Maid in Heaven?

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Our first survey on maids showed a mixed picture, although a few trends filtered through. It seems expat’s views on maids are as divergent as the nationalities of the respondents, with peoples’ views being shaped by their experiences.

Many respondents have had maids in other countries and so had points of comparison. Others were just beginning to experience the joys of having some help around the house(although of one our Japanese readers commented that although she would love to have a maid, she felt she didn’t deserve one). One person was so ecstatic with the addition to her household she almost became poetic.

This survey produced a lower response rate than usual so we warn people reading this not to assume this is a genuine reflection of the total expat community. We had respondents from 16 different countries who have lived here from 6 months to an impressive 39 years. The majority had been here between 2 to 4 years. Interestingly most of those who did reply had a lot to say and the number of additional comments people made on the questionnaires was the highest in any survey we have conducted before.

Salaries and working hours

The number of people employing part-time maids was about the same as those employing full-time maids. Full-time maids tended to be Indonesian and were paid RM300 – RM400 per month (though one respondent paid RM1100). Filipina maids were paid at higher scales. Part-time maids are paid RM10 – RM15 per hour. When it came to working hours, full-time maids worked six or seven days a week for 10 to 14 hours a day (although some pointed out that their work was not continuous).

There is no question that finding an experienced parttime maid is an excellent solution if you don’t want someone living with you. However, getting references is very important as some are linked with gangs which will use the maid to gain access to your house. If you cannot check the references then it’s best not to hire the person. If the employees have left the country try to track them through the company they worked for and if this proves impossible, it’s best not to hire them.

Running away

Many respondents had experienced maids running away, taking with them valuable items. Some respondents suggested that there was a syndicate to aid and encourage this behaviour and, having seen this first hand, I am inclined to agree. One expat, Jack Smith, advised that after one of his maids ran away she contacted the next maid he hired and tried to get her to run away. He is convinced there is a syndicate operating. Petri Marttinen, from Finland, has lived here for over 3 years. One of her colleagues has had three Indonesian maids who all ran way. Another one of her friends had a maid who stole their employers’ passports and jewellery and ran away leaving their two children alone in the house. Shuk Yi Tam, who is British, advises that the network of people trying to lure maids into “extra curricular activities” is getting worse.


Generally, most respondents rated their current maids highly with many giving them perfect scores for honesty and work ethic. However, one German respondent was less happy with his Sri Lankan maid – he reported that she ‘talks back’ to his wife. His previous Indonesian maid disappeared after just 10 days leaving her passport behind and their children unattended.


A New Zealander found her Indonesian maid problematic The Expat_19 because of language difficulties. She wanted to hire a new maid but finds the process too difficult. One Australian woman criticised our survey for asking negative questions. She is ecstatic about her part-time maid who has been with her 10 months: “Suzi is exceptional. She has earned our respect by constant care, dedication, thoroughness, and incredible initiative which goes beyond her duties. She visits while we are away to water the plants, leaves “welcome back” bouquets fresh from the market, engages in friendly chit chat but still maintains her workload and quality…” The praise went on and on. Too good to be true? We hope not.

How to treat them

The treatment of maids was mentioned a few times. Indeed, there have been stories in the Asian press about locals who abuse maids or treat them little better than animals. This is rarely mentioned about expats who generally are overwhelmed with the luxury of having a maid (although, we must point out, that abusive treatment by Asians is rare and most treat maids well, despite tending to be stricter employers).

One Australian who has had a maid for the last 18 months said: “If you treat maids as people and not just as servants you earn their respect and loyalty. We treat our maid as one of the family.” Englishman Denis Hayes recommends hiring a more mature maid – they are easier to absorb into the family, he advises. An English woman who has lived in KL for 20 years also warned that it is not wise to get too friendly with maids.

It is important to remember that many maids are not well educated and often mistake too much kindness as a sign of weakness. However, it is also important to treat them with respect. A degree of verbal discipline is also important. We recommend caution when letting part-time maids into the house when you are not around. Thoroughly check references and keep a copy of their IC before you do.


Many agencies put their maids through training, but this may not be to your own standards. Consequently, it is best to clarify what you expect and what they are allowed and not allowed to do. Annie Downes, a Belgian, advises never assuming new maids know how to clean. She found standards can be poor and most need to be taught how you want the place cleaned.

Hema Bhatter, a Nepalese expat, echoed these feelings: “You have to be strict and lay out the rules well in advance.” A Singaporean expat, who has had his Indonesian maid for over 10 years, believes that two way communication is the most important requirement.

Local or foreign

While some people warned against local maids others, such as South African Mary Anne O’Caroll, felt that a “local person was the best choice.” However, Nikki, from Australia, felt happier with her Filipina maid after her Malaysian part-timer disappeared with her make up, jeans and TV!


Peter Jackson, who has lived here for 8 years, is opposed to using local part-timers and likes having Indonesian maids as they work every day. He takes them on holiday with the family and does not like them to go out alone (he worries they will meet with people who will negatively influence them). He is now on his 4th and 5th Indonesian maids as he prefers having two so they have company and can share the workload.

An American, Billy Morris, is very happy with his Chinese maid who works part-time. She has been working for expats for over 20 years and he rates her honesty and work ethic highly. A French woman was horrified to find her Indonesian maid spent thousands of ringgit phoning her family and friends in Indonesia. Not surprisingly she fired her and is much happier with her new Indonesian maid.


My own experiences show that while there are some obvious guidelines you can never be too confident hiring a maid and there is a substantial element of luck in the whole process. Only last year our Indonesian maid, who seemed happy as a mud lark, decided to depart in the middle of the night with my wife’s jewellery. However, it’s clear most expats, especially those with children, like having a maid to help out. It’s a responsibility that should be taken seriously and while there is some luck involved, a mix of training, discipline, recognition and decent treatment will go a long way to a successful relationship.

This article was written by Andy Davison
The Expat April 2004 

This article has been edited for
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