Cost of Living in Penang

Thinking of moving to or retiring in Penang? This is how much it costs to live here.

20170212_074541

It’s really no wonder why International Living ranked Penang as #6 in their roundup of the “10 Best Places to Retire Around the World in 2017.” Our friends keep asking me if they should retire here, so this is going to be the first in a series of stories about what it’s like to live in Penang and considerations to make before moving here – be sure to subscribe if you’d like to see more of these articles (scroll down and look for the “follow this blog via email” section on the right side of the page).

This fabulous urban island routinely ends up in retirement top 10 lists because of the vibrant multicultural festivals that happen just about every month, world-class food, modern amenities, natural beauty, ample nearby adventures, tropical climate, high quality health care and safety. And monkeys – yay! One of the most attractive things of all: you get all this with a very low cost of living, making it possible for many westerners to retire early and live like rock stars here. You get great value for your money in Penang. Yes, there are cheaper places to live, like Thailand, but there aren’t any skeezy sex tourists here – bonus!

So what’s the actual cost of living like? It really depends on where you live and how fancy or frugal you want to be. To give you a feel for the range of what’s on offer, I’ve asked some of our expat friends with different budgets and lifestyles to summarize their monthly expenses and share photos of where they live. So let’s get to it:

Note: These expenses and exchange rates are as per the publication date of this story, which is February 2017)

Top-End: The Oprah Experience

Monthly cost of living for 2 people: 13,130 MYR ($2,955 USD; 2,789 EUR)

20170223_152642

This couple could be on the cover of “I Want Your God Damn Life” magazine. They live like Oprah. Their gorgeous, gigantic condo is right on the beach in Tanjung Bungah, which is a great little community with lots of expats and locals, and it’s close to town but far enough away to have peace and quiet. The home has 4 bedrooms and 4 bathrooms (not including the separate bedroom and bathroom for the maid) (yes, seriously), and three spectacular balconies. It even has its own private elevator lobby, because, c’mon, who can live without that?! This exclusive condo complex has everything you’d find in a high-end resort: a fabulous pool, an ocean-view gym, multiple waterfront decks, and a large staff of full-time landscapers and security guards. The jetsetting couple who lives here eat outs several times per week, they drink imported wine/beer, shop at a high-end grocery store, they’ve got maid service twice per week and they own their own car. They live it up. Here are a few shots of their beautiful, stylish home:

20170223_152726img_081520170223_152830

20150503_193617

This is the view from one of their three incredible balconies. Not bad, huh?

Total monthly expenses for two people for the Top-End / Oprah Experience: 13,130 ringgit (at today’s exchange rate, that’s about $2,955 USD; 2,789 EUR)
Cost of living breakdown:  
Condo size 4,800 square feet
Rent 8000 MYR (Malaysian ringgit)/month (1,790 US dollars; 1,689 Euro)
Electricity 400 MYR/ month ($89 USD; 84 EUR)
Water 10 MYR/month ($2.25 USD; 2 EUR)
Twice weekly maid service 100 MYR/week ($22 USD; 21 EUR)
Health insurance 22,290 MYR per person/year ($5,000 USD per person; 4706 EUR)
Broadband internet and TV 250 MYR/month ($56 USD; 53 EUR)
Mobile phone plan for two phones 38 MYR/month ($8.52 USD; 8.07 EUR)
Car insurance and registration 1,500 MYR/year ($336 USD; 317 EUR)
Food, beverages and entertainment 2000 MYR/month ($449 USD; 423 EUR)


Budget Living: Affordable Comfort

Monthly cost of living for 2 people: 4,026 MYR (906 USD; 855 EUR)

emily4

This lovely couple lives in a fairly high-density apartment complex among locals, and they’re about a 3-minute drive from Tanjung Bungah beach. Their top-floor unit has 3 bedrooms/2 bathrooms, it’s comfortable and cute, and has a lovely balcony with a view of the hills and the sea. Note: they don’t pay for TV or health insurance.

emily2

Beautiful views abound from their balcony

emily1

Total monthly expenses for two people for Budget Living / Affordable Comfort : 4,026 MYR (906 USD; 855 EUR)
Cost of living breakdown:  
Condo size 1,300 square feet
Rent 1,700 MYR/month (383 USD; 361 EUR)
Electricity 200 MYR/month (45 USD; 43 EUR)
Water 5 MYR/month (1 USD; 1 EUR)
Broadband internet 134 MYR/month (30 USD; 29 EUR)
Mobile phone plan for two phones 40 MYR/month (9 USD; 8.50 EUR)
Car insurance and registration 565 MYR/year (127 USD; 120 EUR)
Food, beverages and entertainment 1,900 MYR/month (428 USD; 403 EUR)

Mid-Range: The Goldilocks

Monthly cost of living for 2 people: 5,500 MYR (1,238 USD; 1,168 EUR)

robs-house-1

Have you ever dreamt of jumping onto your desk and loudly proclaiming: “Screw you guys, I’ve had enough of this crap – I quit!” (Okay, perhaps a better question is: who hasn’t had this fantasy?) Well, in Penang, you can retire on a heck of a lot less money than you can in almost any western country, so Malaysia might just make early retirement a real possibility for you.

Two of our friends retired in their mid-40s. Since they want their money to stretch for another 40+ years, they live on a budget, but they’ve found ways to still live pretty lavishly by making some compromises. It’s a Goldilocks scenario: not too extravagant, not too frugal. One of their biggest concessions is to live in Batu Ferringhi, which is a resort town that’s quite a bit further out than where most expats live, so they sometimes feel a bit isolated. The town has upsides, like way cheaper rent and gorgeous views. And it has downsides, like crappy broadband internet, and a lot of tourists and tourist traps. They also save money by not having health insurance (opting to pay as they go instead, which is quite affordable here), cleaning their own apartment, forgoing car ownership and using the bus and Uber instead. Here are a few shots of their apartment and pretty views:

robs-house-3

robs-house-4

robs-house-2

Total monthly expenses for two people for the Mid-range / Goldilocks: 5,500 MYR (1,238 USD; 1,168 EUR)
Cost of living breakdown:  
Condo size 1,777 square feet
Rent 3,200 MYR/month (720 USD; 680 EUR)
Electricity 250 MYR/month (56 USD; 53 EUR)
Water 5 MYR/month (1 USD; 1 EUR)
Broadband internet 170 MYR/month (38 USD; 36 EUR)
Mobile phone plan for two phones 125 MYR/month (28 USD; 26 EUR)
Transportation for two people 250 MYR/month (56 USD; 53 EUR)
Food, beverages and entertainment 1,500 MYR/month (337 USD; 319 EUR)

Something to think about when choosing a condo, apartment or house here: who will your neighbors be? Neighbors are a great source of friends for most people, and living in a community of people whose company you really enjoy can contribute a lot to your quality of life. Residents of top-end complexes tend to be a diverse international blend of highly educated, successful, interesting people from fascinating backgrounds. The ages range from young families on expat work assignments to older retirees. Places at the lower end of the rent spectrum tend to have a higher concentration of locals of all ages who are still working. And mid-range complexes often attract blue-collar retirees.

If you’re thinking of retiring here, you’ll also need to look into the cost of the Malaysia My Second Home program, also known as MM2H. The costs differ for various age ranges, and whether you choose to use an agent or fill in the paperwork yourself. My friend Rob has a great blog called Experimental Expats, and he wrote a comprehensive story about the MM2H process here, which I highly recommend you to check out if you’re considering retiring in Malaysia.

There are also other considerations to factor into the cost of living, like the fact that there’s no capital gains tax in Malaysia, and if you’re moving here from certain European countries, avoiding those taxes can be very attractive.

Beyond cost of living considerations, it comes down to this simple question: will you be happy in Penang? My husband and I absolutely love living here, as do the majority of our friends, but we know a few who aren’t so enchanted. There are so many things to love about Penang, like its people, who are some of the happiest, friendliest and most welcoming in the world, not to mention the insanely good food, and all the fascinating festivals. It isn’t perfect though – there are some downsides, like the haze when Indonesia sets their forests on fire, traumatizing bathrooms, the heat, and omnipresent litter. It’s kind of like seeing a Ferrari with a dent in the door: do you focus on the dent or on the rest of the car? If you’re a dent-gazer, Penang might drive you nuts. But if you’re the kind of person who is able to focus on the good instead of the bad, you may just find yourself falling in love with Penang like I have.

To everyone considering moving here, I’d recommend coming and spending a few weeks to see if it’s right for you. To give you a good feel for the island, here’s a great way to experience its highlights in 3 perfect days, or come for some festivals. And be sure to visit the famous wet markets while you’re here, which is where you can find me every morning shoving large quantities of tomyum noodles into my face. Hope to see you here! 🙂

img_8948

This is just one of the new friends you might make if you move to Penang. 🙂

 

26 thoughts on “Cost of Living in Penang

  1. Impeccable article as usual. To any readers, I’m Rob, the guy with the blog she talked about and we live out in the boonies. I’ll personally vouch that what she says is very accurate. For my wife and me it’s time to move on but a lot of our decisions come from the compromises we made to live without work at young ages. Thailand will cut our rent by about 20 to 30% and we’ve always wanted to try liivng there. And we’re the type that usually doesn’t repeat festivals unless they’re exceptional in our eyes. And to be blunt, it’s too hot for us to enjoy a lot of what we enjoy doing. It’s difficult with no transportation but we needed to try two years and see how our budgeting went. Chiang Mai is in the mountains and mornings and evenings are as much as 10 Celsius degrees cooler than Penang so if you’re even half half on high humidity and a temperature range that never settles in at less than mid 80s farenheit you might think twice. Anyway, Cimeron and John rock and are by far our favorite North American friends. We will miss them
    Cheers

    • Great article. My husband and I are hoping to make the move early next year. Please put me on your mailing list. Thanks.
      Lana Bogart

      • Thanks Lana! We really love living here. There’s a lot to enjoy about it! If you’d like to get each new article that comes out, you’ll need to sign up for that yourself by going to the site (www.OhMYExpatLife.com) scroll down and look for the button on the right side of the page that says “Follow” and enter your info. (Sorry – I can’t sign you up for the email list myself – that’s to ensure your privacy). 🙂

  2. Very informative. As a Professional Photographer and a semi retired single gentleman, I’m always looking for the next awesome shot (think Pulitzer Prize) and of course how to make my menial retirement income go further. I look forward to more and am interested in how single people are managing there.
    albc

  3. Thank you for the article on cost of living. We are on our first exploratory visit the first week in November. We are in search of a good real estate agent or Company that can help us understand our options for rentals. Specifically since I need a pet friendly apartment that will accept two cats. I think you have 3 cats so you know that finding pet friendly can sometimes be challenging. Do you have any recommendations or who you used when you were searching?

    • Hi Jana,
      There are quite a few places around the island that will accept pets, and most real estate agents know the condos and landed homes that do. My friend Marrean is an agent and I’m sure she can help you out. Here’s the Facebook page for her company – just tell her I sent you and she’ll treat you like an old friend. 🙂 http://www.facebook.com/PenangRealEstate7/?hc_ref=ARRZCdWb7Dezju7Ix-G_FSbLpgYt9FnWI9VGiMoRz3FL0pcB0xQVyr4O-AyKJc0E1Rc&pnref=story.unseen-section
      Best of luck on your home-hunt!
      Cimeron

      • Hi Cimeron
        Fantastic website. My husband has just been offered a position in Penang and we will be moving in March. Thanks for the link above. We have 2 dogs and a cat so suspect the house hunt could be tricky.

        Thanks 🙂
        Corinne

      • Hi Corinne! Sorry for the delayed response – got super busy with holiday travel. Congratulations on your upcoming move to Penang! I bet you’ll love it – it’s such a fabulous place to live and the people (locals and expats) are absolutely wonderful. I’ve made some of my best friends while living here. Finding housing with pets can be a bit challenging, but not too big of an issue. Landed houses (that’s what they call a single family house on property here) is your easiest bet. But there are also a few condos that take pets. If you need the name of a good real estate agent, let me know and I’ll hook you up with one who knows all the places that take pets. 🙂 (If possible, please hit me up on Instagram as I check those messages multiple times per day. I’m at: Instagram.com/ohmyexpatlife)

  4. Hi Cimeron! Thank you so much for this article. Really gives me a lot of information to think about in terms of housing. Serious questions time. How bad is the heat and humidity? I’m from foggy San Francisco, and I know it can be hot there, but just how hot are we talking?

    • Hi Gordon! We’re from SF too, so I understand your fear of the heat and humidity. Last year, the temperatures were quite pleasant here for much of the year, but the year before, there were long stretches of very hot months…like Burning Man hot. With global climate change, the normal seasonal patterns and temperatures have been a bit disrupted here, just like everywhere else. So long story short: the heat and humidity can really vary. Personally speaking, my husband and I have gotten quite used to it and we only notice the super crazy-hot days, which are not all that common. But I have friends who really feel the heat and humidity, so they stay in air-conditioned places during the peak-heat hours. A doctor friend told me that overweight people tend to struggle with the heat more than thinner people, too.

      Since heat tolerance is a totally personal thing, I can’t tell you if you’ll get used to it or hate it – you’re just going to have to come and see for yourself. I hope that helps!

  5. Hi! Just to add on to the comment from Gordon. We too are from SF, but from the SF Coast (pacifica, half moon bay) which can be even more foggy and cool depending on where you are in comparison in SF. We visited Penang in November and it was humid and quite warm. I did not feel like we had to be in the AC the entire time, but I will say if you don’t like humidity, then it will be warm for you. We lived in South Florida (Miami/Ft Lauderdale) several years back and the weather reminds me of these areas. In fact, you can find some sites on the internet that compare the weather between Florida and Penang (which is what I did before we visited as I had the same concern Gordon did). I agree with Cimeron that you do get used to the heat and humidity. However, you will have to judge your tolerance for this type of weather if you have never lived in a humid environment previously. Regardless of humidity, we enjoyed Penang!

  6. Hi Cimeron,
    First I must commend you for all the great first hand information which is invaluable for those who plans to relocate to Penang, especially on the cost of living and pet relocation procedures. I m writing a book on early retirement in Malaysia. May I use some of the information and links to your blog so that the readers could have access to your stories? Thank you.

    • Hi Lawrence, Thanks for the kind words! You’re more than welcome to include links to my blog in your book. Whenever you use info from the blog, if you could please reference it as your source, that would be great. Good luck writing your book! 🙂
      Cimeron

  7. Hi Cimeron….

    We are looking to have a one month stay in Penang to establish if we could rent long term….

    Having no idea of where to start …..what areas would you recommend …and are there any estate agents who deal with monthly rentals….???

    As we are from the UK we are completely in the dark….are you able to shed any light…..?

    Kind regards

    Peter & Hui Hui

    • Hi Peter and Hui Hui! Nice to meet you. My friend Sharon has a special connection with the rental manager at a really beautiful and brand new high-rise condo that’s pretty close to everything. I’m pretty sure she can arrange a one-month rental for you at a very affordable rate – I know she just did something recently for some other friends of mine who are also here to decide if Penang is right for them. She’s on vacation at the moment, but if you’d like, I can pass your email address onto her and have her contact you directly. Does that like a good plan? Sharon is wonderful and loves helping people, so I think you’ll really like her. Plus, she can give you a great idea for all the different areas to live in Penang and all the pros/cons. 🙂
      Cimeron

  8. Hi Cimeron, I love your website! We as a family of four are planning to come to Penang, we are looking for a place to stay for one month before we agreed to a long term rent. Can you please recommend us any estate agents? You have mentioned your friend Sharon above in a comment, it would be great to connect with her 🙂

    • Hi Sadaqat, nice to meet you! My friend Sharon can definitely help you with that – she’s got some special relationships with really nice condos around Penang to secure rentals of various lengths at a discount rate. Here’s her email address: Giraudcan@gmail.com She’s a very close friend of mine and she’s a wonderful person. I’m sure she’ll be able to help you out. Let me know how it goes!
      Cimeron

  9. Hi Cimeron,

    Nice blog for expat looking forward to live in Penang. We are a couple from Bay Area too. Thinking to apply for MM2H for our early retirement. Love your idea of Bay Area Club in Penang. Can you kindly refer us to a reliable MM2H agent for our consideration. Thanks!

  10. Pingback: Penang Short-Term Tentals | Penang Personal and Medical Concierge

Leave a Reply