To Leave or to Stay During COVID-19 Lockdown
Malaysia has been under different stages of the COVID-19 Lockdown since March 2020. But the most significant impact on the expats in the country is that international borders are still closed. Like many other countries protecting their citizens, Malaysia shut down international travel for all foreigners.
As an expatriate family in Kuala Lumpur, we had to make a tough decision. Fortunately, our home country, Singapore, is just across the border, and can we can get there normally with a 45-minute flight or a 5-hour drive.
However, this didn’t make the decision less painful. Our families, parents, and siblings, were just on the other side of the border, a barrier we could now no longer pass as in times before.
Do we cross the border and hope that the COVID-19 lockdown will be over soon? Or do we stay put? Should I take our child to Singapore and leave my husband in Kuala Lumpur? He still needed to work! These were the questions set before us.
Our decision was to stay put in our host country instead of joining our families in Singapore, despite their wishes. I have heard many expats going back to their home countries, either to wait until the lockdown period was over or to pack up and leave for good. Given that the decision was made in March and now it’s almost the end of 2020, I am beyond relieved that we stayed together as a family.
Here are the reasons:
Another major factor that led to our decision was the affordable healthcare in Malaysia. I can get an over-the-counter medicine without a doctor’s prescription for my basic needs like anti-histamine, flu, and cough medicines, whereas in Singapore, I will need to visit a doctor first before I can have access to the same medications. As a foreigner, I cannot get subsidies in the hospitals in Malaysia, but I found out it is still way more affordable here than in my home country. When I was admitted for Dengue in Singapore, I stayed in a single-bedroom for four nights at a high cost. Getting sick in Singapore is expensive, even for citizens.
Bigger Indoor Space
80% of the Singapore population lives in HDB, which is the government’s public housing. While Singapore has one of the best public housing because of its cleanliness, the units are not as big as where we live in Kuala Lumpur. Not a splurge, we are staying in a 1300 sq. ft. private apartment that comes with two balconies with a pool view and is surrounded by trees. If we were to return home, we would have to cramp in a smaller unit with my parents and siblings, and it will be more uncomfortable for everyone. This makes the COVID-19 lockdown much easier on us.
Talking About Space
Just in Greater Kuala Lumpur, it is estimated that we have 7.5 million people in 2,793.27 km of land space, while Singapore has 5.7 million in 725.7km total land area. Singapore is the number 2 country on the list of highest population density. That said, it is better to stay in a less populated place like Kuala Lumpur, especially during a pandemic, even with a COVID-19 lockdown.
Family As One Unit
I know that some partners sent their spouses and children home while they stayed put and worked. If we had gone that route, it would have meant that I wouldn’t have seen my husband for almost a year.
Traveling to either country will require approval, especially here in Malaysia since we are not citizens. They also require a 14-day quarantine at our own cost. It would be expensive to pay on top of the flight tickets, add the compulsory tests for the family.
Besides, approvals are difficult to get, and many people reported having been rejected despite several attempts, even though they had a spouse visa or a long-term visa.
Perhaps the best part of staying in Malaysia is that we can travel interstate. Even though the international borders are closed during the COVID-19 lockdown, there are plenty of beautiful secluded places in Malaysia for a family holiday. We can still enjoy the outdoors while observing social distancing on a private beach or a chalet up in the mountains. We can support the economy and local businesses by spending money within the country.
We miss our families back home and wish that the borders would open soon, so we can visit one another again. Until that happens, we are glad that we choose to stay in Malaysia where our family can be together, safe and sound.
by: Kally Tay