MM2H-An Untapped Goldmine

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Source: The Expat magazine April 2011, article by Pat McGoldrick
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Pat McGoldrick is a recently retired journalist who has worked for national newspapers in Ireland, Britain and Canada, including the Daily Express, the (pre-Murdoch) Sun, the Irish Independent, the Toronto Star, the Irish Times and the Irish Mail on Sunday. He lives in Penang with his wife Frances, close (but not too close!) to their four grandchildren in Singapore.

ON THE face of it, the MM2H scheme is a brilliant initiative by a rapidly emerging economy to attract wealthy and even not-so-wealthy foreigners to spend time and money in a beautiful and inexpensive country without them competing with the locals for jobs. What could be better, you might ask? Well, a lot actually, it seems to this interloper.

Now this might seem the height of impertinence on the part of someone who has been in Malaysia for all of four months – a wet weekend, as we would say in Ireland – and on a tourist visa at that. But in those four months, this writer has grown to love Malaysia – Penang in particular – and has begun to wonder why such an apparently great programme as MM2H should have attracted the grand total of, what, a little over 12,000 successful applicants? And of those 12,000 or so, how many are European or American, where most of the wealthiest people on the planet live? Not too many, it would seem.

The fact is that MM2H does not appear to be fulfilling the function for which it was obviously set up. At a time when loads of countries are making it easier and easier for retirees to relocate, Malaysia seems to be making it more complicated.

I first became aware of MM2H four years ago over a coffee in Dublin’s glitzy Dundrum Town Centre. My little mate Nick, a Dubliner who had spent 12 years in Britain’s Royal Navy and had travelled the length and breadth of Asia, told me he had been looking to move abroad and would love to live in Penang but didn’t meet the pension requirements of RM10,000-a-month, at that time about €2,000. (It’s now closer to €2,500!) His Royal Navy pension, which he would get at 60, wouldn’t meet it and, while the navy pension coupled with the Irish old age pension would take him comfortably over the threshold, he wouldn’t get the latter until he was 65! And as for the financial deposit required under MM2H, forget it…

But while I sympathised with Nick, I began to get excited because I knew that I could meet those requirements, and with that in mind, I went home and online immediately to get the facts. Well, to cut a long story short, in the four years since, I have seen the MM2H goalposts and property-owning stipulations for foreigners moved on several occasions – and rarely for the better. The financial deposit has gone from RM150,000 to RM300,000 for my age group, and property-purchase minimums raised from RM250,000 to RM500,000. Some say it is back to RM250,000, but it’s hard to know with certainty since the different states have their own stipulations and these seem to change like the weather back home.


Compare and contrast to what is happening in Central and South America, where the competition for the grey dollar is becoming ever fiercer. In English-speaking Belize, for example, you qualify for admittance at age 45 and you can include your spouse (of any age) and dependents under the age of 18. The income requirement is a bank statement showing pension or annuity income of US$2,000 a month – about US$1,300 less a month than Malaysia requires under MM2H. Provide clearance from the police in your home country and you are to all intents and purposes in.

Panama has similar income requirements but offers foreign retirees extraordinary benefits like 15% off hospital bills, 20% off medical consultations, 10% off prescription medicines and 30% off all train, bus and boat fares, among a host of other benefits. Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay and more problematic destinations such as Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua are all simplifying the process of retiree immigration to take advantage of the impending baby boomer retirement avalanche.

The point I am making is that Malaysia has as much and more to offer than these places but must simplify and ease the requirements to take advantage of the huge numbers of Westerners who will be retiring over the next 20 years. Many will have suffered under the financial meltdown of the past few years but will still have more than enough money to generate untold wealth for the Malaysian economy. No country in Asia is better placed to take advantage of this trend.

There are signs that the government is aware that something needs done. It will be interesting to see how flexible the new 10-year residency pass based on skills will be. I hope the imagination that came up with the brilliant “Malaysia, Truly Asia’’ marketing campaign for tourism will be replicated for immigration.

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