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Interview with Johanna L - an expat author living in Malaysia

Updated 16 Mar 2011

Johanna Leahy is originally from Ireland but has lived a nomadic existence abroad since 1993. Currently based in KL, she is married to a Dane and has three children. She writes freelance features and has contributed articles to The Irish Times, The Weekly Telegraph and numerous consumer magazines. She is currently completing her first novel. Read her blog at

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

About Johanna

Q: Where are you originally from?

A: Ireland

Q: Where are you living now?

A: Sri Hartamas, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Q: How long you have you lived in KL?

A:  Since August 2010

Q: Did you move with a spouse/ children?

A:  Yes. My husband is Danish and we have three children aged 4, 8 and 10

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

A:  My husband works for a multinational; we move every few years with his job. We have previously lived in Houston, Singapore, Manila and Oslo. I am a freelance writer currently completing a novel.

About KL

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

A:  I think the quality of life is fantastic. I particularly appreciate great weather, great services, multiple and diverse entertainment and eating-out opportunities, high-speed internet access, lots of sports/fitness facilities for adults and kids, international schools, domestic help, decent supermarkets stocking a wide range if international goods. Malaysians are in general very friendly and helpful. In addition, English is very widely spoken. KL is a city of great diversity and opportunity, offering all the trappings of modern life combined with a fascinating culture and history. It is also a great hub for travel within South East Asia.

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

A:  The traffic can be atrocious in and out of the city at rush-hour. There are many bad drivers in Malaysia so defensive driving is a must! I miss friends and family, many of whom are scattered all over the globe, but not much else.

Q: Is KL safe?

A:  As in all large cities, one must be safety conscious. Bag snatching is a problem, and I’ve also heard of house break-ins. I don’t believe though that these issues are any worse in KL than in Dublin, but it is prudent to take special care over personal valuables. All schools and offices employ security guards to limit unauthorised access.

About living in KL

Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in KL as an expat?

A:  Mont Kiara, Sri Hartamas, Bangsar, Ampang, City Centre, Damansara Heights.

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

A:  We live in a house within a gated community with a communal pool, gym and tennis court. Condos are also very popular with expats; many are very modern and well-equipped. As security was a priority for us, we were very keen to live in a gated community.

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

A:  I couldn’t compare to home as I haven’t lived in Ireland since 1993 but compared to Norway, almost everything in Malaysia is cheap! That said, imported cars are expensive.

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

A:  The locals are friendly and helpful. I have mixed mostly with expats, but we also have local friends.

Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?

A:  I’ve made some great friends through the children’s school and in my neighbourhood without joining any of the plethora of international organisations that exist in KL. People have been very helpful and generous. I would say it is very easy to meet people here if you want to and there is a very vibrant expat social scene.

About working in KL

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

A:  I do not have a work permit but am aware that the Malaysian government is very strict about giving work permits to foreigners. A work permit is attached to a specific job with a specific employer, for which a case must be made to show that the required talent/skills and experience are not available in the local market.

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

A:  There is a definite vibrancy to KL with lots of construction and new store openings all the time. I can’t comment on whether there is plenty of work or not but there are certainly many new businesses starting up at the moment.

Q: How does the work culture in Malaysia differ from home?

A:  People tend to work later here, certainly longer hours than in Scandinavia.

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

A:  Yes, but we ended up finding our house ourselves (online) without their help. We also organised schools ourselves before we moved.

Family and children

Q: Did your spouse or partner have problems adjusting to their new home?

A:  No. My husband started work immediately and I found it very easy to settle in here, once the schools and the house were organised.

Q: Did your children settle in easily?

A:  Yes.

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

A:  There are many great international schools in Kuala Lumpur but there is a high demand for places so I would advise anyone considering a move to KL to contact schools about applications as early as possible.

Q: How would you rate the healthcare in Malaysia?

A:  So far I’ve been fortunate enough not to require medical attention but I believe that there are excellent private healthcare centres in KL. I have found a brilliant UK-trained dentist here; the best I’ve ever had.

And finally…

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

A:  Come with an open mind and an enthusiasm to experience a new lifestyle and culture. Try and resist the temptation to compare everything to home. 

~ interviewed March 2011

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