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Currency and Cost of LivingBack to top Back to main Skip to menu
Indonesia - Currency and Cost of Living
The largest banknote is Rp 100,000, which may only be US$10 but is still inconveniently large for most purchases. Next in the series are Rp 50,000, Rp 20,000, Rp 10,000, Rp 5,000 and finally Rp 1,000. Bill size is the easiest way to distinguish them, as the designs — all pale pastel shades of yellow, green and brown — are confusingly similar and the smaller bills in particular are often filthy and mangled. (The new 2004-2005 series of notes has, however, corrected this to some extent.) A chronic shortage of small change — it's not unusual to get a few pieces of candy back instead of coins — has been to some extent alleviated by a new flood of plasticky aluminum coins, available in denominations of Rp 500, Rp 200, Rp 100, Rp 50 and the thoroughly useless Rp 25. Older golden metallic versions are also still floating around, and you may occasionally even run into a sub-1000 banknote. Bills printed in 1992 or earlier are no longer in circulation, but can be exchanged at banks.
US dollars are the second currency of Indonesia and will be accepted by anyone in a pinch, but are typically used as an investment and for larger purchases, not buying a bowl of noodles on the street. Many hotels quote rates in dollars, but all accept payment in rupiah.
Banks and money exchangers are widely available on Java, Bali and Lombok, but can be a major headache anywhere else, so load up with rupiah before heading off to any outer islands. Money exchangers are very picky about bill condition, pre-1999 dollar bills or imperfect bills (ripped, wrinkled, stained, etc) will often be rejected. Banks frequently won't change any 1996 dollars. Counterfeit US dollars are a huge problem in the country and as a result the older your dollars are, the lower the exchange rate. You will get the highest exchange rate for dollars issued in 2001 or later and the exchange rate drops for 1999 and 1996 dollars. There are even different exchange rates according to the serial number for dollars from 1996. Banks and money exchangers on outer islands are sparse and frequently offer drastically reduced exchange rates of 10-20% or more!
In the reverse direction, money changers will be happy to turn your dirty rupiah into spiffy dollars, but the spread is often considerable (10% is not unusual). Be very careful dealing with moneychangers, who are very adept at distracting your attention during the counting process and short-changing you as a result. As a precaution, consider bringing a friend along to watch over the transaction very carefully.
ATMs are common in any major cities in Indonesia especially in the capital of the provinces such as Jakarta, Bandung, Surabaya, Medan, Denpasar, etc.
Be careful when using credit cards, as cloning and fraud are a major problem in Indonesia. Visa and Mastercard are widely accepted, but American Express can be problematic. At smaller operations, surcharges of 2-5% over cash are common.
Cost of Living
Living in Indonesia is cheap (unless you are going to Bintan Resorts that is) — as long as you're willing to live like an Indonesian. For example, Rp 10,000 (~$1) will get you a meal on the street, two packets of kretek cigarettes, three kilometers in a taxi or three bottles of water. But as a tourist it's absolutely necessary to chaffer a minimum of 50%-70% off the initial price, otherwise you will spend your money quickly.
Fancy restaurants, hotels and the like will often slap on a 10% service charge plus 6-11% tax. This may be denoted with "++" after the price or just written in tiny print on the bottom of the menu.
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