FORTY-THREE years ago in 1976, the doors of the first international class three-star hotel named Holiday Inn opened in Kuching to great fanfare and immense expectations from the public and the inbound tourism industry. At its helm was a much-experienced Swiss hotelier by the name of Peter Ernst Mueller. By the time he left our shores many years later, he had earned himself the nickname of ‘Borneo Mueller’ in the travel industry globally.
In 1987, as a joint worldwide media blitz to promote both the city Holiday Inn together with the newer Holiday Inn Damai Beach, Mueller in a joint effort with the Sarawak Tourism Board, then led by Denis Hon, a Sarawakian, came up with the famous tagline – ‘Sarawak – Borneo’s best kept secret!’ It was a wild success, assisted by newly-launched airline routes into Kuching International Airport and specially packaged long weekend jaunts by Singapore Airlines aimed at neighbouring Asean nations.
I remember that one couldn’t even find a single vacant table at the local Buntal seafood eateries during the weekends.
Today, as I sit at my PC typing out this column, I do believe that our current ‘best kept secret’ is a joint effort between Sarawak Tourism Board and the Immigration Department – a programme known as Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H), which has been around for many years but seems to be almost completely unknown to most of us as well as its ultimate market – expatriates, foreigners, and potential takers out there.
The current programme for Sarawak differs from that applicable for Peninsular Malaysia and Sabah. The full details can be obtained from the Internet should you just Google search for it.
MM2H was started in 2004 basically to promote tourism, encourage foreign senior citizens to apply for long stays, buy cars, and homes, and to boost the Malaysian economy. It has proven to be quite a success in Peninsular Malaysia, to the tune of between 3,000 and 4,000 new successful applicants every month.
In Sarawak, it has been surprisingly negligible in number: in 2006, two years after its inception there were only 48 takers and 12 years later by 2018, it had only increased to 1,064. Of these, the top three successful nationals under the MM2H programme were British, those from People’s Republic of China (PRC), and Taiwanese — in that order.
What are the basic requirements and what are the attractions for someone who might want to consider such a move to Sarawak – to stay almost for good and to retire and settle down?
Anyone with a valid international passport can apply – except those from Israel, Montenegro, and Yugoslavia. Regardless of race, religion, and gender; spouse and children under 21 can accompany the applicant. However, there are basically two categories: for those aged 50 and above; and for those under 50. For the latter, the two conditions are if you are undergoing long term medical treatment in Sarawak, or you are a child or student pursuing your further education in Sarawak.
There is a list of terms and conditions to be fulfilled and the entire process, from application to either approval or rejection, normally takes up to four weeks. You can look up all the information on the internet; but do ensure that you are looking at the correct specs for Sarawak and not for Peninsular Malaysia, as they are quite different.
So why would anyone choose to settle down and retire in Sarawak?
From feedback gathered from those who have done so, as well as from those thinking about making the move; there are essentially five very important elements to the positive points of our lovely country – language, security, low cost of living, tropical climate, and the people.
For the English speaking applicant (take note that the UK forms the biggest bloc of MM2H successful residents), almost everyone can speak or understand the language. It also works for the PRC and Taiwanese as almost every Chinese and those who have studied in Mandarin schools speak the language or a local dialect or two. If they decide to stay within the towns and cities, their exposure to a somewhat similar culture (albeit Overseas Chinese) would remind them closely of home.
Food-wise, both the UK and the Chinese new residents would not face strange alien food as it has become a lot easier these days to locate decent Western-style eateries and there is a proliferation of PRC manned food stalls (not too sure if they are legit or not). Anyway, food speaks a universal language and the new arrivals wouldn’t find it too difficult to adapt their taste buds and enjoy our wide varieties of street food and fancy restaurant cuisines, depending on their personal choices and budgets.
Then we come to a most important element – the affordability of it all. I still hear stories of friends and family members who had migrated to either Australia, New Zealand, or England, who decided that it’s a lot cheaper for them to fly back here for a week or two to sort out their dental work, eyeglasses, and any other medical treatment; have a short holiday home, and return to base; and still have saved some money as well, rather than having the treatment done back where they are now residing.
For retirees living either on a pension, their lifetime savings, or cashing in on their investments, it’s a relatively inexpensive country to settle down in.
Security and safety play a most vital role as well. We live in a harmonious society in a multiracial, multicultural state, where the level of home and personal safety are still relatively secure and our enforcement authorities are efficient and effective.
The tropical climate and the almost perfect weather day in and day out, except for the odd haze, floods, and even more infrequent droughts or water-saving exercises are all a given. God given.
Most of all, and this element is always mentioned to me, regardless of whether the successful new long-stay resident is a British, European, PRC, or Taiwanese national – it is the people. Our man on the street. You and I. We are all just being Sarawakian, in the way we treat any other person, be he a stranger, a newly-introduced friend, a long lost relative, or an old school mate … with warmth, kindness, friendliness, and a great personal empathy and concern for his very well being.
It really makes it a world of difference.
Come settle down in Sarawak. If you’re still thinking about it, you will never regret it.