Your Dollars Will Go Further in Penang, Malaysia

Back in 2013, my husband Mark and I were living in Chicago, working 80 to 90 hours a week behind a desk. At the time, we each had our own businesses and we were completely run off our feet just trying to get by. It wasn’t long before we started looking overseas for the answer to our problems. We had no idea what kind of work we would do when we got there, but we knew we had to slow down.

We discovered Penang, a small tropical island full of wildlife and nature that suited us perfectly. With lush, untouched jungle and sugary white-sand beaches, the island looks like a page out of National Geographic. But there’s no shortage of modern amenities either, with blistering fast internet, fashionable shopping, and a world-class food scene all on the island. And with a sizeable expat population and English as one of the main languages, we had no problem fitting in.

The weather here is always hot and sunny, so our days are full of adventure and exploration. And even after being here for three years, we still love exploring the island’s trendy capital, George Town, an old colonial town with tons of hip cafés and bars to hang out in.

Despite all that, the cost of living here is inexpensive and, even on a modest income, you can expect a certain amount of luxury. Between $2,000 and $2,500 a month affords us a more than comfortable lifestyle. Our 2,200-square-foot, three-bedroom, four-bathroom condo overlooking the ocean rents for only $680—plus about $50 for all of our utilities, including cable TV. Our condo is in an area packed with locals and expats, with cafés right down the road and markets within a five-minute drive. We love to cook, so we spend about $80 a week on groceries, but we’d be silly not to take advantage of the world-class food scene here.

The best place to satisfy your taste buds is at one of the island’s bustling outdoor food courts, where you can sample delicious regional dishes, most for less than $3.50. My favorite is a family-owned stall where we can splurge and eat a whole steamed fish with rice and vegetables for $12, or just get a filling, local noodle dish for just $2. Living here has opened my eyes to a wonderful world of flavors that I just can’t seem to get enough of.

With such a low cost of living, we actually have the money to travel and explore the world around us. In the last three years, we’ve traveled to nine different countries and have plans to add India into the mix soon. We’ve been scuba diving in Thailand, temple exploring in Cambodia, cave rappelling in Vietnam and surfing in Sri Lanka. Travel is just so affordable from here.

For many folks who are considering the move overseas, healthcare is one of their primary concerns, and rightly so. In Penang, the medical care is not only a fraction of the cost in the U.S., but the quality rivals that of any hospital in the U.S. In fact, in my experience, the doctors and nurses are more attentive than those in the U.S. They take their time, answer your questions, and truly listen, just like doctors are supposed to do. After seeing the quality of care available here, we saw an opportunity to set up a medical tourism business, and have been able to earn an income helping U.S. and Canadian citizens find low-cost treatment here.

Some of our friends back home say that it was crazy to move here, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. We love living here and have no intentions of going back anytime soon. We’ve made some great friends that, unlike in Chicago, we actually have time to see. We wake up every morning to sunshine and birds chirping, and even the occasional monkey comes down for a visit. Our new morning ritual is to open the curtains and say, “Life is good.”

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