Top 10 Differences To Know About Expat Living in Jakarta, Indonesia & Mumbai, India

By: Kaho

If you were to compare two mega cities to live as expats, doing so with Jakarta of Indonesia aka a Big Durian and Mumbai of India aka a Maximum City would be a fun one, don’t you think?  They are, in my opinion, very dynamic, vibrant, and interesting and they both belong to two very incredibly diverse countries with rich cultures.  You can find so many interesting things, but these cities are not always perceived as the most desirable cities to live.  In fact, when I announced to my friends that I was going to Jakarta 4 years ago and to Mumbai a year ago, more people were concerned for us than congratulated us.  In contrast to the concerns, I had fabulous 3 years in Jakarta, Indonesia and we have had fascinating 4 months so far in our stay in Mumbai.  The city has not ceased to entertain me. 

 People who know Mumbai and Jakarta often say that they are similar.  I can attest that it’s true from my own experiences.  Since it seems that many industries that send their employees to Mumbai also send them to Jakarta and vice versa, I would like to present you some similarities and differences of living in both Jakarta and Mumbai as an expat.    I hope you’ll find them interesting!

1. City Sizes

Here is a quick introduction to two cities for those who are not familiar with them.  Mumbai boasts a population of more than 20 million people while Jakarta has a half of that in Mumbai, which is over 10 million people.  For a reference, New York City has a population of 8.3 million and Tokyo has a population of almost 9 million.  Mumbai has a city area of 603 square kilometers  (233 sq mi) and Jakarta has a city area of 740 square kilometers (285 sq mi) according to Wikipedia.   Both cities are densely populated in case you cannot tell.  

2. Traffic

Traffic in Jakarta and Mumbai is probably the number one comparison many people make.   In fact, the bad traffic conditions in both cities probably rank in the top 5 in the world.  If one has to be named for having a worse traffic, after experiencing both, I would have to say that is Jakarta.  The number of motorcycles is definitely higher in Jakarta and the average hours people spend in their cars in Jakarta are much longer than those in Mumbai.  One of the most fascinating traffic photos usually come out of Jakarta, Indonesia as well.  Having lived in Mumbai for 4 months now, I have seen bad traffic conditions.  Most part, though, traffic in Mumbai at least flows.  One distinctive difference you spot on the streets of Mumbai that you don’t necessarily see on the streets in Jakarta is cows.  In Mumbai, you sometimes see cows eating, walking, dropping and chilling on the side of the streets or sometimes in the middle of the streets.  Quite entertaining!

3. Tap Water

In both Jakarta and Mumbai, it is advised that you do not drink or even brush your teeth with tap water.  In Jakarta you might want to make sure that shower water does not go into your mouth, either.  Some might disagree with the statement about not using tap water in Mumbai for brushing teeth.  I would say why risk it?  If you are new to India, you have stomach issues even if you are careful with what you eat.   Being careful with water is quite important to stay healthy.  As you know, being sick, especially with stomach issues, is never fun.  

4. Bajaj vs. Rickshaw

Bajaj and rickshaw are very similar or almost the same type of vehicles that looks like a car pulled by a motorcycle.  These vehicles are called Bajaj in Indonesia and rickshaws in India.  I used bajaj a couple of times at the beginning of our tour in Jakarta, but I used Blue Bird taxi most of the time.  The reason is because you have to negotiate a price with a bajaj driver and as a foreigner you almost always get ripped off.  Plus, the price for taxi was about the same as bajaj rate you get as a foreigner.  In Mumbai, on the other hand, I use rickshaws all the time.  All the rickshaws in Mumbai have a meter, which is fantastic! The only obstacle you might face is that many rickshaw drivers don’t necessarily know English or the places foreigners want to go, so you need to know where you are going.

5. Expat Communities

Expat community in Jakarta is huge!  It is probably because Jakarta is a capital city of Indonesia, by nature of the city, there are many government offices as well as corporations.  The expat community in Mumbai is pretty big, too.  Also the family sizes among expats who go to Jakarta and who go to Mumbai are different.  I’ll write more about schools later.  International schools indicates the size of an expat community that a city hosts.  Just in general, it also seems that Jakarta tends to attract many families with kids and Mumbai tends to attract more young people with no kids than families with kids. There are a number of expat groups in both cities

6. Schools For Expat Kids

Just looking at the number of schools that expat children go to, there are many more school options for expat children available in Jakarta than for those available in Mumbai.  The sizes of individual international schools in Jakarta are bigger than those in Mumbai, too. For little kids, in Jakarta there is a good number of preschool options and toddler classes available.  In Mumbai, the preschools that expats prefer sending their little children are limited and thus the demand seems to be higher than supply.  Often times there is a wait list.  On the flip side of it is that it makes parents’ decision easy.  Expat community in Mumbai seems to be growing quickly, so who knows how this can be changed in the near future.?

7. Activities for Little Kids

There are many activities for kids of all ages to do in Jakarta.  While there is an endless list of activities for adults to do in Mumbai, when it comes to catering to little to young children, the options get fewer.  For example, there are indoor playgrounds in almost all of the big malls in Jakarta that can be found everywhere in the city.   There are indoor playgrounds available in Mumbai as well, but apparently they are more of a recent emergence and the options are still quite few.  The indoor playgrounds in Mumbai are smaller than those in Jakarta and the entrance fees in Mumbai seem to be more expensive than those in Jakarta.

8. Cost Of Living

Cost of living is quite similar in Mumbai and Jakarta, but overall for expats, it is more expensive to live in Mumbai.  The electricity bill in Mumbai, for example, is much higher in Mumbai than in Jakarta.   The labor in Mumbai is higher.  Thus, for hiring a driver and domestic help, the salary is higher in Mumbai than those in Jakarta.  Rents are known to be very high in Mumbai.  People compare rents in Mumbai to those in Manhattan, New York City.  Going out to restaurants where many expats eat in both Mumbai and Jakarta is not cheap.  I would say that eating out in Mumbai might be more expensive after calculating taxes.  Ordering alcohol is quite expensive in both cities, too and it might not be offered at certain places in Mumbai. 

9.  Housing

In Jakarta many expats live in apartments as well as houses.  In Mumbai, almost all expats live in apartments and the sizes vary.  Even though the sizes of apartments in Mumbai are about the same or sometimes smaller than those in Jakarta, the rents are much higher in Mumbai than in Jakarta.  Also in Mumbai it’s not common to find apartments with facilities and many apartments don’t come with a swimming pool or gym.  Many apartments in Jakarta, on the other hand, come with a gym, swimming pool, tennis court(s), convenience store, cleaner, kids indoor play area and outdoor play ground and sometimes even a restaurant. 

10. Vacation Destinations

In India, just to name a few, there are Agra, Jaipur, Udaipur, Kolkata, Chennai and many more.  In Indonesia there are places such as Jogjakarta, Bali, Lombok, Lake Toba in Sumatra, Komodo Island, and Orangutan tours in Borneo.  The big difference between the way people vacation in those countries is that one is more cultural and city walk type of tourism with a few exceptions, which are more common in India and the other is more of a beach tourism, which are more common in Indonesia with a few exceptions.  The difference I noticed about booking a hotel in both countries is that the hotels in India get booked up quite fast and hotel rates are more expensive in India than in Indonesia in general. 

I also noticed that Indonesia seems to still suffer from the media coverage that the country gets about security issues and natural disasters and travel warning that goes out.  As an expat living in the country, one becomes more aware of what’s going on in the country, so I know that many expats were not worried.  I know that some people who have never visited Indonesia usually have very negative image of the country or are afraid of visiting.   I find it such a shame as there are many beautiful places to see in Indonesia. 

This concludes my list!  Lastly, I would like to add my one recommendation from each city.  There are heaps of great dining options in the city which is almost overwhelming.  For restaurants, if I were to pick one, and only one, to recommend, my picks would be as follows.  There are many other great options to try as well, but these are my top picks!

Jakarta - KOI Kemang 

KOI Kemang has a restaurant downstairs that offers delicious European as well as Asian food and furniture gallery on the 2nd floor.  You can browse and shop amazing and unique furniture there after or before you enjoy the delicious food at KOI Restaurant.

Mumbai - The Tasting Room

The Tasting Room is a restaurant attached to a very famous interior décor store, Good Earth.  This is a store you hear about all the time once you move to Mumbai.  You can enjoy browsing or shopping the beautiful interior décor at Good Earth along with the tasty meal at The Tasting Room. 

About the author

Expat Blog ListingKaho is a Japanese expat living in India. Blog description: While living a nomadic life abroad with my husband and 3 kids, I feature my favorite local eateries and shops, writing about interior design topics, fashion likes, travels and parenting journey overseas with my own photography.
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Contest Comments » There are 5 comments

Melany wrote 10 years ago:

Great article Kaho! I always love reading your perspective. Having grown to love Jakarta, this post makes me want to visit Mumbai too!

Betty wrote 10 years ago:

Kaho, fantastic comparison about Jakarta and Mumbai. I have never been to either cities, but someday, I hope our family can make a trip to other beautiful parts of the world.

Mani wrote 10 years ago:

Wow, I was totally surprised about the winner of worse driving conditions having been to India many times and living there, I could not imagine worst driving and traffic. Interesting post.

Veronika wrote 10 years ago:

I really fall in love with KAHO'S blog! she's an honest person who post not to overwhelming her self or her family, but to give a special point of view of her expat living. The way she shares her life, her famiy, her "little monkeys", has always cheers me up, and encourage me to still be thankful nomatter what life brings us! GO GO KAHO!;) ;)

Tate wrote 10 years ago:

Thanks for this - I am currently possibly looking at moving for work to Jakarta with my wife and 3 year old son. We are currently expats in Shanghai and having lived in Switzerland and London for 12 years, we dont know what to expect. Concerns of health and safety for my wife and son are high as well as trying to stop my son from drinking his bathwater (!!!!!)...he is only 3! Anyway - I hope that my fears are not to be lived and that my chance of coming to Jakarta is a possibility and that we get a great experience - and not a life of being couped up in an apartment in Shanghai due to horrible pollution levels!!! :) Wonderful article - thank you for sharing!

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