What makes Indonesia a unique country to travel to?
Indonesia is an independent republic consisting of more than 17,500 islands spread over 3,400 miles along the Equator. The main islands are Java, Sumatra, Bali, Kalimantan (Borneo), Sulawesi (Celebes), Papua, Halmahera, and Seram. The capital city of Jakarta lies in the lowlands of West Java, the most populated island. The country has approximately 246,000,000 people and more than 300 ethnic groups.
Indonesia's geographic location and topography make the country prone to natural disasters, especially seismic upheaval due to its location on the "Ring of Fire," an arc of volcanoes and fault lines encircling the Pacific Basin. Indonesia is a developing country with a growing economy and many infrastructure shortcomings, especially in rural areas.
Crime can be a problem in some major metropolitan areas in Indonesia. Crimes of opportunity such as pick-pocketing and theft occur throughout the country. If you are in Jakarta and Surabaya, hire a taxi either at a major hotel or shopping center queue, or by calling or hailing a reputable taxi company, such as Silver Bird, Blue Bird or White Express. If you are arriving at Soekarno-Hatta International Airport in Jakarta, use only these taxis obtained at a designated taxi queue or clearly marked taxi stand. Politely decline all offers of help from touts or anyone who approaches you. Major hotels have staff on duty to offer safe meet-and-greet service at airports and can also direct their hotel guests to a reliable taxi. It is best to request meet and greet services from your hotel in advance. Add about 25,000 Rupiah to the metered fare for required airport taxes and toll road fees. Depending on traffic, a minimum metered fare is 150,000-200,000 Rupiah from Soekarno-Hatta airport to central Jakarta. Criminals in Jakarta regularly rob customers in taxis painted to look like taxis from reputable companies; booking taxis by telephone directly from the company or through hotels is the best way to avoid falling victim to this scam.
Armed car-jacking, theft of vehicles and non-violent residential break-ins do occur in Indonesia. Personal and "snatch-and-grab" robberies are the most common type of crime, and have occurred regularly, to include targeting expatriates and embassy personnel. There continue to be crimes committed against people taking disreputable and freelance taxis. These types of crimes usually involve the driver taking his passenger(s) - usually women - to a remote area where a group of armed men rob them of their jewelry, cell phones, money and any other items of value such as ATM cards and force the victim(s) to reveal his or her PIN codes so that the assailants could obtain cash. In a few instances, the criminals drove with the victim in the taxi to an ATM machine and forced them to withdraw cash. Visitors to Indonesia should use only reputable taxi companies and avoid public mass transit platforms such as buses and trains. Pick pocketing is another crime that both locals and visitors fall victim to, with most pick pocketing occurring in crowded areas such as the mass transit system or in restaurants/bars. Indonesian police have noted an upward trend in burglaries and armed robberies in Jakarta, an increase of 25 percent in 2010, particularly in wealthier areas where expatriates tend to live. The best defense is to proactively take personal responsibility for your own security: know the layout of your dwelling, have someone at home at all times, discuss security procedures with your family and household staff, and know your neighborhood.
Claiming to act in the name of religious or moral standards, certain extremist groups have, on occasion, attacked nightspots and places of entertainment. Most of these attacks have sought to destroy property rather than to injure individuals. International news events can sometimes trigger anti-American or anti-Western demonstrations.
Credit card fraud and theft is a serious and growing problem in Indonesia, particularly for Westerners. Travelers should minimize use of credit cards and instead use cash. If used, credit card numbers should be closely safeguarded at all times. Travelers should also avoid using credit cards for online transactions at Internet cafes and similar venues. Travelers who decide to use credit cards should monitor their credit card activity carefully and immediately report any unauthorized use to their financial institution. ATM cards have been skimmed and cloned, resulting in bank accounts being drained. If you choose to use an ATM, exercise the same level of caution you would in the United States when using unfamiliar ATM machines and monitor your statements closely. Selecting tour guides, hotels, and business partners based on their reputation, competence, and ability to help can be very useful when considering a stay in Indonesia.
Additionally, organized crime is also a problem in Indonesia including illegal logging and fishing, trafficking-in-persons, the sale of illicit and counterfeit drugs, and corruption. You are encouraged to carry a copy of your U.S. passport with you at all times so that if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and proof of U.S. citizenship are readily available. If you are arrested or detained, formal notification of the arrest is normally provided in writing to the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, a process that can take several weeks. If detained, telephone the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, or the nearest U.S. consular office immediately.
Drink poisoning and "drink-spiking incidents have been of increasing concern. There have been several reports of foreign tourists and Indonesians suffering from methanol poisoning from adulterated liquor or cocktails, most recently in Bali and Lombok. This has led to serious illness and, in some cases, death. There have also been reports of methanol poisoning from drinking adulterated Arak/Arrack, a local rice or palm liquor. The symptoms of methanol poisoning include headache, dizziness, nausea, and lack of coordination. Symptoms that can occur from 10 to up to 30 hours after initial consumption of methanol include, blurring or complete loss of vision.
There have been many reports of “drink-spiking” in clubs and nightspots. One drug used in these incidents is believed to be an animal tranquilizer, and its effects are extremely powerful. Besides putting the victim in an unconscious state for a long time, the side effects include memory loss, nausea, headaches, and vomiting. Although most of these incidents involve male victims, it is important to remember that females have been victimized in the past with "Date-Rape" drugs. Local, "home brew" alcoholic drinks may also be spiked.
Some ways to avoid “drink-spiking” and drink poisoning include: go out with a group; do not leave drinks unattended; drink at reputable establishments licensed to serve alcohol; do not drink home-brewed alcoholic drinks; be aware that labels on bottles may have been altered or the contents may have been changed; and drink responsibly, in moderation. Even though alcohol is widely available, public inebriation is highly frowned upon.
If you or someone you are traveling with exhibit signs of methanol poisoning or drink spiking, seek immediate medical attention. Maritime piracy in Indonesian waters continues, although incidents have decreased steadily in recent years. The most recent reports are of thefts of valuables or cargo from boats that are in port and not at sea. Before traveling by sea, especially in the Straits of Malacca between the Riau Province and Singapore and in the waters north of Sulawesi and Kalimantan, travelers are recommended to review the current security situation with local authorities.
While counterfeit and pirated goods are widely available in Indonesia, if you purchase them you may be breaking local law. Travelers are reminded thatpenalties may apply if bootleg items are brought into the United States.
While you are traveling in Indonesia, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Persons violating Indonesian laws, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. There are also some things that might be legal in the country you visit, but still illegal in the United States; for example, you can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. In Indonesia, you may be detained for questioning if you don't have your passport with you. It is also illegal to take pictures of certain buildings, and driving under the influence could land you immediately in jail. If you break local laws in Indonesia, your U.S. passport won't help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It's very important to know what's legal and what's not where you are going.
Certain areas of Indonesia are under Sharia law; see the section under Special Circumstances.
In March 2008, the Indonesian parliament passed a bill criminalizing the access of internet sites containing violent or pornographic material. Anyone found guilty of the new offense could be jailed for up to three years or have to pay a heavy fine.
Engaging in sexual conduct with children, using, and/or disseminating child pornography is a crime prosecutable in the United States regardless of the country where the activity occurs. The Indonesian child protection law imposes up to 15 years in prison for those convicted of engaging in sexual contact with a child, and the anti-trafficking in persons law imposes 15 years in prison for anyone engaging in sex with a victim of trafficking.
Penalties for possession, use, or trafficking in illegal drugs in Indonesia are severe, and convicted offenders can expect long jail sentences and heavy fines. A life sentence or the death penalty can be given in cases of drug trafficking; several foreigners have been sentenced to death in recent years. One U.S. citizen was given a life sentence for drug trafficking. Indonesian prisons are harsh and do not meet Western standards. Many prisoners are required to supplement their prison diets and clothing with funds from relatives. Medical and dental care in Indonesian prisons, while available, is below Western standards, and access to medical testing to diagnose illness as well as medications to treat conditions are often difficult to obtain.
Arrest notifications in Indonesia: While some countries will automatically notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate if a U.S. citizen is detained or arrested in a foreign country, that might not always be the case. To ensure that the United States Government is aware of your circumstances, request that the police and prison officials notify the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate as soon as you are arrested or detained overseas.
To reach the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta, dial (62) (021)-3435-9000 ext. 0 for the operator and ask for the duty officer. Please remain calm and accept the assistance from and information provided by an Embassy Consular Officer who will visit the arrestee at the earliest possible opportunity.
The official language is Indonesian (a variety of Malay). However, some 300 other languages are also spoken in the country. One of them, Javanese is the most common with more than 70 million speakers. More than half the population speaks some Indonesian or Malay. Because Dutch was the official language until 1942, some older adults still speak it. English is the leading international language and is taught as a second language in the schools (after Indonesian). Ethnic languages are taught in special classes.
Medical Facilities and Health Information
The general level of sanitation and health care in Indonesia is far below U.S. standards. Some routine medical care is available in all major cities, although most expatriates leave the country for all but the simplest medical procedures. Psychological and psychiatric services are limited throughout Indonesia. Medical procedures requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to locations with acceptable medical care, such as Singapore, Australia, or the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Physicians and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment or sizable deposits before offering medical care. A non-exhaustive list of English-speaking doctors and hospitals is accessible via the U.S. Embassy Jakarta's website. Many places in Indonesia are inaccessible to the physically handicapped. Sidewalks tend to be uneven and difficult to navigate, and many buildings do not have elevators.
Ambulance services are individually run by hospitals and clinics. Indonesian ambulance attendants lack paramedical training equivalent to U.S. standards, and there is no reliable emergency ambulance service in Indonesia. If you are staying in Indonesia for an extended period, especially if you have known health problems, you are advised to investigate private ambulance services in your area, and to provide family and close contacts with the direct telephone number(s) of the preferred service. Traffic congestion is a significant problem in urban Indonesia and roads are generally in poor condition in rural Indonesia, so ambulance transport, if it exists at all, even over short distances can take hours.
Community sanitation and public health programs are inadequate throughout Indonesia and subject to frequent breakdowns. Water and air pollution and traffic congestion have rapidly increased with the unstructured growth of major cities. Almost all maladies of the developing world are endemic to Indonesia, and immediate treatment is problematic. Residents are subject to water- and food-borne illnesses such as typhoid, hepatitis, cholera, worms, amebiasis, giardia, cyclospora, and bacterial dysentery.
Mosquito-borne dengue fever and tuberculosis exist throughout Indonesia and have been serious in Jakarta. Indonesia has the highest incidence of dengue fever in Asia, which is caused by several species of mosquitoes biting during the day. Multiple drug-resistant strains of malaria are endemic in some parts of Indonesia but not in metropolitan Jakarta, Medan, Surabaya, and Bali; even short stays can be disastrous without malaria prophylaxis. Precautions against being bitten – such as mosquito repellent, wearing long sleeves, and sleeping under a bed net are all recommended. Malaria prophylaxis is highly recommended for travel to malaria-endemic areas outside major cities. Travelers to Sulawesi should be tested for schistosomiasis.
Asthma and other respiratory difficulties are common and generally worse in Jakarta than in other areas, exacerbated by the high pollution levels. Indonesia has one of the highest prevalence of tuberculosis, which is transmitted through the air, shared smoking devices, and particularly in densely crowded areas. Precautions include wearing a face mask when in crowded areas, and having a PPD test after departure. Skin allergies are also common. Avian (H5N1), swine (H1N1) influenza, and seasonal influenza (H2N3) are endemic in Indonesia all year with peaks during the rainy season (November- April). Influenza vaccination may be helpful to reduce instances of seasonal flu (H2N3). High risk areas for highly pathogenic avian influenza (H5N1) are live-bird markets around the greater Jakarta area. Current information about influenza in Indonesia can be found on Flu Net ( http://www.who.int/influenza/gisrs_laboratory/flunet/en/ ). Rabies is endemic in Indonesia, but extensive dog vaccination has reduced cases in Bali by almost 80% with a possibility for elimination by the end of 2012; other islands in East Nusa Tenggara (NTT) and Sumatra still pose risks for rabies. Rabies is a highly fatal disease and treatment availability is very limited. If bitten, immediately seek treatment at a reputable medical clinic or hospital. If you will spend time in rural areas while in Indonesia the CDC recommends rabies vaccination. Indonesia has been polio-free since 2007. Travelers are urged to consult with their personal physicians and to get updated information on prevalent diseases before traveling to Indonesia. Travelers should be current on all recommended immunizations; those planning on traveling extensively should consider the series of three pre-exposure inoculations against rabies. Local pharmacies carry a range of products of variable quality, availability, and cost. Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a significant risk and U.S. citizens should patronize only reputable pharmacies.
Tap water is not potable. In 2008, Indonesian authorities found that 100 percent of tap water samples from the Jakarta area tested positive for coliform bacteria, as well as high concentrations of toxic chemicals, including lead and mercury. Bottled water should be used for consumption, including for cooking. Factory bottled soft drinks, and juices and milk sold in sealed containers are generally safe. Take extra care preparing fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats. If you cannot see refrigerators, expect that any food, especially street food, is preserved with high concentrations of formaldehyde derivatives. Consider that unprocessed or raw food may be unsafe even in higher end establishments. Washing, soaking, peeling, and/or thoroughly cooking food are mandatory procedures to minimize insecticide, bacterial, and parasitic contamination. Gastrointestinal disorders are common. A wide variety of foods are available in local markets and supermarkets, and with some care and effort, it is possible to eat a well-balanced diet.
Frequent hand washing, using hand sanitizer, wearing mosquito repellent, not eating street food, and drinking only bottled beverages are some ways to stay healthy while traveling.
Car and motorcycle accidents are the primary causes of severe injury to foreigners living and traveling in Indonesia. Defensive driving and use of seatbelts are encouraged. Use of motorcycles and bicycling in traffic are both discouraged. Rh negative blood may be difficult to obtain in an area with very few Westerners. Therefore, it is important to know your blood type and recognize that scarcity may be a problem.
Updated information and links to the World Health Organization (WHO) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are posted on the U.S. Embassy Jakarta's website.
Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website.
Safety and Security
Since 2005, the Indonesian police and security forces have disrupted a number of terrorist cells, including Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), a U.S. government-designated terrorist organization that carried out several bombings at various times from 2000 to 2012. Indonesia suffered its worst terrorist attack in 2002, when more than 200 foreign tourists and Indonesian citizens were killed in Bali. Deadly car bombs have exploded outside hotels and resorts frequented by Westerners in Jakarta and Bali in 2003 and 2005 and outside of the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2004. In July 2009, JI-affiliated elements bombed two Western hotels in Jakarta, killing nine Indonesians and foreigners and injuring over 50, including six U.S. citizens. Since these attacks, Indonesia has effectively pursued counterterrorism efforts through legislation and law enforcement. In 2010, security forces arrested more than 100 individuals on terrorism-related charges. However, violent elements in Indonesia continue to demonstrate a willingness and ability to carry out violent attacks with little or no warning.
Regionally, terrorist cells and insurgents have targeted police stations and officers. In October 2012, two police officers were found assassinated in Poso, Sulawesi. In November 2012, there were various armed attacks on police stations and officers in Central Java, including a bomb found in Pasar Kliwon Police Precinct, Surakarta. Fortunately, many of these attacks failed due to Indonesian National Police (INP) intervention.
Extremists may target both official and private interests, including hotels, nightclubs, shopping areas, and restaurants. Whether at work, pursuing daily activities, and/or while traveling, you should be vigilant and prudent at all times. Monitor local news reports, vary your routes and times, and maintain a low profile. Be sure to consider the security and safety preparedness of hotels, residences, restaurants, and entertainment or recreational venues that you frequent.
In November 2009, unknown assailants shot at foreigners in Banda Aceh, North Sumatra, an area that was devastated by the 2004 tsunami and the scene of a long-running separatist conflict that ended in 2005. The gunfire wounded a European development worker. In the same area, a house occupied by U.S. citizen teachers was targeted and hit by gunfire, but there were no U.S. citizen casualties.
Be aware that a real or even perceived offense may generate a negative or even violent response from local people. For example, in June 2008, two U.S. citizens in western Sumatra were beaten after they reportedly accused a local man of theft. In the same month, another U.S. citizen in Sumatra was threatened by members of a local mosque when he complained about being awakened from his sleep by the morning call to prayer.
Demonstrations are common in Jakarta and throughout Indonesia. Common areas for protest activity in Jakarta include both the Hotel Indonesia traffic circle and the U.S. Embassy. While these demonstrations are usually peaceful and police presence is normally sufficient to maintain order, demonstrations have occasionally become violent, particularly when involving issues related to religion. In the past, anti-American demonstrations at the Embassy have been sparked by U.S. foreign policy towards the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and other issues related to the Middle East, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
From September through November 2012, significant protest activity occurred throughout the region following the release of “Innocence of Muslims,” a video that depicted extremely anti-Islamic sentiment.
We advise that people avoid large crowds and other gatherings that could turn violent.
Localized political violence and civil unrest due to ethnic, sectarian, religious and separatist reasons is not uncommon in various parts of the country. Religious and ethnic violence is common in Central Sulawesi. Papua harbors a persistent separatist movement, which includes a small number of armed Free Papua Movement guerillas who have attacked Indonesian government targets and personnel in the Puncak Jaya area of the Papuan highlands, and security forces continue to pursue separatist guerillas there. In the area between Timika and the copper and gold mine of Grasberg in Papua, there have also been over 30 shooting incidents between 2009 and early 2012 by unknown gunmen who were targeting Indonesian security personnel employees, and contractors of a U.S. multi-national mining company.
Indonesia's location on the "Ring of Fire" often results in severe seismic events that can pose grave threats, and disrupt daily life and regional air travel. When these events occur, there is typically little to no warning and Indonesian emergency response capabilities are limited in the best of circumstances. U.S. citizens must prepare for unforeseen emergencies when living or traveling in Indonesia.
If you have an Indonesian cell phone you may sign up to receive U.S. Embassy emergency text message alerts by composing a text message on your cell phone utilizing the following format:
REGALRTLASTNAME#FIRSTNAME, e.g. REGALRTDOE#JOHN;
Send to 9388 from your Indonesian cell phone and you will receive a text message confirmation of enrollment. Please note that you will be charged RP1000 per SMS Alert Message.
Please maintain up-to-date travel documents and personal papers in the event you must depart Indonesia quickly in an emergency. Travel distances, poor communications, and inadequate infrastructure make it extremely difficult for the Embassy to respond to U.S. citizen emergencies in some areas. Many parts of Indonesia (including many tourist destinations) are isolated and difficult to reach or contact.
Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
There has been a rapid rise in all manners of public and private transportation within Indonesia. New private airlines have begun operations over the past several years, as have new bus and ferry lines. Air, ferry, and road accidents resulting in fatalities, injuries, and significant damage are common. Indonesia experienced several fatal plane crashes and non-fatal runway overruns in 2011. Additionally, several ferry accidents and a train collision resulted in dozens of fatalities and even more injuries, due to over-crowding and unsafe conditions. Indonesia continues to hold a category 2 safety rating after the Federal Aviation Administration lowered the rating in March 2007.
While all forms of transportation are ostensibly regulated in Indonesia, oversight is spotty, equipment tends to be less well maintained than that operated in the United States, amenities do not typically meet Western standards, and rescue/emergency response is notably lacking. Travelers by boat or ferry should not board before confirming that adequate personal floatation devices are provided. Ferries are frequently overcrowded and lack basic safety equipment, and there have been a number of ferry sinkings resulting in loss of life.
While in Indonesia, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Traffic in Indonesia is highly dangerous, congested, and undisciplined. Traffic signals are frequently ignored and often in disrepair. The number and variety of vehicles on the road far exceed the capacity of existing roadways. Road conditions vary from good (in the case of toll roads and major city roads) to dangerously poor. Generally, road safety awareness is very low in Indonesia. Buses and trucks are often dangerously overloaded and travel at high speeds. Most roads outside major urban areas have a single lane of traffic in each direction, making passing dangerous. Most Indonesian drivers do not maintain a safe-following distance in a manner familiar to U.S. drivers and tend to pass or maneuver with considerably less margin for error than in the United States. Although traffic in Indonesia moves on the left side of the road, drivers tend to pass on both sides and may use the shoulder for this purpose. It is common for drivers to create extra lanes regardless of the lane markings on the roads. Nails are frequently sprinkled on roads to cause punctures and create business for tire-repair services.
Throughout Indonesia, there is an overabundance of motorcycles claiming the right of way. Many motorcycle drivers weave recklessly in and out of traffic with complete disregard for traffic regulations and simple safety precautions. Throughout the country, motor vehicles share the roads with other forms of transportation such as pedicabs, horse and ox carts, pushcarts, and domestic animals such as cows, sheep, and goats.
Indonesia requires the use of seat belts in front seats; most Indonesian automobiles do not have seat belts in the rear passenger seats. The use of infant and child car seats is uncommon, and it can be very difficult to rent a car seat. Helmets are required for all motorcycle passengers, the laws for which are inconsistently enforced. Passengers often do not wear helmets. Accidents on rented motorcycles constitute the largest cause of death and serious injury among foreign visitors to Indonesia. Given the poor quality of emergency services, an injury considered to be minor in the United States might result in greater bodily harm in Indonesia.
Accidents between a car and a motorcycle are invariably viewed as the fault of the driver of the car. Groups of motorcycle riders will sometimes threaten the driver of a car who is involved in an accident regardless of who is at fault. Expatriates and affluent Indonesians often use professional drivers. All car rental firms provide drivers for a nominal additional fee. Travelers unfamiliar with Indonesian driving conditions are strongly encouraged to hire drivers from reputable companies and recommendations.
Driving at night can be extremely dangerous outside of major urban areas. Drivers often refuse to use their lights until it is completely dark, and most rural roads are unlit. Sometimes residents in rural areas use road surfaces as public gathering areas, congregating on them after dark.
When an accident involving personal injury occurs, Indonesian law requires both drivers to await the arrival of a police officer to report the accident. Although Indonesian law requires third party insurance, most Indonesian drivers are uninsured, and even when a vehicle is insured, it is common for insurance companies to refuse to pay damages. Nevertheless, foreigners who plan to drive while in Indonesia should ensure they have appropriate insurance coverage and a valid driver's license. Ambulance service in Indonesia is unreliable, and taxis or private cars are often used to transport the injured to a medical facility. In cases of serious injury to a pedestrian, the driver of the vehicle could be required to help transport the injured person to the hospital. When an accident occurs outside a major city, it may be advisable, before stopping, to drive to the nearest police station to seek assistance.