There is no perfect place in the world. But when my husband and I were looking to relocate and start over in another country, we did a lot of research and soul searching, trying to pinpoint the place that was as close to perfection as we could get.
1. The Low-Cost Living
The cost of living in Penang is 25% to 35% of what we were spending in Chicago. Our gorgeous, 2,300-square-foot condo overlooking the Straits of Malacca, with three bedrooms and four bathrooms, runs us $653 a month. In Chicago, that same condo would easily cost $4,000 a month to rent.
And it’s not just rent that is cheap. Our monthly utilities are $48, which includes electricity, cooking gas, and water. Our gas bill alone in Chicago was more than that each month in the winter.
At the local market, a whole fresh chicken is less than $4, an enormous bag of fresh fruit and vegetables from local farmers is only $5, and a dozen eggs are 83 cents.
Eating out is also affordable. My favorite breakfast of roti chennai (a homemade flatbread) made to order with a curry or dahl dipping sauce, and coffee with milk is only 69 cents, and Penang’s ubiquitous noodle dish, char kway teow, is only $1.16.
2. A Large Community of Friendly Expats
A massive benefit of moving to Penang is the existing expat community. These people are so generous with their time and information, and are always happy to help. If you ask any question on the expat Facebook groups, you’ll receive countless answers.
It is also super easy to meet people because there is always something going on—like expat meetups, coffee mornings, and wine evenings.
3. A Diverse and Inclusive Culture
There are three major ethnicities in Penang; Malay, Chinese, and Indian, making it a culturally diverse melting pot, full of surprises. Every month there are religious and cultural festivals from all walks of life, and the locals are more than happy for us to join in on the celebrations.
And because Malaysia was under English rule until 1957, almost everyone speaks English, meaning that it is easy to communicate with the people around you and learn about their culture and history. No desperate hand gestures or pointing at things, just friendly conversation.
4. All the Luxuries of Home
Because there are a lot of expats living on the island, there are a lot of Western-style amenities. It may sound trivial but having a few international grocery stores with tons of imported goods means I’m able to buy some of my favorite things—like various cheeses and hummus. Even in the last four years since we’ve been here, the amount of products available has grown tremendously, meaning that we are never left wanting.
There are also modern movie theaters that show the latest movies, so we never miss out on the new blockbusters. And the tickets are only $2.68.
5. A Gateway to Southeast Asia
The low cost of living in Penang means we can afford to travel, which is great because there is also so much to see and do in the region. In the last four years, we’ve traveled to Thailand, Bali, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Borneo, Vietnam, Singapore, and Laos—and to some of those countries more than once.
Depending on how far you intend on going, you can get a flight to another country for as little as $50. We’ve never spent more than $75 a night in a hotel either, and in Bali we rented a villa with three bedrooms and a private pool, and a woman came in and made us fantastic breakfasts, all for $100 a night.
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