Sharia law: Sharia law is enforced in Aceh, northern Sumatra, by a separate police force. In a few other areas, it exists unofficially or through local legislation. In these areas, implementation is uneven, processes are opaque, and enforcement can be arbitrary. Sharia authorities rarely confront non-Muslims about violations of Sharia law, but instances have occurred. Visitors to all areas are encouraged to respect local tradition, dress modestly, and seek guidance from local police if confronted by Sharia authorities. Many women, both Muslim and non-Muslim, carry a scarf to drape around their head while traveling in Aceh, although wearing a headscarf is not compulsory, and non-Muslim women are not necessarily expected to wear one. The Sharia concept of “khalwat” forbids an unmarried man and unmarried woman (who are not close relatives) to be alone together in closed rooms or secluded areas.
Natural Disasters: Many areas of Indonesia are at high risk for natural disasters due to the country's geographic location and topography. If you are planning hikes or other outdoor activities in Indonesia, obtain up-to-date information on local conditions, travel with a reputable local guide, have overseas medical insurance, and carry a local mobile phone. Obey instructions from security and emergency personnel, and do not enter restricted areas. Organized and trained rescue services are rudimentary in populated areas and do not exist in many remote areas.
Earthquakes and Tsunamis: Indonesia is geographically located on the "ring of fire" and there are minor, and sometimes major, earthquakes somewhere in the archipelago every week. In addition to the seismic activity, there are volcanos, tsunamis, and other natural disasters, including occasional flooding.
An earthquake in the Mentawai islands in October 2010 caused a tsunami which killed over 450 locals and displaced up to tens of thousands for several weeks. Because of the islands' remoteness, emergency response personnel needed several days to evacuate tourists and bring in emergency relief supplies. In 2011, the Government of Indonesia recorded more than 250 earthquakes measuring 5.0 on the Richter scale or higher across the country. In September 2011, a 6.7 Richter scale earthquake struck Singkil Baru in Aceh. It caused three casualties and affected more than 1,500 buildings in the area.
In places where tsunamis are a potential threat, you should head inland for high ground immediately when large tremors are felt as tsunami warning systems may not be operable or reports delayed; be sure to establish an escape route beforehand. The city of Jakarta lacks an earthquake plan, according to its own 2010 report, which is a common problem replicated throughout the country.
Volcanoes: In 2010, several Indonesian volcanoes erupted and caused major damage and disruption to the populace and to economic interests. Mount Sinabung in the Tanah Karo Highlands of North Sumatra erupted in August 2010. The eruption caused the evacuation of 30,000 people. Mt. Merapi, the largest of these eruptions, resulted in 279,000 internally displaced persons, with 141 casualties and 453 injuries. Indonesia has deployed an effective volcano monitoring system, which has enabled the Government of Indonesia to inform the population about potential eruptions and to direct evacuations that prevent casualties. When Mt. Karangetang in Central Sulawesi erupted in March 2011, 1,200 residents were evacuated with no casualties.
Flooding and Landslides: During the rainy season, which runs from December to March, floods and mudslides wreak havoc in many areas of Indonesia, including Jakarta. In November 2012 alone, 40 natural disasters occurred, affecting approximately 33,000 people. Floods were the most frequent, accounting for 60 percent of all natural disasters during the month and claimed 17 casualties. Furthermore, as of January 2013, substantial flooding had occurred in Jakarta due to heavy rains. Landslides frequently follow heavy rains, and travelers should exercise caution both in and outside of cities. On the roads, be aware of the possibility of land slippage, road washouts, and potholes.
Fires: Fire departments lack modern equipment and training. Seventy percent of Jakarta's fire hydrants are inoperative, and the city fire department is only manned at fifty percent of its recommended level. Outside of Jakarta, fire prevention can be even more challenging. Occupants of high floors and crowded markets are at great risk, since fire departments typically are unable to reach those places.
Environmental Quality: Air quality outside of Jakarta and other major cities is acceptable most of the time. However, within Indonesia's major cities, air quality can range from "unhealthy for sensitive groups" to "unhealthy." Some expatriate residents of Jakarta have tested positive for highly elevated levels of carbon monoxide in their blood. The air and water quality in Jakarta is particularly polluted. Individuals susceptible to chronic respiratory illnesses should consult with their doctor before spending significant amounts of time in Jakarta. Open burning of rain forests continues, although to a lesser degree than in the early 2000s. Water is not potable. A 2008 study showed that 100 percent of Jakarta's water is contaminated by fecal coliform bacteria (see Medical Facilities and Health Information below). Only bottled water should be consumed. Sewage and drainage systems are incomplete.
Scuba Diving, Snorkeling, and Surfing: Exercise prudence when scuba diving, snorkeling, or surfing and when visiting remote tourist locations. Strong seasonal undercurrents in coastal waters pose a fatal threat to surfers and swimmers; every year, several U.S. citizens drown in unstable water. Surfers and divers should also be aware that local fishermen in coastal waters may use explosives and poisons to catch fish, although this practice is illegal in Indonesia. Rescue services are mostly ad hoc and cannot be relied upon. Dangerous marine life such as cnidaria (jellyfish) and physalia (Portugese Man-O-War) are common, and divers and swimmers should be prepared to provide first aid if encountered. Divers should contact the Divers Alert Network (DAN) and obtain diving medical insurance in the event decompression is required as air evacuation is usually the only way to get to the nearest decompression chamber. DAN has a large network of dive physicians that are available for consultation and emergency response to its members.
Papua: All travelers to Papua and West Papua provinces, whether traveling as a private citizen or in an official capacity, must obtain prior approval to travel from the Indonesian government. Low-intensity communal conflict exists in Papua and has caused numerous deaths and injuries. Travelers should strictly avoid situations involving armed tribal members or riots/ demonstrations. There have been numerous deaths and injuries during anti-government protests or during actions by the Indonesian security forces against suspected separatists. Between 2009 and 2012, gun shots from unknown attackers on the private road from Kuala Kencana to Tembagapura caused several casualties, including deaths, of government forces, local workers, and expatriates.
Mountain Hiking: Hikers on Puncak Jaya or other mountains in Papua and elsewhere in Indonesia should organize their trip through a reputable tour operator and ensure that they have firm, realistic, primary and backup plans for climbing down the mountain, including evacuation insurance. In the past, some local tour operators have abandoned climbers after they reached the summit or hiking that has lasted more days than expected have led to disputes with tour operators over cost, leading to hikers being abandoned. Climbers should be aware that transiting private or commercial properties on the way down the mountain is considered trespassing and not a safe or legal alternative to a proper plan. Hikers should assume that they will be completely on their own in case of any emergency. Hikers should be aware that severe seismic events occur frequently and without notice.
Teaching English in Indonesia: If you would like to teach English in Indonesia, carefully review employment contracts before traveling to Indonesia. Most contracts include a monetary penalty for early termination. English schools may hold passports to insure that the employee complies with the terms of the contract or pays the appropriate penalty. There have been many U.S. citizens who were unable to depart Indonesia when they desired after having terminated their employment contracts early because their employer would not release their passports.
Commercial Disputes: If you are involved in commercial or property matters, be aware that the business environment is complex, and formal, regulated, transparent dispute settlement mechanisms are not fully developed. Local and foreign businesses often cite corruption and ineffective courts as serious problems. Business and regulatory disputes, which would be generally considered administrative or civil matters in the United States, may in some cases be treated as criminal cases in Indonesia. It can be challenging to resolve trade disputes. For more information, please refer to the U.S. Department of State’s Investment Climate Report and the U.S. Department of Commerce's page for Indonesia.
Internet Purchases: U.S. citizens frequently may be defrauded when purchasing goods by Internet from Indonesian suppliers whom the buyer has not met personally.
Currency: The widespread use of counterfeit currency causes banks, exchange facilities, and most commercial establishments to not accept U.S. currency that is worn, defaced, torn, or issued before 1996.
Dual Nationality: Indonesian law does not recognize dual nationality for adults over 18 years of age. Because of this law, U.S. citizens who are also documented as Indonesian nationals may experience difficulties with immigration formalities in Indonesia. Holding dual citizenship may also hamper the U.S. Embassy's ability to provide consular protection to dual national U.S. citizens. In addition to being subject to all Indonesian laws affecting U.S. citizens, dual nationals may also be subject to other laws that impose special obligations on Indonesian citizens. In July 2006, the Indonesian Parliament passed new legislation allowing children under age 18 to hold foreign as well as Indonesian citizenship. Parents whose children hold both Indonesian and U.S. citizenship continue to experience difficulties with entry and exit immigration procedures.
Customs Regulations: Indonesian customs authorities strictly regulate the import and export of items such as prescription medicines and foreign language materials or videotapes/discs. You should contact the Embassy of Indonesia in Washington or Indonesian consulates elsewhere in the United States for specific information about customs requirements. Transactions involving such products may be illegal, and bringing them back to the United States may result in forfeiture and/or fines.