Purpose: This study aims to understand the factors and problems that relate to Indonesian port competitiveness and the problems that need to be addressed by major actors such as the government and port corporations. Design/methodology/approach: It combines quantitative analysis from 59 survey respondents and qualitative analysis from focus-group discussions and in-depth interviews with port experts, financial bodies, port corporations and government officials on the condition of Indonesian port planning, development and financing. Findings: An Indonesian port competitiveness model was developed, comprising government support, business support and operational performance. The authors found a gap between policy expectation and realization of port facilitation, caused by inefficient government bureaucracy, customs clearance and strategic decision-making. The government's consistency and commitment need work to encourage investor interest. Road connectivity, intermodal transportation, and energy infrastructure should be enhanced to increase operational performance. These problems are caused by a lack of feasibility analysis, consideration of local economic developments, and late adoption of standard technology. The maritime-sector workforce should be trained to be more professional with foreign players, more innovative and more open towards foreign assistance. Practical implications: Port competitiveness includes government-related variables. The government’s initiatives are welcomed but are not enough. Adequate attention to both micro and macro port is necessary to increase port competitiveness. Future research should develop more comprehensive solutions to increase port competitiveness in Indonesia using problems and factors outlined here. Originality/value: The study investigated the unique factors and problems that relate to Indonesian port competitiveness. It uses a national scope and rich expert data involved in Indonesia's port industry.