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Kota Kinabalu is located in the Sabah region on the eastern coast of East Malaysia (Malaysian Borneo), which is less populated and less known as a retirement destination. The history of this region is long and fascinating, and has been influenced by a number of foreign cultures. Expats claim this laid-back and quite city is one of the most pleasant places in Asia to live, and that Sabah is an incredibly welcoming place.
Kota Kinabalu offers inexpensive and sophisticated medical care, however, access is just a bit more limited on Malaysian Borneo than it is on the mainland… not much, though. Patients of the public Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the Sabah Medical Center, the Damai Specialist Hospital, and the Rafflesia Medical Center all report excellent service, and the newly opened Gleneagles Hospital was built to comply with JCI standards.
The city is small and entirely walkable; from one end to the other it’s less than 3 kms long… But to see anything outside the city you’ll need a car. The most popular form of public transport here are taxis. To go further afield on public transport you can take non-airconditioned mini buses (on the cheap), or opt for a regular, modern bus. (Note that people drive on the left here.) The North Borneo Railway is one of the oldest lines in the region, and occasionally runs scenic route featuring a steam engine and original 1800s-era coaches. There are a number of ferry routes to take you from the city center to neighboring islands and tourist destinations.
Boasting several new shopping centers and malls, living here has never been more convenient.
Kota Kinabalu is home to theaters offering Malaysian performances, but nothing in English. A little outside the city there’s a museum on the Sabah region’s culture and history, complete with a Heritage Village showing traditional tribal dwellings. The Sabah Art Gallery offers regular exhibitions by local artists.
For symphony or other high culture, you’ll have to head to Kuala Lumpur. There are lots of festivals here, though, you’ll find something to do every week, from local dance festivals to food exhibitions, art festivals to charity sports events.
This city also offers all the usual water sports of a beach destination… snorkeling, diving, boating. The waters off the Sabah coast are rated among the best in the world for diving. Plus, trips to Mt. Kinabalu are within a few minutes of the city, offering incredible hiking and climbing opportunities. Explore hot springs and wetland centers. Discover exotic wildlife at various animal reserves, by taking nature and wildlife walks, or visiting the marine park.
A legacy of its colonial past, English is a recognized language in Malaysia (which is a step below being an official one). You’ll find English used widely in retirement haven Kota Kinabalu. Home to a diverse population, you’ll hear Mandarin and Malay on the streets, as well as Penang Hokkien and Tamil. The accent of the English spoken here can take a little getting used to and is colloquially known as “Manglish” (Malaysian English). It’s safe to say that Malaysia leads Southeast Asia in English speakers and, aside from Singapore, its neighbors all lag far behind.
Kota Kinabalu is home to a good number of expats from all over, including a significant number of Australians.
From the lush greenery to the spectacular Mt. Kinabalu, plus the breathtaking sunsets off the South China Sea that expats rave about… this is a nature lover’s paradise. Add to that the lower population than many other, more known expat havens in Malaysia, this low-key destination has a lot to offer the retiree looking for a tranquil, serene destination that keeps them close to nature.
Cost of Living in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia
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Medical appointments can cost around 100 ringgit per visit. Household help can 300 ringgit per month for two four-hour visits per week.