed since.

Life in Indonesia has been influenced by a very turbulent colonial history. It became popular among European colonialists during the 16th century, when the desire for spices was at its strongest. At that time, the native people of Indonesia met the onslaught of Portuguese rule and then, following close behind in the 17th century, came the Dutch.

The Dutch briefly lost the colony to the British following the bankruptcy of the Dutch East India Company, but regained control in 1816 and held it until the late 1940s. The Indonesians endured a long period of difficulty, as their subjugation under successive colonial empires was brutal. In the 20th century, the Indonesian population began to tactically fight for their independence, which was realized in 1949, when the Netherlands finally recognized Indonesia’s sovereignty.

In order to unify the great ethnic diversity in the country, the founding fathers of the modern state created a republic government. A brief attempt was made at a federal republic, but in 1949 it was decided that Indonesia was to be known as “The Unified Republic of Indonesia”. There are 34 provinces, which are each headed by a governor. The provinces are further subdivided into regencies and cities. The current president of Indonesia, Joko Widodo, has been in office since July 2014.

A Cauldron of Languages and Cultures

As an expat living in Indonesia, you will be living in a melting pot. The official language is Bahasa Indonesian, modified from Malay, yet a multitude of other languages and dialects can be heard as well. Other languages you might come across in Indonesia due to its colonial past are English and, to a lesser extent, Dutch.

Indonesia is home to hundreds of local languages and dialects. The most widely spoken of these is Javanese, which is also the name of the largest ethnic group in the country. The majority of Indonesians are Muslim (87.2%), with a small number of Protestants (7%), Catholics (2.9%), Hindus (1.7%), and others joining the ranks.

As mentioned previously, there are over 259 million people living in Indonesia on an area of over 1.9 million square kilometers. The largest city is its capital on Java, Jakarta, housing 10.1 million inhabitants as reported in the official 2011 census. Found on the same island, the second largest city, Surabaya, has 2.8 million people, while Bandung on Java and Medan on Sumatra follow close behind, with 2.4 and 2.1 million respectively.


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Henrik Olsen

"I was amazed how many other members in Jakarta share the same interests as me. And some of them come from Norway, too ! "

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