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As seen in Transitions Abroad Magazine January/February 2003
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Living in Malaysia: Expatriate Resources

Work in Malaysia

When my parents proudly tell their friends that I am working in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the most common reaction is a puzzled gaze. They built the Twin Towers and now they have their F1 circuit, right? My father commonly has to draw a map vaguely locating Malaysia above Singapore and below China.

There are three kinds of work in Malaysia: you can work for an international company, for a local company, or for an embassy or chamber of commerce. While a company will take care of obtaining your work permit, it is possible to work with only a tourist visa. The problem is you will not be protected in case your employer decides not to pay you, and you will be taxed as an expatriate—more than 27 percent.

Getting a work permit can be a hassle, if you are not in a very specialized field. However, if you speak another European language, if you are specialized in e-business, if you have lived in Southeast Asia, or if you speak the local language you will have an extra edge in the competition for local employment. See the local newspapers, the New Straits Times and the Star, for ads.

Working for a local company will be a tremendous experience. However, career prospects are low and salary increases are rare. Local pay is about MR4,000 to MR6,000 a month (between $1,000 and $1,500). It is possible to live on this salary in Malaysia; however, forget the idea of heading home for holidays.

The Malaysian economy is in a steep recovery, and Malaysia is becoming one of the most sought-after countries of Southeast Asia. Play your game well, by capitalizing on your experience, which will be highly valuable to companies wishing to import or export to or from Malaysia. You might be able to land a job in an international firm involved with Southeast Asian markets. What we wrongly call a third world country is in fact a transition economy, with many characteristics of developing countries but the aspirations of a developed country.

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