Tea with the Honorary British Consul for Penang and Langkawi

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

This post was written by Frances Wilks

As the first in our series of Tea with the Consul, Frances Wilks starts her fascinating new writing project by meeting Robert Hawkins MBE, the Honorary British Consul for Penang and Langkawi.

Most people don't think about Honorary Consuls until they actually need them, but they exist in many cities in which there are foreign nationals living, working, visiting, or investing and yet there isn’t full diplomatic representation.

Kuala Lumpur has its embassies, high commissions, and ambassadors, but Penang has a smaller consular corps of three full consulates (Japan, Indonesia, and Thailand) and fourteen Honorary Consuls, some of whom, interestingly, represent countries of which they aren’t nationals themselves. That said, Rob Hawkins is actually British, and he’s been the Honorary British Consul since 2004. This is a volunteer role in support of consular staff at the British High Commission in KL.

“It was actually a baptism of fire – or should I say water – because the tsunami happened soon afterwards,” says Rob about his early weeks. “Some areas of Penang were quite badly affected.The beach by the Hydro Majestic Hotel was inundated and a fi shing boat was swept up onto dry land more or less where Tesco is now. Fortunately, no British person was hurt, but a lot were missing in the sense that their families didn’t know where they were. I had to liaise with hotels and hospitals to try and locate them.”

Rob’s Role

Finding relatives is one of the duties that falls to Rob as, occasionally, British tourists are taken seriously ill or die in Penang. If they are alone, he will contact their family in the UK for them. Sometimes these nationals have other problems and Rob may have to liaise with Malaysian Government officials, police, immigration, or prison services on their behalf.

His role has changed over the years, as the British Government has streamlined its consular services to focus their efforts on those who most need help. Many of the answers to the more routine queries can be found on the British Government website or in the Foreign and Commonwealth Offi ce’s publication Support for British Nationals Abroad: A Guide. In the past, the Consul handled passport renewals, but applications are now sent to a Regional Passport Processing Centre in Hong Kong and actually produced by the Identity and Passport Service in the UK. Despite the distance, the operation seems to be going pretty smoothly and people are receiving their passports on time.

Losing your passport when you’re overseas can be pretty traumatic and Rob, having helped many people with it, outlined the steps you have to take. “The first thing is to inform the police and get a police report number. If you’re living here, then it’s not so difficult and you can apply for your new passport by applying to the passport centre in Hong Kong. But if you need to travel urgently and can’t wait for your new passport to arrive, the High Commission in KL can issue you with an Emergency Travel Document. Usually they will do it for you as quickly as possible but you will need to go to KL to get it before you can travel.” Rob makes the point that it’s extremely important to have travel insurance that will cover such an eventuality, or the many other things that can happen to you while away from home, such as an illness or hospitalisation following an accident. Even residents should plan for their healthcare.

Island Associations

Rob originally came to work in KL for a German pharmaceutical in 1983 and moved to Penang in 1985 to head a Medical Device Company. His children all grew up here and, although they live in the UK now, they regard themselves as honorary Malaysians. His wife, Jill, is a long term member of the IWA (International Women’s Association) in Penang, her original membership dating back to the time when it was the American Women’s Association.

After setting up a factory and working in business in Penang for some years, Rob was approached by the outgoing consul as a possible candidate. One of the preconditions for the post is that you have to have PR (Permanent Residency) in Malaysia, which Rob and his wife had just, at the time, acquired.


“I was ready for a new challenge,” he remembers, adding, with a self-deprecating smile. “You certainly don’t do it for the money! It is a chance to give something back to the community and to help people – often when they are in very diffi cult circumstances and don’t have anyone else to turn to.” The rewards of being an honorary consul aren’t measurable but they are very real. Sometimes a wife or husband dies on holiday and there are formalities that have to be attended to.While many of the hotels where bereaved guests are staying are very helpful, Rob’s experience and local knowledge is invaluable, and his input can make a big difference.

Current Practice

Although the British Consul no longer keeps a list of British residents living in Penang, Rob is aware that a large number of Brits are currently living here, including people who are working and those on the MM2H programme. He mentioned that British people living here should apply for a Malaysian driving licence if they plan to drive for more than three months in the country: British nationals would need a letter from the DVLA in UK to get confirmation that the driving licence is genuine in order to apply. Rob also recommended that residents and tourists follow the FCO or the High Commission on facebook and twitter to keep up to date with travel advice and other news.

Rob is thrilled that so many schools offering a British education have recently been established here, especially as they often have British headmasters and teachers. He also feels that it’s a great place to set up a business and a really easy and delightful place to live. “I hope to be here forever but, of course, you never know the future,” he said. “The people are so friendly. I enjoy the company of expats, as they come and go, but many of my friends are Malaysians. The older ones especially have a great sense of humour and don’t mind making fun of themselves,” which is probably also true of the down-to-earth Rob Hawkins. It is comforting to know that British nationals in Penang are in such capable hands.



Office of the Honorary British Consul in Penang
Suite 2, 15th Floor,Wing A, Northam Tower,
57, Jalan Sultan Ahmed Shah
Tel: 04.227 5336 Fax: 04.2272336
E-mail: [email protected]


Source: Penang International February 2013 -March 2013

Read more:

What are your thoughts on this article? Let us know by commenting below.No registration needed.


"ExpatGo welcomes and encourages comments, input, and divergent opinions. However, we kindly request that you use suitable language in your comments, and refrain from any sort of personal attack, hate speech, or disparaging rhetoric. Comments not in line with this are subject to removal from the site. "


Click to comment

Most Popular

To Top