Tricks to Make Living in Malaysia Easier
My husband and I love living in Malaysia. But coming from the US where we had unknowingly become addicted to Amazon and other conveniences that don’t really exist in Malaysia, it took some time to figure out workarounds. To save you the frustrations, I’ve come up with our Top 5 Relocation Hacks to help you adjust faster:
1. Finding things: Ditch Google. Embrace Facebook.
Strangely, web searches are rather useless in Malaysia, which I first found out when I typed in “where to buy furniture in Penang” and the results kicked out a bizarre assortment of blog posts and wicker shops. This was the look on my face:
Much to my horror, Google searches are often worthless since most retailers here don’t have websites (and secretly want to torture us).
If you’re looking for something in Malaysia, the easiest way to find it fast is to join a local group on Facebook and either ask members, or use Facebook’s search engine to dig through old posts. In Penang, two fantastic and very helpful Facebook groups are PERC – Penang Expat Residents Community (open to men and women) and Penang Expat Women (women only), which even have handy directories that list lots of service providers and where to buy things (like furniture). In Kuala Lumpur, there’s a huge Facebook group called KL Expat Malaysia. There are also lots of helpful Facebook groups around specific topics and interests. For example, in Penang there’s: Penang Vegetarians,Penang Parents, AHOY Penang (for yachters), Penang All Mountain Bike Riders, and Penang Runners Community.
2. Taking Classes – you don’t go to them; they come to you!
In the US, if you want to do anything, from taking a yoga class to getting a massage, you expect to go somewhere to do it. Here in Penang, service providers come to you! If you’ve got the necessary facilities in your building – be it an empty room for yoga, a swimming pool for swim lessons, a gym for a personal training session, a bed for a massage – the experts will come right to your home and give you one-on-one sessions. And it often costs less than that of a group class in a Western country. It’s pretty damned nice! We even have our hair stylist come to our house, which is straight-up Beyonce. Just use your Facebook groups (above), or ask others in your building about teachers, coaches and other service providers who will come to your area. (And yes, there are also some classes available at studios, like at PenangPac – Bollywood Dance Class Penang is a particularly fun one taught there. But hey, when else are you going to get to live like rock star and have a class come to you?)
3. Replacing Amazon and Yelp – online shopping and review sites
Me: I need a food processor.
Friend: I saw one at Parkson.
Me: Wait, you’re suggesting I go to a mall store and choose from the unknown brands like “Shitto Breakalot” or “Mr. OnTheFritz?” What kind of sicko are you?!
How are we supposed to buy a product without 4,252 brand options and reading hundreds of reviews?! And I have to PHYSICALLY GO TO A STORE? Oh hell no. That’s just crazy talk. (And damn you, Amazon, for making me so addicted to your endless choices and efficient shopping experience!)
In Malaysia, the closest we get to Amazon is Lazada. It’s…m’eh, okay I guess. A search for “food processor” turns up results that include food dehydrators and weird things with hand-cranks, so it leaves a lot to be desired. But it’s a start, and it’s damn cheap. There’s also 11st.my, but it’s a much smaller store featuring an odd assortment of brands, like the ever-popular “Rapoo” and “Megra” (yes, seriously), which I’m sure are popular somewhere?
You can also get a wide variety of items delivered from Tesco, which is kind of a lower market version of Kmart…on a bad day…after a typhoon. Still, their home delivery service is nice for kitty litter, toilet paper and the like.
Of course, you could also take this time to reflect on your “desperate need” for, say, those cool Olukai Ohana flip-flops on Amazon that have 1,536 5-star reviews and would go with EVERYTHING and which feature anatomical arch support to masterfully follow the contour of your feet and deliver the perfect balance of instant comfort, lasting support and incomparable style. (Damn you, too, Olukai marketing team!) But, you know, if you’re seriously going to die without those shoes – which in my case, is a strong possibility – Amazon can ship many products to Malaysia for an extra fee.
As for replacing Yelp, there isn’t a single-stop website that provides reviews of restaurants and service providers, but you can find those in various places. For restaurant reviews, TripAdvisor and Facebook are pretty good. For service providers, word of mouth is your best bet (I know, I know – it’s so retro to actually talk to people), followed by Google reviews and Facebook reviews.
4. Transferring money
Online banking is its infancy in Malaysia, and it’s rare to meet anyone here who uses PayPal, Venmo or Square. So unlike other countries where you can pay someone or make a donation with a few clicks, you may actually have to walk into the person’s/company’s bank to deposit money directly into their account. But luckily most banks have these cool cash deposit ATM machines that make it easy – you just need the account number of the person/company to make the deposit.
Better yet, open up an account at a Malaysian bank that actually offers internet banking and online fund transfers, like CIMB.
For those here on early retirement, or regular retirement with MM2H, you’ll also need to find a bank that can give you access to your money back in your home country and the ability to transfer large sums for things like buying a car. The most popular option among our friends is HSBC. (We made the mistake of opening accounts with Citibank since they promised us we could easily transfer money from a US account into a Malaysian Citibank account for free. That was a boldface lie. I cannot recommend them at all – they suck).
5. Staying Alive and Staying Sane – Holy hell, don’t drive. Use Uber.
Not only can driving here be an artery-clearing, death-defying experience (click here for more on that – and a good laugh at my expense), but traffic can be hideous and parking in malls during the weekends and school holidays can jam you up for an hour or more. Have you seen the number of motorbikes that blow red lights? The first time you have to make a violent swerve to avoid flattening a law-breaking motorbike, you will learn that Uber can save you from having a heart attack. It’s crazy cheap, too. Just yesterday, our 15-minute trip across town cost 7RM. And the joy of giddily driving past the massive line of frustrated drivers vying for the 3 remaining spots in the mall parking lot was priceless.
Once you get the hang of things here, life is fantastically easy for expats in Malaysia. And these little hacks will help eliminate a lot of little frustrations.
Got a cool hack to share? I’d love to hear it!