Balikpapan, ensconced in a hilly coastal region beneath the towering carapace of rich tropical rainforest, is a major seaport and oil boomtown on the coast of East Borneo.

Formerly a small fishing village, the town experienced massive growth throughout the 20th century, following the discovery of oil in the early 1900s. This historic site of CIA intrigue is now a modern-day base for international oil heavyweights Baker Hughes, Chevron, Total and Thiess, to name but a few.

The city’s thriving, international expat communities are often found living in luxurious compounds fronting onto the beach. The quality of life for foreigners is fairly high, and everyday creature comforts are easily found in the larger supermarket chains such as Hero and Toko Susana.

Year-round fantastic weather (averaging 27 degrees Celsius), high-level Internet penetration, multiple recreation clubs, bars and restaurants, an international airport that enables a quick hop to the region’s myriad resorts, and a handful of decent international schools combine to provide an easy entry into Balikpapan

What is special or unique about your city?

The town itself is very safe and quiet and relatively clean with a mix of Indonesians from all over the archipelago and a large number of expatriates mainly from US, France and Australia. However many other nationalities are also represented. Expatriates work mainly in the oil and mining industries and associated service companies. Large multinational companies have a big presence with their own housing compounds.

There is a good mall, great seafood and plenty of outdoor activities.

What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?

It's very quiet, in terms of traffic, compared to the major cities in Indonesia.

Are these impressions likely to change?

Not in the near future.

What is the local language?

Bahasa Indonesia, which is a variation of Malay, is the official language of Indonesia. Even though each region has its own language, about 90% of Indonesians are Muslim and many can read the Koran, which is in Arabic. Also, many Indonesians speak English and Dutch.

How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?

Indonesian people are very friendly and when they hear someone trying to speak their language, they will be very helpful. After you live here for a while, it will be very easy to learn the common language because it has the same letters as English. Another good thing is that it is usually pronounced the way it is spelled. English is widely used in business, especially in multinational companies.

Throughout the city, knowing a few key words in the local language will be beneficial, however, not necessary as most expatriates speak English.

Below are a few words and phrases that may help you communicate with your new neighbors, friends and business acquaintances:

ENGLISH                                    BAHASA INDONESIAN
Good morning                                Selamat pagi
Good afternoon                              Selamat sore
Good evening                                 Selamat malam
May name is…                               Nama saya…
How are you?                                 Bagaimana kabar mu?
Yes                                                Ya
No                                                 Tidak (don’t pronounce the k)
Where is the bathroom?                  Dimana kamar kecil?
How much does it cost?                  Berapa harganya?
Bus                                                 Bis
Soccer                                            Sepak bola
Money                                            Duit
Thank you                                       Terima kasih
Excuse me                                       Permisi or maaf
Can you help me?                            Bisa bantu saya?
Please                                             Tolonglah
One                                                Satu
Two                                                Dua
Three                                              Tiga
Soccer                                            Sepak bola
Taxi                                                 Taksi
Be careful                                        Hati-hati

What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?

Some tips to avoid offending residents of Balikpapan are:
  • On greeting and departure it is customary to shake hands
  • Saying someone's name is important in Indonesia and you should never laugh at a person's name
  • Before sampling food when in someone's home, wait until it is offered
  • Indonesians are not known for their punctuality and offense should not be taken if events do not start on time, or if a guest arrives late
  • The left hand is considered unclean in this culture. You should use your right hand at all times and whenever possible in public
  • Feet are also considered unclean and you should never point with them or put them on tables or chairs
  • Some Indonesians also consider it rude to point with a finger so this should be avoided
  • Do not pat adults on their head as this considered offensive
  • Indonesians are generally very physical in their personal relations, patting acquaintances on the back, putting a hand on their shoulder and so forth
  • Do not chew gum in public; this is considered rude
  • Restrain yourself from eating or drinking in front of fasting Indonesian Muslims
  • Women are expected to be sensitive to the Muslim and Hindu beliefs and, therefore, wear clothing which keeps the majority of the body covered up
  • Personal questions regarding salary, education and family life should be expected and politely sidestepped if you do not want to answer them
  • Very little is said during meals as Indonesians like to concentrate more on their food
  • The subject of birth control is openly discussed although discussions about sex should be avoided
  • Topics to avoid are: human rights, politics, religion, military influence, corruption, personal success, sex/role of the sexes and criticism of Indonesia

How might the local weather affect my daily life?

Being located near the equator, the Indonesian climate is divided into two seasons: hot and rainy. This type of weather causes it to be very humid! Up in the hills and mountains, the temperature drops dramatically in the evenings and during the night it can be quite cold.
In Balikpapan there is no real season, it is a constant mix of rain and very hot weather. It is important to give yourself time to adjust to the climate and be sure to drink plenty of water.

Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?

The municipality of Balikpapan's topography is generally hilly (85%), with only small areas of flat land (15%), mostly along the coast and surrounding the hilly areas.