In 2013, I packed my bags, quit my job , withdrew my entire savings from the bank and left for Kuala Lumpur (KL) with my husband. To me, leaving Singapore was one of the most difficult decision I had made in my life. It was not a surprise that none of my family members or close friends could not understand my decision.
I spent a year thinking deeply before I finally came to a decision. But when I excitedly announced my plans to people around me, I have received no positive responses. None of the people around me were supportive. Instead, many have asked me why I have chosen to relocate to Malaysia when most Singaporeans are leaving for countries with a higher standard of living like Australia, Canada or USA.
So, why am I leaving Singapore when plenty of Malaysians are trying to get into my country? Even my Malaysians colleagues are very surprised when they learnt that I am actually a Singaporean. I was even told by several of them that a lot of their Malaysian friends have actually renounced their Malaysian citizenship to become Singaporeans. No Singaporeans would want leave Singapore for Malaysia. Why I have not follow the norm?
Well, it all began with my Malaysian husband who desperately wanted to be back home permanently. Of course, we fought several times because of this issue. We could be in a long distance relationship which I thunk I can never accept. However, we never have the intention to break up. We simply could not because we just love each other too much.
So, we were left with only two options – Continue to live our life in Singapore or get married and settle down in KL.
After giving much thoughts to this matter, you would know that I have chosen to get married and relocate to KL with my husband. This is seriously the most difficult decision for me to make in the entire 22 years of my life. In this blog post, I shall be documenting my reasons that eventually led me into making my final decision.
Pros of Living in Malaysia
1. Transport system
Certainly, KL does not have the best transport system in the world. But at least, it is definitely efficient enough to transport me to most of the places in KL without frequent breakdown or delays. In fact, I always find the trains in KL to be more efficient than the ones in Singapore. Similarly, trains are relatively crowded during peak hours too. But definitely, not as crowded as in Singapore. I found it very stressful and mentally draining to commute in extremely overcrowded trains everyday when I was still in Singapore. It was even worst when trains started to breakdown more frequently than before as I have to spend more time on commuting everyday.
However, buses in KL tend not to arrive on time as traffic congestion can be pretty bad during the peak hours. So, waiting for buses in KL can be rather frustrating at times. I will try to avoid commuting by bus in KL as much as I could.
The bus services in Singapore are still far from being reliable or punctual either. Just like the trains, delays are common nowadays. Even when the buses managed to arrive on time, they are usually packed like sardine.
Singapore used to have one of the best transport system in the world. However, in recent years, I started to feel very disappointed with our transport system. I actually find commuting to work in Singapore to be more stressful than the work itself.
Now, I feel really glad that I have made the right decision to relocate to KL. Certainly, I would never want to experience the stress of commuting to work ever in life again.
In Malaysia, a country where public transportation is still lacking, living without a car is difficult and inconvenient. But luckily, cars are available at pretty affordable price in Malaysia, but not really cheap if you are considering the fact that the country actually manufacture its own cars. Unlike in Singapore, I am really glad that I do not need to pay a hefty price to bid for a piece of paper in order buy a new car in Malaysia. All I would need to pay for is only the price of the vehicle itself. Of course, not taking into the account of bank loan interest, road tax and insurance.
KL is often well-known for its terrible traffic congestion, no matter the time of the day. So, be prepared to find yourself caught in a jam for at least an hour if you are driving your way to work.
Most of the time, you probably do not need to pay a fee to park your car unless you are driving into major shopping malls, business buildings or city areas. If not, you could just park in any empty space which you could find around the vicinity. However, in certain areas, you would need to look out for any traffic police who may appear any time to issue you a summon for illegal parking.
Living with car in Malaysia has gave me plenty of freedom and convenience to travel around and explore the rest of the country. I find this so much better than having to squeeze into a crowded train or bus just to get to any shopping mall in Singapore.
3. Public holidays
Malaysia has one of the highest number of public holidays in the world, currently ranking number seven in the top ten countries after Thailand, Indonesia, India and Hong kong. Just in KL alone, I would be enjoying at least 18 days off from work a year for free. Undeniably, this is the most awesome part about working in KL!
Now, I believe many of you might start to question whether Malaysians do ever work. Of course they do. In fact, working overtime is quite common, but for me, I usually get to knock off from work on time at 5.30pm. The latest would be 6pm for me. Most of the colleagues, including my boss would probably leave the office by 7 pm.
Working in KL enables me to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Other than working in the office, I am happy that I actually have plenty of time for my family and personal life as well. I enjoy the slower pace of life in KL very much. Now, I am glad to have escape from the hectic Singapore lifestyle for good.
4. Compulsory CPF contribution
Put aside the conversion rate, the salary package is really not that bad in KL. Currently, I am earning so much more as compared to the times when I was still working in Singapore. Furthermore, it is not a mandatory for me to contribute to CPF (known as EPF) in Malaysia. Certainly, I do not mind even if it is a must for me to make a contribution to EPF too. Unlike Singapore, EPF can be fully withdraw after reaching the age of 55. It will become part of my retirement fund.
CPF vs EPF contribution & interest rates
In addition, I did a quick comparison between Singapore CPF and Malaysia EPF contribution and interest rates.
In Singapore, employed Singaporean citizen up to the age of 50 are obligated to contribute 20% of their wages into their respective CPF accounts every month. The employer, on the other hand, are required to contribute an additional amount equivalent 16% of the employee’s monthly wage.
Whereas, in Malaysia, employed Malaysian citizen up to the age of 60, earning less than RM 5000 per month, are obligated to contribute 11% of their wages into their respective EPF accounts. Correspondingly, the employer are required to contribute an additional amount equivalent 13% of the employee’s monthly wage.
However for employee who earns more than RM 5000 per month or above, the employer are only required to contribute an additional amount equivalent 12% of the employee’s monthly wage to their EPF account. For employees aged 60 and above, they may opt to continue to contribute to their EPF account at a reduced 50% rate,
I would prefer the EPF system, where I would have more spare cash to spend. Perhaps I could do some long-term investment if I wish to. There may be a chance that I mismanage my finances and left me with little savings for retirement. But who can be sure of that? I would prefer to plan my retirement myself while enjoying my life. Undoubtedly, deducting 20% from my monthly wages is definitely going to result me missing a lot of things in life. The even bad news is that CPF cannot be fully withdraw even when employees have reached their retirement age.
Furthermore, CPF have been paying a fixed interest rates to its contributors, which has remained unchanged over the years. CPF interest rate for its Ordinary Account is fixed at 2.5% annually. As for its Special, Medisave and Retirement Accounts, the interest rate is fixed at 4% per year.
EPF has a guarantee a minimum dividend rate of 2.5% annually, but usually, it is much more higher. A 6.35% dividend rate is declared in 2013, the highest ever payout in over a decade.
Which is the better system? I shall leave it for you guys to judge.
5. Cost of living
When compared to the cost of living in Singapore, KL is still an affordable city to live in. Although the cost of eating out in KL is higher than in Singapore, the price of housing, healthcare and public transportation remain at affordable levels. It is relatively cheap to rent a room in KL. With RM 600 per month, you could probably rent an entire 3 rooms apartment that is located outside of the city area. There are plently of rooms for rent in a semi-detached house for as low as RM 250 per month too.
A condominum that is located outside of the KL city would probably cost about RM 600k. Apparently, this is how much a 4-room HDB flat would cost in Singapore. If I have an option, I would definitely choose to live in a condominum.
The ridiculous high cost associated with raising a child in Singapore scares me very much too. How am I going to raise a child when I am struggling to feed myself?
6. Obsessed with paper qualification
Singapore is an extremely competitive society obsessed with paper qualifications. A thing which I always hate because it give rise to elitism in our society.
I am always not a very ambitious person. All I wanted in life is to have a job that will give me a decent and stable income. I once thought that completing university will help me to make enough income to lead a comfortable life. Unfortunately, I was wrong.
Having an university qualification in Singapore is no big deal, especially for those that are obtained from a private institution. In fact, based on my personal experience, private diplomas and degrees are often not recognized by the government sectors.
Between work experiences and paper qualifications, I believe most employers in Singapore would prefer to hire the better educated candidate rather than the one who only have plenty of work experiences.
A local degree holder would naturally fetch a higher pay than a private degree holder. To me, this is absolutely frustrating because I seriously think that private university are no way inferior to the local university. Throughout my three years in private university, I spent two of the years working full time in the day and attending part-time classes at night. I gained experiences which are never taught in books. But that does not help me to start anywhere higher than those who actually graduated from a local university. I got even more frustrated to know that even a foreigner who holds a foreign degree from some unrecognized university is offered a better pay package than me.
Furthermore, being overly obsessed with chasing paper qualifications actually makes Singaporeans apathetic to changes around them. Singapore is an emotionless society filled with not really ‘nice’ people. I do not mean that Singaporeans are not nice and friendly. But rather, our niceties does not seem to go beyond the surface level. Most of time we are just too obsessed with striving for excellence that we forget about caring for others.
To put it in other words, Singapore education system is rigid and very result-orientated, which does not encourage innovative and creative individuals. I believe this is also the reason why Singapore has not been very successful in producing as much entrepreneurs as Malaysia.
I have never encountered such problem while I was seeking for employment in KL. Paper qualification is important too, but without relevant experiences, chances of you securing an employment will be lower. Most Malaysians I have met are very friendly people who I could easily start a conversation with.
In Singapore, everyone simply just follow what the higher authorities say we should do. Although we often question the golden rule set by these people, eventually, we will still do whatever we are told to do. In fact, we have become extremely reliant on the rules set by higher authorities that we started to lose our own ability to solve problems.
The society lacks the flexibility to handle new challenges. Singaporeans are generally ‘trained’ to follow rules. I must say that we really did a good job on that. But sometimes, I really feel that our society is just too structured and rigid, which does not really encourage creativity.
I would not deny that Singapore is indeed a very fast and efficient country. But it comes with a price. A higher quality of life will naturally leads to a higher cost of living. Did I asked for that? Not really. I just wanted a simple and not so stressful life.
Cons of Living in Malaysia
I believe every city has it good and bad side. KL is definitely is not exception as well. Having listed all the good aspects of living in KL, let us look at some of the bad aspects of this city now.
1. Ringgit – the weaker currency
Undeniably, the weakening currency is always the bad thing about working in Malaysia. To be frank, I was actually surprised by the price of goods in Malaysia. All of a sudden, I realized that I could no longer buy as much products as before. Yes, it is certainly very frustrating, especially for those who just love shopping very much. But at least, I have learnt to spend my money more wisely now.
My Singaporean friends often told me that the cost of living in Malaysia is very low, thus I would have nothing much to worry about. I always thought so too. But I would probably ask them to stop comparing apples to oranges now. Cost of living in Malaysia is low, but not as cheap as we assumed it to be. Without the high exchange rates between SGD and MYR, Malaysia, or particularly KL, can quite an expensive country to live in. Locals who are earning their income in Malaysia are struggling to make ends meet every month due to the high cost of living. Eating out is expensive where a plate of chicken rice will easily cost you RM 5. Then I will see people starting to convert the RM 5 into SGD and thought that is really cheap.
However, if you gave it a deeper thought, if you are earning SGD, I believe you will be spending your income in Singapore too. Thus, it is not very right to convert and compare the price of goods in Malaysia with those in Singapore.
The weaker Ringgit also makes travelling seems almost impossible most of the time. For Southeast Asia countries, except for Singapore, it is still fine. However, if you wish to visit Europe, I believe you would need to have at least RM 15k in hand.
2. Language barriers
In Malaysia, where unlike Singapore, Bahasa Malaysia is the national language. Thus, it is relatively important for one to be conversant in Bahasa Malaysia, especially when you plan to set up a business in Malaysia.
Communicating with the Malaysian Chinese living in KL is not a problem as most of them can either speak Mandarin or Cantonese. However, I find it difficult to engage in a conversation with the Malay population, who usually communicate in Behasa Malaysia. Even so, I am glad that there is actually quite a number of them who are rather fluent in English language. But still, it is important and good for me to master some basic Behasa Malaysia if I have decided to stay in KL on a long-term basis.
3. Higher crime rates
Crimes are pretty rampant in Malaysia nowadays, especially theft, pickpocketing and rapes. In Malaysia, I have to stay alert and be very careful with all my personal belongings at all times. I could no longer enjoy the kind of safe environment like I used to while I was still in Singapore.
4. Lesser career advancement & opportunities
Comparing to Singaporeans, Malaysians are less ambitious. Most of them are easily satisfied with a decent and stable job, thus job hopping is actually less common. As a result, there are actually lesser career advancement opportunities available in the workforce. Companies in Malaysia seldom send its employees for trainings too. Most of them would not see the need to.
To an extent, this is not an absolutely bad thing. At least I would not feel the pressure and stress to constantly upgrade myself to survive in the competitive society.
Do I see myself moving back to Singapore someday? Well, probably, but chances are not high. Currently, I feel really satisfied with my life in KL. But for certain, I do not have the intention to give up my Singapore citizenship. After all, Singapore is still my homeland.
I used to love my little red dot very much and feel very proud to be a Singaporean. However, life has become so stressful and tough in Singapore in the past decade. The Singapore which I have knew is changed. Will I be able to earn enough to even feed myself? I am not very confident with that. Even if I could, I am not satisfied with just living with the bare minimum, struggling every month to make ends meet. I also hate to share our limited spaces with all the foreigners who Singapore welcomed in with open arms.
We could have postponed our plans where we continue to work in Singapore and only relocate to KL once we have enough savings to provide us a comfortable life. But how old we would be when that time finally comes? It is better that we start everything anew when we are still young.
If I were to become rich someday, I might fell in love with this city once again. But now, I am satisified with my life in KL. Apart from that, I also enjoy exploring the rural side of Malaysia very much.
*Article first appeared on http://elinchow.blogspot.sg/