HOME SWEET HOME
Moving to a new country isn’t an automatic process; seldom does it happen that you step off the plane and there’s a brand new, fully-furnished apartment unit or house just waiting for you to call home. Generally, the company that brought you over to Kuala Lumpur will put you up in a nice serviced residence as a temporary measure while you settle down and look for a place.
While living in a hotel definitely has its perks in the short term, it’s not ideal for the long run – not to mention often prohibitively expensive. Plus, if you have children and want the freedom of having a garden and a swimming pool, you’ll definitely need to look for a landed property.
Whether you decide to move into an apartment unit or a house, your next step will now be to get in touch with a real estate agent. Be clear in your request so that the agent has a better idea of your needs and what you might be looking for – individuals might like something smaller and closer to the city to enjoy the best of the nightlife after work, while families could prefer the quieter suburban life with more communal facilities and relaxed atmosphere.
Negotiation is key as it can make all the difference between paying more than you need to and getting a great place at a reasonable rate; even a few hundred ringgit’s difference a month adds up over the years. Expatriates tend to draw higher-than-average salaries as part of their relocation package and converge in more upscale areas with easy access to the city such as Bangsar and Damansara Heights, paying anywhere from RM4,000 to RM12,000 per month.
CONDO VS HOUSE
Condominium living offers convenience, accessibility, security and luxury with a host of amenities such as swimming pools, barbecue areas, sports facilities and sometimes even a nursery – all of which are included in your building maintenance fee. Guards keep watch at the entrance and entry cards are often necessary to enter, which helps increase the feeling of being within a safe community.
Units come in many sizes to suit all, ranging from studio layouts that keep things compact for singles and couples down to full-fledged three to four-bedroom units that sometimes occupy as much floor space as a double-storey house. When you have the option to enjoy facilities at your fingertips without worrying about the upkeep, it’s no wonder that condominiums are often the living arrangement of choice for expats and their transitional needs.
For those who want larger or landed properties, among the most popular options here is the traditional English house, which is generally known as a link or terrace house. Architectural designs tend to be fairly standard within a neighborhood as developers build these houses in phases within a housing estate. Building heights vary; two storeys is the norm, but there also exist two-and-a-half or three-storey models.
Higher up on the scale is the semi-detached house, affectionately called the ‘semi-D’. This type of house gets its name from being directly attached (wall-to-wall) on one side with one other dwelling. For the ultimate in space and privacy, it doesn’t get any better than the bungalow, which is a standalone house that affords you the space for a garden – or even a swimming pool! – and is generally situated within an affluent, gated neighborhood.
Individuals or couples may not need to hire additional help around the household, but if you and your spouse are both working full-time, have children and are residing within a larger property, you might want to consider employing the services of a maid. Live-in maids generally take on much more responsibility than daily or weekly cleaning services as they stay with you in your home, handling everything from cleaning to cooking and looking after your kids.
Don’t underestimate the hiring process for a live-in maid, however, as depending on their country of origin you may have to obtain certain types of visas and be bound to agreements such as days off and minimum wages. Different maid agencies may also have different competencies for their maids in various housekeeping areas, so you should observe their work closely for the first few weeks to make sure that they know what to do.
Once you have provided all the papers (passport, work visa and contract), you will only have to wait about two to three weeks to welcome your helper as the process has been simplified for expatriates. Usually from the Philippines or Indonesia, the salaries of these maids tend to range from RM1,300 to RM2,000, even though recent policy changes in Indonesia means that the country will no longer send live-in maids to Malaysia.
If you decide to go for a day helper, you do not require the services of a maid agency. Recommendations work very well here and your best bet is to check the expat groups on Facebook. Their hourly rates can vary from RM25 to RM50, depending on the scope of work that you ask them to do.
ALL IN A DAY’S WORK
The most common reason that expats give for relocating to Malaysia is career-related, and usually that means that the hiring company pays for and helps you arrange the whole move – from applying for your working visa to sorting out your housing status. Expats tend to be brought in to provide valuable international expertise, which also means that most who fall under this category will hold high positions in the company.
However, there are also those who arrive to Malaysia on a travel visa and hope to ‘luck into’ a job while they’re here. Sad to say, unless you have a particular skillset that is in demand in the country, it’s fairly unlikely to find a job this way as few companies are willing to undertake the extra cost and paperwork necessary to legally hire an expatriate if they can find a local to do the same job.
Opening your own business is also an option, but that requires a good amount of capital and a working knowledge of the local market to minimise your chances of failure – not to mention having to find a local partner. Dining establishments in particular will have to weigh the pros and cons of acquiring a halal certification – while this broadens your customer base significantly as the population consists of a Muslim majority, it’s also not easy to get.
BACK TO SCHOOL
Malaysia’s education system is pretty good. If you choose to put your kids in an international school, you will have a decent array of choices. Alice Smith is the oldest of them, but with international education groups like Taylor’s entering the fray, the offering has become more diverse over the years.
Different curriculums are available from English, American and even Australian, leaving it up to you to decide where you want to put Junior. However, the waiting list can be quite long and the application process fairly cumbersome. Test and interviews are the norm here and the schooling fees can be quite high. But the campuses are immense, the quality of teaching is impeccable and your kids will be immersed in a fantastic learning environment.
For the last couple of years, foreign universities and colleges have opened campuses in the country, which has radically changed the possibilities for expatriates as their children can now pursue their studies here after the IB or A-Levels. Newcastle, Nottingham, Reading or Southampton Universities, just to name a few, offer the same programmes as their mother institutions back in Europe.
Epsom College and Marlborough College are the two main colleges, or boarding schools, of choice for expatriate families. The first is located about an hour away from KL, next to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport; meanwhile, the second is way down south in Johor and welcomes a fair batch of Singaporean kids as well due to its proximity.
FOOD, GLORIOUS FOOD
Food-wise, this conversation from ‘Lord of the Rings’ best sums up the Malaysian attitude towards eating:
Merry: I don’t think he knows about second breakfast, Pip.
Pippin: What about elevenses? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? Dinner? Supper? He knows about them, doesn’t he?
While it might come across as a bit of a culture shock in the beginning, it’s soon easy to see why – the abundance of good, cheap food in the country makes it difficult not to be eating all the time. People bond over mealtimes here, with many outings revolving around food and a common Malaysian greeting being ‘dah makan?’ or ‘Have you eaten?’
The cuisine itself is also a reflection of the cultural melting pot that Malaysia is so well-known for. From the famous Malay nasi lemak (rice cooked in coconut milk with spicy sauce) and Chinese noodle soup dishes down to Indian banana leaf rice and traditional Nyonya kuih (cakes), there’s no shortage of good food here and it’s not unusual for Malaysians to go on ‘food trips’ up and down the country in search of truly authentic cuisine.
However, if you ever get homesick and start craving Western food, there’s enough variety and quality here to make you feel right at home. Due to the foreign expertise required for authenticity and harder-to-find ingredients used in these dishes, these restaurants tend to be on the pricier side, but they are all of fine quality and some may even give your traditional cuisine a run for its money.
Westerners dream of escaping to a tropical destination on vacation all the time, and now you’re lucky enough to be living the dream. Why waste the opportunity? Work isn’t the be-all, end-all of life and while you’re here, you should make the best of it.
Malaysia is lucky enough to be blessed with a host of stunning beaches and gorgeous islands surrounded by crystal clear waters. Many of these are in the untouched Eden that is Borneo and East Malaysia, with Sipadan in particular being a world-renowned diving destination, but Peninsular Malaysia isn’t short of postcard-perfect specimens either such as Redang, Perhentian, Tioman and Langkawi.
If you want to escape the heat, head up into the mountains for some cool air, spectacular views and interesting activities to do. Genting Highlands is among the most popular destinations for ‘fun at the peak’ with casinos, amusement parks and retail centres, while Cameron Highlands has tea plantations and vegetable farms aplenty.
Malaysia’s ancient rainforests are also a wonder not to be missed while you’re in this part of the world. The National Park (Taman Negara) in Pahang is the perfect destination to explore the wonders of the jungle through whitewater rafting, jungle trekking and visiting an aboriginal village – but if you live in Kuala Lumpur, the Forest Research Institute of Malaysia (FRIM) also makes for an excellent green day out with canopy walks and other activities.
All in all, if you’ve just recently touched down in Malaysia, we’d like to bid you a warm ‘Selamat Datang’ and we hope you enjoy your stay here – it really is a fantastic country to live in and the people are amazing. Give it a good go! You won't regret it!