Anna is an Australian expat living in Malaysia. Having lived in a number of countries around the world, due to the nature of her husband’s work (he’s a British diplomat), Anna relocated to Kuala Lumpur with her husband and young son in 2012. They have since welcomed a little girl to their family, and are enjoying all that this Southeast Asian country has to offer.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Brisbane, Australia
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Q: When did you move to Malaysia?
A: January 2012
Q: Did you move alone or with a spouse/family?
A: With my husband and young son. I’ve just given birth to our second child here.
Q: Why did you move to Malaysia; what do you do?
A: My husband is a British diplomat and was posted to the British High Commission as Political Counsellor. My job is to follow him around the world (alongside being a stay-at-home mum, freelance translator and volunteer teacher at a refuge centre).
Living in Malaysia
Q: What do you enjoy most about your Kuala Lumpur? How would you rate the quality of life compared to Australia?
A: I love the year-round hot weather and sunshine, the relaxed pace of life despite living in a capital city, the food and the incredible travel destinations right on our doorstep! In general, the quality of life is excellent.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: Because it is so hot we often end up spending a lot of time indoors in air conditioning. I miss the outdoor lifestyle in Australia. Roads are often quite congested and driving can be interesting, to say the least!
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life in Kuala Lumpur? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock?
A: As I mentioned above, driving here is a bit of a shock to the system and it took me some time to become confident enough to brave the mayhem (and to learn my way around as I am convinced our GPS has it in for me). As with other postings, we found that in the early days we had to make an extra effort to meet new people. I follow the mantra ‘Never say no to any invitation for the first six months’. Having a network of friends makes all the difference.
Q: What’s the cost of living compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Overall it’s definitely cheaper than Australia (or the UK where we lived previously). Petrol is especially cheap, as is eating out and public transport. If you like the comfort of imported food or products you may end up paying a little more for these, but local products are generally more reasonable.
Q: How would you rate the public transport in KL? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: It’s easy to hail a taxi and new phone apps such as My Teksi make it even easier to call out a taxi at a moment’s notice. There is a clean and very reasonable rail and monorail service in the city, but it doesn’t cover all areas and connections can be fiddly. Buses run frequently, but can be quite old and as with the railways don’t cover all areas. There are some places that can only be reached by taxi or car. A car is especially important if you have young children. As far as I know there are no taxi services that provide car seats.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in KL? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: We have used Gleneagles, a private hospital in central KL on several occasions and found the quality of care to be excellent. In fact, I gave birth to our second child there. I had a complicated pregnancy and was an inpatient for nine days in my first trimester. We were very happy with the care I received and the hospital facilities and I believe costs are significantly cheaper here.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Malaysia? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: As with any other big city in the world, there are obvious precautions to take. Bag snatchings do happen and you’d be wise to keep your bag across your body, avoid taking valuables out when walking and to keep your handbag out of view when driving. Parents should also make sure that their young children are aware of stranger danger and keep near parents/guardians when out and about. That said, I’ve never personally experienced any issues and I generally feel fairly safe here.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in Kuala Lumpur? What different options are available for expats?
A: Most expats in the city area live in condominiums. These offer lots of pluses – spacious and usually modern interiors, swimming pools, onsite gyms, children’s play areas, good security etc. One of the downsides can be a lack of green spaces and outdoor play areas, though there are a number of good parks in the area. Houses are harder to come by, may not be as secure and may require more maintenance but offer privacy and often come with the luxury of a large garden.
Q: Any areas/suburbs in KL you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: We live quite centrally in Ampang and enjoy doing so as we have everything on our doorstep (unfortunately this includes traffic). Bangsar is further afield but very popular with its great restaurant and shopping scene. Other popular areas include Damansara Heights and Mont Kiara.
Meeting people and making friends in Kuala Lumpur
Q: How tolerant are the locals of foreigners? Is there any obvious discrimination against particular religions or women etc.?
A: I have never encountered any discrimination, only natural curiosity and interest. KL is very cosmopolitan and women are well represented in business and politics. If you have small children they will definitely garner a lot of attention here; it’s not uncommon to encounter cheek-pinching aunties and to be asked to participate in random holiday snaps. Women should take care to dress modestly as a matter of respect when visiting mosques and other religious centres, but outside of these areas the attitude to attire is fairly relaxed.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in Malaysia? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: We’ve found it easier to make expat, rather than local, friends. This is probably because of the area we live in and the fact that most of our neighbours are expats. Condos are very sociable places – if you want to make new friends just spend ten minutes hanging around the pool on a Sunday afternoon. Children are also a great avenue for making new friends. Whether you are of a sociable disposition or not, your little one is bound to start accruing play date and birthday party invitations within minutes of landing in KL! We’ve also met new friends whilst on holiday in various parts of Malaysia, through work and through sports activities.
Q: Have you made friends with locals or do you mix mainly with other expats? What advice would you give to new expats looking to make friends? Any social/expat groups you can recommend?
A: See above! It may be harder to break into an already established group of local friends, but you’ll find out so much more about the country and culture by doing so. Try local book clubs, playgroups and sports activities as good avenues.
Working in Kuala Lumpur
Q: Did you have a problem getting a visa or work permit for Malaysia? Did you tackle the visa process yourself or did you enlist the services of an immigration consultant?
A: I was lucky – being a ‘diplomatic spouse’ my children’s and my visas were arranged by the British High Commission. I’m afraid I don’t have experience of arranging visas myself.
Q: What’s the economic climate in KL like? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job there? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: So much of this depends on the industry you work in. As with anywhere else in the world though, I’d say ‘network, network, network’! Although I’m currently on maternity leave, until recently I have been freelancing as a translator and volunteering as a teacher. I’ve had quite a few potential job offers come to me through word of mouth alone.
Family and children in Malaysia
Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home? Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse?
A: Being a ‘spouse’ definitely has its challenges! Having now trailed my husband three times, I’d say the biggest issue for me has been maintaining a sense of ‘self’. It’s quite a shock to the system to go from being a unique individual in your own right, with an established career and a network of your own friends and interests to suddenly being ‘X’s wife’ (or ‘X’s husband’)! If you are hoping to work on a posting you may need to be a little open-minded. It may not be possible to do the same sort of work you are used to and you may have to think out of the box to consider how to transfer your skills to a new environment, but I’m of the mind-set that there is nearly always a way if you have a flexible attitude.
When I haven’t been working, doing things such as writing a blog, continuing with a hobby from home or taking up a new interest that relates to my new home are things that have helped me feel engaged and more like ‘myself’.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for your children during the move?
A: Our little boy wasn’t quite two when we moved to KL, so it was a fairly painless process for him to settle into life here. He absolutely adored the new-found space after our tiny London flat (and spent the first few weeks running up and down the hallway in delight). He also loved being able to go swimming almost every day and the excellent parks on offer. Older children may find that joining some of the many sports or extra-curricular clubs on offer here help ease the transition and are an avenue to making new friends.
Q: What are the schools in Kuala Lumpur like, any particular suggestions?
A: I think the range of schools on offer here is excellent. There are many very good international schools and nurseries/kindergartens. You can find almost every educational approach and curriculum on offer here and some of the facilities are excellent.
Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: KL is a wonderful place to live – the weather, the food, the cultural diversity are all reason enough to enjoy your time here. It’s easy to spend most of your free time hopping from mall to mall, as due to the climate you’ll find many restaurants, sports centres, play areas etc. are based indoors. But one of the best things about KL is the wide range of easily-accessible destinations on the doorstep. Weekends are the perfect time to jump in the car and visit some of the beautiful surrounding hill stations, jungles or beaches. And with Air Asia calling KL home, there are some stunning islands and cities that can be reached in an hour or so. But there are plenty of interesting places to visit within the city itself and almost everything is on hand here; there’s something for everyone here…and half the fun is discovering what that will be!
~ Interviewed December 2013