Working in UK vs Malaysia: Is There Really a Difference?

petronas twin tower and canary wharf bridge

Every time someone discovers that I am in my final year of university, they always react by saying “So what’s your plan after graduation? Staying in the UK or coming home?” My response is usually an uneasy “I’m not quite sure yet.” Like many final-year undergraduate students, I, too, am clueless about my future. It is a tough choice deciding where you should start building your career.

So – working in the UK vs Malaysia? With only six months left to graduation, I start to seek perspectives from professionals who have experienced the best (and the worst) of both worlds.

Related: Why Studying at Top Local Universities Can Be Better Than Studying Abroad for Undergraduate Studies?

1) Employment Opportunities

For many professionals whom I have spoken to, Malaysia’s economic progress is giving rise to a lot of new opportunities. While competition for jobs is high, employment prospects remain good for high-skilled workers in various industries. This includes Electronics, Financial Services, and ICT. Under the Prime Minister’s Department, TalentCorp has formulated and facilitated initiatives to address the availability of talents to fuel the country’s economic transformation. Some examples include them outlining the Critical Occupation List and organising the Sector Focused Career Fair (SFCF).

However, that is not the point. The point here is that Malaysia is willing to invest heavily in its people by enhancing graduates’ marketability and creating a diverse pool of talent for high-skilled jobs. In terms of employment, there will always be gaps to fill. To quote one of the professionals I interviewed, “In Malaysia, opportunities are plenty. If you have the skills, you’ll have the job”.

In comparison, reports by the Financial Times indicate that young graduates in the UK are struggling to find work that matches their skills, while overall employment prospects for graduates had reached pre-crisis levels. The unemployment rate for graduates was 3.1% and 2.3% for workers with a postgraduate qualification. Continuing uncertainty surrounding the Brexit process shed some worrying signs in the prospects for employment for international students alongside stricter immigration rules following Brexit.


2) Growth and Motivation

For many graduates, your first job serves as a platform to absorb as much relevant knowledge and experience as possible. It is not surprising, therefore, that graduates pay particular attention to the prospects of development and learning curve offered by companies.

While it is unfair to generalise the culture and work environment of numerous companies in Malaysia and the UK, it is fair to deduce that both countries offer the opportunity to interact with a diversified workforce. Most UK firms that sponsor Tier 2 Visa, hire international employees from multiple backgrounds and UK’s strategic geographical position in Europe allows it to do business and attract talents across the region. This, in turn, will enable graduates to familiarise themselves with global values, tackle global requirements and deliver global solutions. However, as a Malaysian working in the UK, you will notice that the cost of living is significantly higher – as illustrated by Numbeo’s indices charts.

In the same manner, working in Malaysia gives one a good foundation for dealing with and overcoming challenges of various languages, cultures, and outlook. Malaysia’s multi-ethnic background presents oneself with the need to encourage and embrace the diversity of thoughts and viewpoints.

However, depending on the nature of your future job, an added advantage of working in Malaysia is the accessibility to regional opportunities. The same cannot be said if you were to work in the UK. Under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC), Malaysia together with nine other member-states signed the Mutual Recognition Agreements (MRA) which allow for a worker’s skills, experience, and accreditations to be recognized across ASEAN, permitting them to work outside their home country. Currently, ASEAN has MRAs in place for eight sectors including engineering, nursing, architecture, medicine, dentistry, tourism, surveying and accountancy.


3) Compensation and Benefits

Personally, one of the key attractions of working in the UK is the monetary incentives that come with earning in GBP. For a fresh graduate, this is an opportunity to build a positive bank balance and allow one to save for her/his future.  Additionally, it could be argued that cities in the UK such as London or Manchester give one a higher quality of living with accessibility to good transport links, entertainments and higher purchasing power.

Nevertheless, there are some areas that you need to pay attention to. One of it is the tax rate.  In Malaysia, the highest tax rate you can pay is 28% whereas in the UK the top marginal tax rate is 45%.  Putting this in perspective, you are obliged to pay more of your hard-earned income if you work in the UK in comparison to Malaysia.

While personal reasons for their move differ, most professionals that I interviewed agreed that the biggest benefit of working in Malaysia is the proximity to their family members. For women especially, families allow them to have the support system they need to pursue their careers while raising children. After all, Malaysia is home. With excellent healthcare facilities, beautiful parks and beaches, good weather as well as exceptional traditional cuisines, Malaysia provide some intangible perks that no monetary incentive can replace.

Related: Your First Job: Choosing Between Startup vs Corporate


Ultimately, when deciding to work in Malaysia or in the UK, it boils down to what you seek to gain down the road. If the personal situation permits, everyone should seriously consider an experience abroad or an overseas assignment. Nevertheless, one should not close one’s eyes to the opportunities presented at home. For me personally, having both experience is a necessity and not an option. Both the UK and Malaysia present graduates such as myself with challenges and benefits that are unique on its own.

So, Malaysia or UK? That’s for you to decide.


Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in January 2018 and has been revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness

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