Things you have to know about Indonesian Business Etiquette


Are you planning to visit Indonesia not only for tourism but maybe for business? In this article, we will see some specific traits of Business etiquette in Indonesia.

General overview of Indonesia


With over 250 million inhabitants spread over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is one of the most populated countries in South East Asia. In terms of population the capital, Jakarta, has over 10 million inhabitants followed by Surabaya, Bandung, Meda, Smerang and Makassar. Most of these cities are locating in Java. One of the most well-known tourist cities in Indonesia (and Java) is Bali due to its wide range of activities going from beaches to temples.

You also have to know that Indonesia is culturally diverse. Indonesia has also been through several waves of invasions: hindu, muslims, Japanese and dutch. According to US World Census, over 700 languages are spoken in Indonesia alone and there are over 300 communities. The most populous are Javanese but you have malays, Chinese etc. The official language is the Bahasa, which any indonesian usually know how to use. Regarding religion, I invite you to read our previous articles about 6 things you have to know about religions in Indonesia. In a nutshell, 9 out of 10 indonesian are muslims while others are Christians, Roman Catholic, Hindu or any other religion.

The religion of your business partner will strongly impact your relationship with this person and how you should behave to avoid any misunderstanding and faux-pas. Now that you know more about Indonesian background, we can get on to the business etiquette in Indonesia.

Let’s start with the language you should use


The official language in Indonesia is Bahasa or more internationally known as Indonesia. Its common use started after Indonesian Independence back in 1945. As it is one of Malay’s dialect it owns several similarities with this language. However, it is important to note that there are many local dialects used (Javanese being the most popular) and that Indonesian is mainly used in public organizations and business settings.

indonesia hofstede
As you can see on this graph from Hofstede’ website and study, the Individualism factor is very low. As said on their website, for Indonesians family comes first. There is an important saying in Indonesia which goes as follows:  “You can get another wife or husband but not another mother or father”. For example, If someone wants to marry an Indonesian girl, he will have to get the parent’s approval first.In order to maintain harmony in the group, we have what we call the principle of Face. This principle can be found in several other countries such as China (Mian Zi), Japan, or South Korea for example. What does it mean? Even though it is quite difficult to define in a few words, it all comes down to reputation and shame. For Indonesian, preserving face means preserving oneself from shame, called “malu” in Indonesian. Thus, it is important to speak carefully to an Indonesian who did a mistake.
Here are some tips to do it the right way:

As a very diverse country, the national motto is “Unity in Diversity”, the main aim of the Indonesian government was to unify the country regardless of its multiculturalism. Just like China, Indonesia is more of a group-driven community. Their identity is strongly linked to their family background and frequented social groups such as family,friends and village.The importance of the community and unity

  • Don’t criticize them or even give negative feedback to the person in front of others
  • Do not shout, scream or talk aggressively to the person
  • Try to phrase your concerns in a positive way so that the person doesn’t feel “malu”
  • Note that “yes” in Indonesian (just like in Chinese) doesn’t mean “yes”. There are actually many ways to say “Yes” and some of them actually mean “No” …



The first step of any relationship is greeting. Several studies showed that we are judged in less than 30 secondes upon greetings and introduction. Consequently, leaving a good impression is key.

  • As you can see in the previous graph, the hierarchy is very important in Indonesia and can not be avoided. Because of that :
  • Start by greeting the highest in the hierarchy or oldest of the group
  • Don’t forget to use his title when spelling the name of your Indonesian business partner
  • Greet with a light (not firm like in Western countries) handshake along with the word “ Selamat”. If there are Muslims, “Asalam Malaykum” will be more appropriate.
  • What about your clothes? Stick with business conservative styles. If you are a woman it is better to be covered from neck to under the knees.

You can also combine your handshake with a slight bow by joining both of your hands in front of you, just like in the picture below:

greetings liverppool

Source: Liverpool FC in Indonesia –

Exhanging business cards

071027-N-7883G-050 MURORAN, Japan (Oct. 27, 2007) - Cmdr. Dan Dusek, commanding officer of USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62), exchanges business cards with Muroran Mayor Masashi Shingu during a reception held in the Japanese Steel Works reception hall. Fitzgerald will join USS Kitty Hawk (CV 63) and embarked Carrier Air Wing 5 to participate in an exercise with the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in November. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Kyle D. Gahlau (RELEASED)

As a good business man, you must have already thought about bringing your business cards. However, how should you hand it over? What should be on it? 

  • Give your business card with your 2 hands and never with your left hand only (As a matter of fact, the left hand can’t not be used for handshakes, eating, and greetings).
  • When receiving your Indonesian business partner business card accept it with both of your hands, look at it for a few seconds and place it in a secured and organized place to express your respect for your new relationship.
  • Also do not forget to translate your business card in Indonesian and to write your title on it


I hope this article will be helpful for you. In our next article, we will see the best practices when conducting meetings with Indonesian, enjoying a business lunch or dinner and some communication tips!

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