From the pristine white sand beaches of Bali to the bustling megacity of Jakarta, Indonesia’s geography is just as vibrant and varied as its culture. Home to over 300 distinct ethnic groups featuring a blend of Javanese, Chinese, Arabic, and European influences, the cultural tapestry of Indonesia is rich with tradition. If you are looking for a teaching job abroad that combines culture with limitless location opportunities, all within the warm embrace of a truly tropical climate, then teaching in Indonesia may just be the perfect option for you!
Indonesia is an archipelago nation consisting of over 252 million people spread across over 13,000 islands. To say that individuals who teach in Indonesia have many location options, in terms of city choices, would be an enormous understatement. The geography of Indonesia varies substantially across the country. Many people may be unaware of this fact, but Indonesia stretches nearly 4,000 miles from east to west, making it over 1,500 miles wider than the continental United States.
In the far west of Indonesia lies the island of Sumatra. Volcanic activity has gifted this expansive island with fertile farmland, but it is still home to over a dozen cities with at least 200,000 residents. Both urban and rural teaching jobs are possible on the island of Sumatra, and the coastal cities especially are noted for being tourist hot spots due to their beautiful beaches and warm climate. Overall, Sumatra can provide a good mix of both urban and rural lifestyles for prospective teachers, depending on what each individual is looking for in the teach abroad experience.
Another of the major islands of Indonesia is Java. Home to over 143 million people, Java is the world’s most populous island and one of the most densely populated places on Earth. Indonesia’s capital city of Jakarta lies in the west of Java, and many more population centers are can be found between the numerous volcanic mountains that make up the island. The urban environment and sky high population make city-based teaching jobs in Indonesia plentiful here. If urban living in Indonesia is your goal, you should teach abroad in Java.
While there are certainly other major islands with teaching opportunities in Indonesia, such as Borneo and New Guinea, literally thousands of smaller islands are inhabited as well. These islands can provide prospective teachers with a much more relaxed and rural teaching experience. With the abundance of inhabited islands comes the need for teachers in almost every decently sized town, so finding a teaching placement in Indonesia is simply a matter of research.
Teaching in Indonesia
When Indonesia gained its independence from the Dutch in 1945, the new government made several immediate changes in its school system. One of the largest shifts was the transition from compulsory Dutch language study to English, making the English language the most widely spoken and the second language of the country.
Today, public schools in Indonesia have begun to shift their main language education back towards the official national dialect, Bahasa, meaning students are receiving less English instruction than in the past. However, there are still plenty of opportunities for teaching in Indonesia’s public school system.
On the other hand, many private schools in Indonesia still recognize the potential that a sound knowledge of English can provide to students. It is these private institutions that many (if not most) English teachers will find teaching jobs in Indonesia, and private schools tend to pay their instructors very well too.
Freelance English tutoring is always a possibility when exploring teaching in Indonesia, especially in the more populated regions of the country. These types of teaching jobs in Indonesia come from a range of individuals, such as parents looking for a bit of remedial help for their children, adults looking to gain a better understanding of English, or businesses that want their employees to learn directly from a native speaker. Tutoring-focused teaching opportunities in Indonesia will obviously not come with the added security or benefits of a contracted teaching job, but can still be great for adding a little extra spending money to your bank account or money for travel throughout Indonesia.
Teaching positions in Indonesia are not isolated to English only, there are opportunities to teach a range of subjects, from economics to literature to special education. Moreover, those who decide to teach abroad in Indonesia will find placements with students of all ages, including both secondary and primary school positions.
Salary & Costs
Overall, the salaries for teaching jobs in Indonesia which include a contract are quite good, especially when considering the nation’s low cost of living. Actual prices of everyday goods and services will fluctuate depending on where in the country you are placed. But on average it is possible for an English teacher to come out well ahead financially over the course of a year teaching in Indonesia.
The average monthly salary for a teacher in Indonesia is somewhere around 18 to 20 million Rupiah (1 USD < 12,000 Rupiah) or about $1500 to $1700. In comparison, the average cost of living is only around $400 to $600 per month. As you can see, it is quite possible to save a good amount of money while teaching abroad in Indonesia.
Daily expenses such as food can be found for very cheap prices. Full meals consisting of local Indonesian food typically cost about $2. However, imported Western food will be substantially more expensive, so developing a taste for the local cuisine during your teaching program in Indonesia can go a long way toward keeping that monthly salary safely in your pocket! Other items, such as clothes or shoes, can be found in a wide range of prices, although the average price is often very reasonable and, perhaps surprisingly, very comparable to the U.S.
Although housing is often included in the contracts of teachers, especially for those teaching at private schools, rent in Indonesia is also relatively cheap. Again, the actual price will depend greatly on the location, but even a modest three bedroom apartment in the center of Jakarta will cost only $1,000 to $1,500 per month, which is made even more reasonable when shared with other international teachers.
Accommodation and Visas
As stated above, many contracted teaching jobs in Indonesia will come with the added benefit of either prearranged housing or a housing stipend. When dealing with a placement agency, it is not uncommon for teachers placed in the same school or in the same area of a city to be housed together, providing a network of friends with which to share your experience immediately.
In more rural areas of the country, housing is occasionally arranged with local host families, which can allow for a much more immersive experience with the local culture and traditions of Indonesia.
The visa process for teaching abroad in Indonesia can be complicated at times. Although, being from a nation that speaks English can certainly help; in fact, Indonesia will only issue work visas to citizens of “English speaking nations”, such as the United States, United Kingdom, South Africa, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. Teachers are also required to have a TEFL/TESOL certificate or a university degree (BA or BS) to teach in Indonesia.
Once you have obtained a teaching job in Indonesia, the school (or your placement agency) will help you to get your Indonesian work visa, known as a KITAS. This document will also act as an identification card while living in Indonesia, a convenient alternative to carrying your passport everywhere you go.
Benefits & Challenges
- High Quality of Life. The benefits of teaching abroad in Indonesia are plentiful, with the nation providing a huge range of location possibilities, good pay for English teachers, and a warm and consistent tropical climate. Furthermore, the unique blend of cultures found across the Indonesian islands are a wonderful mix of Eastern and Western traditions.
- Cultural Challenges. Holding true to the national slogan of Bhinneka Tunggal Ika (Unity Through Diversity), assimilation into the Indonesian professional environment can be challenging and requires an open and accepting attitude. Titles are very important, especially in the professional realm. The titles of Ibu, Bapak, Mbak, and Mas refer to married women, married men, unmarried women, and unmarried men respectively, analogous to the English “Mrs.”, “Mr.”, and “Miss”. A final cultural factor to note is the notion of jam kereet or “rubber time”. It is quite common in Indonesia for people to arrive late for meetings, appointments, or not show up at all.