Money & costs
Costs vary depending on where you go, but Indonesia remains one of the cheapest travel destinations in Asia. Hotels, food and transport are all inexpensive in US dollar terms.
Accommodation is usually the greatest expense of Indonesian travel, followed by ‘luxury’ foreign articles such as electronics. A stream of price hikes in petrol during 2005 increased the cost of bus travel, although it’s still inexpensive by any standard. Three square warung (food stall) meals can cost you as little as US$2 (less than 10,000Rp per meal), but even if you dine in decent local restaurants, you still won’t be spending much more than US$10 per day (around 30,000Rp per meal) on food.
If you confine yourself to Sumatra, Java and Nusa Tenggara, a shoestring traveller can spend as little as US$15 per day. A midrange budget starts at about US$40 per day, which will get you an air-conditioned hotel room, an occasional tour and car hire. Midrange accommodation is more expensive in Balinese resorts, so budget for around US$50 per day there. Top-end travellers will end up spending anything between US$50 and US$250 per day, although if you stick to the best of the luxury resorts, that figure can blow out to US$2000 a day.
Elsewhere, budget accommodation can be limited and prices are higher because competition is less fierce. Accommodation prices in Maluku and Papua can be twice as high as in tourist towns, and transport costs on Kalimantan are relatively high.
Transport expenses also increase once you get into the outer provinces. In Bali, Sumatra, Java and Nusa Tenggara there’s very little need to take to the air, but in the interior of Papua you have no choice but to fly. Flying is much more expensive than other forms of transport, though still cheap in dollar terms.
The unit of currency used in Indonesia is the rupiah (Rp). Denominations of 25, 50, 100 and 500 rupiah are in circulation in both the old silver-coloured coins and the newer bronze-coloured coins. A 1000Rp coin is also minted but rarely seen, and the 25Rp coin has almost vanished. Notes come in 500, 1000, 5000, 10, 000, 20, 000, 50, 000 and 100, 000 rupiah denominations.
There are plenty of options for exchanging money in Indonesia, and it’s wise to use all of them: carry some plastic, travellers cheques and some cash.
ATMs are increasingly common throughout Indonesia and most now accept Visa, Mastercard, Maestro and Cirrus. Confirm with your bank at home to ensure you can use ATM facilities in Indonesia, and also ask what charges apply.
ATMs in Indonesia have a maximum limit for withdrawals, sometimes it is 2,000,000Rp, but can be as low as 400,000Rp, which is not much in foreign currency terms. Problems can occur if your bank has a minimum withdrawal limit that is higher than the ATM’s maximum. In this case your transaction will be refused.
These days, most large towns have banks with ATMs, but as they often experience downtime it’s good to keep your options open.
Cash & travellers cheques
The US dollar and, to a lesser degree, the euro, are the most widely accepted foreign currencies in Indonesia. Australian, British and Japanese currencies are exchangeable in the most touristed areas of Bali and Java. American Express (Amex) are the most widely accepted travellers cheques. When heading for really remote places, carry stacks of rupiah, as foreign exchange may be limited to US dollars only or simply impossible. Emergency cash in the money belt is a wise stash for Maluku and Papua, where credit cards are rarely accepted anywhere and ATMs are fewer and farther between. Have a mix of notes – breaking even a 20,000Rp note in a warung can be a major hassle out in the villages.
If you have a credit card, don’t leave home without it. If you are travelling on a low budget, credit cards are of limited use for day-to-day travel expenses, as it is only the expensive hotels, restaurants and shops that accept them (and they’re virtually useless in places like Papua and Maluku). However, they are very useful for major purchases like airline tickets (though smaller offices in the backblocks may not accept them).
MasterCard and Visa are the most widely accepted credit cards. Amex is a distant third. Cash can be obtained at Amex agents, usually PT Pacto, in major cities only.
Credit cards can be a convenient way to access money, especially if you always keep your account in the black. Cash advances on Visa and MasterCard can be obtained over the counter at many banks (as well as from ATMs), though some charge transaction fees of around 5000Rp – always ask first.
Cash advances are readily obtainable in the main cities, and many regional towns have banks that accept credit cards, but don’t rely on them solely. In more remote areas, you’re asking for trouble if all you have is a credit card.
Banks often charge transaction fees for the use of credit cards overseas, often much higher than the 1% commission charged on travellers cheques; check this with your bank.
Moneychangers and banks can be very particular about the condition of cash: torn or marked notes are often refused, as are notes more than five years old. Outside the main cities in Java and Bali, exchanging currencies other than US dollars will require more legwork – first to find a bank that will accept them and second to find one that gives a good rate.
Rates vary, so it pays to shop around. The best rates of exchange are found in Jakarta and Bali. Touristy places have lots of moneychangers as well as banks; banks usually have better exchange rates, though moneychangers may offer the best rates for cash. When changing cash, bigger notes are better – a US$100 note will attract a better exchange rate than a US$20 note.
Moneychangers in Bali offer some of the best rates in Indonesia if you don’t get short-changed or charged commission. Signboard rates are often a fabrication, and after signing your travellers cheque you may find that a 10% (or higher) commission applies. Be sure to double-check the conversion rate and be aware that some dubious operators even rig their calculators.
Always count your rupiah before you hand over your travellers cheques or foreign currency. Several readers’ letters have warned of being short-changed through sleight of hand, particularly in Kuta. A way to avoid this is to count the rupiah in front of the moneychanger. When you are satisfied you have received the correct amount, hand over your currency or travellers cheques. If there are any problems during the transaction, leave with your cash and try another moneychanger.
While the chances of getting short-changed at a bank are perhaps 50 to one, at a Kuta moneychanger the odds are more like 50-50. Moneychangers elsewhere are much less of a problem, but offer lower rates.