3 Things Expats Should Know before Moving to Malaysia with Kids
The Visa Situation
There are 4 ways your child can legally live & study here in beautiful Malaysia:
Apply for the MM2H visa. Once approved, your children (and spouse) can get dependent visas, and it’s then a simple matter of getting a ‘Permission to Study’ stamp from the Ministry of Education. Bear in mind that MM2H can take 6-12 months to process.
Get a job in Malaysia, with your company sponsoring your work visa and your child/ren’s dependent visas. This is the most common route. Once your children have their dependent visas sorted, you can get the ‘Permission to Study’ stamp mentioned above.
Start a company here which will allow you to apply for dependent visas for your family.
Get student visas. If your children are over 7, you can apply for student visas for them. nce these are approved, you can apply for a guardian pass for one of their parents (usually the mother) which means one parent can legally reside in Malaysia while your children are studying here. Do note that the parent on a guardian visa can't legally work, hire a domestic helper, start a business.....or do much else apart from parenting. The application process for student & guardian visas can take 2-2.5 months.
If you need any advice about visas, we'd recommend Max from Manpower101, who is incredibly knowledgeable and helpful. Give him a call if you're unsure and/or need any guidance.
Schooling Costs (Gulp)
Back in the day, companies used to cover international school fees as part of every expat employee’s salary package. But times have changed, and many companies have made cuts. Schooling has definitely been one of them.
Most companies now will only offer 100% tuition fees to those in the very top echelons of the organisation. For others, they may offer a subsidy - say 50% of the fees - or offer a ‘schooling allowance’ that's bundled up in a salary offer.
Be wary. Although there are a huge range of schools in Malaysia to suit all budgets, these vary enormously in quality. If, like most families I work with, you’re looking for an ‘international school’ with the following characteristics:
90-100% internationally-hired teachers, mostly native English speakers, and all highly qualified & experienced
A diverse student body, with a mix of nationalities
Excellent academic results
A strong array of CCA (clubs/activities) that are of a high quality
…..then you need to be looking at schools in Price Tier 1 and Price Tier 2, costing between 60-100k MYR per year (that’s based on fees for a Year 7 student). But there’s no way around it: schools here are expensive. And don’t forget about the hidden costs too.
I’ve had a number of families contact me recently to ask about the schooling allowance they’ve been offered. In some cases, the allowances have been pitiful - only 1000RM a month.
I would strongly recommend not accepting a position here unless you are going to be able to comfortably afford an international school that meets your expectations.
If you’re unsure, or would like some guidance about what you should be asking for during the salary negotiation phase, please get in touch with me.
The Golden Triangle: Work - Home - School
Many expats organise their family’s relocation in this order: they accept the job, then they find a home near the office, then tackle the school search.
But there are a couple of problems with this:
Central KL: The Limitations
Most companies’ offices are located in central KL, where school choices are pretty limited - check out this map to see what I mean. Choosing to live near the office may severely restrict your ‘logistically possible’ school options, forcing you to choose one that may not necessarily be right for your child.....or else end up with your child on a bus for 1 hour+ each way, every day. In addition, much of central Kuala Lumpur isn't hugely liveable for families. Parts of Ampang (near ISKL) in the central city is lovely, but more popular areas for expat families include Bangsar, Damansara Heights, Desa ParkCity & Mont Kiara.
Kuala Lumpur Traffic is pretty terrible, and distances on the map can be terribly misleading. Use Waze to estimate accurate travel times during peak hours and bear in mind that public transport isn't hugely practical here. Unless you’re happy for your child to be sitting on a bus for an hour (or more) each way, then it's important to try and live close to school.
Our advice would always be to choose your school before deciding on where to live. By finding the ‘best fit’ school first and then selecting somewhere to live close by - ideally less than 30 minutes from school - and leaving the longer commute (if there is one) to the parent, your quality of life here in KL will be dramatically improved.