March 22, 2010
Hong Kong, SAR
If you have been considering planting a flag somewhere in Asia, I think you should really consider Malaysia. I briefly discussed the country in Friday’s Q&A updates, but I wanted to dedicate a full letter on the subject because I really think the country is worthy of your attention.
1) Malaysia is cheap… it’s one of the cheapest countries in the world, actually, on par with the costs in Thailand or the Philippines. Property prices are among the most undervalued in Asia. In fact, at roughly $1,400 per square meter, property in Malaysia is cheaper than just about everywhere else in Asia with the exception of Indonesia.
Rental prices are also quite low, as are standard living costs– Malaysia is rich in agricultural resources, so high quality food is cheap and plentiful; additionally, the government subsidizes gasoline with its oil revenues, so petrol only runs around $2/gallon.
2) Despite the low prices, Malaysia is full of modern conveniences, including top quality medical care and foreign luxury products. This is not a place where you have to learn how to do without most of the creature comforts of your home country.
3) Malaysia is safe. It’s one of the most multicultural countries in the world where Islam, Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism all coexist peacefully and respectfully. Crime is extremely low, and violent crime is virtually unheard of, especially involving foreigners.
4) Rights for foreign asset ownership are quite strong in Malaysia, unlike much of the region. In Thailand and Vietnam, for example, it’s quite tricky for foreigners to own property. In Malaysia, there is only a minimum pricing threshold set by each state, above which foreigners can own property.
5) It’s very easy to move to Malaysia. The government’s “Malaysia- My second home” program (MM2H) is a streamlined, online process to grant an extendable 10-year visa for foreigners of all ages and nationalities. They require a small investment to qualify– less than $100,000– which can go towards the purchase of a property.
It’s one of the most welcoming residency visas in the world, rivaling even Panama’s pensionado program.
Furthermore, for PTs, the government automatically grants a 90-day tourist visa (which can be extended quite easily) upon entry for North American and European nationalities. This is another major advantage over Thailand which only allows 15-30 days, or Vietnam which requires a visa for entry.
6) Malaysia is a transportation hub with loads of cheap flights to and from many of Asia’s capitals, as well as several transpacific flights. To give you an example, I have purchased airfare from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore for the bargain price of $0 (plus a few bucks in taxes) and to Hong Kong for less than $100.
If you need to travel anywhere in Asia on business, Malaysia is a great place to be traveling from… you’re just a few hours flight at most from anywhere in the region except Japan or South Korea.
7) Malaysia is a great place to do business; it has a strong and stable economy– the country sidestepped a chaotic breakdown in 2008/2009 and has quite reasonable debt to GDP levels and government spending habits.
There is a growing international finance industry in Labuan, Malaysia’s economically autonomous region. Labuan, which effectively charges no tax, has distinct banking and incorporation advantages because it relies on Malaysia’s vast array of tax treaties while still setting its own tax policy.
Furthermore, because Malaysia is a stable, well-developed Muslim nation, the country is also attracting a great deal of Islamic capital, further bolstering the banking sector and creating demand for Shariah-compliant products.
Overall, if you’re interested in planting a flag in Asia, I think you should strongly consider Malaysia. Remember my basic rule of thumb– will the country continue to be a nicer place to live over the next 10-years? Absolutely. Malaysia’s trend is upward.
To explore the country, I’d suggest starting off in Kuala Lumpur, the nation’s capital, and then moving on to second tier cities like George Town.