Malaysia is almost always in the top 10 lists of best international places for expat living and retirement, and for good reason. But just not for the reasons they list. Those “10 Best” write-ups are hilarious fantasy fictions written by people who are either completely high, closely related to Pinocchio, or have never set foot in Malaysia. A recent one gushed that Malaysia’s cities are “clean and modern” (Hahahaha! Ow, I just fell into an open storm drain) with “unrivaled public transportation” (um, busses?) with “stunning beaches” (bejeweled with trash) and “untouched rainforests” (ignore the bulldozers).
That said, thousands lead fulfilling expat lives in Malaysia and enjoy a happy retirement here, but for reasons that are actually based in reality. So how about we talk about what it’s REALLY like to live here – both the good and the bad – so you’ll be able to determine if moving to Malaysia is right for you?
After interviewing a number of expats living in Malaysia and combining it with my own experiences, these are the top pros and cons of living and retiring in Malaysia, along with important swing factors to consider: (Note – this table is best viewed on tablets or desktop computers – the formatting looks weird on phones)
|Low cost of living and great value
Easy to obtain 10-year visa
Affordable luxury housing
English spoken widely
Friendly, welcoming locals
Can purchase freehold property
Robust expat community and no creepy “sexpats”
|Seasonal haze/poor air quality
High cost for certain imports (such as alcohol, cars, electronics)
Very far from Europe and US
Limited entertainment and activity options
|Heat and humidity
It’s a developing country
There are many benefits of expat living and retiring in Malaysia. The top reason for most of us who live here is that life is easy, affordable and relatively low-stress. In fact, the cost of living is so low that many Westerners are able to retire early here – sometimes a decade sooner than anticipated. It’s a friendly, comfortable, relaxed, welcoming place to live with a low crime rate. Plus, you get incredible value for your money, from low rental rates for luxury housing, to movie tickets that cost about a quarter of the price in Western countries, and insanely cheap restaurant food that allows many to eat out every night. Plus, for those with kids, there’s a wide variety of excellent international schools. And the healthcare system is quite good and incredibly affordable.
Malaysia is one of only three Asian countries where you can purchase freehold property, making it attractive for international investors. And Malaysia makes it fairly simple to get a 10-year visa through their Malaysia My Second Home program (also known as MM2H), making it one of the easiest places to retire in Asia. (You can learn all about the MM2H process here – this is the agent that most of our friends use).
The roads are generally in very good shape here, and there have been quite a few infrastructure improvements – like a beautiful new bridge connecting Penang island to the mainland, and in Kuala Lumpur there’s a new light rail transit system. The sidewalks leave a lot to be desired though – more on that below.
And as an added bonus, because of stricter laws, there aren’t any disgusting sex tourists or “sexpats” here in Malaysia like there are in Thailand. It’s just gross seeing creepy old men in gold chains trolling the streets of Bangkok, groping tiny 17 year-old Thai prostitutes. Ew, just ewwww.
One of the most frequent complaints from those living here is that Malaysia can be a bit gritty. From litter on the beaches and beside roads, trash in the ocean and floating down rivers, and bathrooms that would horrify even Freddy Krueger, it takes some time to adjust. (There are some clean, beautiful places in Malaysia at locations that are sparsely populated, but it can be hard to find trash-free areas around populated locales).
I’ve found that it helps to focus on the positives instead of fixating on the litter. Like, for example: the beaches look fantastic from the 15th floor of a waterfront condo. 🙂
Extensive development is also an issue for some people, especially those who live next to noisy construction sites or who love nature and are sad to see jungles replaced by condos and palm oil plantations. It’s also quite a long flight to the US and Europe that can take up to 35 hours door-to-door with transfers and layovers, which is tough for people who need to travel back there frequently.
For those with uncommon heath conditions, it can be challenging to find medical specialists. And whenever Indonesia is setting their rainforests ablaze (usually between August-October), the haze that drifts into Malaysia can make the air quality quite dangerous for people with respiratory issues. 2017 and 2016 didn’t have much haze (thankfully), but in 2015 and 2019, the sky was ashy-gray, full of dangerous particulate matter and difficult to breathe for two straight months.
A special note for those who are mobility-challenged – some parts of the country are rough for people in wheelchairs, who use walkers or are unsteady on their feet. For example, this is a sidewalk near where we live:
(Gotta love the chair in the open/broken sewer grate. That’s the local way of indicating the hazard, which is hilarious. It may not be an orange cone, but it’s effective!)
Unless you’ve got an off-road wheelchair with a jetpack to fly over hazards like this, navigating the sidewalks here could be a challenge.
How to find out if Malaysia is for you
If you’re really serious about moving here, definitely plan a trip to explore, meet with other expats and see if it’s for you. If you come to Penang, here’s a fun way to see and experience its highlights in 3 days.
In the meantime, just picture yourself here, enjoying this incredible view and your early retirement 🙂