Every week I get loads of emails asking about moving to Malaysia and expat life.
I get it. I was in your shoes once and wished I had a girl on the ground. So here I am — your fave expat in Malaysia (or most likely your only expat in Malaysia), ready to help you navigate the crazy, muddy rapids of moving overseas. If I can help one person get some answers and feel more at ease, then mission accomplished.
Moving overseas is major and can be totally daunting. You’re about to embark on a life-changing journey. It is natural to have zillions of questions – everyone does. I certainly did.
No question is too silly, dumb or naïve. And I can guarantee you are not the only one asking it. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions. But if I miss something, let me know in the comments down below, or shoot me an email – I’m happy to help.
If I move to Malaysia, will I lose my original citizenship?
Nope. Once an American, always an American – unless you choose to renounce your citizenship.
Really the same goes for many countries. Living outside of your country of origin doesn’t change your status as a citizen.
Should I ship my household goods & personal belongings?
Well, that is up to you. When we were moving to Malaysia, we showed up with two suitcases each, and I’m thankful we did it that way. We knew we were into this expat life for the long haul, even if Malaysia didn’t pan out. So storing stuff for who knows how long seemed like a waste of money.
Also, a lot of rentals come furnished, so there is no need to ship your furniture. If you plan to retire here and have some special pieces, then go for it. But otherwise, I wouldn’t. You can find pretty much everything here. And if part of moving abroad is to simplify your life, showing up with only a few suitcases does that for ya.
Should I ship my car?
Here’s the thing, cars are silly expensive here for what you get. But, shipping a vehicle from the US means you will be driving on the wrong side of the road, with the steering wheel on the wrong side – talk about confusing. Driving here is crazy enough without adding those layers into the mix.
However, if you are one of my non-American readers, who drive on the left, it is possible. But practically and monetarily, no one does it. Just come here and know that buying a car is an added expense. Or don’t bother buying a car. You can take Grab everywhere; it’s cheap and easy.
Is Malaysia disabled-friendly?
As much as I’d like to say yes to this, I’d be lying to you. Living in Penang means constantly avoiding holes in the sidewalks (if there are sidewalks), open drains, random things sticking out of the floor; it’s a minefield here. And Penang is set up for tourism; imagine the less touristy towns!
They are making progress in many ways, but if you are in a wheelchair, it will probably be extra challenging to get around. It’s not impossible, and people do it, but it’s not easy.
Am I still able to receive my US Social Security checks if I move to another country?
Yep. Even if you plan to be gone indefinitely, I recommend keeping your American bank accounts so nothing would really change. Just keep them checks rolling in.
Same goes for my working readers…keep your bank accounts open in the US. There is no need to close them, and it makes life easier overall.
Speaking of banking, how do you do it?
We have bank accounts in both the US and here. It is essential to find a bank that won’t charge for international withdrawals: Charles Schwab, Citi, and HSBC are great options. We simply take money from an ATM and deposit it in our local bank. That is the best way to get the best rate. TransferWise is the second-best option.
What are the best ways to stay in touch with my friends and family?
This is easier now than ever before. The internet gives us a lot of options. Between Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime and Zoom, you can video chat with anyone, anywhere, anytime.
We use MagicJack for voice calls back to the US. There is a free version, but you can also pay to port over your current cell phone number, so when people call you, they use your old number. They don’t even know you are in another country.
In Malaysia, is the LGBT population welcome?
No, and honestly, it pisses me off. There is a large gay population here, but they are def not celebrated in any way. Even worse, they can be arrested, caned and jailed for getting caught in the act. This year a Malaysian man started the country’s first legal challenge against the Islamic laws that ban gay sex. So there is hope that things could change.
Do I need to learn another language to live in Malaysia?
One of the benefits of living in most parts of Malaysia is that we do not need to learn another language.
More than 137 languages are spoken in Malaysia but Bahasa, Mandarin and Tamil are the most common. However, since the Brits were here until 1957, English is widely spoken and it’s still taught in some schools.
That doesn’t mean you’ll be able to have complicated in-depth conversations with everyone. It means you will get by and communicate your needs very easily.
Sometimes we have to stop ourselves from using too many words – it complicates things. So when you see that glazed-over look, you know it’s time to simplify the conversation.
We may not have those deep convos with the noodle man, but then again, we might. It is completely hit or miss, and do have in-depth, meaningful conversations with more people than not.
What did you do with your mail?
Well, initially, we had someone getting it at our PO Box. But that wasn’t the best. We eventually changed our address to my mom’s place (thanks, mom).
However, I suggest getting a virtual mailbox.
They get your mail and send you a pic of the envelope. You choose to have them open and scan it for you or recycle it. Some deposit checks and forward your mail if needed.
There are loads of companies out there, and they all have different packages depending on your needs. When I was doing the research, the cost was about $15 a month for the basic plan. We have friends who swear by Traveling Mailbox.
I hope I’ve answered some of your questions about moving to Malaysia.
If you have any questions that I missed, please reply in the comments below or email me at [email protected]. I will respond and help in any way possible.