Although compounds can provide a "total" package, many expatriates choose to live off-compound. Living off compound can provide more independence and privacy, but you need to consider things like generators, amount of wattage, purchase of drinking water & gas, garbage collection, house/pool maintenance, and possible extra security. Ask what the rental includes to avoid surprises. Also, remember to negotiate! Often you can get cheaper rent with a longer contract. You can also request a change in furniture or an upgrade in appliances. If you don't get it upfront, you won't get it later!
Pupuk is a popular neighborhood near the BSB mall. It sits atop a hill and gets a nice breeze. A typical house in this area is a 3-4 bedroom/3 bathroom, single story home with a pool. The neighborhood is an open community without gates or private security, however it is centrally located near the center of town and a convenient, yet quiet place to live. Houses are independently owned, so you look for "for rent" signs for available property. Typical prices range from about $1800-$2800 per month, depending on property and length of contract.
Balikpapan Baru, near Mall Fantasy, is also another popular area for expatriates. It is a gated suburb that is made up of smaller neighborhoods named for a foreign city such as Den Haag, Amsterdam, Paris, etc, each with their own theme. Most gates do have a security guard, however the compounds are not closed or fully fenced. Houses range from 2-5 bedrooms, although most are typically quite large. Prices can range quite largely due to it being a much larger area with more homes. But you can expect to pay on average $2500-$4000/month.
Bukit Damai Indah (BDI) is situated not far from the city centre, which makes this neighborhood a popular choice. Although there is security on the gate, the complex is open. Most of the houses are rented privately or via a real estate agent. Directly through the developer there are 2-3 bedroom townhouses available for rent. The compound has a private recreation club, membership of which is open to the public & includes tennis court, gym, sauna & pool with snack bar. The pool can be hired for private functions. Prices vary widely in this area due to the diverse types of housing.
Although these are "popular" expatriate neighborhoods, you'll find expats all over the city. If you want an off-compound house, the best advice is to drive around the area you're interested in living and look for signs that a property is available. You can also ask a local rental agent to take you around to available property.
Some expats opt for more local housing for as little as $4000 per year for basic accommodation including a couple of bedrooms, a western toilet and shower, hot water unit , and 1-2 air conditioning units. Often these houses may come with a more Indonesian style kitchen, but are fully functional. Many of these homes can be semi furnished, so they can be quite the bargain if you are self-paying on a budget. To get a broad idea of local housing, online sites such as www.rumah123.com can be a resource. There are also semi-serviced apartments, like BSB Superblock Mall Apartments or Aston Hotel Apartments, where expats rent for a reasonable rate. Local neighborhoods such as Palm Hills City and Borneo Paradiso in Sepinggan/Batakan are popular for stand alone housing. If you're looking for local housing, the best way to find a good house on the cheap is to ask around the community. Most of the great bargains are by word of mouth and are snapped up quick!