Cost of Living in Penang

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

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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)

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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:

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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)

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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.

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Beautiful views abound from their balcony

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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)

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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:

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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! 🙂

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

 

5 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

    Like

      • 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). 🙂

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