When I first moved to Malaysia in the late 1980s, Johor was rated quite low as a place for expats to settle or work. Job opportunities were limited and the city did not have much appeal as a place to visit. Most of the visitors were Singaporeans visiting the night clubs, taking shopping trips, or taking advantage of Malaysia’s subsidized petrol.
The Iskandar Development Region
In 2006, the launch of the Iskandar Development Region was met with some degree of cynicism by many quarters. Now, 10 years later, the changes are apparent to everyone and its goal of becoming a “strong and sustainable metropolis of international standing by 2025” does not look so unrealistic.
From the very start, the project was extremely ambitious, as it involved developing over 2,200 square kilometres of land into a modern, mixed-use metropolis, attracting business and private investors from around the world.
One of its key selling point was its proximity to Singapore and the much lower costs. At three times the size of Singapore, it offered a lot of land for people and businesses who found Singapore too crowded and expensive.
The development has various zones which focus on different sectors including education, leisure, residential, and light industries. The property sector is booming, with the many of Malaysia’s biggest property developers competing with some very impressive developments.
High-rise buildings with amazing facilities compete with the gated communities for those looking for landed properties. Many Singaporeans were quick to jump in and purchase properties which were significantly larger and cheaper than their residences in Singapore, though most did not relocate to the Malaysian side of the Causeway.
The region and its amenities
This region, now renamed Iskandar Malaysia, is home to the first Legoland Theme park in Asia,which attracts plenty of visitors. Puteri Harbour is an attractive area despite the construction.
There are some great places to eat and drink and Shangri-La’s Jen Hotel offers very comfortable accommodations overlooking the marina. Pinewood Studios built a world-class film and television studio in Iskandar and has over 100,000 square feet of film stages.
Quite a number of learning institutions have set up campuses in Iskandar, both in the area called “EduCity” and beyond. Marlborough College, Newcastle, and Reading Universities, along with various international schools, have opened campuses, with some offering boarding facilities.
The city of Johor Bahru itself has also been though some major changes in recent years,including a new immigration facility, larger shopping malls, an influx of major hotel chains, and plenty of residential and commercial construction. Forest City at Danga Bay, for example, is a massive development which includes creating four new islands and will eventually have 700,000 units for sale.
All of this has resulted in a significant increase in the size of Johor’s expat community. Some have come to work in Johor while others have moved over from Singapore, particularly those with more flexible working hours who can avoid the busy times crossing the Causeway.
We have held a few Expat Mingle events in Johor and they were very well-attended, with expats eager to meet new people. We have published many stories on Johor, but starting with this issue of The Expat, we introduce a regular section on Johor, initially every two months but eventually monthly as our Johor subscription base grows.
For those who haven’t yet explored this part of Malaysia, it’s definitely worth a visit. If you would like more information, you can get a copy of our annual Johor-focused publication Malaysia’s Southern Gateway by calling us or ordering a copy online at TheExpatGroup.com.
This article was originally published in The Expat magazine which is available online in print via a free subscription.
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