Expats and Driving in Indonesia

Chiron

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One area of expat life in Indonesia that's referenced often, but would be interesting to get more detail about - is driving. So this thread is for expats who drive, or don't drive - and this would include cars and scooters. I have read story after story of foreigners (expats and tourists) who have encountered some fairly serious issues after mishaps, or other issues (e.g. Polisi related) even if they weren't in the wrong.

Most of my personal transportation observations have been in Central Java, around Solo, and a lesser extent in Bali. After 16 years of visiting Indonesia on a regular basis, I have never driven a car or scooter. However, I've extensively ridden a mountain bike around Solo, and that is usually fun - although I do need to keep alert in many spots. It's worth mentioning that I have driven in the Philippines, and in fact drove a manual transmission Toyota over much of the island of Mindanao. As crazy as the Philippines was, I would have to say that Indonesia is just plain confusing for me. It could be the psychological hang up with driving on the left side of the road, which plays havoc with my US based right-side driving mentality.

The whole driving-in-Indonesia topic was brought into focus while talking with an expat in Denpasar, Bali who told me that if I ever did make the move to Indonesia, just get a driver and be done with it. He said: "No matter what, do NOT drive a car here". If you get into an accident "you're toast!". He went onto say, that you'll probably want to get a scooter for short trips, but just be very careful, and even then you'll have a 99% chance of getting into some accidental mishap. On top of that, Balinese Polisi are on the prowl to nail foreigners for slight infractions. He said with a private driver at about 3jt per month for a ride every couple days, a scooter, and Go-jek there's no need for your own car. That may end up being some good advice if we choose to settle in Bali.

It's more likely we'll end up in my wife's hometown of Solo (or surrounding areas). If we move there, a car may end up being a necessity - especially if we live in the outskirts of town. That is also coupled with the fact, my wife doesn't drive. They have a good taxi situation in the town center, but no Go-jek (at least not yet). I could get a driver, but Solo doesn't seem to have an expat market for things like they do in Bali. Drivers aren't that plentiful, and it would cost quite a bit more IMHO. If I do get a car, I'll have to fulfill all the legal requirements - KITAS/KITAP, and I'm sure other things. For a scooter, I'd make sure to get a helmet and a good rain poncho! In Solo, I get the impression there's not as much hassle from the Solo Polisi, and might be due to the scarce amounts of expats there. Overall they seem to have a different attitude - almost indifferent. To be fair, I can't draw too many comparisons on Bali as I haven't been there as much as Solo.

So here's what I would like to throw out to the forum:

1. Do you drive in Indonesia? If so what is your vehicle (car, scooter, etc.), and what area(s) of the country have you experienced?
2. Do you feel comfortable in traffic? Figured out how to adapt...
3. Any trouble from the Polisi? Unfair fines, tickets, etc.
4. Any accidents? What happened, if you care to share?
5. How does Indonesian auto insurance work? Will it protect an expat from the liability issues that may be encountered in an accident?
6. For those from right side driving countries, how did you adjust to left side - and especially with the Indonesian traffic factor to contend with?
7. Do you choose not to drive? If so, why, and how do you make that work for you?

Thanks. :)
 
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Smallworld

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.....

So here's what I would like to throw out to the forum:

1. Do you drive in Indonesia? If so what is your vehicle (car, scooter, etc.), and what area(s) of the country have you experienced?
2. Do you feel comfortable in traffic? Figured out how to adapt...
3. Any trouble from the Polisi? Unfair fines, tickets, etc.
4. Any accidents? What happened, if you care to share?
5. How does Indonesian auto insurance work? Will it protect an expat from the liability issues that may be encountered in an accident?
6. For those from right side driving countries, how did you adjust to left side - and especially with the Indonesian traffic factor to contend with?
7. Do you choose not to drive? If so, why, and how do you make that work for you?

Thanks. :)
1. I drive Rio Kia and avanza both automatic. Now in the tol road and in Cikarang, my wife drives in Bandung this is because I don't want her to forget how to drive a car.
2. On the beginning it was very scary for me to drive in Indonesia now... I don't care anymore if something will happen it will happen. The riders on motor are scared as well to be hit by a car after all it will hurt them more once it comes into collision.
4. 3 accidents 2 should not count as I "gently touched" the motor in front, they haven't even collapsed and nothing was broken or scratched. One was in Lembang my fault, no fee to be paid, no police, I had to replace my front bumper.
5. My insurance is only covering my car... not the other part's car.
6. I come from right side driving country but my driving test and first car was obtained in UK (left hand side traffic) so no issues here to adapt myself to any differences in driving.
7. YES. I choose not to drive simply to avoid horrendous traffic jams!!!! I prefer to stay at home than spend 4 hours (being optimistic here) to go and eat in restaurant just because it is "the best".
 

Chiron

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... I drive Rio Kia and avanza both automatic.
This is another small, but important detail. If getting a car in Indonesia, I'd for sure get an automatic. Even though I like driving a manual, I just don't think my mind would adjust to the stick shift on the opposite side. One other modern automobile feature I'd likely splurge on would be a rear backup camera. In Solo, parkir's often squeeze you into small spots that they want you to back into. One of these backup cameras would come in quite handy in those often encountered situations. This is also coupled with the calls these parkir's are yelling out - which I have never come to fully understand after hearing them so often.

... YES. I choose not to drive simply to avoid horrendous traffic jams!!!! I prefer to stay at home than spend 4 hours (being optimistic here) to go and eat in restaurant just because it is "the best".
That will also be one of my primary goals! :)
 

Smallworld

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The whole driving-in-Indonesia topic was brought into focus while talking with an expat in Denpasar, Bali who told me that if I ever did make the move to Indonesia, just get a driver and be done with it. He said: "No matter what, do NOT drive a car here". If you get into an accident "you're toast!". He went onto say, that you'll probably want to get a scooter for short trips, but just be very careful, and even then you'll have a 99% chance of getting into some accidental mishap. On top of that, Balinese Polisi are on the prowl to nail foreigners for slight infractions. He said with a private driver at about 3jt per month for a ride every couple days, a scooter, and Go-jek there's no need for your own car. That may end up being some good advice if we choose to settle in Bali.

....
I am afraid your friend is right. If you will have an accident even if it was not from your fault you may find yourself covering all the costs.... especially if you drive by yourself outside big cities.

I use driver in Cikarang (only, not including weekends unless it is long trip to Jakarta or Bogor), he not only knows area well, but he is helping us with other stuff around our house. For me personally the advantage is that in case of accident he will be responsible not me. I think his salary is less to what you mentioned above but it is not the lowest. Our neighbour is having a young 18 year old driver for 1,5 jt for the whole month of driving. A word of precaution here: choose your driver wisely!

I don't see myself going via go-jek in heavy rain I would get something for myself like from uber or taxi, there are also shuttle busses. I have never used busses and trains here so cannot comment on them.
 

Smallworld

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This is another small, but important detail. If getting a car in Indonesia, I'd for sure get an automatic. Even though I like driving a manual, I just don't think my mind would adjust to the stick shift on the opposite side. One other modern automobile feature I'd likely splurge on would be a rear backup camera. In Solo, parkir's often squeeze you into small spots that they want you to back into. One of these backup cameras would come in quite handy.



That will also be one of my primary goals! :)
I never drove automatic before, I started in Indonesia and... I felt in love with it. My Kia (not sure for avanza) can be switched into manual anytime. Then it feels like driving a race car. You don't want to end up driving on 4th gear in 30 degree (or higher) uphill. I have no rear backup camera only those distance sensors and I find them very useful.

My in-laws were concerned that because I am a bule I may be stopped by police for any silly reason and pay them some money so I got a car with tinted windows. The darker they are the more "Indonesian" you will look for outsiders hahahahaha. It also protects your personal belonging in the car.
 

Chiron

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I don't see myself going via go-jek in heavy rain...
I should mention, that the reference to Go-jek was really for using many of the other Go services, like Go-food, Go-mart, Go-med, etc. If Go services get what you need, then you wouldn't need to drive so much.
 

Nasigan

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1. yes I drive and my car is a Kia Sportage automatic, scooter Yamaha Nmax, driven my car and a scooter in the whole Java and some parts of Bali
2. comfortable enough , with this most of the time crazy traffic you must keep your concentration high. I must admit that 19 years ago I needed some weeks to adapt.
3. plenty trouble with polisi, but yes talking and bicara 2 sometimes manis sometimes keras and the problem most of the time solved , including few time a note of 50.000
4. as a driver only few scratches never serious, my driver yes, I was lucky enough not in the car, a motorbike hit the car head on, passenger motorbike did not survive.. that was more than 10 years ago when I had my PT. BIG trouble, long story..
5. I have an all risk insurance with Bintang assuransi , they pay recently a small scratch, liability issues ? I don't know since I did not need until now and I like to keep it like that .
6. from right to left did not give me to much problems.

my conclusion after nearly 19 years driving here is, if you not a really good driver and you to much afraid and terrified in the traffic don't drive, better take a driver
 

waarmstrong

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I had a Mazda sedan, and a couple of Kijangs (one of which we still own). I was comfortable, but also careful and constantly alert, more so as time went on.

Immediate negotiations to determine the amount of the traffic violation "fine" is a routine part of driving in Indonesia. I was rear-ended by an Indonesian driver unable to stop when approaching a day-light rush hour slow down on the toll. A great amount of rubber was burned off his tires punctuated by startlingly loud squealing that ended with a mild jolt. We both got out to look and finding no visible damage, just waved, got back in the cars and continued on. The second time, I rear ended a guy rubbernecking an earlier accident on the toll apron. It was a rainy night and he was almost stopped in the fast lane. There was damage, but not so much that my car was disabled. I did not hang around to negotiate; traffic was sparse and it turned out that my Mazda was considerably faster than his Corolla. My insurance paid for my bumper repair.

The switch between left and right hand drive is no big deal...for me, anyway. Just have to take care not to space off where you are for the first couple of weeks; conditioning to the local routine is quick & complete. Same when returning to the USA after a few years; reversing also requires deliberate attention for a week or so.

We have used drivers at times; these days, relatives are usually at hand to drive and my wife does a lot of the driving, as well. Still, I have no qualms about taking the wheel. Since we are based in the USA now, and my Indonesian SIM is expired, I will not be driving during our upcoming visit unless there is a compelling need.
 

Chiron

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...as a driver only few scratches never serious, my driver yes, I was lucky enough not in the car, a motorbike hit the car head on, passenger motorbike did not survive.. that was more than 10 years ago when I had my PT. BIG trouble, long story..
Wow, that's the kind of stuff that really concerns me. As tragic as it was, I'm glad to hear it wasn't worse by implicating you.

my conclusion after nearly 19 years driving here is, if you not a really good driver and you to much afraid and terrified in the traffic don't drive, better take a driver
I do consider myself to be a pretty good driver, but as noted above - the unintended liability is the main concern.
 

CaturMuka

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1. I drive both a car and scooter in Denpasar, Bali.
2. I feel comfortable, but it takes about a month of practice to get to that stage.
3. Never had a problem. I keep all my documents up-to-date and because of my pale skin I'm pretty well covered up. i.e. I don't look like a tourist fresh off the plane. Just follow the law and you'll be fine.
4. Had a school kid ride into the back of the car because he wasn't paying attention. He looked like he was in a fair amount of pain but when I pulled over he just kept going, so that was the end of it.
5. Indo auto insurance is very different in terms of liability. In Australia you get something like AUS$20 million in liability as standard. Here you get something like AUS$1000, which is just ridiculously low. I bumped mine up to 100 juta, which I think might have been the upper limit, but I'm not sure. (See example attached to this post)

car_insurance.jpg

My general advice is to get used to the flow and character of the traffic on a scooter first and then try driving a car. Then when you are driving a car, just take it easy. Pretend you're driving in a river of molasses. The upside of having a lot of traffic is that you rarely build up a lot of speed, so any accident you do have is not likely to be serious.

Parking is a pain in the arse, but somehow it always seems to work out.

Also, I don't feel the same paranoia about getting blamed for accidents not matter who was a fault because I speak Indonesian well enough to defend myself in an argument.
 

dafluff

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1. Do you drive in Indonesia? If so what is your vehicle (car, scooter, etc.), and what area(s) of the country have you experienced?
2. Do you feel comfortable in traffic? Figured out how to adapt...
3. Any trouble from the Polisi? Unfair fines, tickets, etc.
4. Any accidents? What happened, if you care to share?
5. How does Indonesian auto insurance work? Will it protect an expat from the liability issues that may be encountered in an accident?
6. For those from right side driving countries, how did you adjust to left side - and especially with the Indonesian traffic factor to contend with?
7. Do you choose not to drive? If so, why, and how do you make that work for you?

Thanks. :)
1. Yes, Kijang/Avanza/Japanese SUV. 99% in Bali, although some in Jakarta as well as between Surabaya and Denpasar.
2. I learned how to drive in Indonesia first. The biggest thing is to adapt to the driving culture here. It is more like a school of fish -> everyone avoids everyone else. 100% vigilance all the time. You can't "zone out" like you would in western highways.
3. No. But I can easily pass as a local, so no incentive to harass a "bule".
4. A few "taps", some my fault, often theirs. Nothing happens, and mostly you just nod at the other guy and drive on.
5. Payouts are actually very quick, but haven't had insurance for a while now.
6. I can adjust to right/left driving fairly easily. Although on my first driver's test in the US, the examiner practically jumped out of his seat when I almost turned into the "wrong" lane. The only time that happened.
7. I choose to drive, merely because I like the independence. However, I strongly recommend a driver not just for safety, but for reduced stress (parking, traffic jam, crazy drivers, etc etc)
 

Chiron

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The switch between left and right hand drive is no big deal...for me, anyway. Just have to take care not to space off where you are for the first couple of weeks; conditioning to the local routine is quick & complete. Same when returning to the USA after a few years; reversing also requires deliberate attention for a week or so.
Thanks - this is good to hear, and good advice should I take the plunge.
 

Chiron

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You can't "zone out" like you would in western highways.
My newest car here in the US is a Subaru with the "EyeSight" technology - adaptive cruise/lane keeper, automatic stopping in case someone slams on the brakes, backup alerts for moving objects, etc. All this stuff has a tendency to zone me out even more, but is pretty nifty and saved me from a couple mishaps already. The adaptive cruise/lane keeper is amazing, but more or less stopped using it, to stay more focused.
 

Chiron

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Indo auto insurance is very different in terms of liability. In Australia you get something like AUS$20 million in liability as standard. Here you get something like AUS$1000, which is just ridiculously low. I bumped mine up to 100 juta, which I think might have been the upper limit, but I'm not sure. (See example attached to this post)

View attachment 129
Thanks for the share on the insurance policy - this is good information to know.
 

fastpitch17

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I drive a scooter all around Bandar Lampung. Wife doesn't drive so she is the back end navigator. I find a scooter gets me everywhere faster but admit that I have incorporated some of the Indonesian driving style while still maintaining my defensive driving approach to it. I do a lot of quick thinking to be always ready for what may take place ahead and have a reaction in mind. Our traffic jams mean you get a slow mess of cars with motors maneuvering all around them. After maybe 2 or 3 minutes you're back moving again. Not a big deal to me. I try not to spend too much time on the high way since it is very full of truck traffic to and from the port and those drivers really don't seem to care to much if you are in a car or on a motor. Plus the high way is always in need of repair because of it's heavy traffic so you are constantly in danger of coming up on a new large hole.

The police stopped me once. Had all papers and license in order and since then, every traffic stop they form I have just been waved through. If I am ever stopped and I think I am being held responsible for something or am being shook down for cash, I have a family contact on my phone that is in a position to make government employees smile at me and shine up my SIM before wishing me a nice day.

From time to time we get a taxi. There is no Bluebird, uber, or go-car here and no meters. We found that the rates are about the same as Jakarta for distance but here you just cover that distance a lot faster. We have maintained the same taxi driver for 3 years now. If we are expecting a lot of rain, having to carry bulky or heavy things, or have a longer trip down the bad condition highway, we call him. We are thinking that perhaps we will purchase an older Katana or PU for around 30 juta but that would be primarily for a restore project for me spending perhaps an additional 10 juta. Plus we would have a car to use if we needed. Renting a car her w/o driver runs about Rp150,000 to 350,000 with driver and that is always an option if we need a car.

Getting used to moving to the other side of the road was never a problem. Going back was always the problem.

Above applies to Badar Lampung. No where, no how would I ever drive in Jakarta. Always rent car and driver when we go there or have family cars and drivers.
 

Anglian

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The most interesting crash I had was when one of those ancient Kijang trucks drove into the back of my Blazer, sadly it was quite terminal for the rust bucket, it disintegrated, my Blazer with its Steel Treadplate, slightly bent, suddenly what was an empty road filled with what seem 100s of people, I thought I'm in deep shite her, but with my pidgin Indonesian, the appointed head of the meeting femmes I wasn't at fault and the Kijang driver should pay me 200,000rp, which he did, we all shock hands and off I went leaving the pile of rust, I felt sorry for the driver so I went back to return the money but he had gone leaving a lonely pile of rust.

I had a mishap a Lebak Bulus bus station avoiding a bus I inadvertently stoved some blokes door in, he wanted 600,000rp as we were discussing this a chap crept up to me and said we can beat him up if you like, the other driver heard this a quickly drove off, I didn't want anyone beaten up and had finished talking to the other driver

After my company and wife banned me from driving because I hit 4 motor bikes in 2 days, not my fault, we employed a driver, for some reason everytime someone overtook he would shout abuse at them, the final straw was at a toll gate someone overtook, he was so enraged he got out the car to attack the driver, I had to restrain him, he had to go, life on the roads her is always interesting, 18 years driving here, great fun, if you really want fun try Saudi Arabia, if you can drive there you can drive anywhere
 
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Nasigan

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Wow, that's the kind of stuff that really concerns me. As tragic as it was, I'm glad to hear it wasn't worse by implicating you.
yes Chiron I was not personally implicated in this accident but even with a driver you can get big trouble when he have a deadly accident.
this was the story I was talking about in my post 7, it happen 13-14 years ago just outside Semarang, Demak ,it was early morning rush hour, a four lane road Indonesian style, a hardly visible white line in the middle my driver avoid a bus who suddenly take of and he comes close to the white line, from the other side a small motorbike with a couple, man and wife, he crossed the line while overtaking a car hi speed, the motorbike hit the right front side of the car. result the motorbike driver broke his leg twice and his wife unfortunately died more or less on the spot.
after long time waiting the police arrived. they took my car and driver to the police station, question my driver and lock him up.
I send my Indonesian director to the police station and he was going there every day for the next 5 days. to negotiate and pay with the family of the dead woman to arrange and pay the hospital costs for the broken leg of the man pay the motorbike etc. I don't remember to mutch how mutch I pay but it was around 50 million I think, this was 14 years ago ! when a normal salary was around 800.000 .
my driver was still in the police jail and we have to give him money so he could buy some food.
when everything was done and payed after 5-6 days I wanted my driver and my car back, nope, not possible until I pay 10 million for the Kepala polisi...
That evening when my director came home with this police request I will never forget, it was like a blow in my face, I was feeling disgusted.
I think my driver was not guilty but anyway we did everything we could to come to a peaceful arrangement with all the involved partys still the police was smelling money and wanted more.
so, there was nothing else to do than pay and get my driver and car out of that shit place.
 

Chiron

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...I was not personally implicated in this accident but even with a driver you can get big trouble when he have a deadly accident.
This experience you've shared is similar to another story about an Indonesian woman and her English fiance', I read from a blog called "Balipedia", which originally came from "Bali Crime Reports" Facebook page:

“On Christmas eve friends of mine were driving through Mengwi, on the outskirts of Denpasar. He is English, his fiancé is Indonesian. On this day she was driving. She has a full Indonesian license, the car is 100% legal. Suddenly a scooter smashed into their car. The male driver was drunk, and had neither license nor helmet. He was rushed to hospital, she was arrested, even though she was clearly in the right. But, she had a foreigner in the car.

She was taken to Mengwi police station, her fiancé was told to find tens of millions of rupiah, not so easy in a foreign country at Christmas. The more he found, the more they wanted. The family of the, by now, dead man refused to sign her release papers until they had their money. Once he had died the amount shot up. Up until last night it stood at 80 million plus solicitors fees.

If he hadn't been in the car his fiancé would never have been arrested. This is the worst corruption you'll find, and to make it worse, she is pregnant. Today makes seven days she has been locked up, for committing no crime whatsoever, but purely as a hostage to her fiancé's extortion, sanctioned by the police and court, who will all get a cut. So think twice before you drive, as a foreigner you cannot win.”
So far with all the different experiences people have shared here, you can get into all kinds of mishaps and basically nothing happens. However, it sounds like if a fatality happens, and you're in the wrong place at the wrong time - even doing the right thing, there can be serious consequences. Another vote for just taking taxis and other third party vehicles.
 

Lantern

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If you have a short fuse then perhaps consider letting someone else do the driving. There are too many provocations for someone prone to road rage.
 

DzulnSiti

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Above applies to Badar Lampung. No where, no how would I ever drive in Jakarta. Always rent car and driver when we go there or have family cars and drivers.
For me I used handphone GPS Waze/Sygic to guide me around Jakarta,Bogor,Cianjur and Bandung. Can say 95% accurate. As you know the road direction in Indonesia keep changing and it is not update on the gps.
 

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