Research on moving abroad has been something my family and I have done, even way before I went over to the US over a decade ago. Being at the point in life where I have “one more move” remaining and hope to settle in wherever that may be for a long time. For many Malaysians (and Singaporeans), there’s a lot of information and misinformation on migration and moving abroad, thanks to the gossip culture and unwillingness to fact-check and verify before spreading the word. I’m putting my thoughts into words here so hopefully this will help anyone looking for info based on my first-hand experience.
What makes me qualified to talk about moving abroad?
I’ll first present some credentials on why you can bank on my tips and facts, and that I’m not some “gossip auntie/uncle” who pulls bullshit out of thin air. First of all, I have no filter – if you read any of my other content, I tell it as it is. I might be a bit elaborate in combing through the details, but what you’ll get are cold hard facts without garbage icing on top.
I’ve spent the last decade living abroad in both US/Canada and Europe. Due to my abusive dad, unlivable hoarding situation in the family home in Malaysia, and general encouragement from various friends and family to leave Malaysia for greener grass, I have done an enormous amount of research on different countries to potentially move to. When I was in secondary school, we were THIS close to applying to migrate to Australia but the plan fell through as, I would realize nearly a decade after that, my mom is “No Action, Talk Only” and has some form of Stockholm Syndrome where she seems content living with my abusive hoarder dad, despite constantly complaining and claiming otherwise.
The pros and cons to moving to different countries
Here are my thoughts on various options, starting with North America:
My definite favorite country since I was a child all the way until after I graduated from there. Though unfortunately, the US has hit a series of big, rough patches that have made international headlines. It was also the first country outside of Malaysia that I’ve lived in so perhaps I originally had some bias there – having experienced life in other countries, the US has definitely lost its appeal (in particular due to healthcare and job security). Over the years since I’ve left, I’ve lost my interest and would definitely NOT want to move there.
- Depending on city/state, the US pays the best salaries for many white-collar jobs (especially tech). This is especially true if you can find a position that pays $80k+ a year and above in a less dense, lower cost of living city.
- Very similar lifestyle to Malaysia (yup, you heard that right). You go from your air-conditioned home into your air-conditioned car, that you drive everywhere, into the air-conditioned office and then to the air-conditioned shops/mall.
- Larger living spaces, again very much like Malaysia, and that includes the “cramped” apartments in New York (go live in any European big city for a few years and your definition of that word will change).
- Most things “just work” because it’s all in English, people are typically helpful and friendly, and a lot of things are modern and online (as opposed to a place like Germany).
- Visa and time to citizenship:
- The primary type of work visa (H1B) is literally luck based. It has more applicants than available visas, random selection… not helped by the massive amount of fraud and bullshitting, particularly by Indian companies to bring in Indians (20 years of Windows 10 experience and Hindi required for an entry-level job, anyone?).
- Working visas (of any kind, including international transfer between company locations) are attached to the company you work for, for a substantial or entire duration. I believe there’s a short grace period introduced since I left (60 days?) but usually you lose your job, you lose your status, GTFO back to your country.
- There’s an investment visa requiring near $1 million with all costs accounted for. Seems like the easiest method but isn’t practical for anyone who doesn’t have a spare million lying around.
- Moreover, it’s complicated to get a Green Card (permanent residence) via working as typically the company has to be involved in the process and/or you’ll need an immigration attorney to navigate the hot mess of regulations. There is also a large waiting list to apply for citizenship after that.
- Healthcare costs are an issue if you have bad luck (e.g. car accident), underlying health problems or lose your job.
- Complicated taxation, especially if you have non-US income and/or more than 1 source of income (e.g., your day job and freelance projects) while living there.
- Also when you’re a US PR (Green Card holder) or citizen, you’ll have to file taxes on your worldwide income every year!
- Bad job security. This is something I’ve become more aware of ever since being fired in 2 different companies in Europe where they have STRONK worker rights. In the US, it’s far, far, FAR easier for a company to simply let someone go with little to no reason, at any time.
- Job security is a problem anywhere in the world – again, I was fired in Europe where people on the internet dance around singing “come to EU, strong workers rights, after some time you’re UNFIREABLE!” – but particularly the US because your work visa is tied to the company you work for. Therefore, you’ll not only have to find a new job, but also a job where the company supports visa sponsorship.
- Few vacation days and long, expensive flights. Unlike what’s parroted on the internet, most US white collar jobs will come with 2-3 weeks’ worth of annual leave. However, it’s still too little considering it takes literally a day (26+ hours) to go back to SEA and flights are usually $2000 round trip. In combination with the difficulty/inability to take an international break between jobs due to the hard visa policies, I find this to be off-putting.
- Discrimination against Asians: you won’t really notice it in most of daily life. However, it has a small to medium chance of being an issue at work when it’s time to get a raise/promotion (see: bamboo ceiling) and is a MASSIVE issue in dating if you’re male.
- Safety. I’m not going to list safety as a con because I’ve never felt it was an issue while living there for so many years. Malaysians/Singaporeans/Europeans/the internet tend to exaggerate OMG GUNS. I’d say being safe in the US is not different from staying safe in Malaysia – don’t go out too late to avoid criminals/drunk drivers, avoid walking alone to avoid getting mugged or hit by a reckless driver, find out which neighborhoods are good and bad, etc.
Canada can be summed up as a more expensive, colder and shittier version of the US – and I wouldn’t even bother. Even with their much easier immigration system compared to the US, I personally find it hard to understand why anyone from South East Asia would choose Canada over the US (harder to get into but better) or Australia (similar easy immigration system, much nearer to SEA). The “Canadians are friendly” stereotype typically omits the fine print that says “applies to white people only, does NOT apply to Asian people”.
I’ve read about many Indian and Chinese immigrants using Canada as a stepping stone to the US. After getting Canadian PR/citizenship, they quickly take advantage of that to enter the US (it’s easier for Canadians to obtain the ability to work and live in the US). So might be a consideration for the desperate Malaysian/Singaporean?
- Easier and more straightforward immigration system than US for both visas and path to citizenship (and quite similar to Australia’s system). Indirectly means it’s also theoretically easier to get a job and company sponsorship as a non-resident/non-citizen.
- Colder average temperatures than most places in the US.
- Life is mostly like in the US but everything is more expensive and with less variety (e.g., online shopping).
- The two main cities (Vancouver and Toronto) are very expensive and UNLIKE the US, the salaries are not even remotely close and don’t scale as hard as their neighbor down south.
- Discrimination against Asians, much like US but with an addition that anyone with yellow skin is assumed to be from China, and therefore assumed to not speak English and are the cause of the high property prices in Canada. Good luck making friends, eh?
Stay tuned for the next episode on thoughts on moving around Europe and APAC.