Starting a Life in Malaysia

  

With its rich wealth of natural resources and cultural heritage, Malaysia has become a favourite among tourists and expats seeking a quiet yet progressive life in the Southeast Asian frontier.

With a land area of 329,834-square kilometers, Malaysia is a Southeast Asian nation with two major geographical divisions, the Peninsular Malaysia, which spreads from the Thai border to Singapore, and East Malaysia, which runs alongside Southern Indonesia's Kalimantan State. It is a unification of thirteen states and three Federal Territories where Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, and Putrajaya is the seat of government. 

Kuala Lumpur is also regarded as a thriving cosmopolitan that is home to the tallest twin towers in the world known as the Petronas Twin Towers. It is an iconic architectural landmark. Aside from its significant influence as one of the founders of the Association of South East Asian Nations and East Asia Summit, Malaysia is also popular for picturesque beaches, forests and mountain ranges.

Just north of the equator, the country boasts several tropical islands. Its wildlife is as exotic as it is varied, including giant snakes, geckos, skinks and endangered species such as the Black shrew, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, the clouded leopard and Malaysian tiger, the sun bear, the monitor lizard, and the orangutan. Its landscape of thick jungles, towering peaks, and profuse rainforests is a source of pride for most residents and a delight for tourists and expats.

 

About the community

Malaysia houses over 30.8 million people making it the 44th most populous nation in the world. Diversity perfectly summarizes the nation's peoples who are composed mainly of Malays (50%), Chinese (25%) and Indians (25%). In the hinterlands, indigenous ethnic groups manage to preserve their unique heritage and culture.

Islam remains the dominant religion and advocates the strict adherence to its customs and beliefs, especially during Ramadan. However, freedom of religion remains well protected by the Malaysian law. The diverse population is enjoying this freedom, with the Chinese being mainly Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian. On the other hand, Indians are mostly Hindus or Sikhs with a sprinkling of Christianity being practiced across the Chinese, Indian and Eurasian communities.  

"We moved from Venezuela to Malaysia. The experience on the Venezuelan side was not the most positive. We were, however, well taken care of on arrival to Malaysia and items that were broken in the shipping due to poor packing were replaced."- Monica Tindall, Expat in Malaysia

The official language in Malaysia is Baha Malaysia, which is of Austronesian descent, and mainly used by Malay settlers in the Malay Peninsula, southern Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore. Use of the language is required in all federal and state offices while English remains for judicial or legal communications. Due to their peoples' diversity, different dialects and regional ethnic languages have sprung up and continue to be used across all regions in the country. Expats working in Malaysian companies, however, need not worry as measures are normally taken by employers to bridge the language gap. Besides, due to the high number of expats, most employees communicate in English.

 

What you should know summarised in 6 parts

1. No bacon but you’ll survive

Getting a taste of pork is a real challenge. In most international buffets, we’re afraid bacon is made from turkey meat. Halal certification for food is very stringent. In fact, Malaysia has recently called for a renaming of all “hotdogs” on sale due to the reference to dogs, an animal that is considered unclean in Islam.

However, with its mixture of influences from the Europeans, Chinese and Indians, the food culture in Malaysia is far from boring. Traditional Malay cooking often make use of spices, lemon grass, lime, chilli, peanut butter, ginger and coconut milk.

Though many restaurants in Malaysia serve different types of cuisine, its world-renowned food streets remain the unbeatable choice for tourists and expats who are in the country. Penang is one of the most famous food streets in Malaysia where expats can experience the local food culture at its finest. There are rolling stalls, hot woks and various types of foods served in sticks or bowls. One tip, it's always best to buy bottled water in Malaysia as a precautionary measure against diarrhoea. 

The country’s national dish is Nasi lemak which is steamed rice cooked in coconut milk garnished with peanuts, anchovies, sambal and eggs.

Other authentic local foods are Rendang daging, beef cooked in lemongrass with coconut and Laksa, which is a hot and sour seafood soup. 

The Nasi goreng, a Malay-style fried rice seen at most stalls, is a must-try.

2. Your children will thank you

It is practically a paradise for the kids. Families can check out numerous attractive theme parks such as Legoland, Sunway Lagoon, Genting Theme Park, The Carnival, The Lost World of Tambun, A'Famosa Resort, Melaka, Mines Wonderland and Desa Water Park. 

There's also the indoor park, Cosmo's World, one of the biggest indoor theme parks located in a shopping mall, Berjaya Times Square, in Kuala Lumpur. While the kids enjoy a grand time in the theme park, parents can have the time to go shopping.  

Another excellent indoor activity for kids is a trip to Lara's Place, a large activity centre where kids can enroll in clay sculpting, music, gymnastic or hip-hop dancing classes. For children who like science, the go to places are the planetarium and the science centre. Kids who love animals would surely enjoy a weekend at the zoo.  

Swimming and snorkeling are great summer activities for the whole family. The islands of Langkawi and Tioman have a number activities designed for kids such as mini-golf, swimming lessons, fishing and boat making. Among the activities of kid clubs in resorts and hotels are children yoga, games, music, painting, pool games, t-shirt painting, and storytelling.

3. Fall in love with Milo and Guinness all over again

Did you know, Malaysia has the largest factory that produces the famous cocoa beverage, Milo? Head to almost any food courts or fast food joint, you will see Milo on the menu, sometimes with more than one variety. Try Milo Dinosaur and Milo Godzilla when you get the chance. They are as magnificent as they sound.

Booze lovers, meanwhile, will be delighted to know that Malaysia has clinched the Guinness League of Excellence Award for five consecutive years. The country has been touted to have the best-brewed Guinness stout, other than Ireland itself!

4. Your stay is not complete without visiting Mt. Kinabalu

Climb up the tallest mountain in Malaysia, Mt. Kinabalu and cross the world’s highest suspension bridge at 3,600 meters above sea level while at it. The view will be rewarding. Alternatively, Mt. Kinabalu National Park is also a great place to take a leisure stroll and take in Malaysia’s natural beauty.

5. Beware of taxi scams, and all crimes, really

Unfortunately, Malaysia has a bad track record in the safety and honesty departments. There are high incidence of crimes such as rape, corruption and robbery. There are rumours that the government manipulated the numbers to deflate its crime rate.

One of the most common small crimes are taxi scams. To avoid unfair charges, expats must be sure to haggle and agree on a price with the driver BEFORE hopping on. In the event of doubt, tell the driver that you would like to go by metered fare and make sure he turns it on. Taxi booking mobile applications have also proved to be helpful.

6. Respect their Islamic culture

The Malaysian society dictates conservative standards in terms of dressing and behavior. One must dress modestly around town and when visiting places of worship such as mosques and temples. Remove shoes prior to entering and ask permission prior to taking pictures of the mosques.  

Every year, Muslims around the world abstain from food, alcoholic drinks, smoking and other sensual pleasures from dusk to dawn. Expats are also expected to respect the traditions during Ramadan.  

In a predominantly Islamic country, excessive display of affections is considered inappropriate. Furthermore, Malaysia has stringent rules on public morality. Homosexuality is prohibited, and homosexual acts between males are punishable by law, which can lead to imprisonment. 

Malaysians are hospitable, warm people. Usually, food and drinks are offered to visitors. Accept drinks and food by using the right hand. The right hand is also used when giving or receiving gifts.

 

Additional resources

Electricity

Keep in mind that the voltage in most central cities in Malaysia runs at 240v and 220v to 240v in rural areas. Expats must bring three-pin plugs like the ones used in the United Kingdom

Weather

Malaysia has a tropical rainforest climate. The average temperature during the day is 30⁰ and 20⁰ during the night. Areas such as Kuala Lumpur and Malacca experience a warm and humid climate with almost daily rain shower throughout the year. Light-weight clothing are recommended. Expats who are going to live in Kuala Lumpur should expect the wet season to start in April and last until October. Always bring an umbrella with you just in case.

List of Foreign Embassies

When living overseas, expats must always have a knowledge of the important offices such as their home country's embassy which will serve as one of their support systems as an expat living in Malaysia. Most foreign embassies are headquartered in the capital which is Kuala Lumpur and here are some of them: 

376, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2168 5000 

185, Jalan Ampang, Taman U Thant, 55000 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2170 2200 

17th Floor Menara Tan & Tan 50400 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2718 3333 

6, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2146 5555 

Ireland House, The AmpWalk, No 218, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2161 2963 

1, Changkat Kia Peng, 50450 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2148 4233

 

Cost of Living in Malaysia

Malaysia is simply one of the best countries when it comes to bridging rich nature, technology, culture, and urbanization - the total package that defines the good life. On top of that, the Malaysian lifestyle is very affordable, making comforts and pleasures come easily - the reason why it's one of the most inexpensive destinations in the world. Indeed, only good things await everyone in this Southeast Asian haven.  

Household and Utilities 

An expat can easily acquire a 2-3-bedroom apartment for about 100 - 150 Euros or RM506 - RM760 a month. An average electricity bill is around RM281 as temperatures rarely drop below 22° C in Malaysia, even at night. Hence, no central heating is required. 

Telephone landline services are cheap, running at about RM22 a month on average while Internet services cost RM51 per month. Expat workers who've left their families back home will be happy to learn that prepaid international calls only cost about RM25 per card for three to four hours of usage.

European expats are also amazed at how cheap domestic help can come. The convenience of having a maid is considered luxurious in their home countries; hence, they find it a breather to be able to hire a full-time English-speaking maid for about RM646 a month. The prices go down to RM420 for someone who doesn't speak English. You can also hire maids on an hourly basis for about RM8.50. Most of them are available through agencies.  

Transportation 

Whether you use public or private transport, running costs are low. A liter of RON97 unleaded blend costs RM2.30 and diesel is RM2.20 per liter. One thing expats truly appreciate in Malaysia is that the government recognizes all international driving licenses. Moreover, car purchases are not taxed, including those acquired from other countries. A lot of banks even offer housing and business loans, making it easier for anyone jumpstarting a new life in a new country. 

Food

An average grocery bill for a Malaysian household is about RM760 per month and consists of a variety of food products such as fish, beef, poultry, vegetables, processed fish products such as canned tuna and sardines, fruits like Durian and Mangosteen, tea, milk - practically every item on anyone's grocery list. Most of these are priced by weight and are very affordable. Households typically make use of piped natural gas for cooking, but when it's unavailable, LPG proves to be a good alternative. One tank lasts up to three months and costs less than RM12.40 for delivery.

Expats who want to explore food in Malaysia can get a typical meal in an ordinary cafe for as cheap as RM2. Prices are naturally higher in the more sophisticated restaurants.  

Taxes

Expats like that inheritance taxes are low, and capital gains taxes on assets are practically nonexistent. This means expats don't have to pay anything to acquire properties, only cover their market worth.  

As it is, Malaysia is one of the most affordable cities to live in, and this is significantly attributed to the government's efforts to keep the Malaysian Ringgit competitive with other currencies in the world. Hence, citizens, migrants, tourists, or expats are always on the winning end.

 

Working in Malaysia

Malaysia has been quickly and impressively climbing the world's economic ladder. As an emerging economy, it is a showcase, and gigantic multinational firms have found one reason or another to invest in this Asian country. 

Malaysia experienced rapid development with an estimated (nominal) Gross Domestic Product of USD 296.2 billion, earning respect from the international community as a newly industrialised country. It also currently possesses USD 913.593 billion GDP which is the 27th highest in the world in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (PPP).  With the nation's ever-dynamic mix of native and adopted Malaysians providing a top calibre workforce, investments lead to success.  

Malaysia’s Major Industries 

The economy of this country is open and growing to its present stature as the world's largest supplier of rubber, palm oil, and tin and, more recently, as a provider of oil and timber. Malaysia's IT industry is dominated by manufacturing units of IT companies, which specialises in some products such as consumer goods, telecommunication, modern gadgets, medical equipment, office equipment and computer hardware, among others. Career growth looks promising for Operation Managers, Consultants and Project Managers.  

In the financial sector, the Malaysian banking sector has many job opportunities with above average salary package for skilled and experienced workers particularly in: 

  • Banking and Finance
  • Credit and Risk Management
  • Accountancy and Credit Value Management 

With the influx of English teachers in Asia, Malaysia is one of the countries that have incorporated English as a core subject in its schools. Other English speaking jobs in Malaysia are: 

  • Voice and Accent Trainer
  • Voice Coaches in BPO or Call Centres 

The job market in Malaysia is truly competitive, but present conditions have tipped the competition for expatriates. It means that so long as multinational corporations remain headquartered in this country, so will opportunities for expat hopefuls wanting to make Malaysia their new home. 

How to Find a Job 

Most expats secure employment before the actual move to Malaysia, either directly hired by a multinational company or through recruitment agencies. Skilled workers in Malaysia must have a reputable experience in managerial skills and teaching. 

Expats find it straightforward to find a job in the country's bustling business sector. International corporations have been opening up positions and, in fact, relying on foreign labour to a significant degree, especially in the technical fields. In the IT sector alone, a shortage of 30,000 - 35,000 workers prevents the full potential of this particular market from being realised. While local workers comprise a big sector of the labour market in Malaysia, the unstoppable growth of the business has inevitably opened doors for expatriate workers who have proven themselves skilled and competent. 

"You may need to go back and forth and don’t be shocked if they said the system is currently down."- Paulina, Expat in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia 

Average Salary 

The current minimum wage in Malaysia is MYR 1,000 or USD 225 per month while the average monthly salary is MYR 7,400 or USD 1,670. Executive and non-executive salaries are expected to grow in the coming years within the Malaysian workforce. The government's main agency providing workers' benefits is the Social Security Organisation, which has programs in place in case of injury, invalidity or death of its members. 

Membership is mandatory for those earning below MYR 200 ($589.623) and optional for those earning more. It also applies to expat workers who are afforded the same degree of security like every other Malaysian citizen. 

Work Conditions in Malaysia 

In Malaysia, the maximum hours that an employee may render per week is 48, with a maximum of 6 days per week. Overtime pay is computed as normal hourly wage multiplied by 1.5. Both expats and citizens are given basic leave entitlement, including national holidays and ten days of paid vacation. Four national holidays in Malaysia are National Day, the birthday of Yang di-Pertuan Agong, the birthday of the Ruler, and Workers Celebration Day. 

The employer may choose other vacation days. Employees may work such holidays and will be paid double their regular daily wage. Maternity leave is a minimum of 60 days during which termination of the female worker is prohibited. 

Paid sick leave is also in force, whereby the number of paid days depends on the tenure. Malaysian employers, however, are strict in the requirements for sick leave application and require a certification from a doctor and advanced notice when possible.

 

Prepare your relocation to Malaysia

Preparations 

Renting a House

Though there is a balance in the supply and demand in the Malaysian housing market, it will still be best for expats to start their search a few weeks before arrival. One main reason is that prices greatly vary in every area where rentals in the metropolitan are pricier than those in the suburban areas.  Another factor that every expat must be aware of is the cost of utilities in Malaysia which they might find more expensive that what they're used to in their home country and is usually not included in the rental pay. 

Electricity

Keep in mind that the voltage in most central cities in Malaysia runs at 240v and 220v to 240v in rural areas. Expats must bring three prong plugs like the ones used in the United Kingdom. So make sure to bring a UK adapter instead of an Asian type to avoid electrical hazards. 

Health

Though there is no latest travel health advisory for Malaysia, the Center for Disease Control or CDC still strongly advises expats to see their physicians/doctors at least four to six weeks before flying in. It is the best time to update vaccinations against: 

  • Cholera
  • Rabies
  • Diphtheria
  • Japanese encephalitis

Moving your belongings

All shipments are subject to 100% inspection by the Malaysian customs. It is best to prepare all essential paperwork for shipping to avoid any delay. It is also advisable to get in touch with movers in Malaysia to make the relocation hassle-free.

In Malaysia, household goods are duty-free or tax-free if expats have owned the good for a minimum of three months, and the items will not be disposed of from the date of import for at least six months. One should have a ready Work Permit or a letter from the employer to present to the customs officials. Newly purchased items require receipts, and may be taxable. 

Alcohol and cigarettes are taxed. Bringing plants will need approval from the Ministry of Agriculture and a Phytosanitary certificate. 

Computers, on the other hand, are tax-free but limited to three per family and will require an import license. 

Malaysia has a tropical climate, so do not forget lightweight clothing, pants, blouses and suits. Make sure to bring enough of your wardrobe supply, as sizes can be an issue when shopping in Malaysia. 

It would be best to pack a six-month supply of medicines for those who use prescription medicines to give time in finding the right doctor and medical centre.  

When importing electrical appliances, make sure the item can be converted to 220V, otherwise, bring appropriate transformers. Importation of electrical items requires an import permit.

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