Low-Cost Luxury and Adventure in Penang, Malaysia

“We live in a mansion,” says Victoria Roffenkauf. “Our lives are totally different than how they would be if we lived back in the U.S. No way would we have a home with a private pool and an elevator. That’s insane.”

Four years ago, Cleveland natives Steven and Victoria moved to the tropical island of Penang, Malaysia with their son.

“Here we live a much higher quality of lifestyle than we could have ever afforded back home,” said Steven. Their home—an ultra-modern, five-bedroom, eight-bathroom, home sprawled across a three-story floor plan—is just 100 yards off the water. Their home has covered parking for two cars, a large garden, an elevator (handy when doing laundry), and a private pool.

“Sometimes I can’t believe we live in a house like this, I’m not a rock star, we are just a regular family from a small city, how can we live in a place like this?” But with Steven’s expat salary, from a large multinational company, and the low cost of living they can afford to live in luxury. A home like this, with a private pool, in a great safe neighborhood in the U.S. would easily cost them double the price.

Their home is steps away from the Straits Quay Marina filled with massive yachts and sailboats, perfect for an evening stroll. Whenever Victoria doesn’t feel like cooking, they walk over to the mall connected to the marina and have their choice of international restaurants: Italian, Japanese, an Irish pub, a couple of seafood restaurants, and even an Australian pub.

Going out for dinner is often cheaper than cooking it at home. If Victoria didn’t love cooking and entertaining so much, they could easily go out every night. “Back home we could only go out for a nice dinner once a month, but here we can whenever we feel like it. A fancy meal rarely costs more than $10 per person,” says Victoria. “We could even eat out two meals a day and we don’t have to feel guilty for spending the money, it’s so cheap.”

With Penang‘s thriving and always-growing expat population, they make new friends almost monthly. “I love bringing new and old expats together so I’m always throwing dinner parties for at least 8 to 10 people. We already have a great core group of friends from all over the world. Our lives are so much more interesting having friends from the Philippines, Scotland, Germany, England, Australia, and of course the U.S., there are a lot of us Americans here too,” says Victoria.

For Victoria, being part of a community is important. “Whether it’s for church, or exercise, art class or a choir, you can easily find it here,” she says. “And if you don’t find it, you can start it and you’ll have enough like-minded people to do it with you.”

Since the cost of living is so low in Penang, the family can afford to enjoy regular adventures—and there’s plenty to do. Steven goes mountain biking, rappelling, and scuba diving with his son on the weekends. They’ve trekked with Komodo Dragons in Indonesia…rented a sailboat near Phuket, Thailand and island hopped for 10 days…and last weekend they went whitewater rafting only two hours away. “We are not missing out on anything by living in Penang, it is all here,” says Stephen. “It just happens to be cheaper so we can actually take advantage of it all.”

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