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Interview with Virginia – a British expat living in Malaysia

Updated 1 Mar 2017
Virginia is a British expat who moved to Malaysia in October 2016 due to her husband’s job in the extractive industry. Having previously lived in Brisbane, Australia, Virginia is a seasoned expat, and shares some great insights about expat life in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

About Virginia

Q: Where are you originally from?
A: United Kingdom
Q: Where are you living now?
A:  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Q: When did you move to Malaysia?
A: October 2016
Q: Did you move to Malaysia alone or with a spouse/family?
A:  I moved here with my husband and children
Q: Why did you move to Malaysia; what do you do?
A:  My husband works in the extractive industry and we moved here because of his job.

Living in Kuala Lumpur

Q: What do you enjoy most about Kuala Lumpur? How would you rate the quality of life compared to your home country?
A: I love the energy. I love the skyline, with its jungle-clad hills in the distance that engulf the city. I love the slight unpredictability of daily life and the ‘can Lah’ attitude of the people.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I don’t tend to compare my host countries, it doesn’t make sense to me. Each new posting brings opportunity, but there are always periods of adaptation, and always things you miss. Apart from our family and friends, we really miss the beaches, the parks and the opportunity to safely exercise outdoors – elements that were central to our last posting in Brisbane.
Q: What are the biggest adjustments you had to make when settling into expat life here? Did you experience any particular elements of culture shock in Malaysia?
A: I found the driving demanding, and the lack of familiarity and routine that is inevitable when one starts afresh. However, that’s just part of re-establishing yourself, that everyone must move through.
Q: What’s the cost of living in KL compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Cost of living is low, particularly compared to Australia. The option of having some regular help at home is particularly appreciated. 
Q: How would you rate the public transport in KL? What are the different options? Do you need to own a car?
A: Local trains are impressive; I haven’t yet taken the bus. Grab and Uber are so prevalent you don’t really need a car, certainly for local city travel. As soon as you want to get out of town, however, a car is essential.
Q: How would you rate the healthcare in KL? Have you had any particularly good/bad experiences with regards to doctors and hospitals? Are there any hospitals you would recommend?
A: I have been recommended two or three hospitals, and a handful of specialist practitioners. So far the experiences have been good.
Q: What are the biggest safety issues facing expats living in Malaysia? Are there any areas expats should avoid?
A: We are fortunate that we live in a secure condo. Household safety could have been a concern following advice before we arrived, and also by events that have occurred since our arrival. Bag-snatching is something to watch out for, as are weaving motorcycles.
Q: How do you rate the standard of housing in KL? What different options are available for expats?
A: There is a good range available, much of which is at a reasonable price. It seems that one either opts for condo living or a private house (often within secured communities).
Q: Any areas/suburbs you’d recommend for expats to live in?
A: Bangsar, Mont Kiara, Sri Hartamas, Valencia

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 found the locals very tolerant and welcoming. 
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends in KL? How did you go about meeting new people?
A: The expat circles are welcoming here, so it is easy to meet people. Facebook also enables you to connect with a number of likeminded communities. Being a parent is another great way to meet people, and of course joining special interest groups.
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: Yes I have local friends, mostly through the school. There are many Facebook groups you can join, and many associations (e.g. ABWM). One approach is to join a cultural tour organised by an association, and then just keep following up on opportunities to discover new places, and meet new people. It’s amazing how just one person can often open up a whole new network of friends and hobbies.

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: To date, I have not tried to get a work permit but I know that there are various options. Visas were organised through my husband’s work.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in KL? Do you have any tips for expats looking to find a job in Malaysia? Which resources did you find most useful?
A: The economic climate seems reasonable, although it can be hard to know what news to believe. Advice would be to really try and focus in on the area of work you’re interested in, and spend some time researching opportunities online. There are recruitment consultants available and they can be of great value.

Family and children in Kuala Lumpur

Q: Do you think there are any specific challenges for a trailing spouse in Malaysia?
A: I don’t use the term ‘trailing spouse’ as I find it is replete with negative connotations. Instead I prefer to use ‘accompanying partner’ or, a phrase that was coined at a global expat forum, ‘Spouses Travelling and Relocating Successfully.’ Malaysia did not present any specific challenges for our family. It has taken a while to settle in but that’s part and parcel of moving around, particularly with two young children, and with close family a long way away.
Q: Did your children settle in easily? What were the biggest challenges for them during the move?
A: The children love their new school and enjoy many aspects of life in KL. The biggest adjustments have been moving from a private family home with a garden, being surrounded by beautiful parks and being within walking distance of school. Suddenly we are in an apartment with no steps, no private outdoor space, and we drive 30 minutes to school through three or four lanes of heavy traffic every day. Unfortunately these are just part and parcel of living in KL. 
Q: What are the schools in KL like, any particular suggestions?
A: There are a good range of schools but you should definitely visit if you can before making a decision. Each school has its own culture and you need to find one that suits you and your family.

And finally…

Q: Is there any other advice you would like to offer new expat arrivals to Malaysia?
A: Get under the skin of the city. Go out and explore. Push your own boundaries and don’t wait for things to come to you. Make the most of networks, social media and the good will of others. Ask for help. Make the most of being new, and use those wide eyes to drink it all up.

– Interviewed in February 2017

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