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George Town, Malaysia

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A Tropical Treasure: Life In George Town, Malaysia

George Town is the capital of tropical-island Penang, located just west of mainland Malaysia, and offers one of the best overseas retirement opportunities in the world. This is a safe and reasonably-priced little island with excellent medical care, an interesting and eclectic community from around the world that communicates largely in English, and diverse lifestyle, entertainment and recreational options.

Retired here, you could while away the hours wandering around historic George Town, kick back at the beach, explore stunning mountains and waterfalls, shop ’til you drop, or partake in some of the world’s finest and most affordable cuisine.

As its nicknames (“Pearl of the Orient,” “Garden of the East,” and “Island of Pearls”) suggest, Penang Island is an exceptionally beautiful location, and with a population of just 740,000, the city is small enough that it’s easy to make friends and meet your neighbors.

Penang is a paradise for food lovers. In 2014 Lonely Planet named Penang the top food destination in the world. In a country that is so passionate about food that the common greeting is “Have you eaten yet?” Penang stands out for the quality, the diversity and the low cost of dining options it offers.

ECA International rated George Town as being the most livable city in Malaysia. We agree (and so do our taste buds!). In our opinion, Penang is one of the top spots in all of Southeast Asia for long-term living and retirement.

One of the many charms of George Town is the feeling it gives you of stepping back in time. Even beyond the city’s UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site heart, this city is a cornucopia of Chinese shop houses, pagodas, temples, churches, mosques, British-colonial buildings and landscaped parks. Wholesalers, import and export businesses, and shipping companies dominate the southern section of Beach Street, as they have since the 1880s, and the docks of Weld Quay, which was established more than 120 years ago, are little changed today. Impressive British-colonial buildings serve the same functions as they did more than a century ago, while many of the dilapidated Chinese shop houses have been scrubbed, painted, and renovated into attractive hotels, community centers, cafes, galleries and private homes.

In George Town, you’d never run out of things to do, from outdoor fun and historical exploration to dining adventures, nightlife, or an evening at the symphony. Art is everywhere in the old city. The Penang Philharmonic and the ProArt Chinese Orchestra both have venues in town. The Actors Studio at Straits Quay offers theater performances, as does the Performing Arts Centre of Penang, and there are special cultural events (Chinese opera and puppetry performances, for example) and impromptu concerts around town regularly.

Cost Of Living In George Town, Malaysia

In George Town you would need to invest in your own transportation. You can get by in most areas of Penang using buses and taxis, but this is really only a temporary strategy, so potential retirees need to allow for the cost.

While you’ll find many fine restaurants in George Town, the real food scene is in the little cafes, open air restaurants and hawker stalls. This is where chefs prepare regional Chinese, Cantonese, Hokkien, Hakka, Malay, Indonesian, Indian, Nyonya, Teochew and Thai cuisines, all manner of seafood, as well as 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 well for about US$3 per person.

Malaysia does not have doctorate-level medical schools of its own, so all physicians practicing in the country have acquired at least part of their education overseas. Hospitals employ medical personnel trained in Europe, Australia, the United States and Canada. As a result, even in a small, neighborhood “klinik,” it is likely that your doctor will speak fluent English, and the best part? A consultation will cost around US$4.50 to US$6 at current exchange rates.

Rent, too, can be super affordable in this city, especially when compared with Malaysian capital Kuala Lumpur. At the low end, you could rent a small furnished apartment for less than USUS$300 per month. Expect to pay from US$600 to US$750 per month for a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment in an older building. In a newer and higher-end building, you could spend around US$800 per month for a unit with a view of the sea. George Town is also a place where you could rent what would qualify as a luxury-level place to live. A large villa with an ocean view fetches rent of US$3,000 per month, which is not cheap but a bargain on a global scale considering the standard and quality of what you’d be getting.

Monthly Budget For A Couple Living In George Town, Malaysia

Click here for currency conversion at today’s exchange rate.

Rent RM 1,820  
Gas RM 18 Used for cooking.
Electricity RM 291 Air conditioning used most days and at night.
Water RM 18  
Telephone RM 36 Basic landline service.
Internet RM 73 Broadband dial-up starts at about RM 30 per month.
Cable TV RM 91  
Groceries RM 819  
Entertainment RM 728  
Total RM 3,894  

 

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