So why begin with Malaysia? We believe that Malaysia has much to offer and contains elements of the best of both worlds: a developed economy with solid infrastructure and very reasonable price levels for everything from housing and clothing to food. Additionally (and very importantly), the country has a simple and very straightforward residency program without any age limits.
In the following overview we will share a few points taken out of the comprehensive report we've written, called "A Beginner's Guide to Malaysia".
Malaysia's economy has one of the best performance records in southeast Asia, with GDP growing an average of 6.5% during the last 50 years. The country's economy has traditionally been fueled by natural resources, but is expanding in the sectors of science, tourism, commerce, and medical tourism.
Malaysia has a population of 28 million people, making it thinly populated relative to its neighbors. Its ethnic Chinese population accounts for less than 1/3 of the population but, according to some sources, controls more than 2/3 of the country's economy.
Kuala Lumpur (KL), Malaysia's capital, is a very modern, beautiful, and clean city of moderate size with a population of 1.6 million. Metro KL, which has a population of about seven million, is the largest agglomeration in Malaysia and the economical and cultural center of the country. In KL, you can enjoy one of the best shopping experiences in Asia.
Malaysia is home to a tropical climate with some rainfalls during rainy season, so you should be aware of the lack of distinct seasons that can be enjoyed when living in most of North America.
Islam is the official state religion of the country, but is practised in a very moderate form. While there recently, we observed religious tolerance exhibited by a number of Buddhist temples and Christian churches peacefully coexisting in KL and elsewhere in Malaysia.
Tourism has become Malaysia's third biggest industry in the last few decades, meaning that expatriates will find almost anything to meet their entertainment and convenience tastes.
One of Malaysia's neighbors is Singapore, which is only a five-hour bus ride or 45 minute flight from KL. (You will find out how you can use Singapore to your benefit in the report.)
Considering Malaysia for a future home makes a lot of sense for potential expatriates. It is warm all year-round (although sometimes a little too warm!) and very well-developed relative to its neighbors (apart from Singapore of course). It is located in the very heart of Asia - so it is relatively easy to take advantage of the strong economic growth in the region if you plan on starting a business.
As already mentioned, KL is a modern city of reasonable size that has anything an expat may desire, be it shopping, exciting night life (surprisingly for an Islamic country), or multiple tourist attractions. At the same time, it doesn't feel overcrowded as it can sometimes feel in other Asian capitals, thanks to very well-developed public transportation, excellent roads, and good city planning. Kuala Lumpur's city center is simply beautiful. It's green, very well-kept and foreigner-friendly. Even in the poorer suburbs we once wandered the streets were clean and safe. Everything in KL is inexpensive or at least reasonably priced. Additionally, Malaysia is a fairly advanced economy with GDP/capita at about $8,000, so you will rarely see any signs of striking poverty around you.
Another place that rivals KL for a number of expats is Georgetown of Penang state, which is about a four-hour drive north of KL. It's a very well-run city with all of the possible amenities that an expat may desire. Georgetown has recently become a UNESCO World heritage site. Some of Malaysia's most beautiful beaches are located in the northern part of the Penang Island (Georgetown is an island city). Penang International airport also offers a number of convenient international flights to Hong Kong, Taipei, Shanghai, Jakarta, Bangkok and Singapore. So getting in and out of Georgetown is convenient, considering you are probably planning on travelling a lot. To give you an example, we just checked the prices for a couple of destinations from Penang: roundtrip to Singapore in January 2012 is a mere USD $43 using Australian-based discounter Jetstar (we always wondered how those discounters manage to make money with such prices); Hong Kong roundtrip came back at $263 for an AirAsia direct flight or $199 when stopping in Singapore.
Medical care is good in Malaysia. While there is government-run universal health care, a private health industry is developing with some excellent hospitals located in large urban areas (Malaysia is actively promoting itself as a medical destination for the region.) KL and Georgetown's private hospitals have all the latest equipment and prices are only a fraction of those in US.
And finally, what about English usage? Good news again for English speakers. Based on our experience in KL, English proficiency ranged from good to excellent. English is still the number one world international language and while Mandarin is gaining prominence, it still seems to be far away from replacing English as the international language of choice.
That's it for our overview of Malaysia. In the full report, we'll talk about the exact prices we paid in KL for goods and services (in August 2011), as well as all you may need to know about Malaysia's residency program - Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H).
[Mark's report "A Beginner's Guide to Malaysia" is available for members of the International Man Network. For more information, click here.]