Malaysia ranks high on expat experience

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HSBC’s fifth Expat Explorer survey sawMalaysia ranked fifth out of 30, in its Expat Experience league tables. Business Circle spoke to some expats to get their take on living inMalaysia.

Both locations were far away and exotic but when given a choice between India and Malaysia for a foreign posting by his company, 29-year-old Paul Manio chose Malaysia.

“I felt that India would’ve been too overwhelming for me; too crowded and too much of a culture shock.”
Manio, who is second generation Canadian-Philippino is the Asean lead for sales at IBM. For Manio, life has really taken off since moving to Kuala Lumpur about 18 months ago. His job is paying well for a comfortable apartment in the gentrifying Kerinchi area; weekends are never dull thanks to a decent party scene downtown; and if the weather gets a little too dreary there’re always cheap flights to sunny beaches in Thailand or offbeat treks to ancient wats in Indo-China.

Money and quality living, the twin desires of any professional working abroad is increasingly found in Asia. Benefitting from the effects of a booming China, and having more liberal immigration policies, Malaysia is doing modestly well in attracting foreign talent to its shores.

In HSBC’s fifth and latest annual Expat Explorer survey, Malaysia ranked an impressive fifth place out of 30, in its Expat Experience league tables. The experience table measures lifestyle factors such as ease of settling into the new country, how well an expatriate integrates with locals and the overall quality of living.

What may surprise some expatriates like Manio is that the survey found Malaysia to be a difficult place in which to mix with the local community, ranking it 11th place for ‘Integration’. Part of the difficulty related to challenges in learning the local language, HSBC said.

Chad Merchant, group editor of The Expat group which publishes several magazines for the expat community chuckles in agreement with the report.
“It [integrating] can be challenging. We find there is a pretty well defined pattern when expats move to a new country especially if it’s their first time living abroad. But I think it’s easier in Malaysia than Jakarta or say, Shanghai.”

Certainly, it takes some effort on the part of the foreigner to break out of the expat bubble.

It’s important to note the very small sample size of the HSBC survey. Only 36 expats in Malaysiawere interviewed out of over 47,000 expatriates employed in the country as at end July 2012. And while a third of HSBC’s respondents were Indian nationals who make up the highest number of expatriates in Malaysia, that number was still paltry in comparison to the 9,360 Indian expats working in the country.

While coming from a similar Asian country does help with blending in, there are still nuances that require adapting to.

Ankush Bansal, from New Delhi, an executive with Alcatel-Lucent is counting his fifth year in Malaysia. “Having a big Indian community here definitely helps but as you know, even Indiahas so many different cultures. North and South is quite the opposite.”
Bansal had little knowledge of Malaysia before uprooting but has generally enjoyed better living standards for his growing family of four. He appreciates the less crowded Kuala Lumpur relative to home and recently took up the Resident Pass Talent or RPT which allows highly skilled foreigners to stay in the country for 10 years without being tethered to one employer.

If there were any gripes about Malaysiafor expats interviewed for this story it was low service standards, and to some extent, the lower wages in comparison to regional economies of Hong Kong, Chinaand Singapore.

On wealth prospects, Malaysiamay not offer as much riches as those countries or even Vietnam. Malaysiawas placed 12th in the Expat Economics table which compared responses from expats on aspects of wealth, the ability to hold on to it, and the luxuries they can afford.
“Most companies believe Malaysia is a low cost country hence wages are not that great here. But the ever ignored fact is that for an expat expenses are not less as we end up paying extra for everything,” Bansal says.

Irrespective of salary packages, most expats report being able to afford luxuries such as domestic help, cheap transport and other personal services.

The question of security has also haunted some female expats with the issue of rising crime rates and a much reported kidnapping of an expat child, grabbing headlines.
Katrine Praest, a single woman working in the biotechnology sector says she feels less safe here compared to her time working in Bangkok.

“Being a single woman in this country is not fun. I feel like a target, I never park in parking lots, I always valet and I carry mace with me all the time. This is all very new to me, even in ManilaI always felt safe.”

For others crime is a reality of life one must cope with when living in a city and on the whole Malaysia is still regarded as relatively safe.

The views expressed here are the personal opinion of the columnist.

Photo credit: Flickr user Sharon-雪人

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