Indonesia is fairly safe compared with many places in the world. There are some hassles from the avaricious, but most visitors face many more dangers at home. Petty theft occurs, but it is not prevalent.
Outside of reputable bars and resorts, it's best to avoid buying arak, the locally produced fermented booze made from rice or palm. It can contain poisonous methanol, which is produced during the fermentation process and is not always burned off. Deaths and injuries do happen – especially on Bali and the Gilis – when unscrupulous vendors substitute arak for other spirits like vodka, gin or whisky. If the price of drinks in a bar seems unnaturally low, pause to consider what you might be drinking.
Indonesia has a zero-tolerance policy towards drugs and there have been many high-profile arrests and convictions. The execution by firing squad in 2015 of two Australians convicted of drug offences as part of the 'Bali Nine' should serve as a stark warning.
- Random raids of nightclubs in Jakarta and Bali and mandatory urine tests for anyone found with drugs occur regularly (entrapment schemes are not unknown: that dealer may be a cop).
- Private parties on Bali have been raided, and hotel owners are required by law to report offenders.
- The law does not provide for differentiation of substance types or amounts, whether a full bag of heroin or a few specks of marijuana dust in your pocket.
- Avoid beaches in built-up areas, especially after storms flush sewage out to the surf. This is especially true of many beaches in south Bali.
- Air quality can be terrible in heavily populated areas and across Sumatra during annual land clearances for palm-oil plantations.
Security in touristed areas increased after the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings but has since been relaxed. The odds you will be caught up in such a tragedy are low. Luxury hotels that are part of international chains tend to have the best security, though they also make the most tempting targets, as shown in Jakarta in 2003 and 2009. Suicide bombers did strike a bus terminal in East Jakarta in 2017, killing three policemen, and churches in Surabaya were targeted in May 2018 in attacks that killed 28 people, but such incidents remain rare.
Security issues in Indonesia are often exaggerated by the foreign media, who portray rambunctious protest rallies and minor incidents of civil unrest as nationwide pandemonium. Foreign governments add to the hype with heavy-handed, blanket travel warnings. While it's true that small sections of Indonesia experience flashes of conflict, overall the archipelago is safe.
As in many developing countries, some people are out to relieve you of your money in one way or another. It's really hard to say when an 'accepted' practice like overcharging becomes an unacceptable rip-off, but plenty of instances of practised deceit occur.
- Credit card fraud, especially the skimming of cards at ATMs and elsewhere, is widespread in Bali and Java. It's best to use ATMs attached to banks.
- Con artists exist. Some are smooth-talking guides seeking to lead you to a shop or hotel where they receive commission.
- Bali is the home of many scams. And there are continuing reports of short-changing money changers. As always, trust your common sense.
- Beggers (including children) are usually part of organised groups. Most Indonesians suffer in silence and would never ask for money; consider giving to aid programs if you want to help.
- Touts and hawkers are common in tourist areas. Ignore them.
Violent crime is uncommon, but bag-snatching from motorbikes, pickpocketing and theft from rooms and parked cars occurs. Take the same precautions you would in any urban area. Remember that other travellers will sometimes steal things. Other commonsense tips include the following.
- Secure money before leaving an ATM (and don't forget your card!).
- Don't leave valuables on a beach while swimming.
- Use front-desk/in-room safes.
Government Travel Advice
It is always worthwhile to check with official government sources before visiting Indonesia in order to check current travel conditions and the overall safety situation. But bear in mind that government sources generally take a conservative and overcautious view. Follow reputable news sources in order to get a more realistic picture.
Government travel advisories include the following:
- Australia www.smartraveller.gov.au
- Canada www.travel.gc.ca
- New Zealand www.safetravel.govt.nz
- UK www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice
- US www.travel.state.gov