Jakarta in Top Ten Worst Cities

Apr 24th, 2009, in IM Posts, Opinion, by

Is Jakarta one of the worst third world hellholes?

I Belong To JAKARTA!

"I belong to Glasgow' was, and probably still is, a song much-loved in that gritty city by the Clyde. Certainly at the time it was written, Glasgow was not at all lovely, a mess of slums, poverty, gang-warfare and every other form of industrial blight. Yet its denizens adored their home-town, and similarly most people who live in Jakarta cherish a fondness for the place despite all the warts on its sunny countenance.

Thus we were unimpressed to hear that an ORC Worldwide and Business Week survey, "The Hardest Hardship Posts", had ranked our adopted city as the "second-worst city in the world" as a place for expats to live and work, excluding North America and Europe, and cities that are in war zones or are very isolated.

Shopping for underpants in Jakarta

The compilers of the report used factors like 'pollution, disease, political violence, availability of goods and services' to measure cities' desirability. Of Jakarta they said:

No. 2 Jakarta, Indonesia

Overall Grade: Very High Risk Location
Major Problems: Pollution, Disease & Sanitation, Medical Facilities, Political Violence & Repression, Political & Social Environment, Crime

Indonesia may be holding up better than many other developing countries during the global recession, but that doesn't make life in Jakarta much easier for expatriates moving there. Despite problems common to many Third World cities—risk of disease, poor sanitation, and excessive pollution—the Indonesian capital "can be an enticing location," according to ORC. However, Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim country and has suffered several high-profile attacks by Islamic terrorists targeting foreigners. "The threat of violence, from Islamic extremists in particular, is a serious drawback to living here," says ORC.

Happily, the Jakarta Post sought views from some local expats on the matter, who acknowledged that traffic and bureaucracy were disadvantages but otherwise Jakarta was okay.

Right on! I had to laugh that Businessweek's researchers reckoned only Lagos was worse, and it amazed me that Riyadh slithered in ahead of the Big Durian. Who on earth would want to live in Riyadh? Betcha can't get a decent gado-gado, and while Saudi ladies may be really cute, it's gotta be a 'maybe' because they all wear Darth Vadar gear....but as for the serious criticisms lodged against this addictive city.

Violence? It's very possibly safer to walk around Jakarta late at night than to stroll through certain districts in Glasgow, Liverpool or Manchester in the UK after dark. It's indubitably safer than parts of London or Los Angeles or Toronto. (I hear from recent arrivals that even Calgary is dodgy these days!)

Political violence does of course erupt but it is rare enough and these days does not, as in Thailand or some East European states, bring down governments. And it is seldom aimed at expats.

Disease - again, there's too much of it about, but we expats, unlike our local neighbours, are usually covered by some kind of insurance. True, a lot of hospitals are tricky, but again it's a short hop to Singapore, which has the best facilities in the world.

Pollution - it's a shame about the city's rivers, but tough, each country has its priorities and if we nag them, perhaps they'll clean up the rivers. But there's too much Eurocentric puritanism involved in much of the 'pollution' moaning -the latest grizzling jihad pledged by Fuzzy Bow-Wow's (Fauzi Bowo) minions against smoking in public is an example. The tiny smoking stalls at the airport have recently been removed, a childish act of spite.

To me, Jakarta' hitherto tolerant view of smoking was a happy contrast to Sydney's health fascists ...anyway.

If I'm sitting out in my garden soaking up the sun, I don't invariably feel a need to fret about how much invisible smog I'm getting.

And availability of goods and services? Well, I had a young Canadian lady colleague who used to turn up her nose at good kopi jawa in the warteg at the corner and swan off to Starbucks, paying literally 10 times as much for a cup. If you're a fuss-pot, you'll only be happy in Heaven, and I've heard it said that Anker isn't available there!

Too many expats are stuck-ups, who won't even try the excellent foods on sale here at incredibly cheap prices. If you need a job done in the home and you're not into DIY, you can get some local guy to do it for a pittance (to us, not him) and you appreciate that all the more if you cast your mind back to what plumbers, roofers and other tradesmen charge back home.
Of course you can access fancy stuff if you really must, in Ranch Market, Senayan City etc., but then you pay for it bigtime - fair enough.

The same day I read the JP article, I had a conductor on a metro-mini give me back Rp.500 as I'd over-paid him inadvertently, forgetting about the fare revision. So maybe this post is a salute to that honest man. So many of the Jakarta anecdotes we swap at the bars are negative, human nature, true, but let's not forget the obverse side of the coin.

The "top" ten worst cities in the world for expats:

  1. Lagos, Nigeria
  2. Jakarta, Indonesia
  3. Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
  4. Almaty, Kazakhstan
  5. Mumbai, India
  6. New Delhi, India
  7. Nairobi, Kenya
  8. Bogota, Colombia
  9. Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam
  10. Chennai, India

122 Comments on “Jakarta in Top Ten Worst Cities”

  1. avatar deta says:

    Andy, just because Dixianga said that he stays in Perth, doesn’t mean that he tried to suggest that he is Australian. To me the name clearly sounds Chinese. Fix that for you.

  2. avatar Winmar says:

    Some people love Jakarta, but what makes it better than, say, Bandung? It’s not exactly an attractive place. I’ve been there a number of times, but have never lived there. I’d like to get back to Indonesia to live though, and Jakarta is the most likely place I’d find a job, so would like to know why so many people seem to enjoy it.

    Also, don’t write off all African cities. Cape Town has beauty that Jakarta could only dream of (but lots of crime in certain areas), Harare and Bulawayo would be great if not for Mugabe, Lusaka’s booming, while Mombasa is quite reasonable.

  3. avatar bettelgeux says:

    ODINIUS!!! spare Manila please!

  4. avatar Raja Hafeez says:

    This is stupid polling or what ever,.. one can expect Indonesia and African cities to be seen in worst cities… but how can peoples put new Delhi or cities like mumbai in worst places to live in…
    Delhi and mumbai are one of the most expensive cities to live in except those cheap areas somewhere in between with Muslim colonies and slum and lower castes peoples …
    rest you people cant even think of buying a flat or a rented flat in delhi and mumbai.
    with best metro rail and world best infrasturctures with all the basic as well as advanced facilities.. the world best police with most advanced technologies all together in every field …worlds best mnc’s making there hub in NCR(delhi regions) it is one of the favorite destination of foreigners…
    i guess its all Muslims all around the world who voted in this pole..
    rubbish peoples with rubbish thoughts..
    i wonder… what going to happen to these peoples.. they will die fighting each other as they are doing now.. orthodox bulls who even don’t know why their religion was created..
    muhammad must be asshamed of you… coz he was a nice and true saint.. but his follower muslims are rubbish crabs..

  5. avatar lgilmartin says:

    I’m not sure Jakarta deserves to be number two on this list but I think it’s fair to say Jakarta is a generally unpleasant city. Pollution, noise, no footpaths, open sewerage – if you claim to love that, well, you’re lying. As an expat I love the people here, I don’t think I’ve been rude to once because of the standard of social harmony, but I have found it almost impossible to enjoy the city. Walking around kampungs can be nice if poverty doesn’t make you lose your will to live (obviously Indonesia is a much more unfortunate place to be for the poor) and there is such a huge gap between the rich and poor it’s impossible not to be seen as a snobby expat. Jakarta is part of a developing country, so you can’t expect it to look and feel like a developed city, but why does there always have to be a group of high and mightys ready to call people soft for thinking a city is rough compared to what they’re used to?

  6. avatar Isaac Sorsa says:

    Bogota is a great city, I live there as an expat and feel much safer- even in the poor barrios- than I do in the poor parts of Chicago. This list means nothing.

  7. avatar John Williams says:

    You are all self deluded – it’s absolutely a pit of a city and everybody knows it LMFAO why try to lie to yourselves?

  8. avatar Hikmatullah aziz says:

    dears I am Hikmatllah aziz from afghanistan living in kabul city of afghanistan and i want to go to jakarta and live and work there, but i don’t know how to go there if anybody can please help me it will be your kindness this is my email address if any body wants to help me please contact me (hekmat.arab@yahoo.com).


    Hikmatullah aziz

  9. avatar Max says:

    just love jakarta…just the traffic and some pollution….it must be the safest place i have been

  10. avatar brian says:

    just one question………HAVE U BEEN TO JAKARTA????????

    Patrick hit the nail on the head, it is like NYC was a long time ago.fun, exciting and with character..ohh just came back…live in Canada….can’t wait to go back

    2nd worse in the world?????? not even 2nd worse in Asia..not even in top 10 if in us of a…..
    but still the article is amusing

  11. avatar FlemmingR says:

    I will go to Jakarta soon and it’s really interesting to read what other people here tell about the city..
    The no.1 worst city is Nairobi, Kenya.. stay there for one week and you are lucky if your not killed…
    The most boring country in the world must be Gambia.. one big dump
    I have been to Manila too and I never have any problems there…

  12. avatar scather says:

    As an expat working Jakarta I can assure you it is a pestilential shithole (no offence to the inhabitants). Its is dirty, noisy, grotesquely overcrowded, so polluted that every breath is shortening your life and the temperature is pretty much 33 C all the time, with a permanent stink of dung and diesel. There is not a day you dont smell something gag-inducing. You cant walk or cycle as the narrow streets are crammed with psychopathic “drivers”, dozing squatters, carts, wagons, shoppers rats, cats garbage and dung. THe city is dysfunctional and will probably be abandoned in the next decade. Frequent power failures, floods (actually the same flood, in the same places, at the same time, year after year after year) and permanent gridlock traffic jams suck the life out of the place. Also its a port city, mostly below sea level and sinking. The people in charge are too busy getting graft to take any effective action. The harbour is a chilling picture of oil black “water” polluted with chemicals and millions of tons of garbage, truly disgusting. No one seems to care. The people here seem to think its paradise but only perhaps compared to Bangladesh or some of the sad cities in Africa. If youre rich you can buy some respite from the oppressive noise and clamour, but for the rest, well it helps not to think about it. It s one of the cheapest capital cities of the world to live in. The Indos don’t take food hygiene too seriously so u have to be very careful what you eat although its not as bad as Bandung which serves up giardias, worms, dysentery and the full gamut of diahrea on a regular basis.

  13. avatar Scather says:

    Brief addition. It must be said, for such a large city (15 Million? 19 million? know one seems to know for sure) it is remarkably free of violence. Muggings are almost unheard of although items will go missing, but only if you’re careless. As for terrorism, you’ll die of old age or pollution related disease long before’ the terrorists get ya. Most violence here occurs at demonstrations involving Islamic extremists and the police.

    Recently the government, in a baffling move, restricted the duty free liquor stores allowing them to sell only to diplomats. Since there aren’t that many diplomats, and many have access to embassy canteens with better prices and selection, it means wine and liquor are unavailable to the average expat. Since Muslim Indos don’t drink (anything stronger than beer) it seems a pointedly vindictive move although I’m told its about taxes/graft. Of course there are many expat alcoholics and they make do with the local beer, it’s not very good, but its very available. (You cant make good beer without good water and Indonesia doesn’t have any) Feeble attempts at censorship and hypocritical attitudes to sex and porn are more unintentionally funny than serious.
    And yes you can whore or get married easily, according to your taste, whoring being much less expensive in the long run.

  14. avatar Ed says:

    I’ve been living in Jakarta for the past 2.5 years and… well… I think the published results here are greatly flawed, but I wouldn’t exactly call Jakarta heaven on earth either.

    things that make Jakarta good for expats:

    1. cheap labor: seriously, most expats who come here end up spoiled and have a real hard time adjusting when they get back because they have to do everything by themselves!!!
    2. cheap food: if you’re willing to put your stomach through the initiation phases and let it get used to the local bacteria, that is. but even then, the nicer places are still cheaper than most developed countries.
    3. lots of flavor but none of the poverty: being an expat generally means you’re shielded from most of the worst things that poverty can do to you. Sure, you see the kids begging for money in traffic, and you will see people living in a hut with no running water, but rest assured that will never be you.
    4. relative better treatment from locals: the people here are actually really nice to expats. They are generally very congenial and seem to have an almost infinite amount of patience for some of the bullshit behavior I’ve seen some expats exhibit.

    things that make jakarta a shit place for expats

    keep in mind, these are all things that we can deal with as expats. they just aren’t very pleasant.

    1. the bureaucratic culture is insane: in order to get ANYTHING done here, you either need to be really patient to put up with all of the inefficiencies, or you go to a “facilitator” to skirt the process for you. Do you realize how perverse that is? To have the normal process be SO onerous that most people who can would just pay someone else to do it? And yet this is the norm for 90% of the things you do here.

    2. rampant corruption: let’s not kid ourselves, graft and corruption has been institutionalized here in Jakarta. This is a trait that is common to many developing countries though, and not unique to Jakarta. Having said that, it doesn’t make it any less frustrating to deal with. Social justice is something reserved only for those who can afford it, and efficiency is only achieved when you find ways to dodge around the system. a lot of this actually stems from the bureaucracy that is in place, as it presents opportunities for those in positions of power to exploit the weakness of the system.

    3. Work is not as easy to find as you think: With a combination of 1 and 2 plus the current wave of “indonesianization” movements in many companies, it’s becoming harder and harder for expats to find work here in developed companies. A lot of expats I know just had their positions taken away from them and given to locals who have only 1/4 of their training, skill, and experience. The reason why? well, oldest story in the book: cost. This I can understand to a certain extent. Companies need to cut their bottom line to stay lean. I understand that. But with that mentality, it does become harder for expats to get work as for an expat to get work here, it just becomes that much more of a hassle for the companies. And often times, the presence of a bule on your work force presents a huge political time bomb that you have to deal with later on. This is an instances where the huge income disparity really does not work towards your favor as an expat.

    4. traffic: I don’t think I need to elaborate on this

    5. pollution: see above statement… well, okay, one thing. the rivers here smell like a potent combination of excrement, garbage, and chemicals. I can’t take a walk outside without coming home smelling like something died on my back.

    6. not walkable: Jakarta is not a walker friendly city. In pockets of places, you can do it, but the moment you leave the nice expat areas, walking pretty much becomes an adventure of it’s own.

    7. no reliable public transport: combine this with the lack of walkable places and the traffic and you have….

    8. it’s not easy to get ANYWHERE. seriously, any place you want to go to is an hour. doesn’t matter if it’s down the street or a mile away, it’s an hour at least. while this is really not THAT big of a deal normally, it does mean that you just can’t do that much with your day if you need to run around. And a lot of commitments that you do make need to be very flexible.

    9. blatant moral hypocrisy: this is the one that really gets to me. For all the proclamation about their willingness to fight crime, prostitution, poverty, etc, etc, most legislative acts put into action are things that in their very own nature, utterly useless to perform it’s intended duty, and generally act as another tool people in power can exploit to their own gain. This is why while a lot of politicians here will make proclamation that they will spend every ounce of energy stopping the moral collapse of their society, they are not above picking up a bargirl or two themselves. It is also the reason why such institutions can exist in the first place: the market supports it, even if on the surface it claims to be against it. Again, common in developing countries, and sometimes people have to do what they can with what they have. Indonesia can almost get a free pass for this since it is still a new democracy. (about 10 years of real actual democracy to speak of)

    As for detroit, f*ck that city. no jobs, high crime rate, and backwater provincial mentality means that whole state can rot for all I care. The only good thing to come out of that place have all left it the moment said thing grew legs.

  15. avatar roy says:

    well according to me jakarta is a very nice city with a variety of good food who knows the taste, i have been living in jakarta from 1995 , till then things have changed but i still love this city,being an expat from india it has amazing feel to be like indonesian

  16. avatar fredo says:

    Great post
    I don’t live in Jakarta, actually I live in Italy
    but I’ve just got a job offer from a recording studio in Jakarta
    (as a music composer for commercial TV)
    and I’ve been thinking about moving away for a while
    I lived in London and Tokyo, but Jakarta…wow!
    it sounds different
    I do not want to bother you ..because probably this is not the right place
    to ask these kind of things
    and if I do, please feel free to ignore me
    I just wanted to know a very practical thing
    like…They did an offer of 20 milions rupiah per month
    plus house (I don’t know which kind of house)
    which Is About 1600 euro (per month) ..sounds good…. In Italy..
    I just wanted to know about living over there with
    that amount of money…
    I’m an easy guy, but I don’t know anything about life in Jakarta
    and I don’t want to find myself in troubles

    That’s it



  17. avatar berlian biru says:

    Twenty million a month for a presumably single guy with no rent will go a long way in Jakarta. I’d take the job if I were you, better economic prospects here than in Europe at the moment.

    Just be prepared for the initial culture shock, London or Tokyo it certainly ain’t, but if you’re a young guy and working in the creative sector you will thoroughly enjoy your time here and will have a ball.

    You’ll not regret it.

  18. avatar stevo says:

    Enrico, you lucky man 🙂

    Go pack your bags….

  19. avatar Ted says:

    Some lady in Jakarta may have broken the writer’s heart very badly so that he’s so negative about the city!

  20. avatar Cecilia says:

    Traffic was horrible BUT the great thing was traffic brought business. I used to worked in hospitality industry, when there are traffic the hotel occupancy mostly up to 90%, however when no traffic it was horrible either, occupancy drop below 30%.
    *Notes : enjoy Jakarta 2 times a year, no traffic AT ALL (during Ramadan & Christmas)

    I LOVE THE FOOD! I LOVE THE PEOPLE! I LOVE because its CHEAP! (SPA, reflexology,corner food) I LOVE THE SERVICES (taxi is MUCH MORE BETTER than taxi in MALAYSIA)

    unfortunately they dont have good coffee shop like in Australia boutique coffee or freshly roasted coffee

  21. avatar Ossie says:

    My wife and I had a great time in jakarta when we lived there 5 years ago, and we are about to move back. We also loved it in Lagos, Victoria Island has plenty to offer the Expat. like all cities you just have to find your way. I never thought much of the surveys.
    We are really looking forward to moving back to Jakarta and making new friends. Hopefully be there by June or July.

  22. avatar Cajun says:

    I was quite offended by the post about the “bule” expat wives. It’s not fair to categorize all of us like that. We will be moving to Jakarta in a few months and I am totally excited about seeing all that the city has to offer, and exposing my young daughter to that experience. I noticed that Ho Chi Minh City is listed on the worst city list. I’ve been there, and while it is a dirty, noisy and crowded city, it’s very interesting and has a lot of culture and history. I’ve been to areas there that most people wouldn’t think of venturing to. I loved it there and would go back in a heartbeat should the opportunity arise. I’ve also been to Cameroon, Africa. The city was also dirty, noisy and crowded. It WAS dangerous to be out after dark, or for a white woman to be out alone at any time (the locals will tell you that), but the experience was wonderful and if you look past the garbage in the streets, you can see the beauty of the city. Again, I saw and experienced things that most people wouldn’t. We live near Los Angeles now, and there is smog, crime and heavy traffic, just like any other large city. But, it’s a beautiful place and there are many places to explore, which is exactly what we are doing. As for being a “pampered” wife of a “bule”, why can’t I take advantage of the opportunity to shop and visit the spas? At the same time, I will take the time to enjoy the opportunity I have been given, which is to expose myself and my daughter to other cultures, history and the beauty that can be found in just about any place in the world. So, give the expat wives a break; some of us do embrace the experience.

  23. avatar sz_herb says:

    I lived in Jakarta for seventeen years and loved it. I miss the people, the smiles, the ‘hello Mr’ (and I’m a miss) wherever I went. For all the difficulties, the people still smile back…I love you Indonesia. You are far more than pollution, traffic, chaos…there is a vibe that and a feel that no amount of ‘research’ by someone not embraced by you would ever understand.

  24. avatar Sud says:

    Hi, I’m getting ready to come to Jakarta to work in an Int. School. Trying to see what to expect as a white 55 year old expat woman. Someone said, “you may find it difficult as a single white woman”. Sounds like I’d better bring some good books along or make certain I have a body guard. I hate malls and I go shopping only when I have to. This is a first experience for me, any advice?

  25. avatar k says:

    I lived there for one year the place is a horrendous shithole, no clean water filthy polluting vehicles turning the air black every river is covered in a deep layer of plastic and rubbish, it smells of shit everywhere corruption is rife you get ripped off by just about everybody there if you are western. I had food poisoning three times while living there, the level of pollution and rubbish everywhere is truly disgusting and some of the worst in the world, the police are corrupt extorters, my advice to anyone thinking of living here is stay away its an ugly disgusting stinking dump, and a serious threat to your health.

  26. avatar gerald says:

    I lived there for a while it is indeed a disgusting filthy dump, disease and TB everywhere, job wages are low, loads of crap shopping malls everywhere with only the rich expats and chinese can afford to go,mass corruption, disgusting unhealthy fried food full of of toxic palm oils and salt etc, the ciliwung river is one of the most revolting things ive ever seen in my life, there is a permanent layer of rubbish and plastic about 3 feet deep on top, and there is a constant smell of shit everywhere, the government of indonesia should be ashamed to let people live in this degrading poverty and filth

  27. avatar Es says:

    We are worried…as we are just sixty fivish and posted to Jakarta from N. Delhi.We belong from Kolkata,a city with traffic jam but full of convenience.Parks are less,roads narrow.What will be a minimal rent for a house in an apartment with all facilities and travelling is not a pain.If medical insurance for Indonesia works for Singapoe as well? Reading comments,we are afraid to move to an unfamiliar place.We are Indians.

  28. avatar Moneybags says:

    “Brain-exploding question for liberals: ‘What do Detroit, Balitmore, DC have that Jakarta does not have?’”

    Only everything first-world countries have, that third-world countries don’t like potable water. I’ve never been outside a single time in Jakarta without the place smelling like crap at some point in my trip. (Who knows, maybe Detroit is the same way–never been there–but I doubt it.) If you’re so enamored with Jakarta, you’re welcome to it. Surely it doesn’t deserve 2nd worst place in the world, but it isn’t exactly a nice place to live.

    DC? Seriously? Have you even been to DC?

  29. avatar Ben says:

    Don’t know if this topic very active. I think we don’t need being too naïve. Jakarta is indeed very difficult to live in : No sidewalks , no public transport, except trans Jakarta, which efficiency is reduced as cars do not respect bus reserved tracks.
    Jakarta does not favourably compare with equivalent Chinese cities or Bangkok. Situation may change as major works underway will introduce several bus lines and a subway.
    This hopefully will allow for easier movements to places of interest.
    Taking a taxi on rush hours is a nightmare !

  30. avatar Ben says:

    And yes, of course, I had severe food poisoning here in october last year , which took ages to get rid off.
    Don’t ever try street food, ice cubes or fruit juices !

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