The Expat Defends KL After Hardship Ranking

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IN LAST MONTH’S THE EXPAT WE REPORTED HOW THE Economic Intelligence Unit (EIU) had designated Kuala Lumpur as a place where ‘many aspects of day-to-day life involves hardship’ for expats living here. Consequently, out of the 130 cities across the world surveyed, KL was ranked as 87th. 

Andy Davison, owner of The Expat, disputed these findings, as did many people we questioned and others who posted messages on After further investigation, and following correspondence with the EIU, The Expat called a press conference in March to publicly dispute the conclusions of the EIU.

At the press conference, held in popular expat hangout La Bodega Lounge in Bangsar, Davison set out why he felt so strongly against the EIU’s findings. “I firmly believe that there are major weaknesses in the methodology used by the EIU in their survey,” he said. 

“There are four indicators which the EIU use that have major problems. These cover climate, healthcare, education and transportation infrastructure.”

Explaining his reasons for challenging the criteria used to determine whether climate was a hardship, Davison said: “The EIU report stated that climate was a significant hardship for people living in Kuala Lumpur. Our magazine conducts regular surveys among the expat community and our last survey stated that expats found the climate here to be one of the most attractive features of living in Malaysia. In fact they rated it number two in things they liked most about living here.

“The EIU told me that they used the level of humidity as their sole basis for judging the hardship of climate, and this they obtained this data from the BBC. This is all well and good but it misses one important element – the invention of air conditioning. Most expats go from air conditioned homes to air conditioned cars to air conditioned offices. When the weekend comes and they go to the swimming pool or beach they dress accordingly.”

Indeed, the latest survey carried out via email amongst 1,500 expats reaffirmed that expats here enjoy the climate, with the respondents rating climate as one of the lowest hardship factors out of all the ones they were asked to evaluate. Furthermore, British expats stated that they found The Expat defends KL The Expat’s recent press conference set out to show that the Economist Intelligence Unit’s hardship rating of KL is wrong. We explain why the climate in the UK to be more of a hardship than the climate in Malaysia, even though the EIU survey concluded the exact opposite.

Davison then went on to question the validity of the EIU’s collection of data for 2 further hardship criteria: “The data used to compute the score for two indicators, education and healthcare, were in our view clearly wrong. The EIU used data for the whole country supplied by the World Bank. They claimed that this was the only data they could obtain which covered all the cities they were surveying.


“However in using data which applies to the whole of Malaysia they ended up with information that was irrelevant for expats living in Kuala Lumpur – they claim their survey focuses on only KL, not the whole of Malaysia. 

“There are two reasons why using World Bank countrywide data produces inaccurate results for many cities in their survey. First, in developed countries the quality of healthcare and education tends to be fairly consistent across the whole country. In other words, there is no real difference between major cities and the rest of the country. This is certainly not the case in less developed countries, such as Malaysia, where usually the capital cities initially get the best healthcare and education facilities and, as the economy develops, then so the rest of the nation receives better healthcare and education services.

Therefore when the EIU uses country-wide data to determine hardship in cities around the world this causes a material distortion in the evaluation of some of the cities surveyed.

“The second reason why their methodology for these indicators is wrong is even more important. In the case of education it is not uncommon for expats living in some countries, such as the UK, Australia and the United States, to send their children to local schools. Therefore, arguably, using country-wide data for cities in those countries would be valid.

“However in many cities around the world, for a variety of reasons, including language issues, expats send their children to international schools. That is the case in Kuala Lumpur and therefore using education statistics for the whole of Malaysia has absolutely nothing to do with gauging the hardship of expats living in KL. As any expat with children will know, there are many excellent schools in Kuala Lumpur. 

“The same problem arises with the rating for hospitals. Some of Malaysia’s best hospitals are in major cities like KL. The Malaysian government is actively promoting Heath Tourism because it feels they can offer high standards of medical treatment. Figures used for healthcare across the nation then have very little relevance to expats living in Kuala Lumpur, many of whom use excellent private hospitals.”

Again, this stance was backed up by The Expat’s surveys which found that most respondents find the healthcare and education establishments to be far from a hardship, which the EIU stated they were.

The final indicator questioned by Davison was the rating for transportation infrastructure. “The rating given by the EIU,” said Davison, “suggests that the transport infrastructure in KL is very poor. This surprised us because of the very evident investment the government has made in new city roads, the inner city rail system and putting new buses on the road. On top of that many expats use their own cars or taxis. We therefore, did not see why it was given such a high level of hardship.”

Again the email survey reflected Davison’s suggestion, with most expats disagreeing with the rating given by the EIU on KL’s transport infrastructure.

Concluding the press conference, Davison said: “Since the Economist Intelligence Unit sells their report and encourages multinationals to pay expats a 10-20% loading on their salaries as compensation for the hardship of living here it is all the more concerning that the EIU do not want to review their methodology.


“However our primary concern is not for the financial impact their findings have on multinationals but for the negative impression they are giving about Kuala Lumpur. We believe that the expats living here are infinitely more qualified to judge how much of a hardship life is for expats than a London based research group. We hope they will listen to us.”

Source: The Expat November 2004

This article has been edited for

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