The other day whilst I was having dinner, a Malaysian officer from their new Digital Nomad initiative “De Rantau” greets me. I told her I am from Vietnam and she said “Oh, Vietnam, you are our competitor in attracting Digital Nomads”.
That quote alone opened up a can of curiosity in me – is Digital Nomad a market? And why are countries fighting over us? And if so then what does Malaysia have to offer compared to its “neighbouring competitor” like Thailand, Vietnam, Bali,…?
A Bit of Context
Why are countries fighting over for us Digital Nomad? According to a report from Flexjob, 40% of Digital Nomad are making more than US$50,000 a year. 18% of us are earning more than $US100,000. Thus, after Covid, everyone realized that, hmm, working remotely might be even better than at an office.
This creates a mini demographic of us Nomad with medium to high income, professional skills and it is highly attractive for countries to say “Hey, we might be the place where you should spend your money”. With this boost of spending power, locals can open more services, create more jobs,… EVERYBODY wins!
Moreover, nomad’s contribution does not just stop at the bucks. It is also about trading knowledge and opportunities as well. This is what pro Nomad initiatives from governments such as De Rantau (Malaysia) are seeking. Through the years, Nomads have proven that their skills can be up there with the best of the best, their technical skills in emerging fields such as AI, Big Data, Blockchain,..
So with all those reasons, countries are fighting over us. Initiatives are being started to attract us. And one of the most recent initiatives is De Rantau from Malaysia, aims to establish Malaysia as the preferred digital nomad hub via the creation of a vibrant ecosystem that can support digital nomads to be able to regain the balance in working and living.
With that in mind, and after my short trip to Langkawi, Malaysia last week, I can list out 4 reasons why Malaysia would attract you to come, live and work here:
1. It is an English Speaking Country
According to Education First’s English Proficiency Index, 63% of Malaysians speak English and their proficiency is in the High segments. They ranked 28th in the world in this aspect whereas Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand ranked 66th, 80th and 100th, respectively.
Well, some would say that they go nomad to discover the diversity of cultures so why English? Trust me, English is not a must but if it is there, it will make your world so much more convenient. Malaysia was the first country I visited after Covid and at first I was a bit reluctant, afraid that things might go out of plan due to communication issues. But no, from the elderly to the young, from a Grab driver to a State officer, everybody speaks English so well. This helps break the communication barrier and makes both traveling as well as working go so smoothly. Especially for work, English is oh so important. You can get away with some communication issues during travel but at work, problems will arise if there is a language hurdle.
And this is just for a few days worth of work. Imagine working and living in a place for multiple months. Having locals speaking English would make your life so much easier.
2. The De Rantau Nomad Pass
Being the core and in my opinion, the most crucial aspect of the De Rantau initiative, the De Rantau Nomad Pass is a type of Professional Visit Pass newly designed to allow qualified foreign digital nomads to travel and work in Malaysia for up to 12 months which can be renewed for another 1-year.
To make sure that life would be convenient and fulfilling at the same time for the pass holder, they are also allowed to bring in his/her spouse and child/children.
A further aspect to note is that this is the only Nomad Pass you can currently find in South East Asia. Yes, Thailand does have a Long Term Residency (LTR) Visa but requirements are so high that 99.99% of digital nomads will not qualify (More info about that here). But unlike Thailand, Malaysia poses an achievable threshold of $2,000 salary per month for applicants which makes it the ideal place to work and live in South East Asia
Visa cost is reasonable at 220$ for pass holders and 110$ each for their spouse/children.
With the barrier to entry being achievable for most, a reasonable fee, and an ideal length, the De Rantau Nomad Pass is surely one of the key reasons why Malaysia is such an attractive place for Digital Nomads.
3. The De Rantau Ecosystem
Malaysia is really pushing forward on its initiative to promote Digital Nomad in the country. Not only do they provide a good Nomad Pass, an EcoSystem to ensure Accommodation, Co-Working Space, Service Partners is also established for the convenience of nomads.
Let’s go through some of the keynotes that I was able to put together during the launch of De Rantau’s second hub in Langkawi:
- Accommodation: Nomads will be promoted to stay at the selected De Rantau Hubs – a range of nomad-ready accommodation that has been verified, validated and certified by MDEC (Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation) based on DE Rantau Hub LIVE criteria to cater to the active and dynamic nomad lifestyle.
The place that MDEC introduced us to was the Langkawi Country Lodge – one of the most highly recommended places to stay on a budget on the island. The price here is very reasonable at RM30 – RM120 depending on the season and the room configuration that you choose. Rest assured that as a member of De Rantau, you will get the best short and long-term stay rate according to your needs.
- Co- Working Space: One of the criteria that MDEC highlighted significantly was their awareness of the importance of Internet speed for Digital Nomads. Hence, as we visited Jetpack – Langkawi’s top co-working space, their Founder has guaranteed an Internet Speed of up to 800Mbps to ensure smooth work for digital nomads. Other aspects are also taken into consideration for the convenience of working such as a subscription alongside ticket-based membership, a bathroom for you to freshen up after a trip to the beach before work and free refreshments for you to enjoy. Workshops and the ability to have skills sharing is also emphasized by the Jetpack team as they aim to build a community of strong bonds among members of Jetpackers.
- Safety: During my trip to Langkawi, safety was a concern. Like at any new place, I wonder if I can live here without any worry. The answer – yes! Everybody, from the driver to the co-working space owner, assure me that Langkawi is a safe environment and that nomads can comfortably walk around the island. There are even case studies at Jetpack about female nomads feeling comfortable staying at the co-working space till 3am and walking back to their accommodation as normal. Throughout my time staying here, I walk extensively around the island as well, doing some night cardio and finding night snacks. All without any worry about safety.
- Other services: Besides accommodations and working space, DE Rantau provides access to a full-fledged ecosystem that includes curated local services ranging from travel, tourism, transport, e-commerce, and e-payments,… Though in my short time of staying, I was not able to fully experience this aspect, I still have high expectations as MDEC was able to partner with the likes of AirAsia, Grab, and Paynet,…All big names to support everyday activities. If you are a member of DE Rantau, you can discover this ecosystem through the De Rantau Platform App (Yes, they even make an App for us!) and get access to benefits, discount vouchers, latest information, and promotions.
4. Its food
In the short time that I was able to interview Mr. Mahadhir Aziz, the CEO of MDEC, said that he is a “huge believer in Food and that if foreigners can come here to try Malaysian food in Malaysia, that would be the best way to export the country’s culture to the world”. And why wouldn’t he be? Malaysia is such a fascinating country, cuisine-wise, simply because it is so diverse in culture. You have so many different ethnic groups here so you can easily get authentic Chinese, Indian, Halal, and Western food – and some also got a Malay twist to it as well!
More than just the actual flavor of the food, Malay food for me is special because it can be unique in experience as well. If you are living in crowded cities like Penang or KL, you can navigate yourselves among the markets and hawker stores for the buzzing atmosphere. Or if you stay in Langkawi like me – you can enjoy a tranquil meal by the rice paddy, with your meals wrapped in banana leaf. Everything is so Asia and so intriguing.
Prices are really affordable too! Malaysia currently sits 73rd in the world’s cost of living index so your dollar will go a long way here. Hence, expenses on good food should be very low.
All that is the reason why Malaysia should be your next nomad destination! I can really feel the energy of the people here and initiatives like De Rantau really shows that the country is all for digitalization and Nomads will play a part in this journey.
But remember, it is not all about what we can get from Malaysia, it is about what we can do for Malaysia as well. One thing you can do to support Malaysia when visiting here is to reduce the amount of bottled water by using tap water instead. With Tapp Water Malaysia, you can simply plug the filter into any faucet and you will have delicious drinking water on the other end. Let’s be responsible nomads and not leave behind any bottled footprint by having our own bottle and a tap filter on the go!
That’s it from me – see you on the next adventure in Malaysia!