“I was on a flight to Singapore when a lady told me about Johor Bahru,” says Christine Hakkaart, 56. “It’s quite a secret. No one tells anyone about it, and that’s a shame, because it really is a very nice place to live.”
The city of Johor Bahru (known as JB by locals) is less than two kilometres across the Straits of Johor from Singapore. It’s a popular getaway for Singaporeans and has everything a retiree would need, from fantastic street food (some of the best in the country) to first-rate healthcare.
Christine and her husband Steve, 57, enjoy exploring the city. “I love going to Old Johor,” says Christine. “There are Chinese temples, Indian temples and mosques. It’s just amazing to walk through.
“I can walk down the street here and I won’t have any problems at all. It is so safe. The people are really friendly–everybody is so helpful. It’s a fabulous little place. If you want to see something different, to learn about different cultures, JB is as interesting as you want to make it,” she says.
Christine joined the International Women’s Association, and says, “Every month, members have birthdays, so we all go out to lunch. We have coffee mornings, fundraisers, book clubs and gym activities–it’s a very active group. Sometimes, we go to different places, such as Desaru Beach or an off the beaten track place like one of the seldom visited islands in Singapore. You get to meet so many different people and make a lot of friends.”
Desaru, a quiet resort town located just an hour’s drive east of Johor Bahru, is a popular weekend escape for expats. The nearly 23-kilometre-long beach is good for surfing and snorkelling and just $70 will get you a comfortable, clean room and a beach-side barbecue dinner.
“When we made the decision to move here, we found our new home in just two days,” says Christine. “It’s a large, three-bedroom apartment, which costs about $1,300 per month. It’s on the sixth floor, with views of Singapore, the building also has a pool and gym. It’s in Taman Molek, which is just a 20-minute drive to the city centre. I can walk to most places including many local restaurants, the banks, hair salons, manicure places and so on.”
The couple’s monthly utilities, including Pay TV and internet, average around $330—and that’s with constant use of at least one of their five air conditioners.
“Altogether, we spend around $2,550 per month, but you could get by on much less than that,” says Christine. “Our monthly budget covers rent, doctors, leasing a car, petrol and all the incidentals. The car costs around $719 per month all-in, so apart from rent, that is our biggest expense.”
The couple have also found JB to be the perfect jumping off point for exploring the region.
“When we want to get away, we love going to Malacca for a day trip or a weekend,” says Christine. “It’s a tiny little place about two hours from JB. You can walk everywhere. We treat ourselves to a nice hotel on the river, it’s really lovely, just sitting on our hotel balcony and looking out over the water…”
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