Penang is a small tropical island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. It is a former British colony, so English is widely spoken. Its population is just over 700,000 with a majority of the people living in its capital, George Town. Penang is a multicultural island with about 60% of its inhabitants being Chinese, 32% Malays and 7% Indian. Culturally it’s a mind-blowing place to live.With a mix of these cultures, the food is often declared the best in all of Southeast Asia. In 2014, Lonely Planet deemed Penang the top foodie destination to visit in the world. The most incredible food in Malaysia is not found in high-end restaurants, but at thousands of food stalls that serve one signature dish—often a family’s secret recipe passed down through generations.
Penang has been one of the top expat destinations in Malaysia for years. It’s not a bustling city like Kuala Lumpur, yet it still has all the comforts of home…beaches…shops…great food…and a vibrant culture. You can go shopping at Gurney Plaza or Queensbay Mall and find the same high-end stores you would in Australia. You can walk through the jungle, laze about on a secluded beach, take a food tour and a cooking class, or even drive a few hours to visit an Orangutan shelter.
George Town is a bustling, colourful UNESCO World Heritage City, which is fascinating to walk through. The well preserved, colonial buildings and Chinese clan houses are living testaments to what life was like centuries ago. You can still feel its multi-cultural heritage as you wander through Chinese and Indian temples and smell incense burning throughout the streets. Getting lost in the maze of narrow streets and alleyways makes you feel like you are in another world…
For a small island, there is no shortage of arts and culture to take part in; from the month long George Town festival that celebrates the arts in every form imaginable, the Jazz and World Music festivals and the International Film festival. Add to that the many cultural and religious festivals, dozens of galleries with ever-changing exhibits, and the thriving street art scene, and you’ll never be at a loss for something to do in Penang.
Cost of Living in Penang
When looking for a place to retire, cost of living is the first concern for most. Many are on a fixed budget and want to live in a place that has all the comforts of home, without the same high costs. Penang, Malaysia is that place.
On $3,300 a month, a couple can live in luxury. Rent in a modern highrise with a pool, a gym and security guards will cost around $1,000. While that may seem expensive, you’ll be getting a modern three-bedroom, three-bath, 213-square-metre apartment with a balcony overlooking the ocean. If you don’t care to live with a view or by the beach, you can rent a nice two- or three-bedroom place for about $700 to $850—which means you could easily live on $2,500 a month or less.
By embracing the local way of living, you can cut your total monthly costs down even more. At the grocery stores and even at the restaurants, Western food is more expensive. If you eat native fruit, like mangos, papayas and bananas, it’s much cheaper than the imported apples and oranges. Penang is famous for its food, with a distinct regional take on Thai, Malaysia, Korean and Chinese food. Eat where the locals eat and you can’t go wrong. It’s safe for foreigners, delicious…and you can get a filling meal for less than $7.
The cost of healthcare is so low that very few expats have insurance so most people pay out of pocket. There are seven hospitals on the island so there are plenty of doctors and specialists to choose from. Most of them were trained in Australia, the U.S or the U.K, so their quality of care and standards are the exact same as they are in the Western world. And everyone speaks English so there are no worries about communicating.
If you have a little leftover pocket money, why not splurge and get a cleaning lady for $5 per hour, a pedicure for $17 or even a foot massage for $24? With those prices, it’s almost ridiculous not to indulge!
Healthcare in Penang
Penang is a healthcare haven. For years many now people from neighbouring countries, like Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore, have travelled there for affordable, world-class care. It is already considered an up and coming area for medical tourism. In fact, more than 700,000 foreigners came to Malaysia last year for medical treatment—and 60% of them made a beeline for Penang. These days you’ll find Aussies, Brits and Americans all benefiting from the island’s top-notch, low-cost healthcare.
All of the doctors speak English and most trained in Australia, the UK or the US, so the care is to Western standards. There are seven hospitals on the island to choose from so finding a doctor that suits your needs is pretty easy. Each hospital has its own specialists and you don’t have to wait for months to get in for a visit. Just go to the hospital, take a number and wait your turn. If you need to see another doctor, get an X-ray or scan, that also happens on the same day.
A first-time doctor visit is about $25 to $85 with follow-up visits costing around $15 to $36. If you are admitted, the overnight stay will cost roughly $125 to $260 for a private room.
Dentistry in Penang is just as high quality as the doctors and surgeons there, as again, most are schooled in the Western world and speak English. The technology is the same as it is in in Australia so walking into the dentist’s office looks exactly the same as it does back home, but care comes at a third of the cost.
Health insurance is available in Penang but with prices so low some expats choose to pay out of pocket for their care or opt for the most basic coverage, which will set you back about $1,300 a year per couple. It’s quick, efficient and five-star quality…but without the five-star price tag.
Retire in Penang
The island of Penang off the coast of Malaysia has been the somewhat of a secret of savvy expat retirees for decades. Now the secret is out. This island of 1.6 million people packs in everything you could want. The low costs give you financial freedom, exploring the region from Penang is easy thanks to the international airport, and the lifestyle you’ll have is comfortable and first world. A couple can live here for $2,000 a month, but if you want to splurge and spend $3,300 you can live like royalty.
Penang is known as a foodie haven, but satisfying your appetite here won’t cost the earth. Eating out here is all about the local food stalls whose recipes and culinary methods have been passed down through generations. And the prices are as delightful as the flavours, you can get a delicious noodle dish, served up on a banana leaf for under $3. If you decide to dine out, you can get a tasty chicken curry with rice, with drinks, for two, for around $10.
You can have it all in Penang. Arts and culture, history and nature, beach and jungle. Penang’s largest city, George Town is home to eclectic architecture, a vibrant art scene and the best street food in the world. You can go shopping at high-end shopping centres with many of the same stores you’d have back in Australia. If you’re a fan of the great outdoors then Penang National Park, with its hiking trails, a canopy walk, eight beaches, over 1,000 species of flora and fauna and a meromictic lake (the lake’s surface and bottom layers of water don’t mix) is just waiting to be explored. Or you can sit on a white-sand beach with a cooling drink and relax. It’s really up to you.
There are tens of thousands of expats here, so meeting them is pretty easy. A great way to meet new people is the expat mingles that occur almost monthly at different bars or restaurants. In general, expats are very friendly because they’ve already gone through the trials and tribulations of moving to a new country and are happy to share their answers and helpful tips with newcomers. There are also many clubs and classes for people to join such as the International Woman’s Association, cooking classes and even a classic car club.
In Penang, a great life can be had on a budget and you’ll never be bored. It has cinemas screening Hollywood films, spas, high-end boutique shopping where you can splash out if you fancy, a huge range of restaurants and modern living. It’s a luxury life on an affordable budget with all the comforts and conveniences of home.