An Expat Talks about Retiring in Penang, Malaysia
What is the name of the city or town that you are reporting on?
Why did you choose to retire abroad?
My husband and I choose to retire abroad early. I was 43 and he was 59. We had seen and experienced most of our home country and was looking to experience different cultures.
Are you retired abroad all year or part of the year?
Why did you choose the country you retired to?
We choose Malaysia for it's cost of living and multicultural society.
Did you ever live abroad before you retired abroad?
First we went to another country. Was there for 4 years, but it just became obvious that it was too expensive.
How long have you lived abroad since you retired abroad?
How many countries (other than your home country) have you lived in as a retiree?
What have been the most challenging aspects of being retired abroad?
We long ago stopped comparing countries to the US and just accepted places for what they were. With that said the most challenging aspects for us would be the need to travel home to visit our family. This is a costly trip and while we enjoy visiting family, don't enjoy that we are the ones who are expected to return. None of our family has come to visit us.
What have been the most rewarding aspects of being retired abroad?
When we stay in a place for some time, we build friendships. We are recognised in shops and markets. It's wonderful to be accepted as a "local" even though we are still foreigners. When you can move about with confidence and ease in a foreign country you see more than just a traveler.
What would you do differently if you were just starting the retire abroad process?
Nothing really. The problem is putting it off. Life is to short.
What is life like for a retiree in your city and its surroundings? (Is there an active expat community? Cultural Attractions? Recreation? Nightlife?)
Penang is a wonderful place. A large small town I call it. English is widely spoken, people are friendly, many cultural attractions and events. There is a large expat community here. Although we do not live amongst expats.
What residency documents or visas did you need to obtain to retire in your host country? How difficult was this process? (Please describe)
Malaysia offers a retirement visa. With that said, we find the financial requirement for this visa is high. We are currently under a tourist visa and that is iffy. Not something I would recommend; however, there are many expats doing this. You seem to be at the whim of the immigration officer. We live our lives 3 months at a time with a back up plan. Malaysia is missing the point. We are pure consumers here. While we can't financially do the retirement visa, we have plenty of money to pay our way. There is no middle ground with Malaysia. They seem to want to attract the wealthier retirees.
Did you buy a home or apartment, or rent one? Is this a difficult process? (Please describe)
We have rented an apt, fully furnished. It's wonderful. We pay more than the average rent for a local because of the location and size. The best way to find good apartments is to walk around in areas you like and talk to the security guards. They know everything!
Financially, has living abroad in your host country met your expectations? Exceeded them?
I would love to stay in Malaysia permenately. Financially it is a viable place for us to live as retired.
What are the most important financial considerations for retiring to your host country?
The retirement visa financial obligations are most important. Otherwise you could still do it but chances are after a few visa runs you are going to get hassled by immigration.
How much can a retiree live on comfortably in your host country?
We live quite well on less than $2000 USD a month. Actually about $1500.
Do you have access to quality medical care? (Please describe - is it close? Expensive?)
We have not used medical care here, but understand through other expats who have that they have been quite satisfied. There are an abundance of healthcare facilities on Penang.
Is there a lot of crime where you live? (Please describe)
No. We feel safe walking around day and night. With that said, we don't go out to bars in town at night or hang out in places like that.
Describe available transportation where you live. Do you need a car? Is there access to safe public transportation?
Penang has good buses but they can be busy at times. Sometimes they pass you by because they are full during holidays or peak times. Taxis are a hit and miss, need to know and negotiate prices. Car rental is reasonable. Traffic is busy and congested most of the time. Driving is stressful but you do get used to it.
Is there high-speed internet access where you live?
Yes and no. Depends on what building you are living in.
Do you have any other thoughts you would like to share about retiring abroad?
I'm submitting this report anonymously. Malaysia does not have free speech. Well it does and it doesn't. Anything said against the government or Islam could land you in trouble. It's kinda crazy, I love it here, I want nothing more than to just to live and be a consumer and soak up the culture. I've found that Muslims as well as Chinese and Indians are friendly here and lovely people. I don't trust the police, or the government institutions like immigration. I know if we choose to do the retirement visa, it would be ok with the process, but am left feeling vulnerable with just a tourist visa. There is a level of distrust here with regards to the government not only with expats but locals as well.