Indonesia Culture Shock that You Must Know


It has been a common thing for many expats that are moving to Indonesia to experience Indonesia Culture Shock. Not to mention if you are moving to Jakarta. For your information, Jakarta is the busiest city in Indonesia with a population of more than 10 million. Hence, it will take some time for you, as an expat, to adjust in Indonesia.

The one major culture shock will be the traffic and the quality of the air. The traffic in Indonesia is the worst in Indonesia and the sidewalks are also not pedestrian-friendly. As for the quality of the air, due to many cars and motorbikes, is quite a concern, especially for those who have respiratory problems. If you are wondering about other culture shocks that you might face in Indonesia. Then you need to keep on reading this article Indonesia culture shock.

The Time

Do not be confused or shocked if you see that many people in Indonesia are always late. This is due to the time is very flexible in Indonesia. That is why you will likely expecting to have meetings to be canceled without notice or your colleagues arriving late. With that being said, Indonesians are very relaxed about time. Hence, they would rather spend their time to speak to someone and build a relationship than being on time.

Alcohol Permission

Although alcohol is legal in Indonesia, it is prohibited to sell alcohol to Muslims. Also, the minimum legal age to buy alcohol is 18 years old. However, there is no legal age to consume alcohol in Indonesia. Different from alcohol, drug laws are very strict in Indonesia. Several severe penalties for possessing and trafficking drugs are being strictly implemented including life imprisonment and death sentences.

Language Barrier

As you all know, the official language of Indonesia is Bahasa Indonesia and the second widely spoken dialect is Javanese. English is the third language in Indonesia. That is why expats will require a long time to learn a few phrases in Bahasa Indonesia.

Meeting and Greeting

For your information, the most common greeting in Indonesia is a handshake. However, this greeting depends on certain circumstances and interactions between different genders. For example, when there is a man greets a man, the most common greeting is a handshake with the right hand and accompanied by a slight bow. There are moments when men put their palm to their hearts when shaking hands to show respect.

As for women, when they are greeting each other, the common greetings are handshakes and nods. As for when men and women greet each other, the most common greetings are handshakes with the woman initiate it first and putting hands in front of the chest. Do keep in mind that men and women are not allowed to kiss or hug in public.

Personal Space

The next Indonesia Culture Shock that expats need to know is personal space. Do not be surprised when Indonesians tend to stand much closer to each other when they are waiting in a queue. This is usually due to Indonesians want to quickly get their things.


Speaking about dining, Indonesia has various delicious coffee such as Toraja coffee, Bali Kintamani coffee, Flores coffee, and Luwak coffee. Also, Indonesia has a relaxing table manner. However, there are times when expats are required to behave formally on formal occasions. Also, when you are visiting someone’s house, you need to wait for the host to show the dining room and living room to seat.

Usually, food are serve from the middle of the table by the host. Do not worry about getting a second helping as it shows that the food is delicious. On many formal occasions, men are always served before women.


Indonesians need to have good impressions. This kind of thing has become a culture, not only in Indonesia but also in other parts of Asia. This culture means that Indonesian never criticize or scold people in public. This kind of thing results in Indonesians become vague whenever they have problems.

Also, face-to-face interactions are highly valued. It is not a surprising thing if later on, you will get the attention you need through face-to-face interactions rather than from email or phone calls.

The Bureaucracy

Although Indonesia has a powerful economy, the bureaucratic red tape still becomes a problem that impedes economic growth and investment potential. Not only that but the bureaucratic red tape also causes problems for the expats that are trying to get the entry visas or work permits.


As you all know, Muslims are dominating the population in Indonesia. Hence, most people in Indonesia are wearing modest outfits. Although it will be hard for some expats to follow this culture, as long as you can dress modestly, it will not affect your everyday lives.


As we have stated before, most people in Indonesia are modestly dressed. This kind of thing usually valid for women. Women in Indonesia should be avoiding wearing short skirts or even tight clothing. The reason is that this kind of thing will cause offenses.

It is also highly recommended to cover the top and dress conservatively. Especially when visiting offices such as the Visa and Immigration Office. As for men, they mostly wear conservative and dark-colored suits with or without ties or wear long-sleeved batik shirts.


Almost everyone in the world already knows that Indonesia is a patriarchal society. When usually women are equal to men in the workplace, men are still most favored for higher positions in Indonesia. Not only that but men will have better salaries and responsibility within the business world. Also, as we have stated before, women are required to dress modestly in the business place.

Hence, it is also valid for expat women. They will not likely find the level of respect they usually find in Western society in Indonesia. Especially if you are accompanying your spouse. You will be likely to be ignored by Indonesian men.

Not only that but expat women need to grow accustomed to the toilet facilities. For your information, public toilets in Indonesia are mostly squat toilets and there are no toilet paper in them. The expats will have to wash with water.

Despite these Indonesia Culture Shock, Indonesians are very friendly people and have a good sense of humor. You will feel safe and welcomed in Indonesia.



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