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.

But whether you step off a plane or a boat, or drive across one of the two bridges from mainland Malaysia, you’ll agree that nowhere is that mix more impressive than in Penang.

Here you have a beach-fringed tropical island surrounded by the glittering blue waters of the Andaman Sea. On the island you’ll find world-class hospitals staffed by English-speaking and Western-trained staff. You’ll quickly discover air-conditioned shopping centres, find that you can rent ocean-view apartments in pristine developments with shared gyms and pools from $650 a month…

The people are lovely, generous and relaxed. You’ll have friends from all over the world and exploring the three cultures—Malay, Chinese and Indian—that make up the island is a pleasure that takes you to temples, festivals and street-side stalls selling some of the best food in Asia for a couple of dollars.

For years large multinationals have had operations in Penang and it’s through working for those that many foreigners discover the place. I suppose once you’ve sampled the high life at a fraction of the cost of back home, well, it’s hard to go home. This international community helps drive a sophisticated arts scene and there’s all sorts of dining options and social clubs to make the most of. The biggest complaint of many Penang retirees is that their social lives are too full.

At a drop of a hat you can escape all the modern glitz and colonial splendour of the capital, George Town, and climb into the thick jungle of the island’s interior through a network of well-marked hiking trails. You can while away time in the Botanic gardens, hire a boat and guide in one of the traditional fishing villages on the west of the island and spend the day on the water… Penang is just the right size for retirement…

You’ve got options here and your dollar stretches so far that living here gives you options elsewhere too…travel, invest…buy that yacht you always wanted and sail it to Thailand… When it comes to overseas retirement havens, Penang ticks every box.

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