If you are even the least bit health-conscious, you have plenty of reasons to be worried about living in Jakarta.

Let's start with air pollution.

Jakarta was the most polluted city in Southeast Asia in 2018, with 191 days out of 365 that were considered unhealthy. During that time, the levels of PM2.5 (particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometers) reached up to 10 times the recommended exposure limit set by the World Health Organization.

Just to remind you, air pollution has been considered to reduce life expectancy by up to 6 years in some cities in India or China, which is much more than smoking cigarettes, alcohol, HIV, drug use or road injuries.

Then, there is the sedentary lifestyle. Have you ever walked more than 1 hour outside in Jakarta? Probably not, or at least very rarely. The sidewalks are either non-existent or unsafe, the heat is unbearable, there are no parks, and the air is disgusting. No wonder Indonesians are the people who walk the least in the world (3,500 steps on average while the recommended amount is 10,000). 

Finally, there are all the risks coming from a lack of safety and hygiene standards. In 2017, the Economist ranked Jakarta the 56th out of 60 world cities for health security. Only Karachi, Dhaka, Yangon and Cairo did worse. This is a broad category that included indicators like access to healthy food, car accident fatalities, quality of health care, and much more (see full report here).

Despite all these scary facts, there are effective ways to protect yourself. Scroll below to discover my top 9 recommendations to stay healthy in Jakarta:

1)  Invest in an air purifier for your home or apartment
While you cannot control the air quality outside, you can easily make sure that the air you breathe at home is safer. 

Starting at US50$, you can purchase an air purifier with true HEPA filters. These are the best as they are proven to remove 99.97% of particulate matters larger than 0,3 microns (including bacteria and viruses).

I'm not sure where you can find them in Indonesia, but you can check "Air Purifiers" on Amazon (in case you wonder: Yes, they deliver to Indonesia and yes, it works well).

To take things one step further, you can choose an air purifier with true HEPA filters AND activated carbon. The latter will also remove odors, gases, chemicals, and smoke. They cost a bit more, though, starting at over US100$ for this model:
Alternatively, you can buy plants that are known to remove pollutants (Check this list from the NASA).

2) Use N95-rated air pollution masks
When you go outside, especially during peak pollution days or if you ride a motorbike, you should wear a proper air pollution mask. Without one, it's just like smoking a cigarette without a filter.

Forget about the cheap masks you can buy in Circle K: They do not work.

The best air pollution masks are the ones with an N-95 rating, meaning they will filter at least 95% of particles under 0.3 microns. The certification is done by an agency of the US government called NIOSH and I'm not aware of any local brands that passed the test.

Instead, I recommend you to use the products from the brand 3M. They sell their masks a little more than US1$ each (check these for instance).

3) Cook your own food (as often as possible)
Pisang Goreng (Fried Bananas)
I love Indonesian food, especially from the street. But I have to admit most dishes are unhealthy. The worst methods of cooking, deep-frying and pan-frying, are the most common in the country. To make things worse, frying is most often done with palm oil that has been used and re-used multiple times (increasing the risks of cancer).

I could also talk about coconut milk, sugar, preservatives and pesticides, but I'm sure you already get my point: You must cook your own food as often as you can.

Of course, by cooking, I don't mean preparing instant noodle or shoving fish fingers in the oven: Ultra-processed foods are probably even worse than street food.

Instead, you should buy ingredients that haven't been transformed (fish, poultry, rice, pasta, beans, vegetables, fruits, etc) and cook them in a way that will preserve their nutrients and vitamins: Boiling, light sautéeing or steaming.

Regarding organic labels in Indonesia, I don't bother with them as I doubt they can be trusted. Just make sure you peel the skin off vegetables and fruits, or wash them thoroughly with filtered water.

4) Be smart if using motorbikes
In my 15 years in Indonesia, I've been to 2 funerals of friends and colleagues who died in a motorbike accident, and I know at least 10 more who were involved in a serious crash.

Riding a bike in Jakarta is particularly hazardous, but you can improve your safety by taking some simple precautions:

- Wear a protective helmet: Not the one your Gojek driver is giving you, and not the one you bought on the street for US20$. A good one should either be certified ECE22.05 (European Union) or DOT (US).

- Wear protective clothes: Gloves, pants, shoes, and a jacket.

- Prefer a new bike, and check that everything works well (brakes, lights, acceleration power, mirrors,  oil, etc).

- Don't drink and drive.

- To limit your exposure to pollution, wear a mask (see above).

- Always prefer alternative ways to go around, especially for long distances: Taxi, cars, TransJakarta, MRT or train.

5) Stay clean!
Many health problems in Indonesia come from a lack of hygiene or a dirty environment. To protect yourself, you must make sure both your home and your body are not contaminated.

Adopting a no-shoes policy in your house is a smart idea. Did you know that after one month, 93% of shoes have fecal matters (yes, poop) on them? And that 70% carry E. coli germs?

It is also essential to wash your hands regularly or to use an antibacterial gel after spending time outside (especially on public transports).

6) Check that your vaccines are up-to-date
Many diseases in Indonesia can be avoided with vaccination. The recommended ones for Indonesia are those against Hepatitis A and B, Typhoid, Tetanus-Diphtheria, Rabies, and Meningitis.

That's a lot of shots, and I'm not a doctor. Visit one and ask him/her for advice. Keep in mind that vaccines need several weeks before being effective.

7) Avoid mosquito bites
Mosquitoes are the deadliest animal on the planet, ahead of spiders, scorpions, sharks, tigers, crocodiles, and jellyfishes.

They carry and transmit diseases like malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, encephalitis, and yellow fever. In total, they kill 725,000 people and infect 700 million more every single year.

Unfortunately, Indonesia has plenty of them.

To avoid mosquito bites, follow these rules:
- Close your windows and doors from sunset to sunrise
- Wear pants and long sleeve shirts when outside in the evening or at night
- Apply mosquito repellents (with content in DEET between 30% and 50%) on your most-exposed body parts (neck, ears, forearms, ankles).

8) Stay fit
When you live in Jakarta, going to the gym is almost mandatory. Unlike in other cities, you cannot stay in shape by walking back home from work or by running in the park. You need an artificial way to make your heart beat and to activate your muscles.

You don't need to exercise every day. 3 times a week, do 30 minutes of cardio and 30 minutes of weightlifting, and you will notice a huge difference in your overall well-being.

9) Always have travel or medical insurance
If you are a member of a Jakarta or Bali expat group on Facebook, you will see every month a post about a fundraising effort to pay for a foreigner's medical bill (or to pay for his/her medical evacuation). For a stupid scooter accident, the cost can easily reach tens of thousands of dollars.

Even a simple injury like a broken ankle can mean trouble as you can see with this tourist:
If you are not convinced yet, read my post about why you need travel insurance in Indonesia.

There are a few insurance companies that are reliable. One of them is WorldNomads, which is recommended by the Lonely Planet.

You can check how much it would cost with this widget:

1 comment to '' Guide to Staying Healthy in Jakarta "

  1. Many thanks for your eye-opening article.

    Just a today, I was reading another one which is a even scarier: Southern Asians unaware of deadly health risks from polluted air.

    It says "Air pollution kills about 7 million people prematurely each year, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.5 million of those deaths in South and Southeast Asia."

    I'll try your suggestion to buy an air purifier. I have two young kids and I feel I owe it to them.