With a heavy heart, I am writing this article. It is only from my experience of being an ex-pat in Malaysia. Of course, someone else may have had it differently. This is because I am done with this chapter in my life and I don’t want anyone else to go through this. I will be writing it with honest brutality.
Many of us choose to study abroad, no matter where we come from. Some go for adventure or experience, or some decide to settle somewhere at the end of their degree. The reasons for settlement differ from person to person. Some want a better life, or for some, they will have better experience in their field if they do their job somewhere else.
Malaysia is best to be considered only if you are planning to go back to your country after your degree, or if it's just a stepping stone for you to go and study again elsewhere. You should steer clear of it if you are planning to be a long-term ex-pat in Malaysia.
What made me go in the first place?
I, personally, did not want to go to study in Malaysia. It was my plan to go to Canada. My mother forced me to go to Malaysia because I would be nearer to her. She wanted me to visit her often, and the son of her colleague was there. My mom heard good things about the University of Nottingham Malaysia and would not have it any other way. Therefore, I ended up in Malaysia.
I will be sharing some parts of my bad experience which made me regret my decision. It is hurting me to say this because Malaysia became my home. After all, this is where I fell in love with my husband and created many memories. The happiest takeaway for me is my memories and the best friends of my life.
I completed my Masters's degree and then continued on to Ph.D. in the same University because I fell into the trap of attachment. I got comfortable and did not want to venture. All my life, I wanted stability so I just wanted to stay there and complete my Ph.D. and worry about where to go when I am done. That’s where I was wrong.
We were even thinking about investing in a property for My Second Home, but thank God we did not. Because of the COVID pandemic, we faced issues and it opened our eyes wide. We saw how much more of a waste it would be if we continue to be an ex-pat in Malaysia.
Things to know before you decide to be an ex-pat in Malaysia
Malaysia has mainly three races, Malay, Chinese, and Indian. They have racism issues amongst themselves quite a lot. I am not going to discuss more on this because am discussing being an ex-pat. What I mean to say is that it's normal if you find that they are racist to an ex-pat in Malaysia. Malays are clearly the dominant, and as long as you are not a Malay Malaysian, you might get looked down upon. Indians there is the minority, and I feel they get the worst out of it. As I said, it is what I feel.
The way they treat immigrant workers is not good. People sometimes go for opportunities or better pay or get hired for their field of work. For example, the construction workers put their lives on the line for slightly better pay. They leave their families because maybe because there is no construction job at that time in their country. But they get humiliated, and often immigrant workers are used as slang. Some Malaysians there call and accuse certain races even when it is not their fault. In all honesty, if you are an ex-pat, you probably do not want to bring up your children in that environment. It shows a lot of them are brought up in a society that shows disrespect.
What is really ironic about the way Malaysians view immigrant workers is that they treat them badly, call them names and make fun of their countries, when they rely heavily on them. If you have ever been to Malaysia you would understand that if all those workers were to suddenly leave, the entire Malaysian infrastructure sector would collapse, and most of their new construction projects would halt. Immigrant workers in Malaysia usually live in inhumane conditions, because their job providers can’t bother sparing any cost on them, as if they are slaves.
They also are known to take their passports so that they can’t quit and leave, which in turn causes many of those workers to be illegal immigrants, against their will. Some countries, including Malaysia, feel that they are superior to other people. You can tell by the way the locals would never sign up for certain jobs because it is either too risky or too “dirty” for them. In Malaysia, you would almost never see a local janitor, and definitely never in the garbage disposal, because they feel like it is “beneath” them and only the immigrant workers work these jobs.
Another incident that I personally faced was when I was looking for a house to rent before I started my P.h.D. One of the agents we met with, told us when we went to view the house that the owner was “generous” enough to accept us, as foreigners, to rent his place. Her explanation was that mostly the owners do not accept foreigners/ ex-pat in Malaysia and that this was a “golden” opportunity for us apparently.
Harassment of an ex-pat in Malaysia
Once I and my husband were going to a cafe for waffles around 7 pm. We were not married yet at that time. That time we were in Master’s and in a So-car; So-car is a completely legitimate car rental in Malaysia. There was a police roadblock/checkpoint. The police officer was not wearing a name badge. He went to my husband first and checked his license and all, which were all fine.
Then, he came around to the other side and started asking me questions and I had all the required documents. He then started asking weird questions like “where are you going?”, and I replied to a cafe to eat waffles. Once you go to study there and get your visa, they give you an IKad. You can carry IKad around instead of carrying a passport. I showed him my iKad and the officer said that I can apparently fake it even though there is a barcode and you can check it in the system. Even after showing a passport copy, he said I need to carry my passport around because iKad apparently I can make it in a shop. And that he can tear my passport copy. So, I showed a University email that said I can carry an iKad around instead of a passport and I had to also show my name in University by logging in MyNottingham, our University website. This harassment was so unnecessary.
In any checkpoints/roadblocks, you might find issues if you are an ex-pat in Malaysia even in broad light. Things can get uglier if you are out at night during Friday nights or so. Once one of my friends had to go through the same experience, but he was a guy which made it worse. Luckily, he was going to the bank at that time and had his passport on him, so after slightly rattling him, they let him go.
Even after we bought a new car without any loan because foreign students don’t get loans easily, I faced issues with all legitimate documents being an ex-pat in Malaysia. We kept getting asked where we are going. If they see a foreigner driving a car, they just stop and lengthen asking questions even if the foreigners prove to be legit.
Once my husband was dropping two African friends of ours at the airport as they were leaving Malaysia for good after they finished their final exams. On the way, there was a checkpoint, and obviously seeing foreigners and especially Africans in the car, they stopped them. The officer tried to open the backseat door and the trunk without permission, which is not allowed. He then went to our African friends and started asking them a lot of questions. He finally let it go when they told him they are leaving for good. Because of these experiences, sometimes students or ex-pats feel weird about checkpoints. Now let's talk about immigration.
During Immigration, sometimes I have seen people getting rattled or spoken to in an ill manner. Though afterward, they passed through which means, they had everything OK. I just don’t see the point of speaking to people like they are trash. Even if you have everything OK, you might face racism while passing immigration if you even go for tourism depending on your nationality. I mean we all heard how they handle detainment as well.
Chance at jobs/competitions for ex-pat in Malaysia
We have an International Careers Event at our University but mostly they don’t hire foreigners; not even for internships where there is no visa cost. In an International University, you probably don’t expect that. And also, many competitions or even football/futsal tournaments are for locals only. If there is an issue, we heard that the first people to get fired will be foreigners. Not to mention the fact that you have to please and overwork just to keep your visa if you are in an industrial job.
The exploitation of an ex-pat in Malaysia
My husband and I rented a duplex house in Eco Majestic City. After a while, an Indian Malaysian family moved in front of our house. Always did something or the other, this family. They were so rowdy, they placed loudspeakers in their yard at 3 am and played music so loud. Kept throwing beer cans in our trash. A Malay neighbor went to speak with them, and that Indian guy with his brother almost hit him. Afterward, we informed our house owner of the situation. I took a video of how rowdy and aggressive they were to anyone who was telling them to turn the music down. If you can’t handle alcohol, then don’t drink bro.
Eco Majestic's personal police came and made them turn off the music because it was the compound rules. But anyway, the Eco Majestic management probably showed them the video or something. These Malaysian Indians clearly knew we were ex-pats so they decided to show they are so powerful, and that when it comes to ex-pats, they are above the law. Later the next day, before going out, we saw a huge rock on top of our car. We had this Xiaomi 360 security camera which showed someone climbing over the gate to put the rock. The intention was clearly diabolical as we could have had an accident. It was placed on top of our SUV in such a way that it can drop on our windshield the moment we reverse to get out of our parking lot. But we knew because of the camera beforehand. No, we did not go to the police because after living there for years, we knew perfectly well that police do not help.
Malaysia during COVID: Do you have a long-term valid visa? Screw yourself
In mid-March, during the COVID pandemic, a few days after the rock incident, we traveled due to my grandma being sick. She brought me up, and I was worried about her. Me being pregnant did not help with my anxiety. After a few days, Malaysia closed its borders. We also had valid visas till late 2021.
Anyway, July came, still, people with valid student visas could not go but workers who they make fun of could go. They mentioned students can go but no mention of any procedure whatsoever. Sometime in July, I gave birth, and yet no update. At the end of July, we saw students can go. We quickly got our first baby’s passport and went to the embassy. They said that no dependent visa can get processed and that only the students can go.
Now it was absurd because people doing Ph.D. are of varying age groups. A lot of people doing Ph.D. have families. On top of it, there was no exception for a mother who was also pursuing a Ph.D. to take her newborn. I had a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with a company for a stated period, and I needed to be there for my research.
When I contacted the University, they also said I have to leave my newborn to go to Malaysia. It is inhumane to leave a newborn. As I said, I had a valid visa. But somehow there was no exception even with a newborn. What if someone also had a sick parent and he/she was the only one to take care of that person during his Ph.D.? But no matter what the case is, there was no exception. It is as though to study or work there, you cannot have a family.
On an online forum related to the EMGS (Education Malaysia Global Service; an agency that handles all international student affairs in Malaysia), there were many pleas from postgraduate students to allow dependents to come back, but to no avail. They were treating Ph. D. candidates in the same way as new foundation students. Unfortunately, the postgraduate students who started their lives already faced a lot of issues. A father could not meet his child and the baby became a year plus. We are not going for military service, we are simply going for higher education.
You might be thinking, maybe they are just being too strict on students because they are not that vital, well here’s a short story to open your eyes. One of our relatives stayed in Malaysia for over 10 years and owns a fancy villa and multiple cars. They had the MM2H visa (Malaysia My Second Home) which is equivalent to a permanent residency almost, and you can only get it if you invest a whole lot of money in the country. Funnily enough, even they couldn’t travel to Malaysia during the lockdown, despite investing so much in the country, so much for a second home right?
Malaysian House Owners
Now, let's talk more about exploitation. Our house owner, Mr. Hei Wei Yong knew we were going through all these. We kept paying the house rental which was quite a bit without any delay for a year and a half when we were not even staying there. We requested him to allow one of our friends to go close down the house for a long while but he dragged his feet to just make a permission letter.
So, in the end, after paying two months extra after the contract finished, we told him to allow our friend to take our things so we can close down the house. After a long while, he let our friend enter and he just took our papers. The owner gave his word that he would let us take our furniture out with Cuckoo water and air filter devices and forcibly took the key from our friend.
We arranged for a furniture buyer to go and buy our furniture. All these things we are arranging from overseas. But instead, this house owner played dirty and decided to steal. He misbehaved with our friend disgustingly and talked about filing a police report. Funnily we have all WhatsApp and voice chats which show that he kept dragging his feet to do something so simple. But he did what he did just so he could take the whole deposit and sell our furniture; many of which were from Harvey Norman.
Now you may ask why don’t we go and make a police report. No, we are overseas and they don’t help ex-pats in any way. None of them. And some people rely on loans so much that they don’t understand how much we went through just so that we get it all without any loan. Mr. Yong Hei Wei decided to come and take all of it. It will be cursed since God knows how it affected us.
Thankfully, the only good thing is that we managed to completely redo our research in such a way that we can handle it remotely. It is only possible because of our field. At least I chose that right.
This article is for those who are considering planning to be an ex-pat in Malaysia. Please consider your choices carefully. I hope no one has to go through what we did and have regret as big as this.