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Malaysia Maintains High Global Ranking among Expats

Cameron Highlands in Pahang, Malaysia | Image Credit: Marriott Bonvoy Traveler
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Despite its widely criticised treatment of expats and other foreigners during the ongoing coronavirus crisis, Malaysia nevertheless received high marks overall in the worldwide 2021 Expat Insider Survey.

For the seventh time, InterNations, the world’s largest expat community with around four million members, has published its Expat Insider survey. With more than 12,000 respondents, it is one of the most extensive surveys about living and working abroad, sharing insights into expat life in 59 destinations worldwide. The survey offers in-depth information on expats’ satisfaction with the quality of life, ease of settling in, working life, personal finance, and the cost of living in their respective country of residence.

Additionally, the respondents share how they have been experiencing the Covid-19 pandemic and how it has impacted their lives. However, responses related to Covid-19 did not influence the overall ranking, which could partly explain how Malaysia maintained such a high position despite its very uneven treatment of foreigners during the pandemic, including working expats, foreign students, migrant workers, and MM2H visa holders.

Recognise the skyline? This city is located in the #1 pick by expats worldwide for 2021 | Image Credit: Travel Weekly

Malaysia comes in at an impressive 4th place out of 59 destinations in the Expat Insider 2021 survey. Expats are particularly happy with the ease of settling in and the cost of living, ranking the country second for both indices. While Malaysia also lands among the top 10 in the Personal Finance index (9th), it performs a bit less impressively in the Quality of Life (19th) and Working Abroad (25th) indices.

With one exception, all of the countries in the top 10 are in Australasia and the Americas. In 5th place, Portugal was the lone European representative in the top 10. Overall, Taiwan, Mexico, and Costa Rica are the best expat destinations worldwide: all of them attract expats with their ease of settling in and good personal finances.

On the other hand, the bottom three countries, Kuwait, Italy, and South Africa, all perform poorly in the Working Abroad index. Additionally, Kuwait is the hardest country for expats to feel at home in, Italy is the worst for personal finances, and expats in South Africa do not feel safe.

Kuwait did not fare well as a preferred expat destination for 2021 | Image Credit: Al Arabiya

In summary, for 2021, the top 10 expat destinations (in order) are Taiwan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Ecuador, Canada, and Vietnam.


Ranking 4th out of 59 countries in the Expat Insider 2021 survey, Malaysia ranks above the global average in every index. The country does particularly well in the Ease of Settling In index (2nd), where only Mexico (1st) ranks higher. An American expat says, “It is easy to live here, and the people are wonderful.” In fact, most expats find it easy to settle down in Malaysia (77% vs. 62% globally) and to make new friends (66% vs. 48% globally). When it comes to their social circle, 64% of expats in Malaysia describe their friends and acquaintances as a mixed group of expats and locals (vs. 48% globally). “Making friends is not difficult, and people here are generally honest,” says an Indian expat.

Malaysia ranks first worldwide in the Language subcategory, with 92% of expats finding it easy to live there without speaking the local language (vs. 54% globally). Indeed, over a quarter of expats (27%) do not speak any of the local languages in Malaysia (vs. 13% globally), but half (50%) speak them at least a little (vs. 30% globally). Moreover, 45% of expats consider it easy to learn the local language (vs. 39% globally). With Malaysia coming in third place in the Feeling at Home subcategory, 74% of expats also consider themselves at home in the local culture (vs. 63% globally).

Expats find it easy to settle in Malaysia – with or without kids! | Image Credit: TripZilla


Malaysia also does exceedingly well in the Cost of Living index (2nd), where only Vietnam (1st) performs better. In fact, 82% of expats rate the cost of living in Malaysia positively, compared to just 48% globally. A Japanese expat shares that “the very reasonable living costs” as their personal highlight about living in Malaysia. What is more, the country performs well in the Personal Finance index (9th). Almost three in four expats (73%) are satisfied with their financial situation (vs. 64% globally), and 85% say their disposable household income is enough or more than enough to cover their expenses (vs. 77% globally).

Infographic courtesy of InterNations


The country ranks relatively lower in the Quality of Living index (19th), but still does well for a number of factors featured in this index. Most expats are happy with both their socialising and leisure activities in Malaysia (80% vs. 67% globally) and their life in general (85% vs. 75% globally). Additionally, 82% of expats rate the quality of medical care positively (vs. 71% globally), and 71% are satisfied with its affordability (vs. 61% globally). Most expats (82%) are also happy with the transportation infrastructure (vs. 76% globally). On the downside, Malaysia ranks 36th in the Safety & Security subcategory, with over a quarter of expats (26%) rating its political stability negatively (vs. 16% globally). The country does its worst in the Working Abroad index, but it still lands in an above-average 25th place: 72% of expats are satisfied with their working hours (vs. 66% globally), and 69% are happy with their job in general (vs. 68% globally).

Kuala Lumpur is home to many of Malaysia’s working expats | Image Credit: Flickr


To shed some light on how Covid-19 has disrupted the lives of those living and working abroad, the 2021 questionnaire included a number of questions dedicated to this topic: How did the pandemic change the participants’ relocation plans and/or life abroad? Which areas of their lives have been (or will probably be) affected the most — both at the moment and in the long run? How do expats stay up to date on the Covid-19 regulations, and how satisfied are they with the official government communication in their respective country of residence?

Malaysia earned praise for extending the vaccine to all foreigners in the country at no charge | Image Credit: Al Jazeera

A large proportion of expats in Malaysia (49%) rely on social media as a source of information regarding Covid-19 and related regulations (vs. 40% globally), followed by local news (47% for both Malaysia and globally), and official government channels (44% vs. 48% globally). Though most expats indicated they were generally satisfied with official government communications during the pandemic, it was still only good enough to rank Malaysia 30th, roughly the middle of the pack.

Exactly two in five respondents in Malaysia (40%) say the pandemic has had the biggest impact on their personal travel – a much higher share than the global average of 28% – which demonstrates how much expats in Malaysia enjoy travelling. (Indeed, many name Malaysia’s location in ASEAN and the ease and cost of travel among their highlights of living here.) However, a smaller proportion than average feels the impact in their working life (8% vs. 15% globally) or their social life (17% vs. 24% globally).

A slim majority of expats said the pandemic didn’t affect their moving plans… just their travel plans | Image Credit: Cube Self Storage


The pandemic has disrupted the lives of billions of people all over the globe, and expats are no exception here. Among all survey respondents, 9% say they have moved or will move home earlier than originally intended due to Covid-19 – though 46% of them also plan to return to their life abroad within the year.

One in six (17%) had to stop their plans to either move abroad in the first place or to relocate from one foreign country to another. However, 7% also say that they have now decided to move to another country due to the pandemic, while 12% of respondents are planning to extend their current stay abroad. The rest (55%) states that the pandemic has not had a direct impact on their relocation plans and/or current stay in a foreign country.

Infographic courtesy of InterNations

Those respondents who had to put their international relocation plans on hold due to the pandemic often struggle with organisational aspects: 35% say that travel restrictions are the reason for their changed plans. One in five (20%) simply did not feel comfortable moving to another country in such uncertain times, 11% could not or cannot find a job abroad, and 7% state that their work as a freelancer and/or new business owner was made impossible by the pandemic.

Of course, Covid-19 has not only disrupted the relocation plans of expats worldwide, but their everyday lives, as well. When asked where they see the biggest impact of the pandemic on their personal life right now, the survey respondents point out its effects on personal travel (25%), social life (23%), and their work and business (16%) in particular.

In the long run, respondents are concerned about the lingering impact of Covid-19 on their social life (17% of all respondents), and there are also considerable worries regarding personal travel (22%). When thinking about the future, a larger share of respondents also consider the pandemic’s impact on their life in regard to their personal finances, their family life, and their mental health.

Congrats, Malaysia! A lot of expats still love to call you home | Image Credit: The Broke Backpacker


For its annual Expat Insidersurvey, InterNations asked 12,420 expats representing 174 nationalities and living in 59 countries or territories to provide information on various aspects of expat life, as well as their gender, age, and nationality. Participants were asked to rate up to 37 different aspects of life abroad on a scale of one to seven.

The rating process emphasised the respondents’ personal satisfaction with these aspects, considering both emotional topics and more factual aspects with equal weight. The respondents’ ratings of the individual factors were then bundled in various combinations for a total of 13 subcategories, and their mean values were used to draw up five topical indices: Quality of Life, Ease of Settling In, Working Abroad, Personal Finance, and Cost of Living.


The first four of these indices were further averaged together with expats’ general satisfaction with their life in order to rank 59 expat destinations around the world. For a country to be featured in the indices and consequently in the overall ranking, a sample size of at least 50 survey participants per destination was necessary.

For more information, visit internations.org.

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