Interview: Datin Sharifah Ikhlas Syed Ismail Aljaffree, Director – Malaysia My Second Home Centre for Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism and Culture
Datin Sharifah Ikhlas Syed Ismail Aljaffree is Director of the Malaysia My Second Home Centre for Malaysia’s Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture. We asked her firstly to give us a general overview of the scheme.
Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Programme is an initiative by the Government of Malaysia to attract and allow foreigners who fulfil certain criteria, to stay in Malaysia for as long as possible on a 10-year renewable social visit pass with multiple-entry visa and spend more in Malaysia.
MM2H programme is an offshoot of the Silver Hair programme in 1996. The Silver Hair programme aimed to attract foreign citizen with financial capabilities to make Malaysia as their retirement destination. The Silver Hair programme was offered to Japanese and Western Europe nationals to stay long or domicile in Malaysia for a period of five (5) to 10 years.
In 2002, the Silver Hair programme was rebranded as Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme with the objectives to spur the nation’s economy, especially sub-sectors such as education, medical, properties, and automobile industries. In line with that, the Ministry of Tourism with the collaboration of the Immigration Department of Malaysia set up a one-stop centre to process new applications, offer advices related to MM2H programme, promote MM2H programme, be the focal point of the public, agent or applicant as well as a dedicated Immigration centre for MM2H programme.
Under this programme, you can bring your spouse and family as dependents. Children below the age of 21 years are counted as dependents and can go to international schools and even local schools provided they meet certain criteria. Parents and parents-in-law also can benefit from the scheme. Of course, there are some terms and conditions for those who can apply under the programme. MM2H applicants must meet certain criteria. The first screening concerns financial requirements.
In the pre-application, we look at two categories: 50 years and above, and 50 years and below. For applicants age 50 years and above, you must show that you have a liquid asset of 350,000 Malaysian Ringgit in your personal bank account. Then for those 50 years and below, you have to show 500,000 Malaysian Ringgit in your bank account. That is your first screening.
So, if you can manage to show that, in your own personal account, then we go to the next step, which is that you must have offshore income of 10,000 Ringgit per month – this meaning any income you receive from outside of Malaysia.
After that, once you have qualified for these two screenings, you will be given a conditional approval letter, following which you have to open a fixed-deposit account. For the fixed-deposit account, those aged 50 and above, you have to put in 150,000 Malaysian Ringgit, and for those 50-years and below, you have to open a fixed-deposit account of 300,000 Malaysian Ringgit. After you have met the financial requirements, we look at the conduct of the person, to ensure they have no criminal record of any kind, through a letter of good conduct from security agency in your home or domicile country that is able to verify your criminal record.
Besides that, you must have medical insurance that will be able to cover you and your dependents (if any) in Malaysia. Every MM2H participant will be required to undergo a medical check-up in a local clinic here in Malaysia.
After that; you must fulfil all the immigration fee requirements, for which the cost differs for the social visit pass and multiple entry visa from country to country. This programme is regulated under the Immigration Department of Malaysia, and the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia works on the promotion of the programme. So, it’s a collaboration amongst several government agencies.
We have an approval committee which will look into the applications. The approval committee is headed by the Director General of Immigration Department of Malaysia or Deputy Director General, and is also co-chaired by the Deputy Secretary General (Tourism) of the Ministry of Tourism, Arts and Culture Malaysia. The other members of this approval committee are the Special Branch of the Royal Malaysia Police and three divisions from the Immigration Department of Malaysia; namely Intelligence, Special Operation and Analyzation Division; Security and Passport Division besides Visa, Pass and Permit Division
These three divisions will examine the MM2H applications thoroughly, and the Special Branch looks at the security screening and works together with Interpol in examining the applicants’ background. The centre I am heading right now acts as the secretariat for the approval committee. We also have the licencing department which is under our ministry also, that looks into the agents who service these applicants.
The application can either be done directly or you can use an agent to act on your behalf. We have an association of agents, where we work closely with them, and their licences will be issued by us, under the licensing department.
The agents have to undergo a course in order to understand all the mechanisms involved and they must understand how one must act on behalf of the applicants, so that they don’t short change their clients. In terms of the fee they charge their clients, we do not determine this, it’s dictated by the market forces. It depends also on the services offered from one agent to another. The agents work closely with us, because we are the ones who regulate their licences.
What happens once the request is conditionally approved?
We produce a conditional approval letter explaining that the applicant, while approved, may not interfere in the sensitivity of the country, the politics of the country, and that you must fulfil all the costing for the social visit pass, and multiple entry visa and so on, and once that’s settled, you get your endorsement. The technical part is also that you have to settle the endorsement within six months after you have been given the conditional approval letter.
Where are most MM2H applicants from?
China is the country that has the highest number of participants in this programme, at around 47%. We have about 130 participating countries and we currently have over 40,000 approved applications in the programme. Top countries also include South Korea, Japan, Bangladesh and the UK. We also have a good number from Hong Kong and Taiwan. Australia and the US are showing a very good response to this programme, as well as Singapore. Applications are very encouraging at the moment, running at around 500-600 a month. We do not want to focus on one country as a supply market. We want to get a diversity of nations coming in, creating a cross-cultural social effect on the local communities.
What attracts people to the scheme?
Each nationality has different factors as to why they want to choose Malaysia. Different nationalities have different priorities. For Chinese people, they may be tired of the harsh winter conditions in some parts of their country. The same thing goes for Japan, because of the very cold winter in their country. So, the climate is a very traditional factor influencing the decision. People choose Malaysia for the climate, the location, the affordable cost of living, and perhaps for other family members who had already migrated here. But things are evolving. After the more traditional reasons, now we are seeing Chinese people coming here because of property investment, for the affordable medical facilities of very high quality. They also come for the IVF. In some cases, it’s also for the good level of education they can find here for their children.
Do different states attract different people?
Indeed! British retirees are very attracted by Penang, for the lifestyle, and thanks to the British heritage linked with the island. Chinese and Japanese are attracted to Kuala Lumpur and Selangor. Americans and Australians are proving to be attracted by Johor Bahru. Younger people in general tend to be more attracted to KL, for the vibrant lifestyle, amenities and infrastructures it offers. Some of these people are professionals, who have a work base somewhere else in Southeast Asia. It may be that the husband is working in Hong Kong. He will put his family residing in Kuala Lumpur. The same goes for the US and European nationals. Many of them have worked with a multinational company here in Malaysia before, and as they have been exposed to the lifestyle and they like the climate here, and they like the cost of living.
What are the key challenges you are facing with this programme?
There are many countries offering this kind of long stay programme, so we are competing with countries like Malta, Portugal, or even Thailand. So, everybody has their own niche. Malaysia in our case, besides the infrastructure, the beaches, the beautiful mountains we have; beside all these factors of consideration for this country, the most intrinsic value for which foreigners choose Malaysia is the people here: the warmth of the Malaysians. That’s what attracts them most. We welcome foreigners very well, so they always feel at home here. People settle down quickly here in Malaysia.
The idea of international living or global migration was really started in the Caribbean. If you look at what Internationalliving.com says, their top four countries for retirement are in the Caribbean. But Malaysia is ranked fifth. Here in Southeast Asia, we have completely different attributes. Indeed, every country has its own attributes. The Latin American countries cater primarily for the US market. They even offer citizenship, which we do not. Ours is like a long stay, and people are free to come in and out of the country.
Each Malaysian state also has its own characters. Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Johor Bahru and Penang are among the popular states offering good lifestyle, where it’s easy for people to settle down, where they have good facilities and of course education centres for the children as well.
What are the key benefits of joining this programme?
Firstly, this programme offers you a 10-year renewable social visit pass with multiple-entry visa. Some stop at ten years, but ours is renewable. Secondly is the repatriation of income, the earning from your investment is not taxable.
You are able to purchase property here. Different states have different requirements for foreigners to purchase property. The minimum investment is generally around one million Ringgit Malaysian, but the states regulations differs.
In Selangor, if you want to buy property, the entry-level is two million Ringgit. In Penang, it’s three million Ringgit, and in Johor Bharu , it’s two million. Local banks can lend up to 60% and there are other international banks in Malaysia that lend as well, such as HSBC, or Bank of China.
MM2H participants are allowed to invest in Malaysia. You are also able to obtain a Malaysian driving licence, and you can bring domestic help into the country from your own country. Unmarried children can be sent to private schools here. All these privileges are subject to rules and regulations.
MORE INFORMATION: http://www.mm2h.gov.my
My wife and I arrived in Malaysia to start our retired life in September 2014 and I can honestly say we have never looked back since!
Straight away, I hear people asking, ‘Why Malaysia?’ Read on and I will list down some of the reasons why we chose Malaysia!
We decided in 2012 that when we retire, we would like to settle overseas and looked at many countries with retirement programmes in situ. First of all, we decided it had to be somewhere warm all year round. It had to be somewhere that we were familiar with and did not involve too much of a change, from the way of life we were used to. As we used to holiday every year in Malaysia we thought to see, if they too had a retirement programme. We were pleased to find that they did indeed have such a programme called MM2H, which stands for ‘Malaysia My Second Home’. That settled it for us. We found a wonderful agent who explained the whole process to us and, began the process of applying. As is stated above, we arrived here in September 2014 to start our new life.
I will now explain some of the benefits which make Malaysia a wonderful place to live. I will be honest and tell you that I have a historical connection with Malaysia going back 50 years or so but in no way did that persuade me to pick this country. That decision was reached on pros and cons in comparing. Malaysia then was a much different place than it is today.
The programme is open to people from all over the world, regardless of colour or religion. There are laid down criteria which all applicants have to meet. One is financial and, the other is proof of good conduct. When you apply, you can bring your own vehicle with you and, all duty and excise will be waived. Alternately, you can purchase a locally assembled car of any make, which again is free of duty and excise. One of the main reasons we chose here is that the Malaysian government does not take any money from your overseas earnings, which is a godsend. As an MM2H member you can work if you wish, but only to a maximum of twenty hours and of course you will pay tax on that.
This was one of our biggest likes in choosing Malaysia, the warmth, friendliness and helpfulness of its people which are really diverse. The population consists of Malays, Chinese, Indians, Tamils and a few other nationals. The inter-racial tolerance is truly amazing. They go about their daily business with each other and, also celebrate each-others’ festivals. The Malays have ‘Hari Raya’, the Chinese have their ‘New Year’ and the Indians have the festival of ‘Diwali’. The amazing thing is that although my wife and I are totally different — I.E. we are both very fair coloured — we always get treated with kindness and respect and they love it when we speak with them in their own language… only little things like ‘good morning’ or ‘how are you’ and, nine times out of ten, if we stand in the supermarket queues, someone will always strike up a conversation. Again, going back to our original choice, English is widely spoken here, so you will have no problem if you yourself can speak a little English. Another factor was the fact that they drive on the same side of the road as the UK, so again it was easy for us.
MALAYSIA AS A COUNTRY
The financial power of the world has as we all know, shifted to the East. So another reason for choosing Malaysia was the fact of its financial stability. It is one of the strongest economies in the region and, although surrounded by globalist economies, is not one itself. Many opportunities arise here for investment, both in finance and, property. Houses are fairly low priced, very spacious, airy and full of light. My wife and I bought a 5-bedroom, 4-bathroom house, just outside the Johor city boundary. We are surrounded by plantations and a huge national park (jungle). We have no noise pollution to speak of, unlike the UK, where we had the railway as a neighbour. We now have the perfect retirement home and location.
If you are a person who likes eating out, as do my wife and I, then you will be totally spoilt by all the local cuisine available here. There is Malay food, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Japanese, Vietnamese, Korean and, a few more to boot. The other good thing concerning food is that it is so cheap to eat out. Many families do, 2 or, 3 times a week. No matter what time of the day it is, you will always find somewhere open to eat, as food is one of Malaysia’s gifts to the world, for which it is renowned. There is an abundance of shops here and many are world brands. The biggest one here is probably “Aeon” which is an eastern supermarket chain, it is more or less the same as “Tesco” which also has many stores here. Johor has its share of designer shops too including Nike, Pandora, Levis, so shopping here is not a problem, regardless of where you hail from.
Of course living in a lovely country like this, you are blessed all around the coast with beautiful golden beaches and, clear blue oceans. Tioman Island is one of our favourites and we can leave our house, drive to Mersing and be walking through the resort in under 4 hours… incredible! Much better than a 13-hour flight from London and a further 45-minute flight from Singapore to Tioman, as we used to do. Malaysia has around 800 islands under its sovereignty, a lot of them are uninhabited but can be reached by hiring out a small boat. Needless to say, all water recreation can be done easily, be it snorkelling, SCUBA diving or just fishing for the day. The amount and quality of marine life in these waters is just amazing. I myself, when at the beach, spend a lot of time floating with my snorkel. It’s so relaxing just laying there watching life in the ocean pass along and, this occurs quite a lot. The other half of Malaysia is ‘Jungle Trekking’ and, if you have never before visited the jungle, then you should do it with an experienced guide. A lot of people are frightened of the jungle but, as I said, if you go with an experienced guide, I think you will find it an amazing experience.
Another good reason for choosing Malaysia, is its geographical location. It is located just above Singapore, which has always been called ‘the crossroads of the world’, which is quite true. The same can be said of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. From here, you can fly North, East, South, West to most major capital cities, usually without the need to change.
There is also a cooler side to Malaysia if the heat is too much to bear sometimes and it’s called the ‘Cameron Highlands’. The highest point is, I believe, around 1,800 metres high which of course makes it a lot cooler. There are many hotels in this area for weekend breaks and, getaways. The area itself is roughly the size of Singapore. You can visit the tea plantations and see how that delicious brew is grown and processed. If you wanted to come and live here, but the heat might put you off, then this would be the place for you. Even forgoing all I have said, it is such a lovely place to visit, so calm and peaceful. For those who love history, then Malaysia has much to offer. It really is a country with something to offer everyone.
We have been here now 4 years in September. We now have a lovely home and, every day is like summer. We have made lots of new friends of different nationalities, which perhaps is one of the best and nicest things people can do in life. It certainly makes one’s life that much richer. One major point I forgot to mention is something that concerns the MM2H.
On being successful in applying to join MM2H, you are not expected to stay put in Malaysia. Certainly, for peoples from a colder climate, they can winter in Malaysia and return to their country of origin in the summer. This is the beauty of the MM2H visa.
Some countries when we enquired, stated you had to spend so many days per year in that country but that is not the case here. You can come and go as often and for as long as you like.
The life here really appeals to me, it is such a laidback lifestyle and, to come across any situations which may cause you aggravation is very rare. The cost of living is cheap, the climate superb, the infrastructure is good and, it is really easy to get anywhere easily enough. Once you have your MM2H visa, you can register your details with the local government, this will allow you to pass freely between Malaysia and Singapore, without the need to stamp your passport.
My wife and I have never regretted moving here, I am only sorry that I was never in a position to take early retirement and could have done it sooner. As a place to move/retire to, I would recommend it to anyone. I will remain here now, I have no intention to return to my country as my life lifestyle here far outdoes that which I would have in the UK.
So, if on reading this it makes you think before moving overseas, that is good and, if it makes you decide to take a look for yourself, by taking a holiday, then you will see for yourself, all that I have written here. You could do much, much worse not coming here but, I doubt very much, you could do much better! A lovely warm climate, the outdoor life all year round, surrounded by lovely friendly people. Hope to see you here soon.
Why choose Malaysia?
I think the choice of Malaysia regionally is quite easy for a number of reasons. Perhaps most importantly, Malaysia offers a combination of flexibility, stability, and affordability that is unmatched by its neighbors. There are a number of quality international schools around the country that provide access to curriculum from the UK, US, Canada, and Singapore.
Malaysia offers a number of benefits over countries like Indonesia, Thailand, and even Brunei. Multi-ethnic Malaysia has a wider range of great food and cultural opportunities. Given the cultural mix, there is opportunity to experience and celebrate holidays from several religions (including Christmas, Lunar New Year, and Thaipusam) that more mono-ethnic cultures do not observe, or sometimes do not even permit to be observed.
Life in Malaysia is stable, with large-scale demonstrations that cause major disruption almost unheard of. While some degree of crime is to be expected anywhere in the world, expat families can live in relative security in Malaysia. It is possible to enjoy housing areas, parks, and shopping without the fear of serious crimes that are commonplace in many parts of the world.
Ease of communication is plus in Malaysia. There has been a decrease in emphasis on English-medium education in the past few years, but it is still possible to communicate in English in most settings in Malaysia. This is not true in many other Southeast Asian countries.
Recreational activities like golf, water sports, and tourism featuring historical, eco, and cultural emphases abound. Theme parks, water parks, ropes courses, indoor rock climbing, and jungle trekking are all accessible and affordable in Malaysia. High quality health care with well-appointed facilities and experts trained around the world abound in every Malaysian city.
Finally, the incredible variety of non-stop flight destinations available from Malaysia make it an ideal place to base for regional work or exploration. Nearly all the major regional destinations are one reasonably priced flight away on Malaysia Airlines or Air Asia.
Do you have some examples of people who have benefited from this system?
We have a number of expat friends in JB who have been priced out of Singapore. While their medical needs require them to travel frequently to Singapore, it is just too expensive to stay there long-term. MM2H allows families like this to be in the area at half the cost or less.
Malaysians benefit in many ways from an expanded expat population. A wider variety of residents inevitably brings more variety in shopping, dining, and opportunity. Business people involved in real estate and transport benefit incredibly. I cannot calculate the amount generated for local transport companies in Johor as foreigners transfer back and forth to Changi Airport in Singapore.
As Malaysia grows as a medical tourism destination, full-price paying foreigners raise the standard and availability of medical care. Increased demands brings new specialist doctors and medical facilities like hospitals, labs, and clinics.
Growth draws international corporations including things like theme parks, international hotel chains, and more flight routes. Local people benefit from the additional jobs created by growing demand in the retail, medical, and service sectors.
New housing developments drive demand for higher quality goods and bring additional investment. This benefits engineers, construction labourers, architects, bankers, and more. New private and international raise the educational standard across the board and deliver more options for parents in Malaysia.