Home to a rich culture, some of the world’s best food, and a dynamic capital city, Malaysia is a rapidly growing country in the heart of Southeast Asia. One of the world’s progressive Muslim countries, Malaysia combines ancient culture with modern infrastructure to create an affordable, fun, and interesting destination for expatriates and retirees alike.
Malaysia’s capital is Kuala Lumpur – a large city that combines beautiful nature with one of the region’s most impressive business and shopping scenes. With a population of over seven million, Kuala Lumpur acts as both the country’s political center and its chief economic area, with major companies and families alike inhabiting its central districts.
Living in Kuala Lumpur is surprisingly inexpensive, and the city itself offers a lot to retirees on a strict budget. Large two-bedroom apartments can be found for as little as $1,000USD per month, while family-sized units can be purchased for just a few hundred thousand dollars. Thanks to fast construction and rapid development, Kuala Lumpur has no shortage of available accommodation.
This cheap cost of living extends to food and entertainment. From the cheap hawker stands of the central city to the large food courts of Kuala Lumpur’s biggest shopping malls, Malaysia is home to a wide range of cheap, delicious places to eat. The country’s large international community means that high-end food from North America or Europe is rarely far away or out of reach.
Malaysia is a Muslim country, and despite its secular court system and relatively tolerant approach to other religions, Islam still influences many aspects of day-to-day life in Malaysia. As such, bars and nightclubs are significantly more expensive than those found in nearby Thailand and Singapore, largely due to hefty taxes on alcoholic beverages and other social ‘vices.’
This culture extends throughout most of Malaysia, with the exception of small enclaves of other religions and cultures, such as Penang. In general, Peninsular Malaysia is more progressive and modern than the eastern area of Malaysian Borneo, where Islam and local traditions play a more major part in day-to-day life.
Malaysia is a tropical country, and the weather can occasionally be a source of interest – or even a source of frustration – for expatriates and retirees. The year is divided into two seasons – rainy and hot, and dry and hot – with a relatively swift transition from one to another. The weather can change drastically in a single day, with thunderstorms and sunshine often both observed within hours.
Malaysia’s infrastructure – both in physical and technological terms – is modern, easy to use, and built to allow for easy foreign investment. The country’s banking system is modern and reliable in more ways than that of its neighbors, with relatively few investment controls or restrictions placed on expatriates looking to live in Malaysia.
Large international banks such as HSBC and Bank of China are found throughout Malaysia, as well as similar banks from Singapore such as United Overseas Bank. Moving capital in and out of banks in Malaysia is simple and stress free, with relatively few issues. However, there have been reports of United States citizens having issues setting up accounts in Malaysia in recent years.
Malaysia’s medical care system is modern and efficient, with citizens and residents alike entitled to some level of public healthcare. However, while the public system is relatively effective, almost all expatriates and retirees living in Malaysia choose to use their own independent care or insurance to take care of their medical expenses.
This allows for affordable access to high-end international private hospitals, as well as a standard of care that exceeds that found in the public services. Insurance for retirees can be purchased inside of Malaysia or through an international company. Generally speaking, those planning on a long stay are best off purchasing their insurance from a company that operates within Malaysia itself.
Despite Malaysia’s cheap reputation, there are some goods and services that are significantly more costly than their Western equivalents. Cars, for example, are taxed heavily in Malaysia in order to keep the domestic industry alive. As a result, imported vehicles – whether European, American, or from elsewhere – can often cost four to five times as much as an equivalent Malaysian vehicle.
Purchasing land in Malaysia is also a difficult process for foreign residents. While there are a range of workarounds for foreigners aiming to own their own property in Malaysia, doing so is a difficult and costly process for all involved. For this reason, the vast majority of retirees in Malaysia choose to stay in apartments or rented houses, allowing them access to a greater range of housing options.
Phone and internet services in Malaysia are relatively modern, very affordable, and available in all parts of the country. Generally, areas close to major technology centers such as Kuala Lumpur and Penang are subject to faster internet connections than their more remote counterparts, while areas in Eastern Malaysia – particularly the more remote towns – will only have basic connections.
Formerly a British colony, and a Portuguese and Dutch trading post before that, Malaysia’s legal system is based on British common law. Alongside this, an independent court system that governs local Muslims also operates, although non-Muslims are not subject to this court. For the most part, expatriates and retirees can expect the same type of legal system as they’re used to back at home.
From its rapidly growing economy to its traditional past, Malaysia is a country that combines many of the most remarkable aspects of Southeast Asia. With an affordable cost of living, a wide variety and impressive range of different cultures, and one of Southeast Asia’s most diverse and interesting cities within its borders, this vibrant and appealing country is a great place to retire to.