“Had we known how social this place is, how good the food is, how high the standard of living is, and how alike we are to the other expats who live here, I think I would have been pushing to move earlier. Maybe years earlier,” says expat Sharon Giraud, who has found her dream retirement in Penang, a small tropical island off the west coast of peninsular Malaysia. “We’ve only been here since September 2016, but it’s home. It’s not a second home, it’s actually home for us.”
This is no palm-fringed deserted island—it’s home to around 600,000 people, including a sizable population of expats from around the world. Penang offers a sophistication and level of infrastructure that’s hard to beat, including some of the best healthcare you’ll find anywhere in the world. It combines the best of urban/suburban living with the sense of wonder that comes with a tropical island. And life here costs as little as $1,800 a month for a couple, all in.
Glitzy shopping malls dot the island, and a 60-cent bus ride will take you from the island’s capital all the way to the national park, 10 miles away. You’ll also find beaches of crunchy white sand, where you can stroll for a mile without seeing a soul, especially on weekdays.
Jennifer Solomons has been walking these beaches in Penang with her three dogs for seven years. Jennifer says, “There are a dozen of us that meet at 8 a.m. It’s a very social group, and it’s not just expats, either. It started that way, but our group has grown, and we now have locals that join us with their dogs, too. Let’s face it: After a few year’s here we are all locals, and it’s the dogs and the beach that actually bring us together.”
This island also delivers first-rate healthcare at just a fraction of the cost back home. It’s no surprise that two planeloads of tourists arrive daily for a wide variety of procedures. And when seeing a specialist of choice costs just $14, you can understand why. Doctors here are educated in the U.S. and U.K, and they all speak English. Indeed, you’ll have no trouble getting around in English on the entire island.
The weather is another constant. It’s always warm, sometimes hot, and it rains consistently throughout the year (more often between October and January). Downpours don’t last longer than an hour or so, and then it’s business as usual. With an outdoor average temperature of 82 F, it’s the perfect place to live if you like tennis, golf, hiking, and biking, or just lazing on the beach or beside your pool.
Condos are good value, and the quality is first-rate. Older blocks are better value and usually have high ceilings and marble floors. Most of them have sea and mountain views, and all of them have at least one swimming pool, a gym, covered parking, and 24-hour security. One 1,200-square-foot condo, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, 180-degree sea views, a gym, two swimming pools, tennis and squash courts, can be bought for just $154,000. You can rent an apartment like this for just $585 a month.