Conjuring up all the mysteries of Asia, Malaysia is a former British colony that remains as colorful as ever. Beyond the lofty skyscrapers of the capital, Kuala Lumpur, its dramatic canvas is embroidered with tropical beaches, mountains, dense rainforest, and vividly green tea plantations.
Along with foreign expats from around the globe, the country is home to Malay Malays, Chinese Malays, Hindu Malays, and Sikh Malays. There are still traces of the British influence. Throughout the Muslim world, there’s probably no more liberal country.
Malaysia has great infrastructure and foreigners are allowed to own properties freehold, has no inheritance tax, and places no tax on income repatriated from overseas.
There is no capital gains tax on equities either, and property sold in the fifth year will incur only 5% capital gains tax.
Malaysia also has a fascinating history. The UNESCO heritage city of Malacca was conquered by the Portuguese in 1511, and the first Englishman to set foot on a beach on the Island of Penang (also UNESCO listed) did so in 1593.
Malaysia’s first UNESCO heritage site, Kota Kinabalu Park, has more than 4,500 species of flora and fauna, including 326 birds and over 100 different mammals. It will literally take your breath away.
When you sprinkle the stunning beaches of Langkawi, Pankor and Tioman Island into the mix, and then throw in unbeatable heath care at super low prices, you have a country like no other in Asia. The fact that most Malaysians also speak English is the icing on the cake.
Get Your Free Malaysia Report Now
Learn more about Malaysia and other countries in our daily postcard e-letter.
Simply enter your email address below to sign up for IL’s free daily postcards and we'll also send you a Free Malaysia Report - Amazing Malaysia: Halve Your Living Costs While Living Like a King in the ‘Pearl of the Orient’.
Get Your Free Report Here
- Population: 29,628,392 (July 2012 est.)
- Capital City: Kuala Lumpur
- Climate: Tropical; annual southwest (April to October) and northeast (October to February) monsoons
- Time Zone: GMT +8 hours
Kuala Lumpur is a big thriving city of about 1.6 million people. Expats living there have all of the conveniences of the Western world mixed with a Malaysian flair. There is a good public transportation system consisting of buses and trains, but taxis are common throughout as well. It isn’t just the capital of Malaysia; it is the largest city, too. There are thousands of restaurants serving up everything from local noodle dishes to Australian steaks and burgers.
We have always loved to travel; my husband David and I. Annual holidays gave us the perfect excuse. We first explored the U.S. on epic road trips, then Mexico, Europe, and Southeast Asia. Each time we returned, it was back to the “real world” of too much work and not enough play. Returning from our last holiday in 2003, I realized that I just wasn’t ready for it to end. We had visited Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia on a whirlwind trip. It wasn’t enough for me and it was during that flight home that I made a decision…I realized that I didn’t want to work at my full-time job as a registered nurse until I was 65. I didn’t want to wait to retire and hope that I would be healthy enough to travel and do all the things that I wanted to do before it was too late.
George Town, the capital city of the island of Penang, is full of wonderful surprises. It is one of the most interesting and colourful cities in Malaysia, as well as being home to great healthcare, modern infrastructure and First-World amenities.
The woman takes two wiry black hairs from a vial and dips them in water. She then puts them on a sheet of white paper. The stuff of forest magic lines her stall: powders, dried fruits, shriveled nuts…slender feathers and strange leathery objects. The hairs curl upward on the paper. Two earnest men look on. She is telling a fortune with those hairs…how, I’m not quite sure.
Penang is well-known in Southeast Asia as a foodie haven. It’s a passion that the locals don’t take lightly (you can’t even take a taxi without getting into a big discussion about food). But, unlike many top foodie spots, Penang’s gourmand attitude doesn’t stem from its expensive Michelin-starred restaurants or celebrity chefs.
When you meet a local in Penang they’ll ask you two questions. Firstly, “How are you?” And then “sudah makan?” which roughly translates as “Have you eaten yet?” It’s asked when you get a haircut…when you get a taxi…when you shop at the market… And they truly want to know. If you answer yes, they will ask “What?” and “Where?” and then proceed to tell you their favorite food and where to get it. It’s a conversation, not just a question. Food is that important in Penang. (And don’t worry, people speak English…you only need to know a few words of Malay.)
Imagine a life where you get to travel, earn enough to live, and enjoy doing what you love. Samantha Wei and Yeison Kim are based in Costa Rica and earn a living from blogging about their adventures. Their blog now generates a healthy income averaging more than $5,000 each month in revenue.
There’s so much to love about island life in Penang, Malaysia, that it’s hard to know where to start. The cost of living has gone down due to the strength of the U.S. dollar and the falling Malaysian dollar, which is great for expats living here. For example, a 2,000-square-foot apartment with sea views that cost $900 a month to rent two years ago is now just $700.
Sitting on my balcony just off the living room, I’m completely surrounded by 100-foot-tall, 200-year-old trees. Sipping my coffee early in the morning, there is one tree that always holds my attention as it’s surrounded by fireflies. I’d never seen them before moving here and they’re quite magical.
Many factors come into play when considering a retirement abroad. Cost of living, prices of rents and real estate, and healthcare options are main concerns. But quality of life for retirees moving abroad also depends in large part on being able to fit in quickly, learn the ropes, and mix well with the locals in their adapted communities. Language, culture, and community support from locals and other expats all can have a dramatic effect on the quality of the expat retiree experience.
When planning your retirement overseas, many factors come into play. Low costs, real estate, and healthcare are some of the main concerns…but what about being able to mix well with the community or make friends with the locals? Being able to integrate well will help ensure that you feel at home in your new home. Do the locals speak English or do you speak the local language? Is the community welcoming to expats? Are there groups and clubs available to join?
As healthcare costs and complexity in the U.S. continue to spiral upward, more and more retirees are asking, “Can I get high-quality healthcare for less if I move overseas?” The simple answer is yes. The Healthcare category of the 2016 International Living Global Retirement Index ranks the healthcare systems of the 23 most popular retirement locations abroad.
As healthcare costs in the U.S. continue to spiral upward, one of the main questions any aspiring expat asks is, “Can I get great healthcare when I move overseas?” The simple answer is yes…and without breaking the bank, either.
Retiring abroad is easier and more affordable than ever before. These days it really is possible to spend your days relaxing beneath palm fronds on a Caribbean beach, enjoying farm-fresh produce in a mountain haven with year-round spring weather, or wandering the storied streets of a historic and cultured European city…or all of the above. But with so many choices available, finding the right one can seem daunting.
What makes for a great place to live? An ideal climate…modern services and conveniences like high-speed internet…high-quality but low-cost healthcare…a no-hassle visa or residence program…a lower cost of living. And good-value real estate. In many places around the world you can have all this, plus little luxuries like having someone else clean your house, your yard, and do your laundry.
During the second Chinese Opium War, in the 1850s, a penniless teen named Cheong Fatt Tze fled from China to Southeast Asia. There he would make his fortune as a merchant. He became so wealthy that he earned the moniker of “Rockefeller of the East.” Tze owned many fine houses throughout Southeast Asia, but none was as extravagant as the Blue Mansion, on the tropical island of Penang off the coast of Malaysia. It’s a colossal beacon of 19th-century Chinese extravagance
Here you can have the adventure of a lifetime…and the comforts of a truly pampered lifestyle for pennies on the dollar. You can get in on one of the world’s most attractive retirement programs (it’s easy to qualify) and enjoy money-saving tax breaks…obtain a long-term visa…and live on an island with world-class beaches and a great culinary and arts scene…where you can rent an ultra-modern, two-bedroom, two-bathroom condo for as little as $220 a month.
As the savage North American winter begins to bite and the snow and ice pile up, many of us ﬁnd ourselves yearning for warmer climates elsewhere. Imagine a place that’s never too hot or too cold—just perfect. Outside, the birds are chirping, while gardens and wildﬂowers bloom in multicolored glory. You can walk around in a light tee-shirt at any time of year. Throw out your coat and boots. Forget about heating and air-conditioning bills and suffering through sweltering heat and humidity.
Dawn and Phil first came to Malaysia for a four-month break to recharge their batteries. Nothing had been planned and they liked the idea of just winging it, but they did visit the island of Langkawi and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital. However, George Town in Penang, with its colonial heritage, was where they spent most of their time.
One of the most diverse regions on Earth, Southeast Asia is home to a myriad of different religions and cultures, many of which trace back thousands of years. And every year, the unique cultures of the Far East manifest themselves in a variety of colorful festivals, all free of charge, the likes of which you will find nowhere else on the planet. Add to this some of the world’s best beaches and street food, and you have every reason to stop by this neck of the woods.
Island time, Penang time. It’s very different from time anywhere else. I have a smartphone but it works differently for me here in Malaysia. Before I moved here, it was a hip thing to have, and if I didn’t answer emails a nanosecond after receiving them I would get a call asking me why. Here, my phone is a device that connects me to people.
Many years ago, the Portuguese island of Madeira had a surplus of chestnuts. To make the most of this bumper crop before it went off, the creative locals used chestnuts in every conceivable dish, from soup and cake to bread and even liqueurs. And from November 1 to 2 each year, residents of the rural district of Curral das Freiras commemorate their ingenuity with the Festa da Castanha, or Chestnut Festival.
Don’t let Southeast Asia’s “exotic” reputation fool you. Yes, this part of the world is rich with color and unfamiliar culture. But what you may not realize is that Southeast Asia is also one of the easiest places for English-speaking expats to get “set up” and start living very, very well…for a small fraction of what a comparable lifestyle would cost at home.
For any intrepid traveler, finding great deals on airfares is one of the best ways to save money as you travel. And fortunately, there’s an app on the market that can help you do just that. Hopper is a smartphone app (available in the Apple app store) that can tell you the cheapest time to fly to locations all around the world and find you the cheapest deals on airfare. Knowing the right time to book can save you up to 40% on airfare alone.
Before the automobile came along, people lived life on a more intimate scale. You shopped at the local butcher, baker, and grocer (whom you knew by name). The café downstairs, or down the street, was your second home, and its patrons your second family. You scheduled your day by how long it took to walk from place to place…and nobody was in a rush, anyway.
The E&O Hotel has hung on to the majesty of its colonial past. Sitting outside on its manicured lawn sipping a gin and tonic it’s not hard to imagine colonials in their crisp white suits doing exactly that just 100 years ago. The evening light filtering through the coconut grove and the warm evening breeze makes for a perfect evening.
Because of its easy mix of the archaic and modern, the Malaysian island of Penang has been described by expats as stepping back in time with all the benefits of modern comforts. Here twenty-first century conveniences abound, but this multi-cultural island holds onto enough of its Old-World, Asian charm to make it a real haven for those eager to experience new cultures and traditions.
As fall arrives in the northern hemisphere, Nicaragua remains warm, with temperatures averaging 79 F. That makes it easy to enjoy the outdoor festivities that sweep the country. The San Jerónimo festival, in the city of Masaya, sees a statue of the country’s patron saint taken from its usual haunt, the church altar, and carried around the town, accompanied by traditional dancers. One of the procession’s highlights is the Mozote y Verga, in which dancers reenact great battles of Nicaragua’s past from the Filibuster War of 1856 to the ousting of the dictatorship in 1979. The event kicks off on September 30.
“We love Penang for a number of reasons,” says Carol Kildruff of her and her husband Hank’s decision to move to the Southeast Asian island in 2005. “It wasn’t purely for ﬁnancial reasons, although that was a bonus. Winters in Canada are brutal, and we really wanted somewhere warm for seven months of the year. Of course, when we found out that Penang has the best food in the region, it clinched the deal and made the decision to move all the easier.”
“We have never regretted our decision,” says Ellen Ma of her and her husband Jim’s move to the island of Penang in northeast Malaysia. “Financially it made sense, and when you throw in high-speed internet, cable TV, great food, and a large, diverse expat community, we wish we had done it sooner. We were also surprised how many North Americans are here. There are a lot and that’s also comforting… we immediately had people who understood us.”
I ’d never seen a festival like it in my life, and I’d been living in Southeast Asia for 16 years: the massive procession of people winding its way through the streets, bearing aloft colorful offerings of fruit, flowers, and food, following a glowing chariot to the temple where they unburden themselves. Many of them adorn their bodies with ornate but painful-looking piercings and shave their heads as a sign of devotion.
At home, prices are rising. It costs more to put gas in the car, buy groceries, and pay for health insurance. At the same time, retirement savings eroded in the market downturn. If you’re looking overseas for a low-cost alternative to an uncertain retirement at home, there’s good news. You can ﬁnd it in places that offer not just “cheap” living, but a whole basketful of beneﬁts, too—places where a mild spring-like climate is yours all year round…beaches are of powder-white sand…snow-capped mountains soar above colonial towns…and your costs could be as low as $1,000 a month.
The vibe of Langkawi, also known as the Jewel of Kedah, is one of a laidback island. If it’s beaches and wildlife that you’re after, Langkawi is probably the Malaysian Island to head to—and Malaysia does have a few to choose from.
Gene and Patricia have been escaping harsh Canadian winters in Cancún for about 15 years now. They are among a large number of couples who have chosen the life of a “half-pat,” preferring to spend four to six months a year in their second, much warmer, home here on the Caribbean, without committing entirely to the life of full-time expats. The Rousseaus usually leave their Canadian home in early January, enjoying about five months in Cancún before returning in late April or May, depending on the Canadian weather.
Many people yearn for the classic tropical-island getaway: pristine beaches, clear water, sunkissed sands, and palm fronds fringing verdant rainforest. Alas, such places are in increasingly short supply. One still-pristine getaway is Langkawi. Known as the jewel of the Malaysian state of Kedah, this archipelago of 105 islands remains off most tourists’ radar. As a result, the traditions and tropical-island feel remain intact. Here you’ll find the unblemished beaches, crystal-clear waters, and wild rainforests of tropical-island lore.
For 10 years before my husband Mark and I left Chicago, I was working 24/7. As the owner of a wholesale women’s clothing business, my career left me little time to actually enjoy life. So, Mark and I made the massive decision to leave the U.S. 18 months ago. We did it because we needed to slow down and enjoy life now. We sold it all; furniture, cars, clothes, businesses and stuffed the rest into two suitcases. Then we moved halfway across the world, to a country that we had only visited for a total of 17 days. Our destination: Penang, Malaysia.
A new report from the editors of InternationalLiving.com ranks and profiles the five best tropical-island paradises for retirees today. Spread throughout the world, these islands are unique—but they share certain characteristics: They’re warm, offer good infrastructure, provide acceptable healthcare facilities either on-island or nearby, and they represent good value—a couple can live comfortably from $1,500 a month, housing included. “Something about the word ‘island’ makes the mind race to ‘escape,’” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “On an island, the pace slows, you live in the present, you shed concerns right along with your closed-toed shoes.
In Western Australia, April marks the return of the majestic whale sharks to Nimbaloo Marine Park. This is a perfect time of year to snorkel with these gentle giants— the largest fish in the ocean. If behemoths of the deep aren’t your thing, there’s plenty more for you to do at the Surfer’s Paradise Festival, on the country’s Gold Coast April 3–18. You’ll find a wide array of food, street performers, art, music, and other entertainment to cater to all tastes… and all of it free of charge. April also rings in the Buddhist New Year. In Malaysia this is marked by the Songkran Festival (April 12–14), which also serves to celebrate the country’s Siamese community. Rivers and beaches in the state of Kedah are ornamented with sand temples, called stupas, which are then washed away by the tide.
Spiraling healthcare and insurance costs are a thing of the past for thousands of North Americans who have found their dream retirement haven abroad. If you’re still mulling your overseas options, then the availability of quality and affordable healthcare is likely a primary concern. Over the next few pages, we explore five countries hand-picked by our expat experts for the exceptionally high quality of their healthcare. All five destinations have become expat hubs, and the North Americans who now call them home—including our correspondents—can attest to the high level of care they’ve received there.
In this article, we outline the best five tropical island paradises for retirees. These places meet all the criteria needed to make them perfect retirement havens. As well as looking the part, all five of these islands—spread throughout the world—are becoming easier to get to as more and more flights open up to and from North America. Many tropical getaways have been consumed by commercialism, leaving them beyond every reasonable budget. But the islands on our list remain affordable, as attested by our expat experts on the ground. On some, it’s possible to live for as little as $1,500 a month including rent.