Malaysia, while exotic, is a friendly place to move to. The locals are kind and curious and will happily stop you at the market and ask where you’re from, and how you like living in your new home. And because it was under English rule until 1957, almost everyone, young and old alike, speaks English well, if not fluently. The weather is hot and tropical all year long.
While food may not be the most important priority on your destination checklist, Malaysia is known as the foodie capital of Southeast Asia, so you’ll never tire of eating out. And it’s affordable—you can eat out three times a day and spend less than $10 for a couple. Three primary cultures are living in harmony in Malaysia; the Malays, the Chinese, and the Indians. With three such diverse groups, the variety of food available is astounding, and all of it delicious.
It’s not just the food scene that benefits from these cultures either. The rich traditions and religions from each culture are as vibrant as the people themselves. There are cultural festivals almost weekly, and everyone is welcome to join. The locals love to see expats taking part in or watching these celebrations. The locals want you to like their country and are honored to have you join in such a large part of their traditions.
Another added benefit of moving to Malaysia is the MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) visa program. If you are over 50 years old, you must prove that you have 350,000MYR ($87,000) in a bank, have passive income or a pension of 10,000MYR ($2,500) a month, and pass a medical exam. Of course, there is plenty of paperwork to go through, but there are agents who can walk you through the entire process to make sure it’s a smooth transaction. Once all of that is approved you will have a 10-year visa for living in Malaysia. With this visa, you can travel in and out of the country as often as you like without any immigration problems.
Healthcare in Malaysia is top notch. Many of the hospitals are JCI accredited or the international equivalent, ISQUA. Not only is it up to Western standards, the costs are extremely low too. For example, a sinus surgery plus three days in a private room costs $1,200. If you just have a cold or something minor, you can pop into a clinic and see a doctor for $9 and get your meds for another $2. Because of these low prices, many expats don’t even have health insurance.
Cost of Living
The cost of living anywhere in Malaysia is low compared to prices in the U.S. For example, to rent a 2,300 square foot condo with three bedrooms and four bathrooms, overlooking the ocean in Penang will set you back $700 a month. If you eat at the famous food courts, you can have a whole steamed fish, rice, and vegetables—plenty of food for two people—for $13. Shopping at the local markets for all of your produce keeps the prices extremely low, and most likely you are buying from local farms and supporting the community. A large mixed bag, big enough to feed a couple for a week, full of the freshest fruits and veggies is about $7. A whole chicken is about $4. Of course, you’ll have to go to the international grocery stores to supplement your shopping, but those tend to be a little more expensive, especially when buying imported items.
Popular Expat Destinations
Kuala Lumpur, or KL as the locals call it, is a sprawling, bustling big city. With a population of 1.76 million people, it’s as modern as any big city in the U.S., and has a skyline that rivals them as well. There is no shortage of Western amenities here so being homesick won’t be too much of an issue.
Penang is an island with a population of 700,000. It’s laidback, and the capital George Town has a thriving food and art scene. It’s also a UNESCO world heritage city, so there is no lack of things to see and do there.
The Cameron Highlands are one of the only cooler places to live in Malaysia. With average temperatures hovering around the low 70s F, it’s an ideal location to live if improving your golf game is on your retirement agenda. It’s a smaller district with only 38,000 people living there, so it’s easy to get around and make new friends. It’s full of lush green hills, tea plantations, and produce farms as far as the eyes can see.
Johor Bahru, or JB, has a population of 500,000 and is a 0.6-mile causeway away from Singapore, making it Malaysia’s southernmost city. Here you get the best of both worlds; stay in JB and visit all of the museums, historical attractions, and art galleries, or pop over to Singapore to get your taste of high-end shopping and a dinner of the famous Singaporean chili crab. There are 15 golf courses and a 16-mile area of recreational waterfront.
Ipoh is surrounded by limestone hills, rivers, and the Kledang Mountains, making it a beautiful city to live in. The population is 700,000. The Old Town is where you’ll find all the antique shops, museums, and historical shop houses. The New Town has shopping malls, hotels, and a huge recreational park called D. R. Seenivasagam Park.