Choosing Penang as a Retirement Haven

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Penang has long been favoured by Malaysians for its great food, island lifestyle, and engaging blend of local traditions, colonial heritage, and modern conveniences. As editor Chad Merchant discovers, the rest of the world is finding out about Penang’s appeal, too.

It won’t come as a great surprise to residents of Penang, but this popular Malaysian island has found itself increasingly on the world’s radar, not least for its appeal as a great place to retire. Recently, Kiplinger, a well-respected US publication, published an article, “Eight Great Places to Retire Abroad” and named George Town in the short list of favoured cities. (Kiplinger specialises in personal finance and business forecasting, and they also provide advice on retirement, taxes, investment, real estate, and more.)

“There is a charm and bustle to George Town, the capital of the Malaysian state of Penang,” the article stated. “A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Malaysia’s oldest city is known for its rich history, but also its street food and intriguing architecture.”

The article goes on to say that Malaysia’s relatively low cost of living added significantly to Penang’s appeal as a retirement home. “Malaysia came in third, behind only Thailand and the Philippines, in the Global Retirement Index in terms of lowest living costs. An American couple can get along extremely well on $1,500 a month.”

Though Penangites faced with recent sticker shock at the soaring cost of property may balk at the prospect of living “extremely well” on what amounts to less than RM4,700 a month, not all retirees are keen to buy property, and outside of that, it’s hard to dispute that the cost of living in Penang is quite reasonable.

The article also cites the quality and cost of healthcare in Malaysia as a signifi cant incentive to retirees looking to make their home overseas, noting that foreigners routinely travel to Malaysia for quality medical and dental care at affordable prices. George Town has several hospitals and major clinics, bolstering the city’s appeal.

The success of the Malaysia My Second Home programme must surely be seen as a major catalyst to Penang’s popularity. Since the programme’s inception about a decade ago, nearly 20,000 foreigners have taken advantage of the incentives and many have settled in Penang. British expat Gurdy Brewer minces no words about it: “If it hadn’t been for MM2H,” she says, “we wouldn’t have come here.” She and her husband Richard moved to Penang with their MM2H visas in hand back in 2008 and haven’t looked back. “Living here with MM2H is a privilege,” Richard declares. “This is our home and we’ve made it our home.”

German nationals Dr and Mrs Mark Wolfgang feel similarly after spending three years in Penang as MM2Hers, and love their life here. “Malaysia attracted us because of its multinational and multicultural society, its central location within Southeast Asia, its well-developed health system and infrastructure, the variety of tasty food, and, of course, because it has a warm climate all year, as well as tropical flora and fauna!”

It should also be noted that, in the Kiplinger report, George Town was the only city in Asia named as a top retirement destination. Since the publication is largely – though not exclusively – geared towards Americans, many of the cities named are in Central America, as “ease of travel back to the US” is named among their selection criteria.

That simply makes the honour accorded all the more special: Penang surely couldn’t have scored very well on travelling easily back to America, and yet it still overcame this with strong scores in other categories and put this charming island solidly in t he list.


Apart from Kiplinger’s selection, Penang was also recently chosen by International Living magazine as one of the most affordable and enjoyable retirement locations in the world. Again, the favourable climate, quality affordable medical care, and great food were noted as some of Penang’s considerable strengths.

That publication’s 2013 Global Retirement Index, which determines through numerous criteria the top 22 retirement destinations in the world, placed Malaysia in third place, behind Central American pacesetters Ecuador and Panama. Of note, the only other Asian countries to place on this list were Thailand and the Philippines, in 9th and 15th places, respectively.


Source: Penang International April 2013 – May 2013

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