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Money management in rural Indonesia 


In my eight years of living in rural Indonesia, I have made a fair amount of financial f***ups; I’ve lost cards, I’ve blocked cards, I’ve withdrawn ten times the amount I meant to from the ‘wrong type’ of ATM, and I’ve been subjected to fees I never even knew existed.

 

I’ve made all the mistakes and then some, so, what have I learned about money management in rural Indonesia and what can I share with you to ensure your time in Sumatra is well spent?


The Indonesian Currency


First things first, lets get ourselves familiar with the currency used throughout Indonesia, the Indonesian Rupiah (IDR), famous for it’s legendary amount of zero’s which will have you feeling like a millionaire when you’ve only €60 to your name!

 

At the point of writing this article (13th March 2024) £1 will get you 19,900IDR, whilst you’ll get 17,000IDR for €1. Nevertheless, for this amount you could easily buy a drink in one of the local warungs (restuarant) or even a plate of traditional Sumatran breakfast (Lontong, usually only 15,000!).

 

The current notes in circulation are the:

 

Note worth

Indonesian name

5.000

Lima ribu

0.29

10.000

Sepuluh ribu

0.59

20.000

Duapuluh ribu

1.17

50.000

Limapuluh ribu

2.94

100.000

Seratus ribu

5.87

 

There are some coins in circulation (200, 500, 1000) however in rural Indonesia these are only really accepted at Indomaret/Alfamart or at the very little corner shops (kedai) as they have such a small value. Additionally, don’t be surprised if any of the above shops give you your change in sweets instead of coins, the coins value is so small you’re lucking out with the sweets!

 

Life is relatively cheap in rural Indonesia; in Sumatra a typical local meal costs anything from 15,000- 50,000 and a litre of water about 10,000. Having said that, beer and other alcohol along with other western delights such as pasta, pizza will cost anything from 60,000-120,000.  It’s the same when it comes to accommodation; if you are happy to stay in local style establishment you can find rooms from as cheap as 80,000 a night. If prefer some of the western luxuries (a ‘sit-down’ toilet, air-co, hot water and a continental breakfast) you could pay upwards of 600,000.

 

All this is to say, you can do Sumatra on a budget, or you can lean into the holiday vibe and treat yourself a bit; it all depends on your travelling style and preferences.


Cash is king in rural Indonesia


Cash still very much reigns supreme in rural Indoneisa, and from the very first moment you step onto any part of this archipelago you will need at least 500.000idr to pay for your visa on arrival. Additionally, for your day-to-day expenditures (coffee or meal in the local warung, becak ride to a tourist site, groceries run at the kedai) you are going to need cash, so it’s essential you have a cheap and easy way to withdraw money as and when you need it

 

Many people bring other currencies to exchange at the airport, and whilst this is a good back up plan, please remember money must be in PERFECT condition; no rips, no folds and the notes should not be more than 3-5 years old else they will not be accepted for exchange. Some tour or trekking providers (such as ourselves) will accept foreign notes (namely USD, Euro and Pound) however once again they must be in perfect condition.

 

As you’ll be using cash all day and everyday, we definitely recommend wearing a money belt under your clothes, and splitting your cash up throughout a few different locations on your person/in your bag. Always lock the door to the room you are staying in if you plan on leaving money in your room, and keep your ATM card(s) in a separate location to your money.


Withdrawing at ATM’s in rural Indonesia


There are many different ATM providers found in rural Indonesia; in Sumatra the most common are BRI, BNI, BCA and Mandiri. In the more rural areas you will most likely find BRI and Mandiri, whilst BCA ATMs are normally found in the bigger cities.

 

Before you withdraw from an ATM in Indonesia, it’s really important to know how much your bank/travel card company is going to charge you per withdrawal. This is because each ATM has a different maximum withdrawal amount, ranging from 1.000.000iDR (€58.75) to 2.500.000iDR (€146.68). These limits are not very obvious, and are usually only illustrated once you get to the ‘amount’ screen during the withdrawal process.

 

But there is a trick to help you identify the withdrawal limit before you get all the way through to the ‘amount’ screen. As a general rule of thumb if there is a sticker above the ATM screen saying ’50,000’, this means the machine only gives notes of ’50.000’ and therefore the max withdrawal will be 1.000.000- 1.250.000. If the sticker above the screen says ‘100.000’ then the machine only gives notes of ‘100.000’ and the maximum withdrawal will be 2.000.000-2.500.000.

 

Although they feel large, 1.250.000 and 2.000.000 are relatively quite small amounts of money; for example, to withdraw €500 on the lowest ATM withdrawal amount (1.00.000), you would need to do 10 withdrawals, subjecting yourself to ten withdrawal charges! In the long run, that could seriously eat up a large part of your budget, so always try to withdraw for the ATMS with the highest withdrawal limits (I repeat, by looking for the ATMs with the ‘100.000’ sticker above the screen).

 

Generally speaking, ATM  branches found in rural Sumatran villages have the following withdrawal limits:

 

-       BRI                   = 1.000.000/ 1.250.000 maximum withdrawal

-       Mandiri           = 2.500.000 maximum withdrawal

-       BCA                 = 2.500.000 maximum withdrawal

 

Other top tips would be to always choose to complete your transaction in the local currency, as this will save you from the hidden fees.

 

Finally, Sumatran ATMs have an English function so make sure to select this before you start the withdrawal process. Sumatran ATMS also give you your money BEFORE they give you your card back, so don’t walk away once you’ve got your cash! You often have to click ‘exit’ in order for your card to be returned.


Withdrawing by credit card in rural Indonesia


In regard to credit cards, we would refrain from using them to withdraw cash from ATMs, namely as you will be charged a pretty hefty cash advance fee for using the ATM. Additionally, you will instantly start to build up interest at a much higher rate than if you were using your credit card for in store purchases.


Paying by debit/ credit card in rural Indonesia


You can use your VISA or Mastercard credit or debit card to pay in the bigger guesthouses or shops found throughout Sumatra, however make sure you ask about the merchant fee. In our experience they are usually around 2.5% however they can reach as high as 5%.


The best travel card for rural Indonesia: WISE CARD


So, all in all we strongly suggest arming yourself with a low fee, preferably VISA or Mastercard debit travel card for your time in rural Indonesia. This way you will be able to withdraw from the majority of ATM’s, whilst also being able to pay in store using your card, as and when you need to.

 

But does such a beauty exist, I hear you ask? Yes my friend, yes it does, and it’s called the WISE CARD.

 

The WISE bank/app service is by far the best bank and travel cash card we have ever had the pleasure of using, one that meets all our international banking and travel needs in one easy to use app. we have saved ourselves thousands of euros over the years by using WISE’s services, and want to help you achieve the same savings too!

 

With your WISE card, not only do you get fee free international ATM withdrawals, up to 100 USD/month [i], you can also send, receive and convert different currencies for a fraction of the market price saving you lengthy trips to the bank and allowing you to negotiate costly exchange rates and fees with the push of a button.

 

But perhaps the coolest feature of the WISE service is that you can hold up to 40+ different currencies within one personal account, meaning you can keep all your currencies in one, safe space!!! Even better you can actually convert between currencies within the app, allowing you to exchange your pounds to euros, IDR to USD; the opportunities are literally endless!

 

 

Finally, whilst you’re given a physical card, you can also claim a digital card for your e-wallet, which is super useful when travelling to countries a little more with the times than rural Indonesia!

 

If you’re interested in finding out more, hit the invite link below to receive a fee-free transfer up to £500!

 

 


[i] Keep in mind that ATM operators may charge their own fee, and that you WILL  be charged by WISE to withdraw money in your own country (the country the Wise account is connected to)!

 




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