Indonesia Security and Safety: Ranked as the 4th most populous country in the world, with a population of over 265 million, Indonesia is famous as a holiday destination but is becoming an increasingly important destination for business travellers. The country is a big player in the mining and energy sectors but is also growing attention internationally for its diverse manufacturing and agricultural sectors and its status as a banking and finance hub.
As with many nations in Southeast Asia, it has a few characteristics that business travellers would be well advised to know before heading over there. Having had considerable experience in the country and now with a branch office in Jakarta, Panoptic Solutions Indonesia security consultants are very well familiar with teh country and its cultures.
Indonesia Security Considerations – The Risks
Indonesia hosts more than 10 million international visitors a year and most travellers manage to leave without incident so don’t let the summary of risks below put you off from travelling there. There may seem to be a lot of risks but if you are suitably prepared and take the right precautions your trip should be without incident also.
Having said that, when there is high risk, take heed of any travel warnings issued by your consulate or department of foreign affairs. These are not issued lightly and should be taken seriously.
Refer to our Business Travel Safety & Security Checklist at the bottom of this post for more generic tips on personal security while travelling.
With the exception of terrorism (see below) most crimes against tourists in Indonesia are crimes of opportunity. Criminals look for soft or easy targets, so if you’re alone or are intoxicated you increase your risk of being targeted.
Regrettably, one of the scams that happens from time to time in Indonesia is motivated by greed but can have fatal consequences. Some bars, in order to reduce costs, mix ethanol and/or methanol into alcoholic drinks to maintain the alcohol content but at a lower cost. Methanol in particular is poisonous and, in some cases, can lead to vision impairment and even death when ingested.
Key steps to take to avoid this are to:
1) Drink in reputable bars and hotels. If you don’t trust your own judgment on this, ask the concierge at your hotel or other business people you are interacting with for recommendations.
2) Only order drinks you are familiar with so you know what they ‘should’ taste like. If something tastes ‘off’ it quite possibly is so you are best to cease drinking (and pour the drink out so no-one else is harmed).
Indonesia’s population is a predominantly Muslim (87%), most of them and law abiding but, unfortunately, it’s the extremist element of the Muslim population that has got the lion’s share of publicity in recent years. Many of these have travelled overseas where they have been radicalised and/or earned battle experience in the Middle East or The Philippines. They often return very committed to their cause and with the skills and resources to back it up. This element is what increases the Indonesia security risk rating with many analysts.
Many terrorist incidents in Indonesia pre-date the 911 attacks in New York in 2001, but it is mainly the attacks since that time that have brought focus on Indonesia as a terrorism hotspot. This commenced with the Bali bombings in 2002 and with occasional hotel and other bombings since then. Indonesia security forces and local authorities have responded well to these situations and counter-terrorism initiatives have since put them in a better position to prevent such events.
Indonesia security experts still warn travellers to be wary of their surrounds. There is still a higher risk for the business traveller than there might be in other Southeast Asian nations though so it’s best to take heed of any travel warnings issued by your local consulate. Indonesia security travel warnings will be outlined on most government travel advisories.
Sitting on a volcanic hotspot knowns as ‘the ring of fire’, Indonesia has a higher risk than most places of volcanic eruptions. Most volcanic eruptions are not life threatening as they usually come with sufficient warning. They can wreak havoc on travel plans though so ensure you travel with plenty of extra medication in case you should find yourself stranded longer than you planned to be in the country.
Earthquakes, tsunamis and mudslides are also more frequent in Indonesia than most countries so take heed of warning systems, sirens and such like should they go off. Most coastal areas include signage showing which direction to go in the event of a tsunami warning so become familiar with these before you need them
No matter how much experience you may have driving in developing nations, we recommend that visiting business travellers always engage a qualified security driver where possible. Avoid hiring or riding on a scooter at all costs. Though it may look like fun it’s a high risk activity that could have serious consequences if you are in an accident.
If a security driver isn’t an option, use a metered taxi rather than a ride share service. We’ve used and recommend Bluebird taxis over any of the others. If the driver doesn’t put the meter on at the beginning of the trip ask them to do so. If they refuse for whatever reason, agree a price for the trip up front rather than waiting until the end.
Being an archipelago nation, there’s also a good chance you may find yourself on a boat at some point. There are areas of Indonesia where piracy occurs, up through the Malacca Straits, for instance so if you’re cruising around, that’s something you need to be aware of.
Don’t expect to find emergency health care of the same standard as you might find at home. There are few reputable hospitals but, in the event of an accident, you could find yourself at one that doesn’t deliver the care that you need. Where possible choose one of the private hospitals.
Siloam or International SOS hospitals are in many cities and the BIMC Hospital in Bali is well suited for travellers. Some of these also have their own ambulance services so where you have a choice, go with one of these.
Take a first aid kit with you when travelling to Indonesia (Listen to this episode of the Wheels Up podcast for details of what to include). Include an antiseptic spray in your kit as the tropical conditions can cause even the smallest of cuts to become badly infected.
Hepatitis A, B, and C are pretty prevalent throughout the region as are dengue fever and malaria so ensure you have have the correct vaccinations and anti-malaria medication before departing. See a doctor specialising in travel medicine as they will be up to speed on the latest shots required for the area. Don’t leave the vaccinations for the last minute as some take time for the benefits to kick in.
Jakarta and some other cities in Indonesia have very high air pollution levels so if you are asthmatic or have respiratory illnesses, ensure you travel with plenty of medication and use it as needed. Volcanic ash can also be a trigger for respiratory conditions so be on high alert when there is volcanic activity, even if it is some distance away.
As a predominantly Muslim nation, Indonesian people are quite conservative. Even if you are a frequent traveller to Bali, don’t expect the same holiday atmosphere or dress code in other parts of the country. Women in particular are well advised to be modest with their clothing.
Haggling is part of the culture of most Southeast Asian nations and Indonesia is no exception. While a merchant will usually haggle quite happily, and even expects you to haggle, they do not appreciate it if you are haggling just for sport and have no intention of buying.
And even if you do engage in haggling, keep in mind that a dollar means much more to them and their families than it does to you.
One scam that is prevalent, although not so much pertaining to Indonesia security threats (and many other Southeast Asian destinations) is where you order a tailored suit in a particular fabric but it is made and delivered using a lower quality cloth, or somehow the price has increased from when you first ordered it.
There is little actual harm as such but the simple rule here is to pay close attention to what you are ordering and agreeing to. You could go as far as taking a photo of the cloth offered when you order the suit and comparing it with what’s delivered.
The advice above is suitable for most travellers but if your business is frequently sending staff to Indonesia, you’d be well advised to have a full risk assessment done for the areas your staff would be travelling to. This would include accommodation, travel and health care recommendations as well as any briefing material to help staff be prepared.
Panoptic Solutions has an office in Jakarta so we are well equipped to provide an assessment should you need one. If you want to know more about Indonesia security risk, contact us at 1300 651 407 or via email for more details.
Refer also to our Business Travel Safety & Security Checklist below by entering your details for more generic tips on personal security while travelling.