Katrina, a Scottish expat living in Malaysia, pays the bills by advising foreigners on the finer points of life in Malaysia.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: Scotland, UK
Q: Where are you living now?
A: Bangsar, Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia)
Q: How long you have you lived here?
A: I first came here in 2006, and stayed until 2009; at which point I went home to do my MSc degree. I came back in 2010 and plan to stay for at least another couple of years.
Q: Did you move with a spouse/children?
Q: Why did you move; what do you do?
A: I came here to work for a university in their English department, but I’ve had a couple of jobs since then and I’m now working for a small publishing company as the online editor.
About Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Q: What do you enjoy most about your host city, how’s the quality of life in Malaysia?
A: Malaysia is the most multicultural city I’ve lived in – that means a huge variety of cultures and food to explore, and lots of public holidays to enjoy.
Q: Any negatives? What do you miss most about home?
A: I miss nice cheese, bread, etc. These are hard to find and generally imported, so prohibitively expensive.
Q: Is Kuala Lumpur safe?
A: Generally, yes, other than petty crime such as bag snatching. Violent crime is low, even in the big cities.
About living in Malaysia
Q: Which are the best places/suburbs to live in the city as an expat?
A: Mont Kiara / Sri Hartamas, Bangsar, KLCC – these areas are close to international schools, have international-standard bars and restaurants, and supermarkets that cater to the expat community.
Q: How do you rate the standard of accommodation?
A: Very varied! From frighteningly low to terrifyingly high depending on the rent.
Q: What’s the cost of living in Malaysia compared to home? What is cheap or expensive in particular?
A: Utilities, eating out, clothes and accessories, and public transport are all much cheaper than in the UK. Cars are disproportionately expensive. Alcohol is also rather pricey and can eat away at your disposable income if you like to party regularly.
Q: What are the locals like; do you mix mainly with other expats?
A: A mix of locals and expats. The locals are used to foreigners, very friendly, and often speak English as a first or second language.
Q: Was it easy meeting people and making friends?
A: Yes, much easier than in other parts of Asia, where language and culture are more of a barrier.
About working in Malaysia
Q: Did you have a problem getting a work visa/permit?
A: No, but I know people who have had problems. The process can be very slow, especially when employers choose to tackle the bureaucracy themselves rather than hire an agent.
Q: What’s the economic climate like in the city, is there plenty of work?
A: Expats will find it hard to get work in industries other than oil and education. There is plenty of work, but it’s hard to get visas in many industries and local wages are generally quite low - too low to qualify for a work permit. Because most locals speak English, your language skills may not be the advantage they are elsewhere.
Q: How does the work culture differ from home?
A: The pace of life is very laid back here, and this also applies to work to some extent. I’m often shocked by the two-hour lunch breaks and relaxed attitude to working hours. Punctuality can also be a problem here; it’s common to be as much as 30 minutes late to meetings and events. But, the truth is I’ve never had a full-time job at “home” so I’m not really qualified to make comparisons.
Q: Did a relocation company help you with your move?
A: No. I’ve never worked for a company that provides those sorts of benefits.
Q: Is there any other advice you like to offer new expat arrivals?
A: Beware of taxi drivers, flashers and mo-ped riders!
~ interviewed March 2011