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Interview with the Duncans - Canadian expats living in Malaysia

Updated 28 Mar 2011

Canadians living in MalaysiaBill and Randee Duncan, a Canadian couple living in Malaysia, turned a tiny stint abroad into over two decades of living and learning. Randee wrangles in fellow expats as the Membership Director for the Canadian Association of Malaysia (CAM) while Bill puts in his time at a major oil and gas company.

Read more about Malaysia in the Expat Arrivals Malaysia country guide or read more expat experiences in Malaysia.

About Randee

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Canada

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Q: How long you have you lived in Malaysia?

A: Almost eighteen years in Malaysia, five of which have been in Kuala Lumpur.

Q: Why did you move; what do you do?

A: In 1991 my husband was offered a “one year contract” to work in Miri, Sarawak, Malaysia. He is a Professional Engineer. His job was to mentor young Malaysians.

About Kuala Lumpur

Q: What do you enjoy most about living in Kuala Lumpur, how’s the quality of life in Malaysia?

A: After a period of adjustment, we grew accustomed to the climate. Other than that, we enjoy the food, the people and the cost of living (not necessarily in that order!).

Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?

A: We occasionally miss the changing seasons. We do not miss the cold weather, snow and winter driving conditions.

Q: Is Malaysia safe?

A: As expats, we do stand out in the crowd. To some, we are rich. That can make us a target for snatch thieves. House break-ins are also a problem. That said, violent crimes probably occur at a lower rate than most other cities of a comparable size.

About living in Kuala Lumpur

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation in Malaysia?

A: The standard of accommodation is good. One can choose from bungalows, terraced homes in gated communities or apartment living. There is an abundance of new condo complexes coming on to the market presently.

Q: What’s the cost of living in Malaysia compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?

A: I think the cost of living in Malaysia is more reasonable than back in Canada. Alcohol is heavily taxed and therefore expensive. If you eat local food, it is very reasonable. Western food and upscale restaurants offer a greater variety of cuisine but at a higher price.

Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?

A: We regularly mix with both locals and expats.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A: In a big city, it can be difficult making friends. What’s important is that newcomers make the effort to get out and meet people. Distances on the road and in particular, traffic jams can be problematic.

About working in Malaysia

Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?

A: A work permit can be obtained but there naturally is red tape and it takes patience. A work permit is easier to obtain if the employer makes the application.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Malaysia? Is there plenty of work?

A: There is work available, depending on your job skills. Construction is booming at the moment so anyone in that field may find it easier to get work.  It is common here that any application for employment be accompanied with a photocopy of your passport. Job ads in the newspaper frequently stipulate that the applicant must be male/female, able to speak certain languages and in some cases, will specify the age range for applicants.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: The culture is different. For example, it’s not uncommon for the locals to clock in to work and then all go out for breakfast.

Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?

A: No.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Malaysia?

A: The standard of healthcare here is questionable for locals but if you have money or private health insurance, there are a number of high-quality medical facilities here. Malaysia is actively promoting itself as a destination for medical tourism.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?

A: Be prepared for a big change. Be patient. Do your homework before you arrive. Network and don’t be afraid to ask for help.

~ interviewed March 2011

> Are you an expat living in Malaysia? We'd love to hear your story. Open the questionnaire here, copy into an email and send it back to

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