Friday, March 4, 2016

FAQ About My Life in Malaysia

Ever since my "Why did I left Singapore" blog post went viral. I received a lot of emails and Facebook messages asking about my life in Malaysia.

I was very surprised that there are actually quite a number of Singaporeans living in Malaysia too. There are also a handful of Singaporeans who have plans to relocate but are held back by fear and doubt. I understand that this is a very tough decision to make because I had gone through the same thing too. We are actually in the same boat.

I figure it out that it will be better for me to write a FAQ post than to reply to each email and message individually. In this post, I will also give a personal update on my life in Malaysia. Hopefully this will help those of you who are currently in the same dilemma.

Below are some of the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ).

1. How are you adapting in Malaysia?

It seems that many of you are curious about my life in Malaysia. Overall, my life has been good. I have a well-paying job, a car, a place to call home and food on my table.

I married at a young age of 23. To quit my job with not much savings and no plans for my future is an extremely difficult decision for me to make. Moving to another country is a huge step no matter how well prepared or confident you are. Life was never easy for me too.

Fast forward three years later, I am glad that I am settling and adapting well to my new life in Malaysia. It took a long while for me to settle down and adapt to the life here.

2. How do you find a job in Malaysia? How is the salary package like?

Finding a job in Malaysia is just like in Singapore. I searched and applied for jobs through online job portals such as jobstreet.

Salary package differs from company to company and person to person. It is unlikely that you will receive any kind of expat package in Malaysia. I would say most of the time it has to do with your qualifications and negotiation skills.

In Kuala Lumpur, the basic starting pay for an university graduate in Malaysia generally range between RM 2 K to 2.5 K. Some people would probably get more and some would probably get much less than that. Do not convert what you are earning in your country and expect to earn the same amount of money in Malaysia. It does not work that way.

Foreigners are basically not obligated to make EPF contribution, but are given an option to contribute. If an employee has opted to make a contribution, both such employee and employer shall be liable to contribute and the option may not be revoked. I did not opted to make a monthly contribution to EPF. The reason is because EPF withdrawal for foreigner is allowed only when the individual ceases employment in Malaysia and leaves Malaysia on a permanent basis, or upon confirmation of death.

A foreigner is also allowed to make EPF withdrawal just like other Malaysians if the individual have become an EPF member before 1 August 1998 or had obtained a Permanent Resident status in Malaysia.

For Non-tax Resident, do expect to have 26% of your salary deducted for income tax. Any individual, regardless of nationality, will be considered a Non-Resident for income tax purpose if the individual is physically present in Malaysia for less than 182 days during the calendar year. But do not worry. An individual will be treated as a Tax-Resident once the individual have continuously reside in Malaysia for more 182 days. A Tax-Resident will be subjected to normal tax rates in Malaysia.

3. Do you need to apply for a Employment Pass in order work in Malaysia?

I am holding a Long Term Social Visit Pass (LTSVP) which will allow me to stay and remain in Malaysia for a certain period of time. If you are holding a LTSVP like me, you are not allowed to apply a Employment Pass in Malaysia. Instead, you have to apply for the permission to work under the LTSVP work endorsement program. The work endorsement entitled the holder to be engaged in any form of paid engagement or in any business or paid employment without converting the LTSVP to an Employment Pass.

The endorsement is given free of charge and is only available to spouses of Malaysian citizens but not other LTSVP holders.

When you are first issued the LTSVP, the pass will state that "Any form of employment is strictly prohibited" . Do not be intimidated by this statement as it can be amended once your work endorsement is approved.

I have written a detailed blog post on how to apply a LTSVP and work endorsement in Malaysia. To know more about the application procedure, please refer to my Marrying A Malaysian Part 2: Obtaining A Long Term Social Visit Pass (Spouse Pass) Malaysia post.

Please note that you are only allow to apply for a work endorsement only after you have obtained a job offer letter from a company.

4. How do you drive/ commute in Malaysia?

To drive a vehicle in Malaysia, you must possess a valid Malaysian Driving License for the class of vehicle that you want to drive. For those who hold a Singapore Driving License, it can be automatically converted to a temporary Driving License in Malaysia. Automatic conversion is available for applicants whose driving license is issued from a country that has a bilateral agreement with Malaysia. For more information about the application procedure, please refer to the Road Transport Department Malaysia (JPJ) website. 

I have not converted my Singapore Driving License to a Malaysia one. The reason is simply because I could not drive even though I have a Singapore driving license. It really makes me wonder how I actually managed pass my driving examination in Singapore.

KL is infamous for its traffic jams. For those who can drive, traffic can be very bad in KL, especially during peak hours. Be prepared to be stuck in traffic jam for at least an hour. It can be a very annoying and irritating experience. However, it seems that people in KL has just gotten used to it.

Since I could not drive, I try to look for job that is located close to the train station. Basically, I take the LRT to work everyday. It is the fastest, convenient and most reliable way to get to work. The entire train journey takes about 15 minutes. I prefer taking the train than to be stuck in an hour long traffic jam everyday.

Unlike in Singapore, there are seldom LRT breakdown or delay, though it can be very crowded during peak hours too. I used to spend 3 hours communing to and from work and I could not describe how much I hate it every single day. That was three years ago.

Looking back, the long commute tired me out. I have to get up extra early and get home late. Although I loved my job very much, I hate the long commute, so much so that I could not imagine living the same life as before now.

My husband and I own a car in KL too. So, other than working days, my husband will usually drive me around the city. Fortunately, the traffic is not as bad during the weekends and public holidays. As the public transportation is still lacking in Malaysia, living without a car can be difficult and extremely inconvenient.

But luckily, cars are relatively affordable in Malaysia as compared to Singapore. Price of local brand cars such as Perodua starts as low as RM 25 K.

5. Do you have plans to come back to Singapore in the near future or intend to settle in Malaysia for good? Why?

I intended to settle in Malaysia for good since I have gotten comfortable with my life now. Most Singaporeans would probably be surprised by my plans and would not able to understand my reason for choosing Malaysia instead of Singapore.

I flew back to Singapore to vote in the election last September. It has been three years since I last stepped into Singapore. I hate the feeling the very moment I landed in Changi Airport.

I tried to look at Singapore in the eyes of a foreigner. Compared to Malaysia, Singapore is very beautiful, safe and clean. This is just the perfect place to live in. But Singapore is too perfect, which makes it an extremely stressful place to live in.

I took the MRT train from Changi Airport all the way to Woodlands station. This is where I have lived for the past twenty years and I was surprised how much Woodlands has changed over the last three years. Everything I knew felt so unfamiliar now. It is not the same place that I have lived in anymore. That was also when I realized that Singapore is no longer home to me.

The one way train journey from Changi Airport to Woodlands station took about an hour and a half. I am actually glad that the trains were not packed since the polling day is declared a public holiday. Even so, that does not make the hour long commute extremely pleasant.

I could have taken a taxi instead. But that will be too expensive. The MRT and buses are the cheapest way to get around in Singapore. But I hate the daily long commute. It can be very stressful and I certainly would not want to go through all that again.

So I have told my friends that there is absolutely no reason for me to return to Singapore now (unless, I am not allowed to stay in Malaysia). Apart from the stronger Dollars, there is just nothing else back home for me.

In KL, I managed to secure a stable and decent paying job. Although the ringgit does not offer the same purchasing power as the Dollars, it is enough for me to live rather comfortably.

I get to own a car and a condominium (which will be ready in 2017) after working for two years. In addition to that, I also have the chance to travel at least once a year too. These are things which I think I would never be able to afford in Singapore.

In Singapore, it is a well- known fact that employees have to wait for their superiors to leave the office before they can head home for the day. Singaporeans are simply expected to work overtime even when there is no work to do. Everyone is just putting up a 'show' in the office. However, the worst thing is that overtime is usually not compensated with time off or extra cash.

In KL, I do not have to work overtime. I get to knock off at 5.30 pm everyday, which actually gave me plenty of time to enjoy life outside work. I enjoyed the work life balance and the working environment. Of course, I knew well that this does not apply to every other company in Malaysia. Perhaps I am just lucky to be able to work for a good company.

Life is also much less stressful in Malaysia as compared to Singapore. But do not get me wrong. I do not mean that Malaysia is a very easy place to live in. With increasing prices and stagnant wages, KL is becoming a more and more stressful city to live in too. But for Singaporeans, I believe the level of stress that you feel in KL is nothing comparable to the level of stress you will feel in Singapore

I feel so much happier now. I enjoy the freedom and the slower pace of life in Malaysia.

6. Will you consider sending your children back to Singapore for education?

Some people are also asking me whether I would consider sending my children back to Singapore for education in the future. Well, my answer will be a "no". Why? You may be asking why I would not consider sending my children back to Singapore for education since it has one of the best education system in the world.

I actually touched on the topic of education earlier in my "Singaporean Living In Malaysia - My Response To The Naysayers" blog post. But since there are many people asking, I shall discuss more about this topic in this FAQ post too.

It is a undoubted fact that Singapore's education system is among one of the highly regarded in the world. Although the education system is efficient in developing a strong foundation in individuals, it is also very competitive and rigid, with the stronger emphasis placed on academic excellence.

Children are taught how to excel in examinations rather than to learn valuable lifelong skills. Education in Singapore focuses on excelling in examinations, which is often heavy on memorization and light on critical thinking and creativity.

It is also sad that most Singaporeans in Singapore today could not read, write or even communicate in their Mother language due to a strong emphasis placed on English language. Well, you would argue that the fluency in English language actually offers one a far wider choice of career prospect and often higher pay. The adoption of English as the national language will ensure Singapore remain globally competitive.

But let's admit that most Singaporeans could not speak or write in perfect English. I belong to this group of Singaporeans who could not speak or write in English very well. In fact, I was failing most of my English examinations in school, which made me hate the language very much. I do not remember a time when I actually enjoy attending English classes because I simply do not have the interest in the subject.

People look down on me because I cannot speak in English well, even though I am relatively fluent in the Chinese language. But luckily, I still managed to pass (just pass) my GCE 'O' Levels examination in English language. Passing the subject was not a difficult thing. All I have to do is to 'memorize' all the past years answers and rewrite them in my examination.

I was not learning in school. I was memorizing the set of standard model answers provided to me and I scored well because I am good in memorizing. Of course, I failed because I was too lazy to memorize. Over the years, I developed an interest in writing, which led me to start this blog. My English proficiency gradually improved over time and I am happy to say that I no longer hate the language as much as before.

In Singapore, we are always told that one should be a professional such as doctors, engineers, lawyers or accountants to be successful in life. Other degree programs are often seen as not useful and usually, do not allow one to secure a decent paying job.

Although I have mentioned that I actually prefer the education system in Singapore more than in Malaysia, I would not want my children to grow up in such a stressful and elitist society.

The education system in Singapore breeds elitism. Those with high academic achievements are often seen as arrogant and snobbish. I would not want my children to become one of them. Furthermore, academic excellence can no longer guarantee you the success in today's world. Although academic excellence does help you to climb the corporate ladder earlier and faster, it is never the only key to success. Other than academic excellence, I think there are many other things in life that are equally as important as well.

If I am to have children, I would like them grow up to be confident, independent, risk-taking and humble. I want my children to be able to enjoy childhood and not spend most of their time attending tuition and enrichment classes.They should have the freedom to choose what they would like to do in life, but not just obsessed with chasing paper qualifications in school. I believe this will help them to build and foster greater relationships with people.

Unlike Singaporeans, most Chinese Malaysians are multilingual and can speak at least three languages in moderate fluency - Mandarin, English and Malay. The good thing is, Malaysians generally do not look down on others who cannot speak a language well.

However, nobody knows what will happen in the future, so there is still a possibility that my plan will change. There are many factors to consider before I make any decision. Furthermore, I am not yet a parent, so it is actually too early to say anything now. But right now, my answer will be a "no." I would not consider sending my children back to Singapore for education because I simply do not see the reason why I should.

Singapore nowadays have forgotten the real purpose of education - to learn and gain valuable skills and knowledge. The mindset of the society has to change. Elitism has to be eliminated in Singapore education system. But I guess this will not be happening anytime soon.

7. Is Malaysia a good place to live and raise a family? How much do you have to earn in order to live a comfortable life?

This is actually a very difficult questions to answer because it really depends on individuals.

I actually received a lot of emails from both Singaporeans and Malaysians telling me how good the life in Vancouver, Melbourne or USA is. Many of you were trying to convince me that I was making a huge mistake by moving to Malaysia. I should consider moving to Vancouver / Melbourne / USA instead!

But can anyone guarantee me a comfortable life if I ever moved to whatever country that you told me is good? What if I am unable to get a good income like you do? I believe there is no such thing as the most perfect place to be. Every place has its pros and cons.

There are others asking me for advice whether they should quit their well-paying job in Malaysia and accept the higher wage in Singapore. First, you have to ask yourself what are the most important things in life. Money or personal time? If you value money more than personal time, then Singapore would be a good place for you to earn a better living. However, if you value personal time more than money, then Malaysia is definitely the better place to work and live in.

I find Malaysia a better place to live in because I actually value work-life balance more than money. It is important that you figure out what you want in life before making any decision.

It is true that Malaysia is not as safe as in Singapore. Or maybe it is because Singapore is just too safe. Singaporeans are always telling me how dangerous Malaysia is. They would not want to visit Malaysia for the fear of being robbed, raped or even murdered.

In Malaysia, you have to constantly stay alert at all times. People have to learn to protect themselves. One thing I always tell Singaporeans is try not to carry too much branded products around with you when you are visiting Malaysia. Unfortunately, this is also one of the bad thing living in Malaysia.

I am not sure whether Malaysia is a good place to raise a family because I do not have my own family yet. But so far, I do not find it a bad place to live in. Then the next question will be "when". What will be right time time to make the move? Should you wait to save enough to make the move? How much money do you need to make the move?

Now, let me ask you how much money would you consider enough? 100 K? 500 K? A million? How much time do you need to save enough money? 6 months? A year? Several years? Will there ever be a right time? Well, I have no idea too.

So, I figure out that it was better for me to make the move when I have nothing much to lose. You will never ever have enough money in your life. Humans are too greedy to think that they have enough money.

8. What are the challenges you faced?

Of course, there are a number of challenges I have faced moving to Malaysia

One of the biggest challenges I faced is getting the right visa to stay and work in Malaysia. Although it is not difficult to get the LTSVP, the amount of paperwork required for my visa application is overwhelming. There are no specific guidelines on visa application on the internet. I have make multiple trips to the immigration office just to submit all the relevant documents. The LTSVP has to be renewed before the pass expires. A foreigner who married a Malaysian citizen is not automatically granted the Permanent Resident status in Malaysia.

A foreign spouse is only allowed to apply for a Permanent Resident status after the individual has live in Malaysia continuously for a period of five years with a LTSVP. There are no specific guidelines on the Permanent Resident visa application on the internet too. It can be very frustrating because I certainly have no idea what should I do next. I am looking forward to the day when I can finally get a red IC and I believe this will be a very long wait.

As I mentioned above, it is not convenient to get around KL if you do not know how to drive. Most of the time, I have depend very much on my husband to drive me everywhere (other than work). It can be very frustrating, especially when you have enjoyed the convenience of public transportation system in Singapore. But I got used to it after some time. It is not a very big problem for me now.

The language is however, one of the most difficult barrier I have faced. As Bahasa Malaysia is the national language in Malaysia, it is important for one to be conversant in the language. Since I could not speak the language, I found it extremely difficult to engage in meaningful conversations with the Malay population. Most of them are usually not fluent in the English language.

Finding is a job in Malaysia is highly challenging too. Being a Singaporean does not provide me an advantage when looking for a job in Malaysia since priority is given to Malaysians. Furthermore, opportunities will be severely limited without a fluency in Bahasa Malaysia. I sent out countless of resumes without hearing anything back and also attended numerous interviews only to receive rejection emails. Many interviewers questioned about my decision of leaving Singapore, with more than half of them reluctant to employ a foreign spouse because I do not hold work permit like other foreigners.

There are also some other employers who offered salaries that were so much lower than expected. Even though I was desperate for a job, I rejected the offers. 

It took two months to finally get my first job in Malaysia, which I quit after 3 months due to contractual dispute and hostile work environment. But this time, I was lucky. I received a job offer from my current employer immediately after I left my previous company. Things have been great ever since and I am glad that I made the right decision to quit my previous job. 

9. What about your money in your CPF in Singapore? 

I received email asking me what would happen to their CPF money in Singapore if they decided to relocate to Malaysia.

According to CPF regulations, a Singaporean or Permanent Resident of Singapore is only allowed to withdraw your CPF in full if you have renounced your citizenship or Permanent Resident status and have left Singapore and West Malaysia permanently with no intention of returning to either country for employment or residence. This means that I would not be able to withdraw any money from my CPF account even if I renounced my Singapore citizenship (which I do not intend to) because I am residing in West Malaysia.

Luckily for me, I did not have a lot of money in my CPF account. So, this does not really bother me too much.

10. Have you regretted?

Throughout the three years, I received a lot of messages asking me how is my life in Malaysia, if I had any regrets and if, I am given the chance to choose again, would I have done anything differently.

When I made the decision to quit my job and move to Malaysia, I knew there was going to be a difficult road ahead. Leaving 23 years of my life behind me in Singapore was tough, because that was everything I knew. Moving to Malaysia would mean that I have to start everything anew.

I have no job, little savings and no plans for my future. I spent countless of sleepless nights lying in my bed wondering whether I have made a huge mistake. But looking back now, it was those failures and disappointments that made me who I am today. I learned and grew to become a better me.

I am glad that I have managed to found a great job - one that I think I will work for until retirement. I am satisfied with my current life and glad that I have made the move. Life is too short to hesitate, to wait and regret. I believe if I hesitated and waited for the 'right' time (which I do not know when), I would regret.

Yes, that was the right time.

So if you ask me whether I have ever regretted my decision of leaving Singapore for Malaysia. My answer will always be a "yes" and a "no". "Yes" for the things I have lost and "no", for the things I have gained.

Humans are greedy creatures.We always want the best of everything. But the fact is there is no such thing as perfect life in this world. I believe for every gain, there will be a loss.

Of course, there are things which I have to give up when I made the move. Life can be difficult without any of my family and friends around. But I do not regret. I am happy and content with my life now.

Be sure to follow me on Facebook or Twitter  for any latest updates on my blog. So stay tuned! If you have any other questions than these, please feel free to email me at Elinchow17@gmail.com.

2 comments:

  1. Boy, you do really write a long and thorough post, don't you?! ;) Good for you.Well done. I've just read most of this post and all of your post on "why i left Singapore..." . I could come up with lots of things to say in response, some in approval, some perhaps critical or questioning. Perhaps later on I will write a bit more. Right now I should be out in the garden now getting caught up on some work.
    however, i think that's it's not important to dissect whether or not you made the right decision or the wrong decision. I think you made a good decision. You opted to take a chance, to look for a new life and to see if ti would work out for you. You've also chosen to live somewhere with more space to live in and much much more to explore. and I hope also that malaysia, outside of KL, still has kept most of it's traditions, the old communities are still intact. the towns and villages haven't torn down everything more than 20 years old, or, even worse, so "renovated" and "restored" them to that point that there is no character, charm or feeling of belong to history left in them. Not sure if you know what i mean and I'm not sure how much kl has changed in 20 years but i know that there seems to be nothing left of "old" singapore... the singapore i knew and loved from even just 15 years ago. even then, though, i could compare to Penang and feel that life in Penang was so much better in most of the emotional and sentimental ways. It felt so good, so...real to be there. So endlessly interesting. Singapore has become so so modern. I fear that there's no dirt and no mystery left in the place.
    I think, too, that the negatives that you ascribe to kl might not exist in the smaller centers of malaysia, especially predominately chinese penang. ofcourse, you might not have a public mrt or some of the other modcons, but the cost of living would be lower still and the pressure of life much less. i think so. I would indeed really like to know just how much things have changed there. I live in victoria b.c. and am not singaporean, but i did visit there for 6 months a couple of times.

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  2. Elin, I like your "about my life in Malaysia" blog. I am Malaysian too. I agreed with you there are always will be gain and loss when come to decision making. Since u already made your decision just go ahead. Hope you will love Malaysia.

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