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 South East Asia Report Now
Learn more about Asia 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 Asia Report - The Best Islands, Beaches and Cities - South East Asia's Top 6 Retirement & Vacation Destinations.
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
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.
One of the oldest outposts of the former British Empire, Penang delivers 110 square miles of tropical treasures. A lush, mountainous island oozing history and heritage, Victorians christened it “the Pearl of the Orient.” It lies anchored on the Spice Route, just off Malaysia’s west coast, a mere two-hour drive from the borders of southern Thailand. For these reasons and more, many foreign retirees opt for a new life on Penang, only a 50-minute flight from Kuala Lumpur. It’s also accessible by an eight-mile long road bridge and a ferry from the mainland that runs 24 hours a day. A second bridge was completed mid-2014 and a tunnel is planned for 2034.
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.
“I love the greens and blues,” says Washington native Deb Crofutt of her new life on a tropical island. “I love the smiles on the faces of everyone I make eye contact with. I like being away from the hustle and bustle of home and the pressure to own ‘things.’ I spent so many years working in the corporate world just to have stuff. This is a simpler, better life.” Imagine the feel of the warm sun on your shoulders as you walk along a pristine white sand beach stretching to the horizon, fringed by palm fronds and the sumptuous blue ocean.
Seven years ago, I sat in a sparkling high-rise in the middle of downtown Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, waiting to meet with the managing director and chief investment executive of VinaCapital, Andy Ho. From the window on the 17th floor, you could look out and see huge infrastructure and commercial real estate projects all over the city. “Have you ever been to Shanghai?” Andy asked. “We, too, are building a whole new city. When you come back in five years, you won’t recognize this place.” He was right. Consider the Bitexco Tower, the crowning glory of the Ho Chi Minh City skyline. It rises 68 stories and has a stunning observation deck cantilevered off the 49th floor. When I was looking out Andy’s window in VinaCapital’s Sun Wah Tower, it wasn’t there.
A populace that appreciates art, a local government that supports artistic endeavors, and a network of galleries to show your work…these are key ingredients for artists choosing a place to live. Surroundings that inspire creativity, whether through architecture, natural beauty, or indigenous influences, are also important. Finally, affordable accommodation and studio space are vital as well. A place where you can live well on a little income and concentrate on your work. Fortunately, even as artists get priced out of metropolises like New York City and Paris, other cities have stepped in. These havens can be found around the world. And even if you’re not a painter or sculptor, these cities are great for those who love and appreciate art…not to mention perfect places to sample new styles and snap up unusual pieces at bargain prices.
Living in a sunny, low-cost, laidback destination overseas doesn’t mean that you have to forego good healthcare. In fact, in many countries abroad, the healthcare you’ll enjoy is second to none…and more affordable than you’ve ever dreamed possible. Below are the five countries which received the top scores in the healthcare category of International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index 2015.
Paul Blanford has created a lifestyle income for his retirement. It’s already making money…and occasionally he gets to enjoy it himself. But when he’s ready to retire—which may be sooner rather than later—his new life is ready for him. Paul, a native of New Zealand, works as a pilot in Hong Kong but has always loved boats and sailing. So he decided to buy a junk—a type of traditional Chinese sailboat— and turn it into a business. Second-hand junks are cheap and plentiful in Hong Kong, and Paul had his eye on the tourist charter business along the west coast of peninsular Malaysia in the Straits of Malacca.
InternationalLiving.com’s just-released Annual Global Retirement Index profiles the best destinations for good-value living around the world today. Using input from a large team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, the Index combines real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. “The world’s top retirement havens for 2015 may dot the landscape from Asia to Latin America to Europe, but they share certain assets,” says InternationalLiving.com’s executive editor, Jennifer Stevens. “They’re safe, offer good value, and are places you can settle with relative ease.
From the quaint town of Cotacachi to the vibrant capital, Quito, from Salinas by the sea to the peaks of the Andes, Ecuador’s diversity is a key part of the massive appeal that sees it regain the coveted top spot on this year’s retirement index. Although prices have risen slightly in recent years, Ecuador’s real estate is still the best value you’ll find anywhere. This is bolstered by the generous array of benefits the government has afforded to retirees. Over-65s get discounts on flights originating in Ecuador, as well as up to 50% off entry to movies and sporting events. Discounts are also available on public transport (50%) and utilities, with the option of a free landline if you purchase a property.
With spiraling costs compelling more and more North Americans to retire overseas, retiring abroad has never been more attractive. But finding the right location among the myriad options available can be daunting. That’s what our Annual Global Retirement Index does. Using input from our team of correspondents on the ground all over the world, we combine real-world insights about climate, health care, cost of living, and much more to draw up a comprehensive list of the best bang-for-your buck retirement destinations on the planet. Keep in mind that, even though only 25 countries feature on our list, all of them are worth your attention. We selected them from among all the countries in the world for their qualities as retirement hot-spots, so even the lowest-ranked nation on our index is still very much an option worth considering.
“You are crazy! You can’t leave Chicago. You have two successful businesses here. What will you do for money? That’s so risky!” That was the “support” my husband Mark and I were offered when we announced that we were moving to Penang, Malaysia. It was true. We did have two successful businesses. Mark owned a commercial real estate company that sold gas stations nationally and I owned a women’s wholesale clothing showroom.
The last decade has seen the rise of the low-cost carrier in Southeast Asia. Cheap, short-hop flights now criss-cross the region—much of it spread across the ocean in archipelagos like the Philippines and Indonesia. This boom in no-frills flights means cheap travel and it’s one of the reasons that my wife Lisa and I can travel so much. We live in Penang, Malaysia, but whatever Asian destination you chose for your home you’ll find it easy to explore the region.
In a place like Penang, food is everything. That’s why this little island off the coast of Malaysia is so often touted as a top foodie destination by big name publications and news outlets. But, unlike many top foodie spots, it’s not because of expensive Michelin-starred restaurants or celebrity chefs.
The spread of the British Empire through trade, colonization, and conquest brought the English language to far-flung corners of the globe. But even as that empire declined and shrank, the language was left behind. And with English becoming the language of business and diplomacy, that influence is in no danger of going away.
Southeast Asia is home to some of the world’s most acclaimed and mysterious ancient ruins. Many of these once-bustling cities and monumental religious sites lay forgotten until relatively recently, jungle-shrouded and known only to a few locals, who thought them the haunts of ghosts and spirits. These marvels of the ancient world are now more accessible to travelers than ever before. Some are well known and easy to reach, others are more of an adventure. Here’s a rundown…
More affordable air travel, mounting health care costs in developed countries, long waiting lists and an ageing world population have all contributed to a global explosion of medical tourism in the past decade—and Malaysia is leagues ahead in terms of its world market share.
Legend has it that the English sailors aboard the ship of Captain Francis Light smelled Penang before they saw it—an island jewel scented with nutmeg, cloves and pepper plants. To this day you can easily escape into the lush jungle-clad hills, explore a nutmeg orchard, or walk in the shade of Candle trees in the 70-acre botanic gardens. But the 405-square-mile island has changed a lot since Light and his men arrived to clear and settle it in 1786.
Malaysia launched its MM2H program (Malaysia My Second Home) in 2006. At the time there was nothing like it in Asia, and there still isn’t. As well as giving you a 10- year renewable multiple entry visa, you can bring your own car with you tax-free, and you can also bring your children with you if they are under the age of 21.
Back in Edmonton, Canada, Frank had his own building company and Sharon was a busy physiotherapist. Like most people, their lives revolved around their family and their jobs. But “Edmonton is a bitterly cold place in winter, and the truth is the winters were killing us,”
Most evenings Sharon and Frank Moorhead can be found leisurely sipping sundowners and enjoying the sunset from their penthouse balcony. Theirs is one of the most scenic views on the tropical island of Penang.
Do you like the idea of a life at sea…but only in short doses? Sunset cruises, fishing excursions, day trips, and the occasional long weekend jaunts to anchor off a remote island…? The ocean can be your playground.
I happen to think that I’m one of the luckiest guys in the world. Not only do I live in Malaysia, a beautiful country on so many levels, but also I love what I do. I travel at will, pretty much at the drop of a hat. I’ve enjoyed complimentary meals and hotel upgrades along the way.
I’m a very lucky guy to be doing what I’m doing, and there isn’t a day that goes by when I don’t remind myself of that. Sometimes I say it to my wife, too, but she already knows how lucky we are. My wife and I moved to the island of Penang in early 2010. A small island—15 miles long and 12 miles wide—on the west coast of Malaysia, Penang, which is connected to the mainland by a six-lane bridge, is just two hours’ drive south of Thailand.
When moving abroad, renting a place to stay is an attractive option that offers a lot of advantages, whether you’re headed to Costa Rica, Malaysia, France, Mexico, Ecuador, Ireland…or any country. If you plan to buy or build a home eventually, renting allows you to investigate a region and/or community…or several…before you put down roots. You don’t want to be stuck in a neighborhood, region, or home you don’t like.
Asia beckons for many reasons. Tropical islands with white-sand beaches, lush rain forests filled with fragrant blooms, tree-covered misty mountains, and—if you’re more a big-city type—some of the most frenetic cities on earth, a heady mix of the ultra-modern and exotic traditions.
InternationalLiving.com’s annual Global Retirement Index reports that France, Uruguay and Malaysia provide the best and most affordable health care in the world. The Health Care category in the Index considers the cost of care and the quality. Also considered are the number of people per doctor, the number of hospital beds per 1,000 people, the percentage of the population with access to safe water, the infant mortality rate, life expectancy, and public-health expenditure as a percentage of a country’s GDP.
Thomas O’Neal had never been to Malaysia. In fact he hadn’t been anywhere in Asia, which made his sudden decision to move to the tropical island of Penang a brave one. “I figured that I’d take a chance and move lock, stock, and barrel. I could have just visited but where is the fun in that? After just a few months here I love it. It’s home for me now. New York has changed over the years and although I’ll always be a New Yorker I needed to travel.”