The city has grown a great deal in the 200 years since, but it has not lost its colonial flavor. Wandering around the historic downtown, it's easy to imagine yourself living in another era and, as well, another place. Here, you're in old China. Around the corner, you could be in India. Another neighborhood is reminiscent of an old Malay kampong (village). Everywhere the architecture and infrastructure harken back to England's colonial heyday. Impressive British-colonial buildings serve the same functions as they did more than a century ago; they are banks, churches, and residential mansions. Many of the dilapidated Chinese shophouses have been scrubbed, painted, and renovated into attractive hotels, community centers, cafes, galleries, and private homes. The early Indian traders left their legacy, as well, in the vibrant Little India neighborhood where you find ornate Hindu and Sikh temples and a commercial district where you can shop for yard goods and clothing, incense, fruits, spices, herbal teas, and natural remedies. Other parts of the city reflect the Malay culture, with mosques and more shopping. Adding to the ambiance are dozens of murals and whimsical, wrought-iron sculptures depicting life in the early days of the city. The city is home to at least a dozen museums. Venues for indulging in high culture include the Penang Philharmonic, ProArt Chinese Orchestra, Performing Arts Center, and the Actors Studio at Straits Quay. Free concerts are offered in various locations across Penang Island during the summer months. Jungle parks reveal secluded beaches and indigenous wildlife. Amusement parks provide family fun. Expat clubs meet regularly to serve the large and growing foreign community. Everywhere are eateries serving delicious and inexpensive gourmet fare. When the sun goes down, cooking smells permeate the air and tables fill with enthusiastic diners from around the globe. Though there are many fine restaurants in George Town, the real food scene is in the cafes, open-air restaurants, and hawker stalls. This is where chefs prepare regional Chinese, Malay, and Indian specialties, Chinese, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Malay, Indonesian, Nyonya, Teochew, and Thai cuisines, all manner of seafood, and Western-style dishes, using recipes that have been perfected over generations. Prices are something to rave about, too. Unless you're eating in an upscale restaurant, you can eat very well for about US$3 per person. George Town is a great place to visit, but it's also a great and, thanks to the government's Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program, easy place to live or retire. The MM2H program provides you with a retirement visa that is valid for up to 10 years, duty-free importation of personal belongings, a duty-free allowance to import or purchase an automobile, and a reduction in the required minimum purchase price of a home in the state of Penang. If you don't have the MM2H visa, you can buy a home or condominium valued at 1 million ringgit (about US$307,000) or more. MM2H visa-holders can buy property on Penang Island for half that amount. Note that, unlike other countries in this region, Malaysia allows foreigners to purchase and own a clear title to land, houses, and condominiums. It is common for foreigners to move here, rent for a year or two, then purchase property or a home. As a result, sizeable expat communities have developed in the suburbs north of George Town. Some come to work at one of the many international schools in the area. Others have moved here with their school-age children, to raise them in this safe and peaceful place. Many others have chosen to relocate here for retirement, in luxury condos with ocean views or in the quiet residential suburbs. We make it a point to visit George Town whenever we're in the vicinity. It's always a fun place to linger. The people are exceptionally friendly, and language is not a barrier in this English-speaking country. We enjoy wandering around the historic downtown and, of course, the food. For so many reasons, George Town is a place worth returning to again and again. Wendy Justice
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The guidebooks will say that JB is rough around the edges, and it can be, especially in the downtown area near the Singapore-JB Causeway. Foreigners don't live in this part of town, and, apart from shopping at the City Mall or transiting to other domestic destinations or Singapore, there is little reason to go there. The guidebooks generally don't mention anything at all about Nusajaya or the ambitious Iskandar Malaysia project, yet this is the heart of expat living in Johor.
Johor Bahru offers a high quality of life and a developed infrastructure. Overall, the cost of living is comparable to that in Kuala Lumpur, meaning it is slightly higher than elsewhere in Malaysia but still very affordable for retirees with a moderate income.
Younger expats will find that JB offers a great deal, as well, especially those who have children. Good international schools, plenty of playgrounds, and a proliferation of theme parks make family life good here. The easy commute to Singapore is a huge draw to this area, as foreigners who go to Singapore once have a habit of returning again and again.
The huge, ecologically friendly Iskandar Malaysia project has attracted a lot of money and attention, which has translated to a corresponding rise in the value of housing and land. Development is still in the early stages, and this could be a timely opportunity for an investment in property in JB's growing suburbs.
Malaysia has a stable economy and a democratic government. It is considered one of the most foreigner-friendly countries in the world; foreigners are encouraged to move here, and the local people are genuinely friendly and welcoming. If the thought of living in Malaysia sounds intriguing, put aside your guidebook and take a trip to Johor Bahru and Nusajaya. Explore the opportunities here, and, while you're in the neighborhood, experience Singapore on the sly.
Editor's Note: Wendy's complete guide to retirement and expat life in Johor Bahru will be featured in the February issue of my Overseas Retirement Letter. As Wendy explains, Malaysia qualifies as one of the world's top retirement havens for 2013, and, in this context, Johor Bahru is its undiscovered jewel.Continue Reading:
Image source: Emrank
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Kathleen Peddicord is the founder of the Live and Invest Overseas publishing group. With more than 25 years experience covering this beat, Kathleen reports daily on current opportunities for living, retiring, and investing overseas in her free e-letter.
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