Malaysia, while exotic, is a friendly place to move to. The locals are kind and curious and will happily stop you at the market and ask where you’re from, and how you like living in your new home. And because it was under English rule until 1957, almost everyone, young and old alike, speaks English well, if not fluently. The weather is hot and tropical all year long.
While food may not be the most important priority on your destination checklist, Malaysia is known as the foodie capital of Southeast Asia, so you’ll never tire of eating out. And it’s affordable—you can eat out three times a day and spend less than $10 for a couple. Three primary cultures are living in harmony in Malaysia; the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians. With three such diverse groups, the variety of food available is astounding, and all of it delicious.
It’s not just the food scene that benefits from these cultures either. The rich traditions and religions from each culture are as vibrant as the people themselves. There are cultural festivals almost weekly, and everyone is welcome to join. The locals love to see expats taking part in or watching these celebrations. The locals want you to like their country and are honored to have you join in such a large part of their traditions.
How to Move to Malaysia
Expats who want to move to Malaysia for a short period, like a snowbird looking for a three-month stay, will be given a visa on arrival in Malaysia as they pass through immigration. Expats looking to move and stay in Malaysia for a longer period need to secure an appropriate retirement visa.
The Malaysia My Second Home visa (MM2H) was suspended in 2019 and so far, at the time of writing, it hasn’t been reinstated. It’s a political move that will iron itself out in the next 12 months. The below outlines what the MM2H involved.
Upon Approval – Fixed Deposit Requirements for MM2H
All applicants have to make a Fixed Deposit based on their age, as follows:
MM2H Applicants aged below 50 years old:
- Must place a Fixed Deposit in a bank account in Malaysia of $67, 254
- Can withdraw up to $33,626 for the purchase of a house, medical insurance or children’s education expenses after the deposit has been placed for one year.
- Applicants can use their car purchase grant to withdraw part of their Fixed Deposit after two years.
- Must maintain a minimum balance of $33,626 from second year onwards and throughout stay in Malaysia under this program.
MM2H Applicants aged 50 years and above:
- Must place a Fixed Deposit in a bank account in Malaysia of $33, 626
- Can withdraw up to $11, 209 of the fixed deposit after one year to purchase a house, medical insurance or children’s education expenses.
- Applicants can use their car purchase grant to withdraw part of their Fixed Deposit after two years.
- Must maintain a minimum balance of $22, 417 throughout their stay in Malaysia under this program.
Sarawak Malaysia My Second Home
The good news is that Sarawak, a Malaysian state on the very large island of Borneo, instigated its own version of MM2H in 2020, Sarawak Malaysia My Second Home (S-MM2H), with roughly the same requirements as MM2H and it’s going gangbusters.
And there’s more good news! S-MM2H allows you to live in Sarawak, as well as Peninsular Malaysia, and if I wasn’t living in Penang, I would be living in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, whereas MM2H only allows you to live in Peninsular Malaysia and not in Sarawak.
There are two categories for the S-MM2H application, Income or a Fixed Deposit. In the Income Category you only need to meet the requirements at submission for the application, and you will never have to meet the requirements again.
You have to show a minimum of $2, 247 for a couple, or $1, 573 as a single person equivalent of combined average monthly income in the last 6 months (salary, pension, dividends, rental, interest etc). There is no fixed deposit requirement in this submission.
For the Fixed Deposit Category, before submission, you must open a bank account in any bank branch in Sarawak.
Then you have to place $67, 436 for a couple or $33, 718 as a single-person fixed deposit in a bank of your choice. The good news is that you can withdraw 40% after 1 year (terms and conditions apply) and all the interest earned will be paid to your account for you to use when you need it. There is no income requirement.
Important Points For You to Consider:
- If you live outside Malaysia then you can only apply under the income-only category
- The visa is for Ten 10 years and it’s renewable.
- You must agree to stay in Sarawak for 15 days per year but you can live anywhere you like in Malaysia or East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo).
- Approval may take between three to four months.
- Medical Insurance must be submitted before submission if you are already in Sarawak.
- The visa fee is $20 per person year per year.
- There are no Government processing fees, however, it is advisable to use an agent who knows the system, and there will be agents’ fees of $1, 300 per couple.
Additional Requirements For Aged Below 50:
For applicants aged between 40 to 49 years old, you will have to invest in property valued at $134, 644, or have children enrolled in an educational institution in Sarawak. For applicants aged 30 to 39 years old, you must have children enrolled in an educational institution in Sarawak to be eligible for the visa.
Under this visa, you are allowed to bring your children with you up to the age of 34. You are also allowed to bring both sets of parents with you.
Moving with Your Pets to Malaysia
Before bringing your pet to Malaysia, ensure that they are microchipped for easy identification. Each dog and cat is also required to have an up-to-date and inactivated rabies vaccine and certificate.
Bringing pets to Malaysia also calls for an import permit from the Directors of State Veterinary departments, or the Director General of the Department of Veterinary Services, as well as a mandatory seven-day quarantine. Your pet relocation Specialists can guide you through the process.
However, if your pet is a Service Pet or a Support Pet then quarantine is wavered as long as you have the paperwork in place.
Finding Accommodation in Malaysia/Finding Your New Home
Finding accommodation in Malaysia is the same process that you follow back home. Most, if not all properties are listed online and all you have to do is contact your agent.
The only difference here in Malaysia is that everything is negotiable—everything! From the rent to what appliances you need, that works in both the tenants' and owner’s favor.
Do I Need Vaccinations Before Moving to Malaysia?
No. Malaysia does not require any vaccinations.
Banking and Finance in Malaysia
Everything works the same in Malaysia as it does back home. There is absolutely no difference.
Best Places to Move to in Malaysia
Penang is a Malaysian state located in northwest Malaysia, just a two-hour drive from Thailand’s border. It’s rich in culture and history, and was first settled by the British East India Company in 1786. George Town, its capital, has Malay, Chinese, Indian and British influences. It has charming historic buildings, sandy beaches, a plethora of Malay villages surrounded by rice paddies, jungles just everywhere, and bustling city life. Hailed as the food capital of Malaysia, its street food is the best in Asia.
It's easy to see why Mr. Brooke, soon to be Raja Brooke, The First White Raja (Prince), chose this spot for his capital. Hugging the curves of the lazy Sarawak River, this city is beautiful. Gateway to both the jungle and the sea, this is an ideal base for expats wanting something culturally exciting and different.
Kuala Lumpur is Malaysia’s capital, and it’s filled with gleaming skyscrapers and colonial architecture. If you like living in big cities and everything that they have to offer, great restaurants, colonial clubs, theater, and some of the best street food in Asia, then this is for you.
Malacca s one of the most popular tourist destinations in Malaysia for Malaysians, and for Singaporeans, as Singapore is just miles away. In 2008 UNESCO listed Malacca as a World Heritage Site along with Penang, and it’s well known for its numerous golf courses and street food. Settled by the Portuguese in 1511, and then the Dutch and then the English, it has quite a colonial heritage.
5 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Moving to Malaysia
Having been an expat now for over 12 years in the vibrant, ex-British East India city of Penang, there are a few things I can tell you about expat life.
Making the actual decision to live or retire overseas is far more difficult than actually moving and doing it. That’s the first thing. The second thing is that I wish I had done it sooner.
Thinking and planning ahead of time can be stressful but the actual act of moving to another country is nothing short of enthralling. The anticipation is just marvelous. And you can certainly plan to the end degree but I can tell you from experience that there is no need for you to do that when considering Malaysia.
Malaysia is organized, everyone on the East Coast speaks English, and all the contracts that you will need, your apartment, for instance, are also in English. It makes it all so much easier and takes a little of the stress out of the actual move.
In saying that, there are a few things you should know before moving to Malaysia. They are not big issues but they would have been good to know ahead of time, which is why I want to share them with you.
1. There is a Vibrant Expat Community
Malaysia has been home to expats since 1786, and there is a vibrant, thriving community of us in the cities of Malacca, Kuala Lumpur, Ipoh, and Penang. There are also a plethora of Facebook pages to help with everything that you need to know. Little things like, ‘Who is the best internet provider?’ ‘Where is the best butcher?’ All of these questions and more can be found answered on the various sites on Facebook. Most if not all of the sites are managed by expats themselves, retirees who have walked the walk and lived the life for many years.
When my wife, Lisa, and I moved here in 2009 there were only two organizations that helped expats with information and pointers in Penang, and neither of them exists today. Now, though, there are at least 10 that I know of just the click of a button away.
2. Driving in Malaysia
Driving in Malaysia has always been a challenge, and it’s not just Malaysia, it’s Asia in general. The road rules here are…mostly suggestions.
I remember coming for a holiday here in the 1990s and being appalled at seeing trucks and cars overtaking on blind bends. With the advent of good jobs, better salaries, and a gentleman by the name of Boon Siew (Mr. Honda), there are now more motorbikes on the roads in Malaysia than ever before.
If you hit a motorbike, or get hit by a motorbike, nine times out of ten, you will be in the wrong. And it doesn’t matter if the motorbike in question is coming down the wrong side of the street either.
What to do? In the event of no one being hurt, just damage to the motorbike, you can either make a police report which involves both of you heading to the nearest police station, or you can agree to pay for the repairs to the motorbike.
If the rider is hurt and an ambulance is required, wait for the ambulance to arrive and then make a police report within 24 hours. In this instance, it’s always better to take a local with you just to smoothen any language barriers.
Lastly, lines on the road, denoting the lane that you or other drivers are in, are mere hints or suggestions. As are red traffic lights. It’s a silly thing to say but always use your mirrors, and when a light goes green take off slowly and watch for the unexpected. And don’t get angry if you see Malaysians driving in the middle of the lane. If you do, you’ll be angry a lot!
3. I Wish I had Done it Sooner!
This is a no-brainer, and easier said with hindsight! That being said, the leap of faith would have happened 10 years earlier, if I had known that my lifestyle, my standard of living, in Malaysia was going to be so good.
There is an ease of life in the east that you don’t find anywhere else. A peacefulness, and calm, that’s just part of Malaysia. It’s a hard one to put your finger on. Just like the rain here is heavier than anywhere else in the world. It has a weight to it that you cannot explain, it has to be experienced.
Malaysia saturates all of your senses. Sight, taste, smell, hearing, and touch. And when you think that you have had enough, something else will assault you in a lovely unfamiliar way.
4. Durians – The World's Smelliest Fruit, or is it?
“Comparisons have been made with the civet cat, sewage, stale vomit, onions, and cheese; while one disaffected visitor to Malaysia declared that the eating of the flesh was not much different from having to consume used surgical swabs.” The Oxford Companion to Food.
I have a confession to make. I love it. The smell actually has my mouth watering and I don’t find it offensive at all. That being said it is banned from all hotels in Malaysia, and in Singapore, it’s a fineable offense to take one on public transport.
5. The Friendliest People in All of Asia
Malaysians are hands down the friendliest people in the whole of Asia.
I don’t say that because I live here, I say it because it's why I stay here. I have choices, I can live anywhere I like, but I’m here and Malaysia is happily my home.
Feature Image iStock.com/Edwin Tan