We sold everything and moved to Indonesia!

Guest post by Samantha

Endless rice paddies…In 2009, the economic downturn hit me and my partner Ryan pretty hard. At the time, we were living in downtown Seattle, paying way too much for a gorgeous loft that we rented when we were more financially sound. I was 28, a full-time student, and a social worker. My husband was 26 and a struggling freelance journalist. Newspapers were shutting down left and right. Budgets were getting cut at non-profits all over the country. Banks stopped approving student loans. The future wasn’t looking bright, to say the least.

We watched as brilliant, talented, and educated peers ended up having to move back in with their parents and take jobs at coffee shops because of student loan debt and a shitty job market. We knew it was only a matter of time until our luck ran out and we were bound and determined to come up with another solution. (I love my mother-in-law, but I am NOT going to live in her basement. I’m pretty sure she feels the same way about us.)

At that point, we weren’t married but had been living together for four years. We have many mutual hobbies and interests, but the one that really binds us is our wanderlust. Throughout our relationship, we’d made travel a priority. We’d already traveled all over the world together and had always talked about “someday” teaching and living abroad. “Someday” was always hypothetical and abstract, in the same vein as someday we’ll adopt a kid and someday we’ll have real jobs with real salaries and be able to actually buy our own house or condo. You know, someday.

One day I was at work and I got a text message from Ryan that said something like, “I have the solution! Let’s move to Indonesia and get jobs as teachers!” And I was like, “Riiight, okay, right after we hit the lottery. Nice dreaming, though.” But he insisted that I think about it. So I did. I thought about it all day long and, that night, we discussed it. We talked about all of the things we’d have to do, budgeted how much we’d need to save to make it happen, and made a list of pros and cons. The only thing keeping us from going through with it, it turned out, was fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of making that leap.

We decided that we weren’t going to let fear hold us back and we immediately put the plan into action.

'Eat me.'

It all happened VERY quickly. We found someone to sublet our loft, we sold off pretty much everything we owned, we resigned from our jobs, and I finished up my last term at school. Thanks to scrimping and saving, the money we made from selling everything off, and a generous gift from my mother-in-law, we were able to pay for our relocation and have a small nest egg left-over to sustain us until our first paycheck. (And when I say small, I mean small. For our first month in Indonesia, we were broke-as-a-joke.)

Right before we moved, we realized that it would probably make sense to be legally married. Not only is it illegal for unwed couples to cohabitate in Indonesia, but we wanted the protection and security that being married offers. And four months later, we were husband and wife and moving to Jakarta.

We never take for granted how lucky we are to live and work here. Our salaries have us ranked firmly lower-middle-class in America. The difference is that the cost of living is so low here, we no longer live paycheck-to-paycheck. Not having to worry about making ends meet is an incredible feeling — and a massive load taken off of a relationship.

Too cute!

Having household help is also incredible.

Initially, it was very hard to get over the liberal-guilt that we felt about having a maid. It’s a complicated issue — in many ways, the domestic service sector is critical to the Indonesian economy. There aren’t jobs in the villages, and for many women, jobs in the informal sector are the only means to survival. Household workers aren’t protected by any labor laws, however, so they are almost always grossly underpaid and exploited.

For our staff, we pay them between two to four times the going local rate. We also provide them with all of the same benefits we want for ourselves — a five-day, 40-hour work week. Paid vacation time. Medical care. An annual bonus.

In addition to their salaries, we pay for their schooling. Our pembantu (maid) decided that she wanted to learn to become a tailor, so she’s going to a trade school. Our handyman wanted to get his Bachelor’s Degree in Information Technology, so he’s in university right now.

Dieng Sightseeing

And we have more free time together, to indulge in our hobbies, to unwind and relax. My husband has taken up Mandarin and has lessons three days a week. We both speak Indonesian now. We read more, write more, and travel more.

MONKEYS!We’ve traveled all over Indonesia and visited Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau, and India. Every time we get a break from work (we’re teachers, so that means we get plenty of breaks) we travel. There is so much to explore in Indonesia alone that even long weekends provide great opportunities for adventure. (Indonesia’s most famous destination, Bali, isn’t nearly as beautiful as some of the other islands in this gorgeous tropical archipelago. Indonesia is a country ripe for exploration and discovery.)

Of course there are challenges — in fact, I can’t imagine many things more challenging than the act of expatriation. Sure, it’s an adventure and everything is new and exciting — at first. But when the honeymoon wears off, it can be rough. Most expats experience at least a few months of angst, homesickness, and depression as they adjust to life in their new home. The overwhelming culture shock and isolation can turn even the most easy-going and adaptable people into completely insufferable negative-Nancys.

Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim nation, with a tumultuous political history and a present day wrought with corruption and occasional violence and terrorism. Life in Jakarta is like no other place on earth. It’s massive, it’s over-populated, it’s filthy, it’s polluted, it’s hot, it’s smelly… It almost always takes hours just to travel a few miles. Getting anything accomplished is an epic chore, especially as you are forced to battle your way through bureaucracy.

Tropical Rain

Despite all of that, there’s beauty in the chaos: the call to prayer echoing through the city at dawn, the shouts of “Hello, Mister!” (yes, always “mister”) as you pass by, the smiles and laughter of children as they ride five or six passengers deep on a single motorcycle.

This city can often feel, on first inspection, like nothing more than a writhing mass of humanity. When you live here, though, you can’t help but feel like it’s something bigger than that, something greater. Like it or not, we’re all in this together.

Comments on We sold everything and moved to Indonesia!

  1. My manfriend and I are constantly daydreaming about doing something just like this, I’ve sent him the article to show him it can be done! You guys are a HUGE inspiration, and I really related to the circumstances you found yourselves in before the move ( kinda our life right now) Best of luck and success to you!

  2. Hi Samantha,

    Great post. I am really interested in more that you publish.

    I have been an expat in K.L for the last three years with my husband and 2 year old daughter. If you are ever in the area look us up, we are in the central city. My name on Facebook is Maree Haley Spencer.


    • Hi, Maree! Sorry I didn’t see this sooner! We LOVE KL. It’s such an awesome city — we go to Singapore every month or so, but we try to get to KL every few months, too. It’s all of the order of Singapore without the high price! πŸ™‚ I’ll look you up on Facebook and add you.

  3. Hi Samantha,

    My friend shot me a message and told that I should read this. I guess your decision to move to Indonesia (Jakarta) is just “whoa!” for me. I saw some friends of mine who came to the US, they dont wanna come back. They say living in the US is just all you need. Everything is there.

    I’m Jakartan. As local person, I feel always like Jakarta is just terrible. But I guess this is the art of life. I think challenge is always there in Jakarta. When I was in the US, it was like a comfort zone, I guess. Idk, but challenges here in Jakarta always make me think more, over-and over, they refresh my mind that life always comes up with many different things that if we can handle it well, we’re gonna be better and better.

    Well, anyway, I’m now a student at a private university in Jakarta. You told us that you guys have lots of spare time, dont you? Would you mind if some time you can come over and talk to some friends since I run a small group on campus that is aimed at learning english.

    Take care and take it easy guys!

    • Hi, Jazz! Sorry I didn’t see this sooner.

      I know most Indonesians who move abroad reaaaaally don’t want to return to Jakarta — of course, part of the reason that it’s nice for us, as foreigners, is because we get the expat salary and the ‘bule benefits’.

      If you’re local, living in Jakarta is not nearly as nice — salaries are too small and everything else too expensive.

      There are lots of days that Jakarta makes me crazy — like with the recent flooding or corruption or pollution or traffic or the fighting between races and religions.

      And, of course, there are lots of things that I miss about my home in America, too.

      However… There’s something that’s magical about Indonesia. Like, it’s really a place of opportunity — the place where anything and everything is possible.

      I think Jakarta is an exciting place to be, too, because whatever happens in Indonesia over the next five or ten years is going to effect so many things — the entire SE Asian economy, the relationship between America and the Islamic world…

      Plus, the art and culture and music and food are all so rich and wonderful here — it makes me sad that more Indonesians don’t appreciate how amazing their culture is!

  4. hi, Samantha!

    i’m an indonesian, i accidentally jumped to ur blog while i was googling about “boring life in jakarta”(yes, i actually used this keywords, haha)

    i’m from Padang, west sumatra,and will be spending 1-2 weeks in jakarta. and i surely dont know what to do here, because, for Indonesians like me, living in jakarta is very expensive. when reading your post, i feel jealous of your life in jakarta, it’s one benefit of being a westerner i guess. i really want to travel the world like you two do, but for asians like me,it perhaps costs my 10-years savings ( do i get too hyperbolic?LOL)

    anyway, great post, i love your experience here and after reading your comments, it seems that u plan to go to Sumatra. i recommend you to go to my place, Padang, West Sumatra. i will be very pleased to be your host, (i’m just like most Indonesians, really want to have foreign pals, hehe)

    • Apa kabar, Cihud!

      Kami masih belum pergi ke Padang, tapi kami suka makan nasi padang setiap hari! πŸ™‚

      What did you do in Jakarta? Find something interesting? I only go jalan-jalan on Sundays, when the traffic is nicer.

      I like to go to Kota Tua, Bunderan HI, Monas, Jalan Surabaya or to the nice malls, like Grand Indonesia and Senayan City. We like to go to the movies or to dinner or bowling.

  5. Wow Samantha that looks quite good to be a teacher in Indonesia;I am Spanish and unemployed,the crisis hit hard in Spain,my company closed and all staff fired, here in Spain and considering moving to Indonesia to look for a job as a teacher;I am wanting to go next months to jakarta and try to loo for a job;I already speak fluent Indonesian since more than 10 year ago,even I speak Bahasa Minang,tha dialect from West Sumatra;I have been last 10 years spending several months in indonesia in west sumatra and jakarta;I am considering to also maybe working as a frelance making tours to the jungles of sumatra in jambi and west sumatra,I know the area as the palm of my hand in there.
    You said now both of you work freelance in jakarta?what do you do now?It could be interesting if we could maybe look to do tours to sumatra and java;my wife and kid are idonesians
    My email is [email protected]
    Best wishes from Spain

    • Selamat pagi, Rafael!

      My husband and I created our own PT called PT Percolate Galactic. We run a creative services agency called Percolate Creative. You can see us on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/percolatecreative) or Twitter (http://www.twitter.com/) or Indiegogo (http://igg.me/p/286822/x/407860).

      Running a business in Indonesia as foreigners is quite the challenge, but it can be very rewarding too.

      I know the economy in Spain is pretty bad right now. It wouldn’t be possible for you to get teaching work here in Indonesia, but I think tours of Jawa and Sumatera are a great idea! The tourism industry here is still in its infancy and needs good people to help it mature and really grow.

      Let me know if you move here! I’d be very interested to learn about your plans.

  6. Hi Samantha thanks for your quick reply
    (I posted a reply again from my mobile but seems like doesnΒ΄t appear,some problem maybe with post from mobile)
    Yes It seems like I am not entitled to work as an english teacher as only english motherlanguage nationalities can do that;but I mean as a Spanish teacher;spanish is not quite demanded as english I know but these days there are already some schools offering it so I was thinking in going to jakarta in a couple of months(if I am not able to find a job here in Spain;something really nearly impossible nowadays as all companies what they want is to cut staff);I think if I am there is more easy to find it that from here.
    Other think that is already some years around my head is to organize excursions to indonesia and specially to some specific areas of sumatra and java;maybe including a photography workshop and specialized for botanists,zoologists,antropologists,geologists,mountaneeers or just anybody that wish to enjoy a different culture;these areas are west sumatra,jambi,riau and bengkulu in sumatra and west java,banten and jakarta in java;I know these areas quite well as I have been 10 years hanging around these places and have lots of friends and family in all these areas;they are still unspoiled and very natural,very little visited by western tourists;I wish to show the real Indonesia to western tourists that they would never know other way as travel agencies just offer allways the same Bali,Yogya and little more;and if someone offers they just offer allways same area of Sumatra,Bukit Lawang and Lake Toba and this are a tourist traps and nothing compared with what is to see in othr places that I know;west sumatra the full province is a natural reserve in itself full with volcanic lakes,waterfalls,canyons,a fauna and flora like sumatran tiger and rafflessia arnoldii and a unique culture,The Minangkabau,one of the last Mathriarcats on the planet,and to wich my wife belongs(my wife is from Padang);there are in Sumatra tribal people that even the locals know little about like the Talang Mamak or the Anak Dalam or The Suku Sakai just to mention a few;I have lots of friends in Suku Anak Dalam and even I speak some of their language as well I speak Indonesian quite well since many years ago.
    I am really bad at making a blog or writting but I tried to write down a possible tours in the area in the form of a Blog:
    I have also tried a blog about gemstones of west sumatra,this is another possible business,as I have some shop online selling stones;Sumatra has incredible gemstones and my friends there are carvers and I am a passionate of these stones.
    The difficult is to start up with a new proyect as little I can do more than offering these tours online and try to get a guests and maybe just working as tourleader as I have no funds at all to make a company in Indonesia;I would need a company sponsor me or just try to do first ilegal until I get enough money to register a PT
    Or maybe just my wife do it,I just freelance to look guests online..I do not know;we have to move fast as Spain is worst and worst and at least in Indoensia my wife and kid will be better as they have lot of family and here we have nothing at all now;I had been working in a company here that closed and fired me after 10 years becasue the big economy recession we are in Spain
    Well sorry so long post and best wishes from Spain

    • Hi Rafael,
      These are beautiful and well put together tours. How much would it cost if we are already in Jakarta? How safe is this for foreign tourists to join this type of tour and what type of accommodation will you provide? Jeni.

  7. Hello Jeni
    I am doing a tour 14 days west sumatra and jambi 1095€(if including flights from europe to jakarta and jakarta to padang and then insurance and VOA I make it 2190€ the tour) and I do groups of 5 people or 10 people including a car with driver,petrol,food from local restaurants(padang food),guide I do myselve and a local one,and acommodation is in double room in homestays and sometimes also in tenda camping in the jungle,sometimes we sleep in local families homes and others in the huts of tribes people anak dalam;that area is quite safe for foreign tourists.
    Best wishes

  8. I am also focusing in urban street photography tours in Jakarta
    Unusual tours to the slums and most hidden areas of Jakarta
    Also I know many urban legends in Jakarta and could do a tours to that places
    Jakarta is a dream to street photography
    Best wishes

  9. Dear Samantha,
    I love reading your article, it is enlightening and very very inspiring. I would like to ask a few questions, if you don’t mind. Currently I am in the process of K1 visa – fiancee visa. My fiance is a US Citizen. He lives in California. It’s been 7 months for us waiting for approval and it seems so uncertain.
    Then, we have an idea. He is currently unemployed now. He tried so hard to find a job, He found one. At Wal-mart. But then they let him go. He graduated with Diploma in Accounting.. But oh Lord, it is tremendously hard to find a job there!
    I read your article and it gives us idea. I would really like for him to try his luck here.
    He is a natural teacher. He has it in his soul. He even teaches me Aljebra and now I can do it!! I wonder why I couldn’t back in high school.. Anyways..
    My questions would be :
    1. I know he should have a proper TEFL. where can he take the class? Do you have any recommendation for that? Should he attend the class in US? Online? Or should he take it here?
    2. How much does it cost? I tried to look up online and it usually ranges between $1,200 to $ 2,000.
    3. We don’t aim to have big salary right away, but since he does not have any teaching experience except be a tutor back in college days, would it be a barrier for him to find a job?
    I live in Jakarta, so I know the place well. But the world of expatriates, is the one I need deeper comprehension.
    I would really appreciate if you could shed some light for me. I really want him to have a good job, he is a very smart person. It just hurts me to see him being unemployed like this..
    Thank you so much for you attention.


    • Hi, Agnetta.

      Unfortunately, it’s becoming more and more difficult for foreigners to secure teaching jobs in Indonesia without the proper qualifications. If your fiance wants to teach here in Indonesia, he needs to:

      -Be 21 or older.
      -Hold a USA, Canada, England, or Australia passport.
      -Pass a medical examination, including an HIV/AIDS test.
      -Have at *least* a Bachelor’s degree in the subject that he wants to teach. (So, an English degree if he’s going to teach English, a math degree if he’s going to teach math, etc…)
      -Have western teaching credentials or CELTA certification.
      -Have five years (or more) of teaching experience.

      If he doesn’t have all of that, he cannot qualify for a teaching position and will not be approved for a KITAS. There are some unethical schools (like language mills and national-standard schools) that will hire teachers lacking the proper qualifications, but then they will force those teachers to work on business visas, which is highly unethical.

      The other issue you’re going to find is that, outside of teaching, there really isn’t a market for foriegn employees. While I’m sure that your fiance is quite lovely and smart and hard working, with the resume you described, I can’t see many people wanting to hire him — there just isn’t a need for foreign accountants, general laborers, etc…

      If you really want him to come to Indonesia, the best option would be for him to create a PMA/foreign investment. With a PMA, he can sponsor his own work visa and have his own business. There is a significant initial cost, however — it’s around $10,000 USD to pay for all of the fees, licensing, certifications, taxes, and visas.

      • Thank you very much for your time to reply to my questions. I am glad I came to you first before even having an in depth thought about that. There is no other way than to just wait for the Fiancee Visa to be approved then. πŸ™‚
        Thank you so much again..

    • Also, make sure you look into all of the complications that come with marrying a WNA. In a mixed-citizenship marriage you, as the WNI, will lose your right to own businesses, land, property, and many other things unless you have a very specific pre-nuptual agreement. You can check out the expat forum for more information. On the forum you can find everything you need to know about visas, laws, regulations, marriage, etc…

  10. Well to make a PT I have been watching some agents in jakarta and they charge an average of 2000$,but of course that agents are focused to expatriates and so are their prices too,as registering a PT is just go to a notary and doing it there and should no cost more than a couple of million Rp if not less;I rember when I used to extend my sosbudaya visa through an agent I was paying like 1.5 million Rp(150$ average) and then once I decided to do by myselve and I paid just 250,000 Rp(25$),but I have to say I had to go to inmigration 3 times til was done.
    I also sometimes read for a 100% foreign investment the minimum investement is one million dollars,and you must show them the one million dollars invested but in the real I do not know if that really true as I have seen my friend doing a PT and showed just 200 million Rp(20 thousand dollars),but I think not even that necessary if you joint with someone indonesian;the best option is to open a PT but under an indonesian citizen name(must be one you trust a lot) and then that company employs you;have to say that company will have to pay tax 100$ a month for have you as employer)
    Everything can be done in indonesia with money!!!

  11. Perhaps your husband, Asa freelance journalist, can pitch a story he can sell to AramcoWorld magazine, especially given the experiences and familiarity with Indonesia and Southeast Asia.

  12. Hi Samantha

    You claimed that the rented house rate at USD 530 a month, can you kindly share with me the location of your house, thanks.



    Hello friends, I am from Indonesia, but I grew up and live in Spain. I am here to share some important information about how I got a loan from an Islamic organization a week ago so that my people in Indonesia who may need a loan this new year 2016 to start a business or do other things can find a reliable place to get a loan , Actually, I never believed that I could get a loan from any lender online internet because I always thought they were all scams. But the story changed two weeks ago when my fellow Muslim brother who also lives here in Spain told me about how she got a business loan from the Islamic organization. Even when I find it hard to believe, but I told myself I had to try and see what will happen and I signed up for a loan of $70,000 USD. I contacted them. To my surprise, my loan approved and I received a loan after 3 days. One thing I like about them is that all their processes simple and clear. No hidden costs. No guarantee is required from me because I filed an unsecured loan. Their staff are the ones who have the fear of God. So, my brothers at home and abroad, I want to use this opportunity to advice you to contact them immediately via email at ([email protected]) and one of their staff will immediately respond to you. Please share this information so that others can find out about them and get a loan from them. If you need any more information from me about how I got my loan from them, do not hesitate to contact me at the email [email protected] Hopefully, this new year will be favorable for us with the power of almighty Allah.

  14. (1) Indonesia has one of the most corrupt legal sytems in the world.

    (2) Nobody and I mean nobody should ever contemplate being a teacher in Indonesia.

    Just read up on the Neil Bantleman case:
    Summary of Case:

    -Neil and his wife move from Canada to Indonesia to teach in a private school
    -He’s accused by a mother of raping her child.
    -The judges disallow all the defence evidence (including medical documents) and witness testimony. Did you get that? No? Read it again. This includes medical evidence that disputes the medical evidence claimed by the mother.
    -Mother changes lawsuit against the school from $12.5 million to $125 million.
    -Neil is sentenced to 10 years in prison.
    -He’s been released but cannot leave country. Ongoing…

    It’s absolutely sickening how corrupt the Indonesian legal sytem is.
    There is strong speculation that there was collusion between the judges / prosecution / mother and perhaps some of the school officials, strictly for monetary gain.
    A completely fabricated story.

    After reading this story, I would hope Canada severs all trade relations with Indonesia, as well as performs a full 3rd party investigation into the individuals involed in the case.

    So, do you wish to teach in a corrupt nation that could fabricate a story of rape, toss you in the slammer, then completely disallow any legal/legitimate form of defence?
    Are you flipping kidding me?

    I would leave while you can.

  15. i’m indonesian i love this post πŸ˜€
    i’m from cirebon,special place like yogyakarta ( keraton )
    I’m curious to bule ( other country )

    email me if you have questions

  16. Although cohabitation is frowned upon in some areas, It is not illegal. (accept in areas like Aceh that have their own local bylaws) Here in Jakarta, I have never had a problem, even when renting apartments In fact, when I first came here, I was living on V.O.A.s and every time I returned from a visa run, immigration would ask me what I was doing in Indonesia……My truthful answer was always “staying with my fiance”

    There was a bill that was proposed last year that would have made it illegal, but it did not pass. Religious clerics have been trying to pass a cohabitation law for 20 years now..It has failed every time. Hotels in certain areas may ask you for a marriage certificate if you are booking with a female, but this is their personal choice…not a law. Also there have been cases where police have conducted raids on hotels looking for prostitutes and adulterers and have given unwed couple a hard times, but these are cases of corruption and officers looking for a bribe If you are living together whilst committing adultery, that is a different story and carries a jail term of 90 days (but only if your spouse files a complaint.

    Here is a link to an article on the proposed bill.
    (note the headline is misleading the article clearly states ” The revised Criminal Code needs to pass through the House of Representatives before it becomes law. The document was submitted to lawmakers on Wednesday, a source with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights said.”

    Well..It didn’t pass, and like so many times before, chances are it never will.

    The problem with bills like these is that they would greatly affect Indonesia’s tourist industry, something that the government is trying to increase.

    As we all know rumors run rampant in the world. All it takes is one misinformed blog or facebook post and suddenly falsities become truth.

  17. Having spent many years in Philippines, I’m keen on something a little different. Can you tell me
    exactly how the visa process works? In Phils it’s about $600 a year and have options to extend every
    2 to 6 months.

    • Yes I still live and love it here.

      I stay using a social visa. It cost about $120 to have an agent do the paperwork in Singapore. It is good for 60 days after which you can get it renewed every 30 days for $30 for 4 more months, Then you just go back to Singapore for a new social visa.

      • Hello! Curious to know more! I am moving to Indonesia since my partner moves in the month of October. Is the social visa easy to obtain? Does the immigration person get curious if you enter the country too many time? Are volunteer jobs easy to get (Assuming that is the requirement to have a social visa)
        Sorry for too many questions!

  18. Hi. I’m Indonesia. We know what’s differences between “Sir and Mister”. But we prefer to call you “Mister”. Lebih terasa “BULE”nya. Dan kami senang menyapa para BULE.

  19. Ceritanya menyentuh sekali, sempat merinding saat kalimat terakhir “This city can often feel, on first inspection, like nothing more than a writhing mass of humanity. When you live here, though, you can’t help but feel like it’s something bigger than that, something greater. Like it or not, we’re all in this together”
    Senang sekali membacanya, walaupun telat “welcome to my country”.

    Cental java, Tegal

  20. Hi I was wording about your Experience teaching in Indonesia . I was wondering if I could ask you some question .

  21. What was your experience with visas ? Especially in the beginning and staying there permanently. Do you frequently do visa runs and if so where? What type of visa do you have?

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