Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Where to Work?

Since I'm nearing the end of my PhD, I was thinking of starting my job applications soon. On a whim, I did some mental calculations on whether it'd be better to work in Malaysia or the UK. My rough calculations said that it was better to work in Malaysia. Since this was against the normal belief, I thought that I'd put things in a spreadsheet and work it out in more detail. If you have a google account, you can see the formulas in the spreadsheet here.


  • I don't claim that it's 100% accurate. These are the best numbers that I could find. If you have something better, email me the information.
  • This is merely looking at things from a pure money point of view. When making a decision on where to work, you have to consider a lot of other things (e.g. weather, food, people).
  • Granted, I have not taken into account every single detail, like mobile bills, internet bills, girl/boyfriend bills and what nots. You can factor these other costs in as well.
These are my findings:
  1. Western countries have an extremely high tax rate. This is because they have very few tax bands, typically 4. So, you very quickly hit the top tax bands. They also typically have a national and local tax rate. As a result, the take home pay is much less than the gross pay.
  2. Working in Malaysia isn't a totally bad thing. The amount that I can save up is more than I could if I worked elsewhere (besides Singapore).
  3. Time to go find a job in Singapore and save up the cash in Malaysia! However, the CPF problem is a sticky issue especially since the employee contribution is particularly high.

Some notes about the values on the spreadsheet:
  • Where I have been unable to find reliable information, or when the field may not be applicable, I have left the cell blank. If you find the information, please let me know and I'll include it.
  • The salaries will of course vary depending on job. The numbers shown are based on a reasonable post-doc academic position. If you're working in the private sector, it would be higher. If you lack a graduate degree, it'll probably be less.
  • Tax rates and pensions are generally extracted directly from the government websites or relevant wikipedia pages. Where local taxes may vary widely, I have generally picked a rate that is average or flat.
  • Expenses vary from person to person. However, I tried to restrict it to a reasonably average lifestyle. It reflects rent of an apartment (2-person sharing), plus an average car (1.5L engine). The cost of food should be comparable everywhere. The entertainment assumes simple things like going to the cinema, buying some DVDs. If you go clubbing, expect the expenses to go through the roof. Likewise, if you walk or cycle or take public transport, adjust it accordingly.
  • Bank interest rates were extracted from, the world's local bank, HSBC in each country for 12 month timed deposits or equivalent. There are of course, better ways to grow your money.
PS: If you do find better numbers than what I have, please email me the links to the information and I'll update the spreadsheet. If you have another country to add in, send me the info as well.

UPDATE: Consider the spreadsheet as a fluid document. It will be updated periodically as I find out more information.


Gabriel Wu said...

yeah, i intuitively feel that Singapore is not such a bad place to make a living as a physicist/researcher/scientist afterall...

the government IS pouring tons of money into research. and the cost of living/tax rate is much lower compared with in the UK.

you only need to make sure that you remain in their good books! (read: keep. mouth. shut.)

KC said...

Interesting spreadsheet. I have only saw it today. I had a quick look through yesterday. How about lifestyle and working environment? I always believe there should be a price tag to that too. Extreme stress in Singapore e.g.) can increase the cost of medical bills :P so less money in the end :P

Note to your disclaimer point 2:
Some indirect factors such as political instability, economic volatility, personal growth/development, regional working behaviours/styles, future/promotional prospects, etc. They are indirect, but ignoring them would mean, the spreadsheet will only capture a present comparison like u said purely in $$$. If you can find a 'black scholes' model for this, haha Nobel prize man...

flygoon said...


If you really do plan to come back to Malaysia, a man of your calibre could earn an extremely good living in Penang. All the IC Design HOuses are willing to pay good money for IC designer with a PhD, especially one with a cambridge PhD...

flygoon said...

Just noticed something, in your spreadsheet, you have seriously underestimated the income tax of Malaysia. Also, Malaysia government is rolling out service and purchasing tax in stages, so, taxes in Malaysia is getting heavier. For an estimate of RM 80,000 per year income, the annual income tax is 24%, not to forget there're also the EPF deduction. Here's the URL for checking the tax bracket:

Dan said...

there's the issue of food and weather :P

Shawn Tan said...

Hi Flygoon,

Thanks for the compliment. I've already taken into account EPF deducation, that's 11% employee contribution listed in the "Employee Pensions" row.

As for the tax, according to your link, anyone earning more than 200/month needs to pay income tax, which doesn't make sense to me. So, I assumed that the shown rates are monthly pay, not annual. But I could be wrong. I'll try to find out and correct the spreadsheet if necessary. Checking doesn't seem to help.