Escape to a Tropical Island (and Live on $1,500 a Month)

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. To find myself, and experience a completely different culture.

“I rent a 148.64-square-metre apartment with an amazing pool, just five minutes’ walk from the ritzy Gurney Plaza shopping mall. It costs me just $940 a month. I don’t need a car either so I’m saving money left, right and centre.

“I love the weather— 28 degrees Celsius on average—and Malaysia’s closeness to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos. When you combine that with a cost of living of $1,655 per month including my rent, it’s almost unbeatable,” says Thomas.

His favourite thing so far about Penang is the village feel of the state capital George Town. With its cafe culture and laid-back art scene it’s not that dissimilar to the bohemian Village area of New York. There are art galleries galore most of which open until 9 p.m.

“Another thing that I love about living here is the people that you meet,” says Thomas. “People smile at you on the street—something that doesn’t happen in NYC. They are also happy to sit and talk to you and invite you to their tables if you walk into a cafe or restaurant by yourself. That doesn’t happen back home either. It’s like a throwback to the carefree America of the 1960s. A time that I can relate to.

“The prices of meals are also something seemingly out of the past, too. A large plate of barbequed chicken flavoured with soy sauce, accompanied with cucumbers, tomatoes and cashew nuts and a bowl of rice, and a cooling drink, cost just $2.”

Thomas has also found that Penang is a great place if you like the outdoors, walking, hiking, trekking or biking. “I plan on losing a few pounds here too, and I’m working on my tan as we speak. I also plan on traveling extensively in Asia using Malaysia as my base. I don’t know if I’ll apply for the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) visa for retirees just yet. I want to see what the rest of Asia has to offer, but I like what I see.”

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