I love bustling cities but also enjoy the peace and tranquility of nature. It is rare to find a place that has both these things within a short driving distance but found it I have.
Penang, Malaysia has it all. Here I can enjoy the vibrancy of Georgetown, experience the true melting-pot culture that Malaysia is famous for, while in less than an hour I can be sitting with a book on a serene white-sand beach on the west coast of the island.
Penang is an easy island. And by that I mean that it’s a place where you won’t want for anything. It has great infrastructure, excellent and affordable healthcare, and the people are friendly. The majority of locals also speak English.
What entices most people to this gorgeous island is the cost of living. A couple can easily live on $1,500 per month, including rent. A three-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment in a great location in Georgetown can be rented for $450 per month. Here you are close to everything from bars and restaurants to antique shops and art galleries.
Georgetown is the heart of Penang and is popular with locals and expats alike. Most people spend their time here getting lost in the colonial architecture, delicious aromas, and unique museums. While you can find rentals here, I suggest living slightly further out away from the noise. There are many expat communities, mixed neighborhoods, and developments stretching along the coast north from the center of Georgetown.
Pilau Tikus is just a few miles northwest of the center and has every amenity you could possibly want. It is home to Gurney Drive with its shopping centers, hotels, and luxury high-end apartments. Here you can rent a three-bedroom, two-bathroom, 969-square-foot apartment near Gurney Plaza for $600 per month. It comes fully furnished and you’re within walking distance to Gurney Paragon Mall.
About 20 minutes north of Gurney Drive is Tanjung Bungah which is a popular area with expats. It is still close to Georgetown (about 25 minutes away by car) but also close to many hidden beaches and coves. This is my sweet spot. You can walk for miles along the beach and not see anyone, or go to one of the popular beaches and avail of the amenities of the four-star hotels that stretch along the coast.
In Tanjung Bungah, a three-story terrace house with six bedrooms and five bathrooms was recently available to rent for $500 per month. And it comes partly furnished.
Malaysia is the only country in Southeast Asia where expats are allowed to buy property, both houses and condos, freehold. However, I would advise renting. It’s cheaper and safer in case the rules are ever changed to be in line with other Asian countries.
If you do want to buy, you should be aware that each state in Malaysia has a minimum amount that foreigners can spend on property. This is often a grey area and there are ways and means to get around the system legally. One way is to form a private company which means that there is no minimum spending limit to what the company can buy.
Penang is without doubt one of the best retirement havens in Southeast Asia. You get incredible bang for your buck in everything from food—a four-course Asian fusion meal at a top restaurant can be had for $20 per person—to real estate. Penang is laidback and welcoming, a place that you need to check out.
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