Is the grass always greener on the other side of the border?
I HAVE been living in Malaysia for the past 15 years and very often locals, upon learning that I’m originally from Italy, ask me this question: “Why Malaysia? You come from such a beautiful country like Italy. You must be crazy!”
As I’ve mentioned in the title, for sure, the grass is always greener. But, as a longtime staying expatriate in Malaysia, I’ve been lucky enough to study and learn a lot about this beautiful country.
My decision to elect it as my first home is based on both empirical data and personal experience.
As a supporting argument, I had better state that my life experience until 2003 has been quite diversified as I’ve been lucky enough to visit most other countries, either for leisure or business.
I’ve been living and working or studying for a good 12 years in the three Americas and in some of the European countries before deciding to move to South-East Asia.
Why I chose South-East Asia is easy to explain. Most of the countries in this region are still “developing economies”.
Also, even though an expatriate might not feel as secure, safe and comfortable as in a fully developed country, I was purposely looking for something outside my “comfort zone” in order to explore new challenges and opportunities.
Economists from all around the world have clearly been stating that for the last few years, South-East Asia and China are set to become the new “centre of gravity” of the world economy within the next decade.
In other words, there are and still will be plenty of challenges and opportunities available for the ones able to see them, as compared to the fully developed Western countries which may be in crisis concerning their economies.
Before looking into those common sense parametres, one extremely important decision-making factor is the country’s current and future economic growth. To be clearer on this point, I’ve prepared two comparison tables.
Table 1 compares Malaysia with the performance of fully developed economies while Table 2 below juxtaposes the performance with regional countries.
A comparison of these two self-explanatory charts highlights the fact that even though Malaysia is a top performing country, it still has plenty of room for improvement on all indexes.
However, the opportunities as I mentioned in my introduction, are everywhere.
To define the high potential of the whole region, let’s identify some good reasons why an expatriate should choose Malaysia.
The reasons stated below are not based on numbers but common sense parametres such as reception towards expatriates, living environment, healthcare, education, ease of language and doing business as well as cost of living.
Reception toward expatriates
Unlike our neighbours, Malaysia does not discriminate against expatriates as to the types of jobs they can do, properties they can buy, the bank loans they can get, work permits, visas and others.
Malaysia is the only country in the region that allows expatriates to purchase as many freehold properties as they want provided the purchase price is at a minimum RM1mil per unit.
Unlike some other countries in the region, Malaysia is a democratic, multi-racial, multi-ethnic society. The three main cultures – Malay, Chinese and Indian create an interesting multi-layer social environment.
In Malaysia, expatriates will be able to experience the various festivals, food, literature, clothing, culture and more.
Healthcare and education
Healthcare in Malaysia is of reputable standards, and considerably more affordable than abroad.
The quality of service at hospitals here are at the same or even of a better standard, even when compared to other countries. In general, healthcare in Malaysia is at an internationally accepted level.
Malaysia can proudly attest to the fact that Penang Island ranked the third best place to retire based on a worldwide listing.
Meanwhile, Ipoh ranked sixth place for being a “less expensive town” for retirement. Education is another important decision consideration as expatriates who relocate to a new country will want their children to study at reputable schools and institutions.
Malaysia’s education system is largely based on the British syllabus and in the last five years, it has been improving consistently in terms of the quality and quantity of educational offererings.
Ease of language
Unlike most of the other countries in the region, except for Singapore and Hong Kong, English is spoken by most people in Malaysia. An expatriate moving to Malaysia will find that communication is not an issue here.
Hence, purchasing a house, car, the setting up of utilities, getting furniture and other household items become considerably easier due to the ease of dealing with people.
Good infrastructure and the ease of doing business
Malaysia has good infrastructure as reflected in its roads, water supply, sewer systems and power grids which are stable including its telecommunications, phones and internet systems. In other words, relocating to work and live in Malaysia for Western expatriates is made even easier due to its good infrastructure.
Doing business as either employee or employer is phenomenally simple.
From the registration of a private limited company to the set-up of a manufacturing plant or the registration of a property, the bureaucratic part has been simplified to a few simple procedures and papers.
The Doing Business Report 2013 released in January by The World Bank has ranked Malaysia as the 23rd best country in the world to conduct business (Refer to Table 3).
One of the main reasons many Western expatriates are moving to Malaysia is the relatively affordable cost of living.
As low as other neighbouring countries here are in terms of cost of living, the salary scale in Malaysia is comparatively higher while the standard of living, is slightly better.
In Malaysia, you can live on one quarter of the salary of most Western countries quite comfortably. Having a look at the numbers shown below, if you’re looking for a country that is developed and yet is not going to kill your bank account, then Malaysia it is (Refer Table 4).
Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H): The additional driver
In general, if we can surely say that Malaysia is already scoring high as a preferred country by expatriates, then the values are going to go even higher if we look into what the Government proposes as an “immigration leverage tool” as reflected in the MM2H programme implemented in 2002.
The programme was designed to offer ease of access into Malaysia for foreigners. It enables expatriates to enjoy 10 years’ visa with additional benefits for them and their families.
Table 5 shows the latest requirements of eligibility for the MM2H programme.
Since 2006, the Ministry of Home Affairs has established a one-stop centre which is in charge of all the MM2H applications.
This is the authority that releases the MM2H visa.
Has the MM2H programme been attractive enough in the past years? (Please refer to Table 5 and Table 6).
It is better to let the numbers highlight the achievements considering that as at Dec 2013 in Malaysia, there were a total of almost 50,000 expatriates.
Should we take into account their family members, this number can even double up or amount to more. Recently, an increasing number of developers has started looking into retirement home projects which will offer even better and more “scope-designed” facilities and healthcare programmes for the “third age” group – the Baby Boomers.
Availability of opportunities
Even though we have seen a very positive picture of Malaysia, as I’ve mentioned above, there is still a huge room for improvement.
This leaves an open door for those who are willing to contribute in a positive way to help the country achieve high income status by the end of this decade.
Looking at the Economic Transformation Programme (ETP), one will find that from agriculture to food processing, manufacturing to IT (Information Technology), the creative arts to healthcare, there are plenty of choices for new and successful businesses to be started and developed into profitable operating entities.
A number of economic clusters have been designed for growth in different areas of the country and as a natural consequence and fixed economic rule, properties are following suit.
From the Klang Valley to Penang, Iskandar Malaysia to Kota Bharu or Kuantan, the Malaysian property market that has been showing a consistent growth pattern for the past decade, will keep on offering a long-term positive growth trend.
Last advice for all expatriates is to choose carefully, complete a proper due diligence, choose a good lawyer to advise you and if you still have doubts or question marks, do get in touch with this Malaysian mat salleh.
I’ll be very happy to help and advise.
>> Sources: Various reports from the IMF and World Bank, Department of Statistics, Ministry of Home Affairs, MM2H website, MIDA website, REI Group archives.
Source : Star Property