An Exciting New Life…For a Third of the Cost

johor bahru, malaysia

“Almost everything here is one-third the price that it would cost in Australia. Those savings are represented in your bank account at the end of the year,” says Gold Coast native, Jodie George.

Jodie, 43, and her husband Paul, 55, make their home in the thriving city of Johor Bahru where the bustling streets are lined with renovated 19th-century Chinese-style shophouses, outdoor restaurants and bistros.

Ornate street lights and pedestrian-friendly areas breathe new life into this ever-changing city and, for Jodie and Paul, that makes Johor Bahru—also known as JB—an exciting place to live.

Johor Bahru is located at the tip of the Malaysian Peninsula. Just on the other side of the Straits of Johor, a mere kilometre to the south, is the wealthy island nation of Singapore. Two bridges connect the countries and there is a great deal of daily traffic that flows in both directions

A couple can live comfortably in JB with a monthly budget of around $2,500. That includes renting a modern and comfortable Western-style apartment, owning a car, eating out several times a week and all incidental expenses. Expats here can have a high standard of life on a very modest budget.

Expats are coming in increasing numbers to the city and surrounding areas. Christine Hakkaart, a 56-year-old Kiwi, heard about JB from a fellow passenger on a flight to Singapore. “It’s quite a secret—no one tells anyone about it,” she says. “It’s a fabulous little place. The people are really friendly—everybody will help you. I just like it here.”

There’s certainly a lot to like in JB, including great value on housing. Two-bedroom furnished apartments rent for around $300 per month and luxurious apartments cost up to around $1,300 per month.

In recent years this city has undergone something of a transformation. It’s a popular, low-cost retirement destination thanks in no small part to the abundance of services that go far beyond those of a typical city of its size. Everywhere you look there are new developments and high-rises, grand openings and festive events; you can sense the investment money pouring in like a tropical downpour. Upscale restaurants offer delectable meals for a fraction of the price of back home, large shopping centres are always full of day-trippers stocking up on necessities and extravagances and the property market has been booming for several years now.

A typical example of what is on the market is an 87-square-metre, furnished, two-bedroom apartment. It’s on a high floor, with a good view of the city. The $669 monthly rental includes a swimming pool, gym and security. It’s within walking distance of great shopping and restaurants too.

Restaurants in JB serve excellent international cuisine. Jodie recommends Italian restaurant, Gianni’s Trattoria. “The food is spectacular and they have a great wine menu. You can get a set lunch at Gianni’s for just $10.”

You’ll also find world-class street food on offer—a big plate of Chinese noodles and shrimp, Malaysian beef satay or Indian chicken curry and rice costs less than $2—and they’re all delicious.

Another bonus is the friendly and welcoming expat community, they host regular meet-ups and events through well-established and active groups and associations.

There’s a small airport just 30 kilometres from JB city centre so exploring other parts of the region is a breeze. “We’re a 90-minute flight to Thailand and Vietnam—the budget airlines are amazing and so inexpensive,” says Jodie. We’ve been to seven countries since we’ve been here, travel is so affordable.”

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