Why I Changed My Mind About My Overseas Move

penang, malaysia

My husband Mark and I were moving to Costa Rica. We planned it for eight years…we’d visited the country 10 times, we knew it was for us. It had it all…boundless natural beauty, a low cost of living, kind people…plus it had plenty of expats living there. It seemed to check all of our boxes.

Then, in 2012, we attended an International Living conference in Las Vegas to make some new contacts and soak up all the information we could from like-minded people. At the time we didn’t know anyone that had moved abroad to glean any tips or information from. In our minds, this conference was hopefully going to point us in the right direction in Costa Rica and help us to make some new friends who were planning to do the same.

There is so much useful information at these conferences. Things we didn’t even think about…banking, insurance and investing…we went along eager to soak it all in. But some of the best advice we got was right at the beginning of the seminar from IL Latin America Editor Suzan Haskins.

She said: “Keep an open mind about where to live. Some people come here thinking they know where they’re moving to but often change their minds.” Mark and I looked at each other and smiled, knowing we had already found our future home.

But we took her advice and listened to each of the country presentations…and one on Malaysia—specifically Penang, a little island off the coast—really got our attention. While listening to the presentation by IL Malaysia Correspondent Keith Hockton, and speaking with him afterwards, we kept looking at each other and thinking how cool Penang sounded. It piqued our curiosity so much that we decided to plan a trip there to check it out.

Honestly, I had absolutely no intention of moving to Penang but I’m always up for an adventure, so off we went. I figured the culture shock would be major and fitting in might be hard, so I was sure I wasn’t going to like it enough to move there. A holiday? Sure. But move there? No way.

We spent 17 days in Penang and every day I fell in love a little more. I kept asking Mark, “What about Costa Rica…our best-laid plans? Could we live here instead?” The answer at the end of every day was an unequivocal YES.

We knew the transition would be easy because everyone in Penang speaks English, the people are warm-hearted and always willing to help and the expats living there were so welcoming that we instantly made friends. And as much as we adored Costa Rica, we hadn’t found that there yet. That’s not to say that we wouldn’t have found it there, but Penang felt so perfect right away that it seemed like a no-brainer.

So, a year later, we up and moved to Penang. And since then our lives have been pretty amazing. Our apartment, that we rent for $980 a month, is a 204-square-metre, three-bedroom, four-bathroom place overlooking the Andaman Sea, as well as the jungle. We can see the monkeys cascading along the rooftops of the neighbouring homes and, from our couch, we can watch the sea eagles diving into the ocean for a quick catch of the day. Sometimes I feel like I live in a National Geographic magazine.

We knew living in Penang would be cheap but it’s so affordable it means we can really enjoy a high-quality lifestyle. For example, it feels ridiculous not to have a cleaning lady come once a week when it costs $6.50 an hour. $65 pays for all of our utilities, including Pay TV and all in all, $2,600 to $3,275 affords us a very comfortable lifestyle. This affordability means our money goes much further, allowing us to travel and explore.

Now our days are filled with sunshine, fantastic food and forever friendships. Moving to Penang is the best decision we’ve ever made…well, besides listening to Suzan.

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