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Malaysia's Property Regulations are Getting Tighter for Foreigners. Here's a Suggestion

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We have seen an increasing number of expats expressing concern about the tightening regulations on foreigners buying property here. Malaysia used to have very liberal rules, but that has changed.

As recently as 2009, foreigners were allowed to buy residential properties costing over RM250,000, with a few exceptions, like those on land classified as Malay Reserve, which can only be acquired by Malays. The minimum price was subsequently raised to RM500,000, and this year the federal government raised the minimum price to RM1,000,000. This is, of course, a much faster increase than the rise in property prices.

In fact, once you get outside the high-priced areas of KL, Penang, or Johor, there are only limited properties priced above RM1,000,000, so foreigners wishing to settle here often have trouble finding places to buy. The situation is further compounded because land is a state matter and so each state makes its own rules, and since they change quite regularly, many expats have told us they are confused and in some cases have been misadvised by property agents or local friends who are not up to date.

Both Penang and Selangor have raised their minimum prices well above the federal level. Selangor has raised their minimum price to RM2,000,000, as has Penang for landed property on the island.

We believe that some of these actions are, to some extent, inconsistent with the government’s Economic Transformation Programme, which aims to encourage foreign investment and welcome foreign talent. This includes introducing the 10-year work visa, called the Residence Pass-Talent, which is clearly aimed at persuading talented foreign workers to stay here long-term.

Similarly, the Malaysia My Second Home programme aims to attract foreigners to come and live here or buy a home here. Many applicants are retirees who want to buy a smaller place as they no longer have children living with them and no longer need a large home. Although a few states have given lower minimum prices for foreigners, most have not.

Even foreigners who have been granted permanent residency in Malaysia are faced with the same restrictions. Given that this group will most likely want to live here permanently, it is surprising they are not allowed to buy without a high minimum price being imposed.

We believe all foreigners who live or work in Malaysia and make a contribution to the country’s economic growth should have more lenient rules. It may be fair to restrict how many properties they can buy, but they should be free to buy properties at lower prices than foreign speculators. We understand the rationale behind continuously increasing the minimum price, which is to reduce inflationary pressure on the middle priced homes, which Malaysians wish to buy. However, given the relatively low number of foreigners who have visas to live here, we cannot see them having much impact on prices.

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It may well be appropriate to set different rules depending on what type of visa they hold (longer term or shorter), but certainly it would be a welcome gesture if the rules were relaxed for those expats who choose to live here and are merely seeking a place to call home.

We hope the federal government will consider changing their guidelines for visa holders and encourage the states to do the same. Malaysia is a great place to live, and we’d like to see it be less restrictive and confusing for expats who both enjoy the country and contribute to its economic growth.

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