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Will We Retire in Malaysia? Our Pros and Cons

We spent just over a year living in several different cities in Malaysia. And during our time here we started thinking: Would we ever want to move to Malaysia permanently and make this country our home? Will we retire in Malaysia? In this article we’ll explain the reasons we think Malaysia would be a good place for us to live or retire. But also reasons we think Malaysia would not be a good place for us to retire.

(Click the link below if you would prefer to watch a video with the same information: Will We Retire in Malaysia)

Pro #1: The People

The first reason why we would choose Malaysia to be our permanent home is the people here. The people in Malaysia are very friendly. We often get warms smiles and hellos from strangers as we walk down the street. The people here are always asking us “Where are we from?” and they want to hear our story. Our experiences with the Malaysian people have always been pleasant.

Pro #2: English Proficiency

The second reason we would choose Malaysia is that there is a high level of English proficiency here. When we’ve traveled in other countries we often feel quite isolated because we don’t speak the language. But here in Malaysia, almost everyone speaks enough English to have a conversation.

Pro #3: The Expats

Another reason why we would live in Malaysia is that there is an established expat community here. It’s very easy to meet people from your home country. There are Facebook groups, there are organized meetups, and organized activities arranged by the expat community. We have lived in 4 cities in Malaysia and in our experience Penang is the place to go for the biggest retired expat community. Kuala Lumpur seems to be more business and career expats.

Pro #4: The Cost Of Living

I think the main reason why people consider retiring outside their home country is due to lower expenses based on the strength of the home currency. Our average spending during our year in Malaysia was US$1410 per month. That’s for everything except for our flights to get to Malaysia and donations that we’ve made. And that’s for both of us, two people. I won’t go too much into our cost of living because I plan on publishing a separate article explaining our spending in detail. Overall, we’ve found that our cost of living in Malaysia is roughly half of what it was to live back home in the U.S. I want to emphasize the word roughly half. Everyone’s situation is different.

Pro #5: Malaysia Is A Developed Country

Another reason we would consider retiring in Malaysia is that it is a more developed country compared to places like Cambodia or Mexico. The road system is overall in good shape in my opinion. Public transportation within cities and also between cities is excellent. (Much higher than the U.S in fact as far as I’m concerned). And the cost of public transportation is amazingly cheap. The internet has been good enough for us. We haven’t experienced any serious power outages. And the overall infrastructure is getting even better over time.

Pro #6: Health Care

Oh wow, we are so impressed with the health care in Malaysia. It is some of the best in the world. In fact, before covid put a halt to medical tourism, Malaysia was receiving about a million foreigners coming to the country for medical treatment each year. Just a few examples: an MRI here in Malaysia might be a few hundred dollars versus a few thousand dollars in the U.S. And appointments for a specialist can generally be made just a few days ahead of time in Malaysia, versus the few months ahead of time required in the U.S.

Pro #7: Crime and Safety

Is Malaysia perfectly safe? No of course not, no country is. But we feel safer here in Malaysia than many other countries we have visited. And definitely safer in Malaysia than back home in the U.S. I was a teacher back in the U.S., and teachers in America have to learn how to handle a mass shooting and sniper attacks. No shootings like that here.

Pro #8: The Food

The great thing about the food if you retire in Malaysia is the variety. There’s access to both the wonderful Malaysian food and a tremendous variety of international cuisine. You can find any food you want here. And that is why Penang was rated the number one food location in the world by Lonely Planet. We have two other articles about the food, one sampling some of the Malaysian food, and another on the international restaurants in Penang.

Pro #9: Air Quality

Malaysia has better air quality compared to many other popular retirement destinations. We had to leave Chiang Mai, Thailand because the smoky season was too intense. Malaysia can also get smoke and pollution that blows in from Indonesia, but it is not as heavy.

Pro #10: Natural Disasters

The threat of natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes or typhoons is very low here. I’ve lived most of my life in California and North Carolina. It would be nice to not have to worry about these things if we retire in Malaysia.

Con #1: The Weather

It is hot here. Very hot! When we go out for the day we usually come back home sticky and sweaty. But there are some ways to make the heat a little more bearable. We have found that it helps to rent an apartment that is either near the water, near a green area with a lot of trees, or by living on the higher floors of the building. We had one apartment in Penang that had a very strong breeze, and we found that we could be comfortable even without air conditioning. To really escape the heat in Malaysia, head to Cameron Highlands. This is a mountain area where the weather is absolutely perfect, not too hot, not too cold. We actually lived in Cameron Highlands for 3 months when the country first went into lockdown due to covid and we couldn’t leave. But there are some downsides. Because it’s a resort town it’s a bit more expensive. The traffic is terrible especially on weekends. And it doesn’t have large grocery stores, movie theaters, or other conveniences that you’ll have in the big cities like Penang or KL.

Con #2: The Location

Another reason why we might hesitate about choosing Malaysia is because it’s a lot traveling for us to get back home to visit friends and family. In fact, Malaysia is 12 time zones away from our family, just about half-way around the world. Now, for you, maybe that’s not an issue, maybe you’re from somewhere closer like Australia. Or maybe you’re trying to be as far away from home as possible! But we want to go back to the U.S. to visit, and to get to our hometown in the U.S. it takes three separate flights, maybe even four. And that makes it expensive. It’s not good for the environment. And it’s just exhausting. I personally can not sleep on a plane. And then a few days of jet lag. For me, this is one downside to Malaysia.

Con #3: Immigration

I’m writing this article in May 2021 and the immigration requirements are in limbo right now. But this could change soon. Malaysia has an immigration program called MM2H or Malaysia My Second Home. We were in the process of working with an agent to apply for this visa that would have allowed us to stay in Malaysia for an extended length of time. But the program was suspended due to covid and also some other reasons. The details about the new MM2H program have yet to be released but are expected soon. However Sarawak, which is a state in East Malaysia, has their own separate immigration system, and they have already released the details of their version of the MM2H program. If you google to get info about Sarawak’s program be sure you’re looking at the information after September 2020. Anything older than that will be outdated.

UPDATE AUGUST 11, 2021: The new MM2H requirements have been announced. More information in this link.

So, those are the factors that are important to us. Maybe there are other factors that I didn’t even mention that are important to you specifically. Please leave a comment to let us know. So will we retire in Malaysia? I’ll just say that I have visited about 70 countries around the world now, and if I had to choose a place right now, Malaysia is number 1 for us, at the top of the list.

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