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
Continue Reading: Retire To Turkey
As a friend who has been retired in Asia for many years puts it, "Everywhere in Asia is more affordable than the cheapest places in Latin America right now." That may be a stretch, but pockets of Thailand, Malaysia, the Philippines, China, Vietnam, and India, for example, can be absurdly cheap. You could live a modest but comfortable life in this part of the world on a budget of $700 or $800 a month, even less.
Living on this side of the planet, you'd also have access to some of the world's most beautiful beaches. Your life would be full of adventure, the exotic, and the unexpected. That is to say, the culture shock would be significant. For some, this reality is thrilling and invigorating...for others, it's intimidating, even terrifying.
In Asia, as well, you have an added challenge related to residency. Typically (an exception is Malaysia), you aren't going to be able to arrange to stay on indefinitely (legally) as a foreigner. You'll have to make regular border runs, which can grow tiresome and expensive (not to mention being illegal).
The easier alternative is not to approach Asia as a full-time choice but, instead, to create a where-to-retire-overseas plan for yourself that allows you to enjoy the benefits of Asia (super cheap and super exotic) part-time. Don't worry about trying to qualify for permanent residency. Stay as long as you can as a tourist and then move on.
How about three months on the coast of Thailand, where your retirement budget would stretch far indeed, followed by a few months in the south of France, say, or Tuscany?
Which brings us to the Continent. Not everyone is cut out for life in the developing world. If you're less interested in an exotic retirement than you are in a fully appointed one, your best options for where to retire in the world could lie in Europe. Most would-be retirees abroad dismiss this part of the world as too expensive, but that isn't necessarily the case, and, if it's a Continental lifestyle you dream about, I urge you not to write it off too quickly. Sure, a retiree on a modest budget probably can't afford Paris or Florence, but have you considered southwestern France, where life is quintessentially French but, as well, surprisingly affordable, or Pisa, about an hour from Michelangelo's hometown but dramatically less costly?
One of the big advantages of Europe, compared with other regional retire-overseas options, is the opportunity it affords for what might be referred to as "high culture." Every country in the world has local culture, but not everywhere has world-class museums, opera, and live theater, for example. If you're interested in a life that includes what are conventionally recognized as cultural offerings of the high-brow variety, you should be looking to France or Italy, Spain or Portugal.
This is not to say it's impossible to enjoy an Old World Continental lifestyle anywhere else. Some cities in South America offer a fair imitation, including, for example, Buenos Aires, and Medellin, Colombia. Both are cities of open-air cafes, classic-style museums and theaters, art galleries and antique shops.
And both, you'll note, are in South America, not Central America. The differences between these two regions, even between Panama and Colombia, next-door neighbors, can be striking. I'm speaking generally and you could find exceptions to every point, but, again, generally speaking, South America offers what I'd call more polished retirement options and is a good place to look if what you want is culture on the cheap.
Central America, by contrast, is, everywhere, rough around the edges. These are small, developing countries, struggling (let's be honest) to keep the lights on and the highways paved. They don't have money to invest in things like art museums. This can make for a way of life that is, for some, charming. Romantics (like me) in Central America see the potential for what could be rather than the reality of what sometimes is. Others find Central America frustrating, disappointing, even appalling.
On the other hand, this sun-blessed region can be but a quick plane hop away and a user-friendly place to establish foreign residency if you'd like to settle in full-time.
Pluses and minuses...give and take.
Kathleen PeddicordContinue Reading:
Image credit: Toksave
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
We had hoped to take a side-trip by bus to Xiahe, the site of a famous Tibetan monastery located about mid-way between Kashgar and Beijing. Our hotel looked out over the ticket window of the bus station. We watched as thousands of people waited to pay their fares, so many that they blocked traffic on the eight-lane street that ran in front of the bus station. We took a couple of pictures. Take a look at our photos of the crowds in Beijing.
Watching this, we decided against trying to make our way through this unbelievable crowd, especially knowing that, when we were ready to leave Xiahe, we would be faced with a similar ordeal.
Those who stayed in Beijing throughout the holidays didn't do much better. On Oct. 2, more than 180,000 visitors crammed into the Forbidden City. That's about six times more visitors than it normally receives in a day. Hundreds of thousands more made their way to the Great Wall, where crowds were literally shoulder-to-shoulder.
Hotel rates surged. Hotel rooms in Yunnan Province jumped more than 10-fold in price, and hotels throughout the country increased their rates 20% or more. Those hoping to make the short trip between Kunming and the historic city of Lijiang found themselves stuck in an 18-hour traffic jam.
It was a good reminder for us. When we lived in Vietnam, we experienced the mania of Táº¿t, which will be on the 10th of February this year. Millions of Vietnamese head out of the cities to visit their families in the countryside. Millions more head to the beaches and the main tourist sites, creating transportation gridlock throughout the country. The trains are packed for several weeks before the holidays, then stop running altogether for several days. Grocery stores close and many hotels lock their doors. Those remaining open often drastically increase their rates. Food prices, especially at the markets, frequently double.
There is a good reason for all this: Táº¿t symbolizes the end of the old year and the start of the new one, and paying off debt is an expected way to properly close out the previous year. Unfortunately, proprietors paying off their debts may translate into new debts for you!
Táº¿t coincides with the Lunar New Year, which is celebrated throughout Southeast Asia and the Orient. Travel is very heavy during this period. Flights, trains, and buses fill up quickly, hotel rates skyrocket, and many businesses close for the week. This is not a good time to be scouting out Malaysia, Singapore, China, Japan, or most of Asia.
Unless you want to fast from sun-up to sundown, avoid traveling in Islamic areas during Ramadan (from July 9 to Aug. 7 this year). Muslim-owned restaurants and food outlets will be closed during the day. It is also considered improper to smoke cigarettes during this fasting time.
If you plan to go to northern and central Thailand, you may want to avoid traveling between April 13 and April 17, when the Songkran Festival is in full swing--unless you don't mind being drenched by revelers celebrating the Thai New Year with water pistols and buckets of ice water, all aimed at you (and your luggage). Travel and lodging in southern Thailand can become difficult and expensive around Christmas and New Year's, when hordes of winter-weary Scandinavians and Europeans descend upon the sunny southern beaches.
We had almost forgotten how overwhelming holidays can be, even in the Far East. When we made it back to Beijing, we hunkered down until after Golden Week, saving the trip to the Great Wall until the following week when traffic was manageable and the crowds had returned to work.
Had we been trying to conduct business during this period, we would have been wasting our time. Had we been trying to travel with a strict itinerary, we would have been horribly frustrated. Festivals and holidays can be a great time to experience a country but plan accordingly and know what you want to accomplish. If you're intending your visit as a chance to research, scout, and plan your move or retirement to that destination, you're likely better off traveling in the off-season.
Wendy JusticeContinue Reading:
Image source: Ariel Steiner
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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.
Her book, How To Retire Overseas—Everything You Need To Know To Live Well Abroad For Less, was recently released by Penguin Books.
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