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Interview with Ann K - a US expat in Malaysia

Updated 14 Mar 2011

US Expat in MalaysiaAnn Kaufman and her husband left the United States to follow a job opportunity in Kuala Lumpur. Here, she talks about her impressions of the city, as well as giving some insights into the quality of healthcare in Malaysia, and her experiences of the expat community there. 

She has also published an article about having a baby in Malaysia, which is highly recommended reading for expectant expats.

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

About Ann

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: The United States

Q: Where are you living now?

A:  Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Q: How long you have you lived here?

A:  1 year and 7 months

Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?

A:  Moved with my husband; had a baby boy here in Kuala Lumpur

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

A:  We moved for my husband’s job, and prior to our move, I was a full-time lawyer practising commercial real estate law in Washington, DC. Malaysian law does not allow foreign lawyers to practice locally, so I volunteered with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. I’m also a self-proclaimed International Lady of Leisure.

About Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

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

A: I love Kuala Lumpur because it’s an easy place to live – there are all the modern conveniences of home but with the added grit and adventure of living overseas in a foreign country. The quality of life here is excellent. I love, love, love Malaysian food.  Also, Malaysia’s central location in Southeast Asia also makes it an easy place to travel throughout the region. Air Asia, a discount airline, is based out of Kuala Lumpur, and we’re always able to find great deals to jet off!

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

A:  I think that culturally, Kuala Lumpur has given up a lot of its cultural heritage in exchange for modernisation and development.  It’s great that the standard of living here is relatively high for the local population, but I think there’s less indigenous culture remaining here than in other places in Southeast Asia, such as Thailand or Indonesia. I tell visitors who come from the US to see us that I feel like Kuala Lumpur is the Dallas of Southeast Asia – it’s easy living and there’s lots to do, but culturally it’s not all that interesting.

As far as what I miss about home – of course I miss our family and friends the most! We’ve been lucky in that many of them have made the trek over to see us, but there’s no place like home!

Q: Is Kuala Lumpur safe?

A:  I think KL is one of the safest places I’ve lived, but I always hear “stories” about how pickpockets (particularly motorbike thieves who snatch purses) are everywhere. Sometimes I think that expats tend to fuel urban legends about crime in KL, and the reality is somewhere in between all of the stories. Would I wander out at night alone with valuables? No, but I wouldn’t do that even at home. I feel like there’s crime anywhere you live, but as long as you take reasonable precautions, there’s no reason to worry about safety in KL. That being said, our apartment building has 24-hour guarded security, and we live in a neighborhood consisting mostly of diplomats and wealthy Chinese people. Most expats I know here live in apartment buildings with 24-hour security.

About living in Kuala Lumpur

Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?

A:  I think the standard of accommodation is very high and compares with the nicest apartments you can find anywhere in the world.  Most of the expats I know here are on corporate packages, though, so their companies pay for housing in very nice, new modern high-rises.  We live in a low-rise apartment building with 16 units, and everyone is an expat in our building.  Since my husband’s employer pays for our housing, I really have no sense of how much housing would cost for an expat looking to relocate here on his or her own.

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

A:  The cost of living here compared to home is lower. Food is much cheaper. American-brand clothing is much more expensive, as is alcohol.

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

A:  The locals here tend to hold expats at arm's length; it’s been fairly difficult to become close with locals. I speak fluent Mandarin Chinese, which has helped me befriend some of the local vendors at my favorite outdoor markets, but mostly I mix with other expats.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A:  Yes, it’s very easy to meet people and make friends here, as long as you’re willing to put for the effort. There are several expat organizations here that are very active, including MANZA (the Australian/New Zealand organisation), the American Association of Malaysia, the American British Women’s Club of Malaysia (ABWM) and the Malaysian Culture Group.

About working in Kuala Lumpur

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

A:  Yes. Malaysian law does not permit foreign lawyers to work here, and also has work limitations on spouses.

Q: What’s the economic climate like in Kuala Lumpur, is there plenty of work?

A: I think there’s plenty of work in Kuala Lumpur, but I think you need to secure employment prior to entering the country. I think it would be hard to come here and find something, but I’ve never really tried due to the legal restrictions on my ability to work here.

Q: How does the work culture differ from home?

A: I don’t know.

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

A:  Yes.

Family and children

Q: What are the schools like, any particular suggestions?

A:  ISKL (International School of Kuala Lumpur) is very highly regarded in the region. Since my son is just a baby, I don’t have any firsthand knowledge of schools, but I do know that my friends with children just love it. 

Q: How would you rate the healthcare?

A:  Excellent and extremely affordable. I delivered my baby at Prince Court hospital and I believe the care I got rivals any developed country, if not exceeds it. There are several other private hospitals in Kuala Lumpur that are frequented by expats (Pantai and Gleneagles), and everyone seems to say the same thing.

And finally…

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

A:  Keep an open mind, try new things and visit new places, and enjoy the ride!  We’re going to be sad to leave Kuala Lumpur.  

~ interviewed March 2011

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