“Imagine starting your day with a strong cup of locally grown coffee, eggs, toast with coconut jam, and fresh fruit,” writes new Correspondent Wendy Justice.
“Then take off for a morning shopping for the latest fashions. Afterward, drive for two hours along a modern highway to a tropical beach to take in the sunset as you sit down for a dinner of fresh seafood and fine wine.
“Now imagine that you’re doing all this for about one-third the price it would cost you back home. Welcome to Malaysia!
“Located just north of the equator, Malaysia enjoys a tropical climate year-round. The country is divided into two parts, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo. Most people live near the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia, an attractive and ecologically diverse strip of land that borders Thailand to the north and Singapore to the south. Vibrant towns and cities, separated by long stretches of sandy beaches, make up the coastline on either side of the peninsula, while the rugged and less populated interior consists of cool jungle highlands, coffee and tea plantations, mountains, rivers, and caves.
“Malaysia’s largest city, Kuala Lumpur, sits in the west-central part of the peninsula. KL, with a population of around 1.6 million, is the economic heartbeat of Malaysia.
“Of all the countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is probably the most culturally diverse.
“Fifty percent of the population belongs to the ethnic group called Malay. Malay are technically Muslim and practice a moderate form of Islam, but Malay women are liberated by Islamic standards. They drive cars, hold jobs, and enjoy equal rights with their male counterparts. Modern Malaysia prides itself on moderation and tolerance.
“Eleven percent of Malaysians are indigenous to the area. Called the Bumiputra, or “sons of the earth,” most of the aboriginal population lives in Malaysian Borneo in rural communities, often in longhouses in the jungles and along the rivers.
“Twenty-four percent of Malaysians are of Chinese descent. Many Chinese were sent to Malaysia as indentured servants (coolies), but others came here voluntarily, in search of opportunity. These ethnic Chinese retain their customs and language and have had a big impact in Malaysian culture. The Chinese are the most economically successful ethnic group in the country and own the majority of Malaysian businesses.
“Ethnic Indians make up 8% to 12% of the population. They are descendents of the Tamil people of southern India brought to Malaysia by the British colonialists in the 19th century, often as slaves, to work on the tea and rubber plantations.
“Guest worker programs bring sizeable numbers of Indonesians, Nepalese, and Bangladeshi to the country as laborers, and many executive positions are filled by expats from the UK, Australia, Europe, China, and Japan.
“This ethnic diversity leads to diversity in every aspect of life. Out of necessity and prudence, the government promotes religious harmony and tolerance. Clothing and customs are as varied as the population. Restaurants offer truly international cuisine, from Malaysian to Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Korean, Western…
“English is spoken and understood by almost everyone. Many families speak the language of their country of origin at home, but English serves as a bridge language among the different ethnic groups. It’s also the language of business, most newspapers, television, movies, etc. Most college classes are conducted in English, though many schools also offer classes for English-speakers interested in studying the local languages.
“The Malaysian government has been on a mission to reach ‘First World’ status by 2020, and they’ve been making remarkable progress toward this goal. Modern divided highways serve the length of the Malaysian mainland, and almost all roads in Peninsular Malaysia are paved. Malaysian Borneo is less developed, with many areas of the interior accessible only by boat or plane, although one major highway runs the length of Sarawak, through Brunei, and into Sabah.
“All towns of any size have airports, as do many of the smaller, more remote villages in Borneo. Cell phone coverage is reliable and inexpensive and extends even into the smallest villages. In KL and, increasingly, in other Malaysian cities, tap water is potable. The government has eradicated malaria throughout the entire Malaysian peninsula and, for the most part, in Malaysian Borneo as well.
“Malaysia has been promoting itself as a medical tourism destination, and the major cities (especially KL) offer state-of-the-art medical care at a fraction the cost of comparable services and procedures in other parts of the world. A visit to an English-speaking general practitioner costs about US$5, while an English-speaking, Europe- or U.S.-educated specialist will charge you about US$25 to US$30, including free follow-up visits. A complete dental examination is about US$30; a crown is less than US$300.
“Another great bargain in Malaysia is the shopping–for everything from fine fashion and jewelry to pirated DVD’s and phony Ray-bans.
“Most street markets have vendors selling hot food, prepared as you wait. Enjoy a dinner of fresh fried chicken, coconut-flavored rice, and a vegetable for less than US$3…for two. If your bargaining skills are up to it, you might even be able to negotiate down from there. Note that the markets in Malaysia, unlike those elsewhere in this part of the world, often have fixed prices, meaning the price is the same for foreigners as it is for locals.
“This all sounds great…but so do many other countries, frankly, at first blush. The trouble can start when you begin to look closely at the foreign immigration requirements or restrictions. The red tape involved with organizing residency many places, certainly permanent legal residency, can be intimidating and even, sometimes, impossible to navigate successfully.
“This is where Malaysia really shines. Unlike many of its Asian neighbors, Malaysia makes immigration easy. Most nationalities can enter Malaysia with a ‘social visit’ stamp that you get from immigration at the airport. For more permanent immigration status, Malaysia offers the Malaysia My Second Home, or MM2H, program…”
Part II from Wendy, detailing Malaysia’s user-friendly My Second Home residency program, as well as other particulars involved with taking up foreign residence, tomorrow…