You really don’t need to carry wads of cash to travel in Indonesia – in fact, apart from some rural areas, travelling with cash can be a dammed nuisance. Like the rest of the world, the main islands of the archipelago have well and truly embraced digital plastic money .
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IT’S SIMPLE – just carry an amount of emergency cash and obtain more local currency as needed using your debit or credit card at automatic telling machines (ATMs) or cashpoints.
A good proportion of the world’s 3.5 million ATMs have found their way into the foyers of the banks, airports and shopping malls of Indonesian cities, towns, and even villages.
The ATMs of the bigger banks are usually linked to the Maestro, Cirrus, Visa Plus, Union Pays and other international networks, meaning you can readily withdraw funds from your account at home or obtain advances on your credit cards.
Look for signage on the machine or booth to indicate the international systems they support – no signs usually mean no international transfers.
The banking sector in Indonesia is highly competitive. This is typical of the arrays of ATM cashpoints to be found in shopping malls. Pic by Wayan Vota on Flickr.com
Visa and Mastercard most widely used
The most widely accepted cards in Indonesia are VISA and Mastercard. Access for cards linked to gateways like China’s Union Pays system may be limited.
Exchange rates for ATM transactions are at or near inter-bank rates but fees are deducted for using the machine, and your home bank also will charge a transaction fee.
Overall, what you get for your dollar, pound or Euro is unlikely to be much different to what you would receive from a traditional money changer.
The benefit is not having to worry about carrying or concealing substantial amounts of cash. You can withdraw what you think you will immediately need and readily top up as you go.
However, if going to remote areas be sure to check whether ATMs are available there.
Sometimes the nearest ATMs will be in a township some distance away. And when you get there, you may find they are out of cash or shut down awaiting the arrival of a maintenance technician.
Select English or Indonesian instructions, but take care to RETRIEVE your card
ATM machines typically give you a choice of instructions in English or Indonesian.
But BEWARE – unlike machines in Australia and some other Western countries, Indonesian ATMs deliver the funds BEFORE giving you the option of removing your card in case you want a further transaction. Be careful to not just walk away with your cash before retrieving your card.
Look for ATM machines that dispense Rp100,000 notes. These will allow you to withdraw up to 2.5m or 3m rupiah (about AUD$250 to $300) per transaction.
Those dispensing Rp50,000 notes usually limit withdrawals to 1.5m. You pay the same machine administration fee regardless of the amount of your transaction, so you save by withdrawing the larger limit.
You can make multiple withdrawals, meaning the total amount you can withdraw will be dictated only by the daily limit of your home bank. But you pay the set administration fee for each transaction.
Look for these logos – these two major banks have extensive ATM networks which accept international cards.
The Mandiri and BCA banks are two of Indonesia’s bigger banks with wide networks of ATM machines across Indonesia connected to the international card networks.
In some ATM booths you may see machines labelled Tunai, Non Tunai or Setor Tunai. Choose the TUNAI machine – it means cash withdrawals are available.
The other two are for non-cash transfers, e-banking transactions, and cash deposits.
Simple rules for managing credit and debit card convenience in Indonesia
It’s a good idea to let your home bank know in advance that you will be traveling, and the countries in which you may be using your card for cash withdrawals or purchases.
You also might want to consider arranging a higher daily withdrawal limit to cover emergencies.
If not notified in advance, banks can become suspicious of a sudden flow of transactions from overseas and may block your account while they investigate.
It’s a good idea also to carry more than one card and keep them in different places. You will then still have access to funds if one card is lost or stolen.
Make a list of your credit card numbers and the expiry dates. Also note the access telephone numbers to reach customer support at your home bank – those 1300, 1800 and 888 free-call numbers just won’t work from foreign countries.
And common sense dictates that you keep the list in a safe place separate from your cards.
Expect to pay a surcharge when you purchase with credit cards
If you purchase goods or services using a credit card in Indonesia (and in most of Southeast Asia) you will be asked to pay a surcharge (typically up to 3%).
This is to offset the merchant fees charged by the bank and credit card company and is standard practice.
If you don’t want to pay the surcharge, use a debit card or withdraw the cash you expect to need from an ATM before you hit the shops.
You also should routinely ask whether shops or sellers accept credit or debit cards BEFORE making purchases. Many Indonesian businesses are cash only. A simple ‘Bisa bayar kartu?’ (can pay by card?) will do.
You must pay with the Indonesian Rupiah – it’s the law
The Indonesian currency is the Rupiah, and the Government has introduced strict regulations stipulating that all transactions in Indonesia MUST be in the national currency.
Your credit and debit card payments are automatically converted to rupiah but will appear in your home currency on your statement.
Traders usually will not accept payments in any other currency because they face stiff penalties should they be discovered.
Contracts written in foreign currencies (or foreign languages) can be ruled invalid.
Businesses also are prohibited from advertising prices in currencies other than rupiah.
However, there is tolerance in areas like the islands of Batam and Bintan, which are next door to Singapore. Resort menus there may show prices in both Rupiah and Singapore dollars.
In Bali you will see rates for hotels stated in both rupiah and US dollars.
INDICATIVE EXCHANGE RATES
Indicative interbank exchange rates for the Indonesian rupiah and major international and regional currencies on 7 August 2022 were approximately:
USD$1 = IDR14,890
SGD$1 = IDR10,780
AUD$1 = IDR10,350
EUR€1 = IDR15,165
GBP£1 = IDR17,975
JPY¥1 = IDR110
CN¥1 = IDR2,200
MYR (RM)1 = IDR3,345
If your home currency is dollars, British pounds, or Euros you will become an instant ‘millionaire’ the moment you convert some of your money to rupiah. Enjoy the moment.
The concept is not entirely silly – at prevailing exchange rates, your Indonesian rupiah will buy you about three times as much as your dollars, pounds or Euros can buy at home.
Economists refer to this as a purchasing power parity difference.But unfortunately, the difference is insufficient to make you a millionaire in the Western sense.
Indonesian banknotes – beautiful designs and strong security features
Banknote aficionados consider Indonesian banknotes to be among the most attractive in the world with intricate designs and shades of color. They also have strong measures to prevent counterfeiting.
The current Indonesian banknotes (2022) – Pic wowshack.com where you can read about the national figures featured in the designs.
The notes come in denominations of Rp1,000 (cream) Rp2,000 (grey), Rp5,000 (green and browny orange), Rp10,000 (mauve to purple), Rp20,000 (green), Rp50,000 (blue) and Rp100,000 (red).
A special commemorative Rp75,000 note was issued in 2020 to mark Indonesia’s 75 years of independence, but it was a limited issue, and you are unlikely to see one. If you do then grab it because they are a collectors’ item.
The colors indicated above are approximate – the notes have multiple and graduated shades of colors. There also are still older notes in circulation in different colors.
You can learn more than you will ever need to know – in fact more than 99% of Indonesians know – in this enthusiastic and oddly absorbing video from the Half-Asleep Chris YouTube channel:
There are Rp1,000, Rp500, Rp200 and Rp100 coins. You may receive the two bigger coins in change, but the smaller denominations are not so common.
If you are due a small amount of change you will probably receive a couple of small candies in lieu. Indonesian kids think this is a great system.
Plans for Indonesian currency reforms, but expect a long wait
The Government has announced intentions to reform the currency by dropping two zeros from the present denominations.
But this change will involve far-reaching adjustments and to date deadlines have come and gone. It will happen eventually, but don’t hold your breath.
For now, it’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with mental ‘benchmark’ exchange rate to help you assess relative prices quickly and easily.
For example, at the August 2022 rates Rp10,000 was roughly the equivalent of one Australian dollar or around 70 US cents. With that benchmark it is easy for Australians or Americans to quickly calculate price equivalents in their home currency.
Exchange rates fluctuate so you should check for yourself before you travel. Here is an authoritative, current, and easy to use link: https://www.xe.com/currencyconverter/
Money changers are the most available and reliable way to exchange cash
Money changers operate in all but the most remote areas of Indonesia. It’s a popular business model.
You can readily and efficiently convert major international and regional foreign currencies like USD$, SGD$, AUD$, EUROS, GB Pounds, or Malaysian Ringgit, mostly at fair exchange rates.
Expect US notes to be scrutinized for counterfeits. Often serial numbers will be machine checked. Some older notes may be rejected.
Rates offered usually will be below published interbank rates but not unduly so. The difference is the arbitrage and represents the money changer’s profit.
A typical Indonesian money changer’s office (RIGHT), and (BELOW) a money changer counting banknotes. If new to Indonesia you will be amazed at their speed and dexterity
Money changers will usually be prepared to bargain a little if you are changing a significant amount. Remember also that unlike ATMs, there are no fees, meaning the effective amount you receive may be similar to a machine withdrawal.
You will be offered a lower rate for lower denomination notes.
Use authorized and substantial money changers located in business districts or shopping centers.
Avoid hole in the wall booths prevalent in tourist areas like Bali purporting to offer rates above widely prevailing fair exchange rates. The video below by Jason Pizzino explains why:
Overall, the private Indonesia’s money changers – so much a part of the commercial and travel scene in Southeast Asia – provide a good, convenient, and reliable service.
Basic tips for getting a better exchange rate in Indonesia
Avoid using the money changers at airports or seaports – the rates offered will not be as good as you will get downtown. If you need local money for an immediate payment or purchase then hit the nearest ATM with your debit or credit card.
Avoid accepting the rates offered by the smiling folks at your hotel desk. Hotels are notorious for skimming both ways when converting currencies. Take a few minutes and go get your cash from the nearest ATM or money changer.
Avoid going to banks to change your money. It will be slow, tedious, and bureaucratic. Your chances of obtaining a better rate than the money changers will be less than the chance of a sudden solar eclipse.
Helpful words to know for managing your travel money
Money – uang
Cash – uang tunai
Small money – uang kecil (soft c)
Change (from transaction) – kembalian
Withdraw – menarik
Deposit – setoran
Money changer – penukar uang
Exchange rate – kurs
Signature – tanda tangan
Receipt – tanda terima or kwitansi
Don’t bring travellers cheques – they are a costly waste of time
Do NOT bring travelers cheques. Amazingly some banks and organizations, like American Express, still sell them.
In Indonesia they mean extra cost, hassles, and inconvenience. They are unpopular with traders and money changers who often will not accept them at all.
Even the banks don’t want them, and where they do accept them, you can expect a discounted exchange rate or additional fees.
THE BIG PICTURE
Follow the simple rules outlined above and you will not have any problems handling and managing your money in Indonesia.
First, forget about carrying wads of cash – just make sure your credit or debit card limits are in order (preferably Visa or Mastercard) and secured. Second, it’s wise not to be relying on a single card – have a back-up somewhere other than in your wallet.
If you do need to change cash for local currency, then use authorized money changers in business centers – the banks will waste your time and probably cost you more.
Spend some moments to establish a mental ‘benchmark exchange rate’ so that you can easily and quickly calculate approximate price equivalents in your home currency in your head.
Dragging out a calculator or toting up on your phone isn’t just tedious – it makes you look dumb.
Enjoy your spending. You will be pleasantly surprised at how far your money will go. What’s more, the local people you buy from will truly appreciate your custom.
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