Finding the Perfect Retirement Spot: Perusing Penang

by Barbara Lewis

The search is on for our retirement haven. As we draw closer and closer to the age of retirement we as Canadians who have been non-residents for many, many years need to find somewhere that we can create a similar financial and tax situation that allows us to be residents. Malaysia fits the bill. We had been to Penang and stayed in Georgetown for a few days on a visa run almost a year ago. We really liked the area and thought it had potential to be our retirement destination. Malaysia allows expats in retirement a 10 year visa with no residency requirement in country; meaning once you have got the 10 year retirement visa by meeting the Malaysian government’s requirement there is no minimum number of days you need to reside in country.

This is ideal for us because it gives us residency with no actual residence requirement. To be honest, wherever we choose we will spend a portion of our time there but it makes it is easier if there is no minimum then meeting some arbitrary amount of time with rules associated to how it is calculated will not be a problem or a headache. One of our chief concerns is whether or not our dogs will fit into the community. This is a primarily Muslim community so it is a concern because in general because of religious restrictions Muslims don’t care for dogs.


They generally prefer to not be around them and it can be a problem to find help in your house because housekeepers who are Muslim sometimes will not clean up in areas where dogs have been and our dogs are allowed to go pretty much everywhere in the house. When we aren’t around our Thai Mae Baan looks after our dogs and we would want any kind of help we had to do the same, be it taking them for walks or staying with them when we are away.

We were very fortunate to meet up with a woman that we met online who helps expats get settled in Penang. She is a Canadian woman who has a medical concierge business and is in Penang on a 10 year retirement visa. She and her husband packed up and moved from Ontario, Canada to Penang, Malaysia two years ago after they successfully received the 10 year retirement visa. They have lived full time in Penang ever since and really like it. Their aim is to help other people navigate the obstacles of moving to Malaysia and specifically Penang. Normally, she doesn’t start helping people until they have already made the move and are in Penang but we were fortunate to steal some of her time and probe her with questions that we had so we can make a somewhat informed decision about Penang before we move there blindly like they did two years ago.

vintage car

We found out that like most Muslim countries stray dogs and cats are a real problem. She works with PAWS and since Penang is an island they were actively trying to contain the problem. It seems that there was adequate vet care and access to good quality dog food however the issue of help might be a problem. Penang has a large population of Chinese so therefore it is more dog friendly than other areas of Malaysia that are more heavily populated with Muslims.

As anyone in Bangkok knows who has dogs it is very difficult in anywhere but Nichada Thani to rent when you have a dog. Usually the apartments available aren’t very nice, old and expensive for what you get. I understand the availability of apartments in Penang that allow dogs will also be very limited. We also learned that although legally we could buy it is not advisable because selling takes a very long time to complete sometimes up to two years and is fraught with bureaucracy. It seems that for expats, at least Canadian, renting might be the way to go but having dogs just like in Thailand may pose a problem in what we can and can’t rent.

Another big concern of ours is community: by this we mean how available is the community to us socially, religiously, physically and different means of entertainment. Wherever we go we want to become part of the community and some destinations are just more open to allowing newcomers in than others. If a community doesn’t normally have transient people coming in and out of the community they might be reluctant or distrustful of newcomers. Also, if there is a lot of transients then sometimes members of a community are reserved about getting to know newcomers until they figure out whether they are going to stay or not.

We got told that the expat populous in Penang although very mixed falls into the latter category. There is a great deal of transients in Penang after all it is an island and some people think they can live on an island and find out they can’t. In general, people are unwilling to invest in newcomers until they know they plan on staying for a while. We also found out there is no end to ways to meet others: through clubs, physical activities, educational opportunities, volunteer opportunities and various other miscellaneous things one does outside the home. It seems if a person has an interest then there is a group associated with that interest and if not one can always be started.

The weather in Penang is similar to Bangkok however, because it is an island surrounded by water and mountains, it subject to those influences. One can drive across one of two large bridges to the mainland and after about four hours will arrive in Kuala Lumpur, so you are never really far from a very large city with an international airport however Penang’s airport is also considered international and Qatar Airlines now flies out of it instead of just budget airlines. Ease of travel into and out of the destination is very important. The airport don’t need to be big but they need to be efficient, reliable and organised.

We need to be able to get back and forth to North America without too much difficulty and have people be able to come visit us with relative ease. We also want a place where they want to come visit us because it looks like some place that would interest them and Penang does have lots of interesting things to do. From what we could understand from the answers to our questions and our research thus far we estimate that Penang’s cost of living will be about 30% cheaper than living in Bangkok but we will continue to investigate this.

While on this trip we stayed in an area we would consider renting and we tried to visit a number of other areas we had read or been told were popular with expats and found some very nice areas. We are not sure about actual buildings or rental properties that allow dogs as that will require more research on another trip. Penang is still on our radar with much more research left to do it shows great promise for our needs and lifestyle. We continue to build our pro and con lists and our eventual destination will of course have a much longer pro than con.

swimming pool


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