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Sunday January 13th 2019

Why thousands of Singaporeans are flocking to Jb to live

Thousands of Singaporeans now live in JB and personally I am also tempted to make the cross-over as the benefits are certainly overwhelming. For many, the better lifestyle, huge exchange difference and a glut in properties making rental affordable are the main attractions.

However, I have always marvel the fact that the long-term stayers can stomach the 2 hours’ commute by cars or public transport across the causeway on a daily basis. Depending on when you cross the busy Woodlands link, during peak hour it can be a tortuous 3-hour journey and 75% of the time you are waiting because of the sheer huge number of commuters coming in and out of JB/Singapore for work mostly if you are a Malaysian.

James is a divorced PMET who chose to live in JB for the past one year and loving it. He commutes to Singapore weekly and work as a Uber driver for two days before returning to JB for the next 5 days. He says he earns enough to cover his essential expenditure such as rent and food and tries to live simply.

He rents a furnished room in a condo and pays a rent of $550 ringgit (close to $180 SGD) and gets to enjoy the facilities of a swimming pool, gym and other condo amenities.

A recent heart-attack scare forces him to change his lifestyle as he was working 7 days a week driving Uber in Singapore then. He rented a small bedroom here and struggle to afford the rent monthly.

In his early 50s, it was a wake-up call for him to do something about his health and in a strange twist of fate the move to JB has changed his perspective of life in general. Hearing how he lavishes praises on things just less than 5km across the causeway makes me wanting to find out more.

James also tried to look for a regular job here but knowing the immense difficulty PMETs face once they reach their 40s-50s, he switched to driving Uber in order to survive.

Of course, there are others who live in JB permanently without having to look for income sources in Singapore. They have their own specialised skills and are in demand in JB for their skillsets. This group is probably rare as it is not easy also to look for a job in Malaysia and moreover the earnings in ringgit dollar will negate any benefits in monetary exchange one has while living across the causeway. The trick is to earn in Singapore dollars and spend it in Malaysia to reap the huge exchange windfall of almost 3:1 in value.

However, Singaporeans living in JB tend to be in semi or total retirement mode so that they can avoid the nightmarish commute to and fro. They probably have collected their CPF or have rent out their apartment in Singapore and use that strong Sing dollar to stack their risk on a bigger better home in JB. For example, a rent of $2000 for a 5-room HDB flat can easily fetch a huge 6-bedroom mansion in Bukit Indah (Horison Hill) with just half of that amount ($3000 ringgit).

Yet for many others who try to live in JB but took to daily commuting for work purposes, some eventually give up as the hours spent on exiting/entering the causeway daily will take it’s own natural toil on physical and mental health. They feel that it is not worth the time and effort as a minimum of 5 hours are needed daily to commute. Some left as early as 4am to beat the causeway jam whereas coming back is another hassle with many returning home as late as 9pm.

The custom toll of almost $41 both ways is also not exactly cheap and if you do it daily, its a extra expenditure that you need to calculate into the whole overseas living experience. The Malaysian side imposes a road charge of RM$20 per entry and the Singaporean side will match but in Singapore dollars. The $41 daily amount includes the toll charges at both the causeway and Second Link.

Some who sent their kids to school in Singapore need to wake up at 3 plus before sending them on the 4am nightmarish journey across the causeway in order to make the 6.30am cut-off time for school. There are special chartered buses meant for that and a monthly fee of $200 is often being mentioned.

Others prefer to make do with the international school curriculum in JB and many have being set up recently to take advantage of this recent boom in demand for such specialised lessons. A semester of such prestigious schooling may cost $20,000 upwards and though in ringgit terms it is also quite a enormous sum of money for one kid – what if you have a few?

What about the one thing that perturbs many risk-adverse Singaporeans – crime rate – stuff that deters many from ever thinking of setting up home in JB?

“Its ok with us,” a young family I visited told me. “Anyway as in many other countries you need to be vigilant especially at night. You don’t venture into dark areas and always remember to respect the local culture. You don’t impose your behaviour into them but try to immerse yourself into their culture and habits.”

After returning from overseas a few years ago, the young family found it difficult to get proper jobs back home and decided to bring their kids to JB for good. Nobody is keen to return back anytime soon and more importantly the stress quotient has gone down quite alot. Everything is cheaper overall and they get to drive around in a local car of which it will cost them an arm and leg to possess back home.

A glut of properties also help those who have the means and commitment to resettle across the causeway. A good-sized condo with 3 bedrooms are going for an average of $1500 to 1800 in ringgit and for that same amount you can’t even rent a proper common room back home in our HDB flat.

Malaysia is also promoting the MM2H initiative – Make Malaysia My Second Home – the long-term stay visa lasts 10 years and is renewable. The multiple entry social visit pass will allow one to travel in and out of Malaysia freely. Moreover, anyone age above 50 years old is allowed to work part-time subject to approval from the ministry.

So far, 23,000 foreigners were granted MM2H visa status and applicants below 50 years old have to open a fixed deposit account of $300,000 ringgit and those above 50 years old $500,000 ringgit in order to qualify.

After a period of one year, the participant can withdraw up to MYR150,000.00 for approved expenses relating to house purchase, education for children in Malaysia and medical purposes. However, a minimum balance of MYR150,000.00 must be maintained from the second year onwards and throughout stay in Malaysia under this program.

The MM2H visa is popular among Singaporeans as it gives them the proper visa right to live in a country uninterrupted for the long term though the Malaysian authorities allow us to move in and out of the country using the one-month social visa.

There are very few Singaporeans who have move on to the next level and apply for permanent residency or even citizenship but I am not surprised if that will happen some day soon especially for those who want to withdraw their CPF fund in one entire sum.

The downside is that Malaysians staying in Johore Bahru will not actually welcome Singaporeans to live side by side with open arms as they have cause prices of food stuff to jack up in tantem with the overwhelming demand. Moreover, some Singaporeans are rather insensitive and openly commented that everything is so cheap there whereas Malaysians may not feel the same sentiment.

Humility and empathy will go a long while when we live in a foreign country that is still considered third world.

Of course, not all Singaporeans will have the luxury of convenience to live in JB though the benefits are obviously there. For those who work in Singapore, its already a obvious no due to the extremely tough commute between the two countries. They can probably travel during the weekend to shop and buy their groceries there as it is definitely cheaper than if they shop back home but living there for the long haul is probably not as easy as it looks.

For now, JB is a huge draw for settlers if they are single, have not much commitment in Singapore through work-related purpose or more typically for retirees who have some money to spend. The Iskander residential project is flooded with Singaporeans who have plough their millions of ringgits into homes that many hope will appreciate in value as an investment.

The typical average family will likely not want to spend their time in JB on the long-term basis due mainly to their children educational pursuit and employment commitment unless the causeway jam is eased somewhat in the near future. The barriers are all there for a vast majority of the population to adopt MM2H and it has largely to do with the transportation.

The Second Link at Tuas though is a much more comfortable choice for commuting but the tolls and Road Levy will ultimately take its natural toil on any long-term settler who needs to travel up and down regularly.

Nevertheless, as Singaporeans will age rapidly, JB will continue to be a top choice for one to spend a care-free retirement lifestyle just less than 10 km away from home. Retiring in Singapore now and in the future is simply meant for those who belong to the higher middle income and the rich.

Written by: Gilbert Goh

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2 Responses to “Why thousands of Singaporeans are flocking to Jb to live”

  1. Garry HUBBLE says:

    Given the chance, and the finances to back it up, I would retire to the Cameron Highlands.

    The odd jaunt in a taxi to KL or Ipoh, or even just to the train station at Tapah with KTMB taking me to those cities or up to Pinang, or down to Melaka.


  2. Paul Yeo says:

    This article is very well written with clear facts.
    But I feel the MMM2M is limited due to the heafty deposits.

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