Singapore has been rated as the best place in the world for expats, but Malaysia isn’t far behind. 55% of expats live in a home they consider nicer than before they moved to Malaysia and 61% find it’s easy to make friends.
Before you make the leap, you need to make sure you are financially ready. Depending on where you currently live, you may be looking forward to lower living costs in either Singapore or Malaysia. Getting your finances in order and understanding all the costs should be your priorities prior to take off.
Living Costs: Malaysia
Despite being a modernized country with plenty of luxuries, Malaysia offers relatively low living costs compared to Europe, Australasia, and North America. It is estimated that a single person could live comfortably in Kuala Lumpur for $470 USD a month. For that amount you will have a comfortable room in a modern, furnished apartment, you will eat well, and you’ll still have money left over for entertainment and travel.
For additional context, a mid-priced meal for two will cost around $17, while a cheap meal out could come to just $5 per person. Shopping in the local supermarkets and cooking from home makes life affordable for most people on an average American wage. As long as you have enough for several months’ worth of rent and living costs, then you should be all set to make the move.
Living Costs: Singapore
Singapore is significantly more expensive than in Malaysia. A 480 square foot studio in a reasonably priced area will set you back around $1350. For this reason, you will need to consider having a larger savings account to fall back on if you haven’t secured employment when you relocate.
However, you will still likely find that some Singapore living costs are cheaper than in your current town. For example, a monthly travel ticket is $70 and allows you unlimited movement around the country. And you can buy a movie ticket for less than $9.
Moving For Work Opportunities
For speakers of English, jobs in both Malaysia and Singapore are easily found. These places are outward looking and international, with many jobs in the finance industry for expats looking to advance their careers. The Malaysian government has set up a department called TalentCorp, which is aimed at attracting highly skilled foreigners.
As a resident of Malaysia, you will also be entitled to certain tax incentives. For instance, if you earn less than $2000, you will receive tax relief of $491. You are entitled to $245 for each unmarried child in high school. If your child is over 18 and studying in Malaysia, you can claim $980 in tax relief. So even if you end up with a relatively low wage job, you will still be able to live comfortably as a resident with government support.
Depending on your country of origin, Singapore could also offer enticing tax relief. Agreements have been made with Australia, Canada, Germany, and the United Kingdom, among others. This means that residents of these nations can relocate to Singapore without fear of double taxation. While Singapore has a progressive taxation system, you will never pay more than 22%. This makes it extremely competitive compared to many European and North American countries which have tax brackets upwards of 30%.
If, however, you have migrated to this part of the world for a different lifestyle and want to avoid the typical job path, there may be alternative income sources. For instance, you may be a retiree looking to pursue a passion and earn a little money on the side. With fast and rapidly improving internet connections in all major towns, you could join the quickly growing digital nomad community. Whether offering marketing, writing, or online tutoring services, it is easy to find a side hustle in Singapore and Malaysia. Look at sites like remote.co, Virtual Vocations, and Jobspresso. They offer work for everyone regardless of location. You can stay productive into old age while living in one of the best countries for expats.
Moving for Retirement
Malaysia is popular among retirees due to the ease of moving there. The MM2H program allows a residence visa, with multiple entries into the country across a 10 year period. That means that once acquired, there is no bureaucracy to deal with for a decade. Furthermore, pensions are tax-free. Malaysia has a relaxed and peaceful culture, which is open and welcoming to all people. Similarly, there are no visa requirements for retirees wanting to move to Singapore. This cuts out the time-consuming paperwork, uncertainty while waiting for approval, and the fear of deportation. Singapore is renowned for its high-level private healthcare. Consider paying for this if you can afford it.
Although most expats report positive experiences when relocating to Malaysia and Singapore, this will only be the case with thorough planning. Be aware that living costs between cities can vary significantly. Make sure you have the savings to pay rent while you secure local work. Once you are earning a good income, you can maintain a high quality – and stress-free – life.
A great place to begin researching an expat life in Singapore would be with our City Guide and Neighborhood Explorer. Both are full of information related to housing costs, healthcare, transportation, and lifestyle.