Indonesia’s currency is the Rupiah (IDR), abbreviated Rp.
The largest note is the red Rp100,000, which is considered impractically large for most purchases. Other notes include the Rp50,000 (blue), Rp20,000 (green), Rp10,000 (purple), Rp5,000 (brown) and Rp2,000 (grey). The Rp1,000 note has been abolished and is currently being replaced by a coin. While the new, colourful large notes are easy to distinguish, the smaller notes and the pre-2004 large notes are all confusingly similar in pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown, and often filthy and defaced to boot. The chronic shortage of small change – it is not uncommon to get a few sweets back instead of coins – has been somewhat alleviated by a flood of new coins in denominations of Rp1,000 and Rp500. The Rp200, Rp100, Rp50 and the utterly useless Rp25 were withdrawn from circulation during 2012. Older gold metal versions are also still in circulation. Notes printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks.
US dollars are Indonesia’s second currency and are accepted by anyone in a pinch, but they are typically used as an investment and for larger purchases, not for buying a bowl of noodles on the street. Many hotels offer prices in US dollars, but all accept payment in rupiah and some that offer in USD then try to convert the bill to rupiah to pay. Many are likely to use a slightly unfavourable rate when doing so. If you pay a bill in Indonesia with a credit card, it will be charged to your account in rupiah, regardless of the currency you were quoted. Besides the US dollar, Singapore dollars and other major international currencies are also accepted for cash payment, especially in border areas.
Changing money in Indonesia
Banks and money changers are widely available on Java, Bali and Lombok, but can be a headache everywhere else, so stock up on rupiah before heading to any of the outer islands. Money changers are very picky about the condition of the notes, and pre-2006 dollars or imperfect notes (torn, crumpled, stained or marked in some way) are usually rejected. Banks will most likely reject all pre-2006 US currency. Counterfeit US dollars are a big problem in the country and the older your dollars are, the lower the exchange rate. You will get the highest exchange rate for dollars issued in 2006 or later, and the exchange rate will drop for dollars that are outside a very narrow range of perceived acceptability. For dollars issued in 1996, there are even different exchange rates depending on the serial number. Banks and money changers in the outer islands are sparse and charge commissions of 10-20% if you can find them.
In the opposite direction, money changers will gladly exchange your dirty rupiah for fancy dollars, but the margin is often considerable (10% is not uncommon). Be very careful when dealing with money changers who are very adept at diverting your attention during the counting process, thereby shortchanging you. As a precaution, take a friend with you to watch the transaction closely. Be wary of money changers who offer good prices. They will quote you a price and then start counting stacks of Rp 20,000 notes and ask you to count along. This is a ploy to confuse and undercut you. When they realise you are onto them, they will tell you that they have to deduct 6-8% for “commission” or “taxes”.
ATMs in Indonesia
ATMs (pronounced ah-teh-em in Indonesia) of the Plus/Cirrus or Alto international networks can be found in all major Indonesian cities as well as tourist destinations, although charging approximately $2 per transaction. Each withdrawal depends on the machine, maximum 15 pieces or 30 pieces of paper money. The limit for debit card withdrawals depends on the bank, usually Rp 10 million or Rp 15 million, including merchant withdrawals for one day. ATMs are stocked with Rp 50,000 notes (there is often a sticker on the ATM) or Rp 100,000 notes, but larger notes can be harder to share, especially in rural, non-touristy areas. For ATM withdrawals with a credit card, the limit depends on the bank issuer. During the domestic tourist season, there can be heavy traffic congestion, so some ATMs may run out of cash and wait for replenishment.
Credit cards in Indonesia
Visa and MasterCard are widely accepted, but American Express can be problematic. For smaller establishments, surcharges of 2-5% over cash are common. Be careful when using it, cloning and fraud are a big problem in Indonesia.
Costs in Indonesia
Life in Indonesia is cheap as long as you are willing to live like an Indonesian. For example, Rp 12,000 will get you a meal on the street or a pack of cigarettes, 3 km in a taxi or three bottles of water. Always insist on using the taxi meter, and on the rare occasions when there isn’t one, look closely, it may be there but inconspicuously covered up. A tourist is often encouraged to negotiate the price. Avoid this, but if there is no other option, try to get at least 50%-70% of the original price.
Fancy restaurants, hotels and the like charge 10% state sales tax plus a variable service charge. This may be marked with “++” after the price or simply written in tiny letters at the bottom of the menu.
Tipping in Indonesia
Tipping is not common everywhere in Indonesia. You will notice that some areas and businesses discourage it, while others encourage it or there is a neutral view on it. In popular tourist areas, especially Java and Bali, tipping is often encouraged. Tipping is certainly not compulsory in Indonesia, but if you feel you want to reward the person who helped you because they did a great job or went the extra mile, consider it if it is not openly discouraged. You can try asking people, but you may not get a clear answer. It is up to your judgment to decide how much you will give, Rp10,000 could actually buy a meal in this country, and in many professions, many people struggle . Generally, Indonesians do not tip themselves unless the service was exemplary. If you do tip, make sure you give it directly to the person concerned, usually this is done by handing over the money folded and in a slightly cupped right hand and placing it directly in your own hand. This is done without embellishment, as if it were a quick, light handshake, and usually without announcement, watch out for the locals, it is usually quite a discreet exchange.
In some cultures it is also common to refuse something a few times (3 is a common number) before accepting it, but there are cultural nuances that will tell you if it is politeness or a refusal of a tip.
Finally, remember that some people deliberately tell stories about how hard their life is in order to get a tip. If the person offered these stories with little or no prompting and was quite detailed, you should be careful.
Shopping time in Indonesia
While in the West most commercial places close on Sunday, this is not the case in Indonesia. Most visitors come on weekends (and national holidays). So if you plan to visit Indonesian malls and shopping centres, weekdays (Monday to Friday) are the best time. Midnight shopping with discounts is also common in some of the more than 100 malls/plazas in Jakarta, one of the most populous shopping centres in the world. Almost all original, high-end branded goods can be found in the luxury and large shopping malls, where prices are comparable to those in Singapore. Tanah Abang is the largest textile and clothing shop in Southeast Asia, attracting Africans and people from the Middle East who buy by the package (usually 20 pieces for one variety). ITC in Mangga Dua, Jakarta has more quality clothes and you can either buy in one piece or in a package. Malaysians flock to Bandung for more conservative and Islamic designs.
Shopping centres and shops usually open at 09:00 or 10:00, and street shops (and traditional markets) open as early as 06:00; both close at around 21:00-22:00, 7 days a week. Traditional markets open in the morning and end at midday, but are also open 7 days a week. Twenty-four-hour shops such as mini-markets are common in the larger towns and some built-up regional areas. Notable exceptions are Idul-Fitri (Lebaran, festival marking the end of Ramadan), when most shops close or open up to two or three days later (although this is probably less true in non-Muslim majority areas such as North Sulawesi and Bali), and Indonesian Independence Day on 17 August. To a lesser extent, this also applies to Christmas, especially in Christian-majority areas (North Sulawesi and parts of North Sumatra) and Chinese-majority areas (such as Glodok or Mangga Dua in Jakarta), as a large number of Indonesian Chinese living in major cities are Christian.
Haggling in Indonesia
Haggling over prices is the norm in most places, even in seemingly nice shops, so be prepared to negotiate. If you think you’re getting a good price based on what you would pay at home – you’re probably paying too much. Try an initial counter offer of 50-70% on what they are offering and then work from there. Clever sellers will ask YOU to start bidding, which puts you at a disadvantage. You can always try to walk away to see if they will cooperate and give you a better price. However, haggling is usually not allowed in supermarkets and expensive shops unless you are buying something very expensive, such as electronics or a car.