All you need to know about working remotely from Indonesia
Spread over a whopping 17,000 islands, Indonesia is at once wild and cutting-edge. From cities like Jakarta to primaeval jungles to cool hangouts like Bali, it’s got something for all sorts of digital nomads.
Indonesia for digital nomads at a glance
- Bali – Indo’s digital nomad mecca
- Beaches worthy of a travel brochure
- Some hotspots with super-fast internet
- Bad infrastructure in remoter areas
- Can be hard to get around (there are over 17,000 islands!)
An introduction to Indonesia
Spreading from the tips of the Malay Peninsula to the edge of Australia, Indonesia is an artist’s brush of islands that covers more than 5,000 kilometres from end to end. Between its borders, the country offers mist-gathering jungles where orangutans swing in the teak trees, traffic-clogged cities throbbing with life and satay BBQs, and remote beaches shaded by stooping palms.
One place stands out from the crowd for digital nomads in Indonesia: Bali, the surf mecca, the nightlife hub, the haven of hipsters and good-vibes living. But there are also plenty of other up-coming spots to consider, from the earthy folklore town of Yogyakarta to the paradise reaches of the white-sand Mentawai isles. Let’s take a look at the details…
Connectivity in Indonesia
Internet speeds in the major destinations of Indonesia are generally average to pretty good. This is not South Korea, with lightning-fast backbone connections in every household, but digital infrastructure is decent, especially in larger towns and cities. We’d still recommend all arriving remote workers arm themselves with a SIM as a backup.
WiFi in Indonesia
It’s uncommon to find a place to stay in Bali or Lombok or the Gilis that doesn’t come with its WiFi. The same goes for big cities like Yogyakarta and Jakarta. The real issue is how fast that internet ends up being, and how reliable.
On the Isle of the Gods (Bali’s much-loved nickname), places like Canggu (more on that one later!) can score speeds of 21.9 Mbps and over. But there are also more isolated regencies where the internet speeds ebb to just 3 Mbps. That’s something of a metaphor for the rest of the nation: Strong WiFi in the towns, poor WiFi in the countryside.
Still, the real issue isn’t often the internet speed itself but the strength of the electrical grid. Even DNs in the built-up resorts of Seminyak and Kuta still complain of long power outages, particularly during the rainy season (Oct-April). That situation worsens in outlying areas, like the wilds of Papua and West Sumatra.
4G and mobile in Indonesia
You might think that a country spread over 17,000 islands, across volcanos and several seas, would be hamstrung in the quest for decent 4G, but Indonesia has an impressive mobile network. Many digital nomad favourites get complete coverage with only a few exceptions – like the cliff-backed beaches of Uluwatu or the west coast of Lombok, for example.
The colossal Telkomsel company dominates the market, but there are also smaller providers like Smartfren and Indosat starting to shake things up. You can expect to pay in the region of 85,000 IDR ($5.50) for a SIM and about 10-15GB of data. Packages are best purchased at the airport as soon as you arrive.
A warning: Some public holidays and events can see the complete shutdown of Indonesia’s cellular network. An example is Nyepi Day in March when the whole island of Bali is supposed to go off-grid. It’s all in the name of honouring age-old traditions, but something DNs should be wary of.
Visas and documentation for Indonesia
People from nearly 170 countries around the globe don’t even have to apply for a visa to enter Indonesia. There’s 30-day of access available with just a punch in the passport. Of course, that’s not ideal if you were planning on staying longer, and it’s important to stress that Indo’s visa waiver is solely for tourism. DNs use it at their own risk.
To extend their time on the islands of Indo, a lot of digital nomads will opt for the 60-day visa. It costs $35 at the airport and can be extended for another $35 at an immigration office on the ground. Again, it’s intended only for tourism purposes, so will still carry an element of uncertainty and risk for DNs.
Other travellers go for the Sosial Budaya Visa or the Working Visa. The first applies to people visiting family or friends in the country and can allow for stays of up to six months at a time, although an interview with an immigration officer might be required for any extensions. The latter is a fully-fledged right-to-work visa, giving you access to Indonesian employment rights. It’s famously hard to get, needing sponsorship from an established Indonesian business that intends to hire you.
Where to work as a digital nomad in Indonesia
Indonesia can be a real adventure for digital nomads who want to break away from the desk in their Airbnb. Yes, there are those intriguing start-out co-working hubs in the major remote-work destinations. But why not hit the cafes? This is the hallowed home of Javanese coffee, after all…
One thing’s for sure – you’ll never be short of a coffee in Indonesia. The island of Java is known around the world for its rich, bitter beans, and some of the planet’s most celebrated brews originate in the volcanic soils there.
Of course, the coffee is just half the challenge for digital nomads, who also need a good internet link and a comfy place to sit for the day at the laptop. That shouldn’t be hard to find. Indonesia has a well-developed culture of cafés, but they are typically limited to places that tourists visit. That means hipster joints in Bali or Lombok, along with spots to sit and work in Jakarta and Yogyakarta (which has some of the best establishments in the country). In spots like the Mentawai Islands and the Gilis, it’s much more likely to be an open-air warung (traditional Indonesian tavern) by the beach.
Co-working spaces are a relatively new phenomenon in much of Indonesia. They are popping up in Jakarta, Surabaya, and Bandung, but don’t expect the cutting-edge and cool environments of the hubs in Chiang Mai. For those, you’ll need to go to Bali…
Bali is a mecca for co-working places of all shapes and sizes. From code camps to surf schools with DN desks and co-living areas, there’s myriad get through on the Isle of the Gods. Of course, that’s backed up by some of the quickest internet speed in the county. (Fibre connections that regularly go over 21 Mbps are the norm).
Tech stuff for digital nomads in Indonesia
Here, we’ll dig down into the nitty-gritty of Indonesia’s tech side. There’s info on the plug types, voltages, and other computer-related aspects of the country…
Plugs and things in Indonesia
Indonesia uses Type C and Type F sockets. That’s good news for digital nomads originating in Europe because it means there’s a chance your normal two-pronged contacts will work. If not, an adapter that can convert plugs into Type E is a good way to go – they should work with both wall inserts in Indo. Standard voltage on connections is 230 at 50 Hz.
Security and accessibility
Reports show that the Indonesian government currently routinely blocks a whopping 800,000 websites. Official sources say that the vast majority of those are aimed at reducing radical religious content and unsavoury material. However, new ways of censoring online content came into being in 2018 and there’s been a noticeable uptick in the number of URLs that can no longer be accessed since then. That said, all major international news outlets and social media providers are still given the okay.
Repairs and computer shops
Don’t despair if your keyboard breaks or the laptop screen starts a-ghosting in Indonesia – there’s a good level of tech support at hand, at least in the major towns, cities and resorts. A worst-case scenario is that you’ll have to high tail it to the nearest tourist destination because there’s not going to be an Android outlet halfway up Mount Bromo.
There are plenty of electronics malls and trading courts where mobile repairs and computer maintenance can be had for cheap in Jakarta. Bali also has loads, especially around Denpasar and Kuta on the south coast.
Cost of living in Indonesia
There are digital nomad destinations in Indonesia where the average monthly cost of living dips well below $1,000. However, they’re probably not the places you’ve heard of. The headline acts of Bali all come with estimated outgoings that sit between $961 (in Uluwatu) and $2,000 (in the chic resort hub of Seminyak). For that tropical island life but with lower costs, you could make the hop over to Lombok, where Senggigi’s beach towns offer living for around the $540/month mark on average. Other islands are somewhere in between, like Sumatra ($600-800 per month) and Java (from $767 in Surabaya to over $1,600 in the capital). So, a lot depends on where you choose to go.
Travel basics for Indonesia
Get ready, because Indo has a mind-boggling 300 official languages (going up to over 700 when you include the dialects). The most commonly spoken is Bahasa Indonesia (known, simply, as Indonesian), which is understood by virtually everyone. English is also pretty common, particularly if you’re bound for the surf towns of Bali or the beaches of Lombok.
When to visit Indonesia
There’s no hard and fast rule about when’s the best time to visit Indonesia. This vast nation straddles the Equator line, which has a stabilising effect on the weather, keeping it relatively uniform throughout the year. Roughly speaking, the rains come between October and March, but end for the European summertime, meaning it’s the opposite of much of the rest of Southeast Asia. There are a few seasons and regional changes to watch out for:
- Bali is busiest from May-October, which is the main surf season for the legendary beaches along the west coast.
- Sulawesi gets heavy rain in November, December and January on its southern side, but monsoons spread throughout the whole year in the north.
- Java (home to Jakarta) tends to be drier than most regions. When the rainy season does come, it’s typically limited to short, sharp bursts in the afternoon and evening.
Indonesian food is a fusion of Southeast Asian spice, Indian flair, and European flavours left over from the age of colonial rule. Underpinning the lot is a strong connection to the ocean, which is hardly a surprise considering you’re rarely more than a stone’s throw from the coast in this water-washed country. Some of the dishes you simply have to try are:
- Satay: You’ll smell satay skewers sizzling on the roadside BBQ grills all over Indonesia. They’re pieces of meat that’s doused in peanut sauce and griddled atop open coals.
- Gado-gado: Literally meaning “mix-mix” this ramshackle dish is a medley of steamed and blanched veg, covered in a top of tempeh protein, hard-boiled eggs and aromatic peanut sauce. Best eaten on the islands of Lombok and Bali.
- Nasi goreng: Indonesia’s version of the humble fried rice is packed with tangy kecap manis soy sauce, chilli powder and – for the non-veggies – seafood.
Where digital nomads love in Indonesia
It’s been a few years now since Canggu stole the crown of the digital nomad capital from Chiang Mai in Thailand. But it’s still going strong. Vegan cafés, organic eateries, German bakeries, cool roasteries, chic beach bars and yoga studios – the whole lot exists on this short stretch of shoreline just west of Seminyak. If you’re unsure where to go first in Indonesia as a digital nomad, this is a great place to start. There’s fast internet, loads of rental opportunities, and a ready-made culture of expats.
Further inland from the famous southern surf beaches of Bali is the artsy jungle town of Ubud. A haven in the hills, it’s been a place for painters and poets to find inspiration over the years. The piece de resistance is the so-called Monkey Forest, where crab-eating macaques clamber over ancient Hindu shrines. There’s also a bustling marketplace selling batik fabrics and Luwak coffee (read the label before you buy!). Accommodation wise, it’s cheaper than the coast and most pads are downright luxurious to boot!
Lombok is the little bro of Bali. It’s just as beautiful but nowhere near as popular. We’re not sure how long that will last, however, because the DNs and the surfers have been coming for a couple of years now. Senggigi is the place that’s probably best known, with its white-sand bays hidden below stooping palms. Kuta Lombok is on the southern shoreline, with some awesome reef breaks for expert board riders. And then come the Gilis, where evening parties with backpackers meld into long days of snorkelling and sunbathing.
Yogyakarta is the location for digital nomads who love to delve into the local culture. The hipster cafés of Bali are replaced here by soaring temples that have their roots in the ancient Buddhist culture of Java. On top of that, there are great palaces and an old town laced with coffee houses selling homegrown beans. The city might not have the ready-made DN community, but it’s great if you want to sample age-old gamelan music and buy handcrafted batiks.
Jakarta doesn’t have the same buzz about it as Bangkok or Hanoi, but it’s still one of Southeast Asia’s bustling capitals. Nearly 10 million people call it home, so it’s a pulsating choice for DNs in search of a true metropolis. Areas you might want to home in on include Chinatown, for the steamy food stalls and strange bazaars, and Kota, where little touches of Dutch colonial design still hide beneath the skyscrapers.
Accommodation for digital nomads in Indonesia
Finding somewhere to stay is rarely an issue for arriving digital nomads in Indonesia. With nearly 10 million international visitors every year, there’s a well-developed hospitality industry, with yogi hotels and luxury resorts aplenty. What’s more, DN hotspots like Bali have an abundance of Airbnbs and short-term rentals, with a market that’s specifically aimed at remote workers.
There are thousands of rental listings on Airbnb that should be viable options for digital nomads in Indonesia. Only, the vast majority of them are concentrated in the places where most people go. To put it another way, there’s no use scanning the service for that perfect condo on the wild isles of Komodo or amid the jungles of Papua. Much better are the towns around the Bukit Peninsular and the beaches of southern Bali and eastern Lombok. There, you’ll find villas with pools, verandas, and high-speed WiFi aplenty, often with tempting monthly discounts to take them below $1,000/month.
Get on the ground
It’s certainly the case that the best bargains on accommodation are found on the ground. Digital nomads can simply take to the streets of places like Canggu and Seminyak to find condos and villas advertised on the roadsides. The same is true in big cities, although you might need Google Translate handy because the ads won’t necessarily be tailor-made for international visitors. A lot of people heading Bali way will take the Airbnb route until they can secure something cheaper through local networking.
The upcoming trend of co-living spaces (co-working spaces with attached rooms and apartments that are specifically aimed at digital nomads) is slowly making its way across Indonesia. Bali and Jakarta are currently where you’ll find the most options. They usually have good deals for office-bed combinations, with reduced prices for couples. What’s more, some bring great extras to the table, offering morning yoga programs, surf courses, and even free evening cook-ups with fellow remote workers!