Jakarta in Top Ten Worst Cities

Apr 24th, 2009, in 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. Hantu says:

    I have to agree with AKJ in that the less popular Jakarta is with expats the less suspicious my employer will be when I ask to relocate there and work remotely. I live in B’more (Baltimore for the uninitiated) and I can tell you from experience, I’d rather be a tourist in Jakarta, looking lost and asking questions of the locals (even though my Indonesian is abominable) then lost and asking questions of even the cops in Baltimore

  2. Lairedion says:

    In relation to other cities on the list I would agree with most here Jakarta is not as bad as the list suggests however I never lived there and I never will.

    Jakarta is a boring shithole with bad food. Most of my Jakarta-based relatives would agree but since they earn their living there they have no choice. Bogor, Depok, Tangerang and Bekasi are even worse.

    No wonder they flock to Bandung every single weekend. Although it’s nearly as overcrowded as Jakarta it’s a much more vibrant and creative city with the best food in the country.

    Maybe it’s an idea to start a thread on Indonesia cities….

  3. Odinius says:

    Bad food?! It’s a huge city, so some is, and it’s not user-friendly, so the good stuff isn’t as easy to access as in Bandung. But it also gives you unparalleled access to the diversity of Indonesian regional cuisines, more than in any other single place in Indonesia, esp if you seek out some of obscure cuisine home catering options.

  4. rima says:

    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!)

    Funny thing, according to Mercer’s survey, Toronto and Calgary is in the top 30 of the best city (quality of living-wise, don’t know what kind of tests they do to determine this)..

    As much as I don’t want to go back to Jakarta to live, it’s actually just because of the pollution, traffic jam, superficiality of some people and the fact that if you dont have good health insurance (or earn mucho dinero) you’d be left for dead in hospitals. It’s certainly not because of the ‘crime’ rate, terrorism, or whatever bullshit they are saying about Jakarta in this list.

    It’s actually a pretty cool place to live in (if living in a big city is your cuppa joe) it’s fun and has really good food (if you know where to go). Of course it’s not as safe as, say, 10 years ago, but it’s still ok, i think, and much safer than bronx (had a traumatic experience there one night whilst living in nyc circa ’95)..

    and kopi jawa rules! I’d take kopi jawa over overprice starbucks latte anytime! (can’t understand Indonesians’ fascination with western food/beverages. Some are good, but hell, Indonesian food is da bomb!)

  5. bagong says:

    The Jakartan asli Betawi have idiom : Kejam nya ibu kota (Jakarta) tak sekejam ibu tiri .. means it is correct this capital city is one of the worse among those cities, we must instrospect ourself do not overly react but positively rebuild our capital city

  6. Ross says:

    Lairedion, how can you say the food is bad?!?
    I get excellent gado2 from the tukangs who go past my garden gate, same with nasi goreng, ketoprak, and we can order martabak telur from the high road. As for rendang, the home-made variety here is superb!

  7. Mike Oxblack says:

    Lairedion, how can you say the food is bad?!?
    I get excellent gado2 from the tukangs who go past my garden gate, same with nasi goreng, ketoprak, and we can order martabak telur from the high road. As for rendang, the home-made variety here is superb!

    Hear hear Mr. M, pish and fye I say, Jakarta is full of top notch scran and quality nose bag. My arse wouldn’t necessarily agree with this assessment though.

  8. Lairedion says:


    Perhaps bad is somewhat strong but compared to other Indonesian cities (especially Manado, Makassar and Bandung) I find the quality in Jakarta mediocre.

  9. Pakmantri says:

    Bagong said:

    Kejam nya ibu kota (Jakarta) tak sekejam ibu tiri ..

    “As cruel as the capital city (Jakarta) is, it is not as cruel as a stepmother”.
    I believe that’s the translation.

    Mas Bagong………….?????????????

  10. Odinius says:

    Perhaps bad is somewhat strong but compared to other Indonesian cities (especially Manado, Makassar and Bandung) I find the quality in Jakarta mediocre.

    But food options are also a lot more diverse in Jakarta than those places.

  11. Pakmantri says:

    Rima Fauzi said:

    It’s actually a pretty cool place to live in (if living in a big city is your cuppa joe) it’s fun and has really good food (if you know where to go).

    Personally, I tend to agree with Rima. There are around 3100 places to eat in Jakarta but all spread out all over the city.
    Check this site for the list of places to eat in Jakarta: ayojajan.com


  12. Andy says:

    To even compare Detroit, Phoenix, Birmingham or anywhere in the west to Jakarta is ludicrous in the extreme. Any western city has as standard…flushing toilets in all houses, even the poorest…hot running water in the bathroom and kitchen…electrical wiring which meets proper safety standards (in fact if anyone lives in squalor in the west they most likely brought it upon themselves)….public transport which doesn’t look like it was unroadworthy 20 years ago and still going today….footpaths which you cant break your leg walking on (or in)….some green areas which wont be developed on simply because a developer has a briefcase full of money for the local councillor etc etc..

    You can however compare Jakarta to cities such as Manila as they are similar in many ways. Personally I can’t split them..Jakarta is much safer in terms of violent crimes (I have walked from a reasonable neighbourhood to a very bad one and nearly been killed in Manila) and i’m sure some of you wish it happened!!…Manila’s public transport is vastly superior, they have two major suburban rail networks running north – south and east to west which are fast, safe and reliable, the rest of the options are about the same as Jakarta….food mmm can get food poisoning in both cities….people, watch your back but somehow I think the filipinos like the west more and have more in common with us plus there are not many mosques..

    Well there’s my 10 cents worth…

  13. Odinius says:

    Er…Andy, I don’t think you’ve been to Detroit lately. “Dire” does not even begin to describe it. At least in Jakarta there are economic opportunities!

  14. Pat says:

    Sex tourist and expats sure love Jakarta for the whores and the night life.
    But for the rest of us Jakarta really is hell on earth. I moved from Jakarta last year because enough was enough. I’d probably be dead or in jail if I didn’t. Crazy city. Leave Jakarta while you can!

  15. rima says:

    You must have been in the wrong parts of Jakarta.
    It’s not that bad and I wont let anyone talk smack about it.
    More people think it’s an awesome place than not, and the ones who think like you are sad cos either you were too unfortunate to experience the awesomeness that is jakarta or maybe you were too close-minded/snobbish/scared/inexperienced/unlucky to be able to really LIVE and experience cool things in the big durian.
    And when you talk about the sex tourists looking for whores, you must have gotten Jakarta mixed up with another place. While I don’t deny that there are prostitutes in Jakarta (as there are in other cities of the world also) prostitution is hardly what it’s famous for, unlike for example, Bangkok.
    I am certain you are the minority who think it’s a hell hole, but then again, there are a small number of people who think that Geneva/Paris/London/LA/Berlin/insert your favorite ‘civilized’ (and by civilized I mean western) is as miserable of a place as Jakarta. Nobody and nothing can please everybody, and Jakarta is no exception.

  16. Berlian Biru says:

    You would probably have ended up in jail if you hadn’t left?

    How extraordinary! It appears to me that your own criminal behaviour would be more of an indictment against you than anything you can possibly say about Jakarta. Seems like Jakarta is a much better place since you left.

    Just as a matter of interest Pat was your fear of being arrested in any way connected with your obvious knowledge about Jakarta’s sex industry?

    You must always remember to ask for their id and check their ages first, if you don’t do so well the police and courts are entitled to draw their own conclusions about your subsequent actions, that is their job after all.

  17. Astrajingga says:

    I was born in Jakarta, I left Jakarta 18 years ago and don’t have a plan to go back to live there.

    My parents were not born in Jakarta, but they both live in Jakarta since they moved there in time of independence revolution.

    I think, like any other city, like any other food, it’s a matter of taste.

    And a so-called pizza expert writes that anchovies is the best for pizza topping? Heck! Not a big deal at all.

  18. koko says:

    I arrived on this thread by accident, and found it very interesting, with its diverse opinions, some very far of mine, and some I just can share. I lived 4 years long in Jakarta (expat from 1994 to 1999), and since, visited several times; last time was February 2009, and I still love this city!
    This sort of survey is totally ridiculous, it has absolutely no sense, as people doing these surveys (for whom? Who pays?) can only rely on subjective reports, compare situations which have nothing in common, cannot visit themselves the places they report about, etc, etc. . . Individual’s impressions are often better than “surveys” whose scientific background has to be established. . . And in the impressions are some we agree with, some we disagree with.
    I just can say, I love Jakarta, love the people, the hectic city, the energy this city has, the life day and night; I love it despite pollution (it is an issue), health problems, awful traffic, etc. . . No city in the world is perfect!

  19. Andy says:

    Odinius- Er…Andy, I don’t think you’ve been to Detroit lately. “Dire” does not even begin to describe it. At least in Jakarta there are economic opportunities!

    Funny that, in Indonesia (and indeed many developing countries) economic opportunities has an entirely different meaning to what it does in the west. Example- Indonesia seems to have in almost every middle class household the pembantu who lives 24/7 and is prepared to work for around 100 bucks a month. Almost every middle class kid is raised by a nanny rather than their parents who prefer to go to the mall, beauty parlor or do anything other than the arduos task of mmm raising the child they decided to have. It seems a child is like a status symbol rather than a living, breathing part of them. Also the office employs a guy to drive the company car or photocopy, make coffee and fetch lunch for the employees. In the west we are quite happy to do this ourselves. Also go to any department store and you will see several employees doing very little and in a position which really doesn’t need to be filled.

    What i’m trying to say is there are about 50 % of people in Indonesia working in low paid menial jobs which we don’t have as they are beneath even the poorest of the unemployed. We have such a thing as welfare and the government provides a safety net for those who find themselves out of work and out of luck. The 50 % of Indonesians I talk about would literally starve if they didn’t do something as while the elites are dining on lobster and caviar, the poor are working their butts off for a packet of indomie.

    Detroit may well be doing it tough right now as the car industry the world over has a massive shakeup but let’s not kid ourselves that it is as bad as Indonesia or any developing city.

  20. Odinius says:

    Seriously, though. Have you ever been there? I mean to the actual city of Detroit? It has a murder rate far in excess of Jakarta’s, it has the highest rate of arson of any city in the world, there is actually very little of the auto industry located in the city (and what there is, as you mention, is now in peril), an almost nothing else. Virtually no wealth is being created within the city, and there are virtually no employment opportunities. Unemployment in the city of Detroit is running at 22.9%.

    It’s far more dangerous than Jakarta, and unlike Jakarta, does not have any jobs anyone would like to do. That makes it a worse place to live IMO.

  21. David says:

    The thing about places like Detroit may be that they are literally hope-less, their industry is gone or going, and is never coming back, which raises the question of why anyone would want to live there, for what reason exactly, of course a lot of the most get up and go type people have already left some parts of the city and then that just leaves the ‘underclass’ who don’t have many options anyway. Jakarta is hopeless for some people too, in the end, but people still flock to it to try their luck, nobody flocks to Detroit.

  22. Odinius says:

    Good point, Patung. Jakarta is still a site of opportunity, even if it’s also a site of great suffering and poverty.

  23. Tina says:

    Great opinion article on this matter….


  24. Odinius says:

    Sorry…on the Detroit tangent, this is quite funny (and sad)


  25. Wayne Arigayo says:

    Well said Berlian Biru.

    I dont have any idea how the survey was conducted to lead to such misled conclusion. If only we knew the survey criteria, the questions, the samples, then we would understand more.

    Certainly, Jakarta has its shortcomings, but 2nd worst city? I beg to disagree.

  26. sam says:

    I think Jakarta should be on no 1 worst city (in many matters) in the world.

  27. Suryo Perkoso says:

    Very descriptive sam. Had you considered writing a book?

  28. dixianga says:

    Jakarta for me is the best city for the whole wolrd! Been there once but it seems like been hook there already. I love the people very smiling and friendly. I love the shopping so huge that my whole month isn’t enough to stay there…wow I really love Jakarta and wants to live there for the rest of my life if granted. But at then moment I have to stay here in Perth Australia to fix everything up before moving to my dreamland, Jakarta!!! All I say to those who said that its the second worst city, wake up guys….Jakarta is the best!

    To Sam,
    Number 1 worst city in the world? Are you crazy or just dumb? Do you know how to read and write? Probably not…don’t be judgmental, open you eyes and ears widely!

    Second top ten worst city??? Common guys, this is the best city in the whole world!!! For me this is the best place to live in, Jakarta! Everything is the best, the people are very friendly and smiling. You can see from their face that they are always happy and have a clean heart. Love Jakarta. It’s the best city!!!

  29. Andy says:

    dixianga, from your writing style i’m guessing you are Indonesian and not Australian as you are trying to suggest. You live in Perth? Well I can agree there are not as many smiling faces but this is not a way to judge a city. I find throughout the third world people smile a lot, The Philippines for example is known as the land of smiles.
    No, this survey refers to the infrastructure and living standards and no, I can’t imagine Jakarta being the 2nd worst but it is way last compared to any western city.

  30. David says:

    Where not to live in america! Unsafest cities.


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