The world is in a mess. You are reading this page because you click on a link on a search engine query or social media post and you are probably interested to find a place where some sanity and common sense exist. A sanctuary (in the traditional sense) where you feel at home and not being worried about the world on fire.
The living environment has changed so much since the 1960s and it does not make sense anymore to many people. For the last 5 years, there were many “unprecedented”, “first time happening”, “the lowest/highest since 19xx”, “since Lehman”, “never seen before in the history of mankind” and others that mark the nadir and zenith of the history of homo sapiens. Riots are so common now and in so many places that people are not paying attention to them anymore. It does not matter if it is a developed, emerging or under-developed country. People are so distracted on their mobile phones and social media that they are just too ignorant on what is happening to their economic well-being or liberty. Political situation in most countries, especially the developed ones, seem to be bordering on ridiculousness and more of a farce.
The society, on the whole, in many developed countries, is just a few degrees away from the boiling point of a civil war. It is not merely a difference of opinion where adults debate but rather, an excuse of wiping the other half off the earth. Political correctness is now so extreme that it causes more harm than benefit to the society. There are indeed many people looking for a place where they can have a better life, a place where sanity exists and common sense is more common.
So, where is this place? Penang, Malaysia. It is a tiny island that is quite unknown to those staying in western developed countries. For expats who have worked in Asia, it is likely that they know about this place and have visited Malaysia or Penang before. Penang is a state in the country Malaysia. Since 2011, International Living magazine has consistently ranked Penang as one of the top ten places to retire. Violent crime is very low, cost of living is low, healthcare is one of the best in the world, its food is ranked one of the best, it has an international airport that serves many large cities, properties are reasonably cheap to buy but dirt cheap to rent and lastly, internet is fast but cheap. All of these are easily available on Penang island that is only eight miles wide and 16 miles long. Penang is not heaven but it is as close as one can get. It is not perfect but orders of magnitude less severe than most developed countries in terms of craziness or world gone mad. It is truly an oasis of peace and sanity where one can find life as it was in the 1960s, where life is truly meaningful.
Facilities and amenities are the things that you can easily research on the internet but there is one great thing that you cannot do easily unless you are here to experience it yourself. Its people. It is the people and not the tourist attractions that makes 90% of the tourists return to Penang. Returning tourists to Penang is one of the highest (if not the highest) in the world.
You will be pleasantly surprised to know that Malaysians are generally independent-minded and knowledgeable. We overthrew our old government (in power since 1957) peacefully via the ballot box in May 2018. It was a very rare event that people of all races (Malays, Chinese and Indians are the major races) gathered around, put aside our differences and threw out the corrupt government. Not a drop of blood was shed. It is a historic event that is easily researched on the internet. The people here never believe in the mainstream media and with a majority of like-minded and independent-minded people going after non-MSM news, it is hard for anyone to brainwash the masses. When you have the chance to talk to the people here, you will realise that we are a little different from others. You can have meaningful conversation with the people here, not just small talk. Many of us are trilingual – Chinese, English and Malay language. Many of us know a few dialects like Hokkien or Cantonese. It is something that we are proud of.
We never like violence, protests or any social unrest. The last one happened in 1969 and it was a very painful event. It will never happen again. We don’t believe in guns and we have no guns here and it is very peaceful and quiet here in Penang. There are five offences here that carries a mandatory death sentence – drugs, guns/bullets, murder, kidnap and treason. Are we worried about liberty? No, in fact, we cherish the fact that no one is crazy enough to use a gun and rob you at the ATM. By the way, drawing money out from ATM at night is non-event here in Penang. You may still have an occasional break-in, something stolen or some other petty crime but none of these can be compared to other countries where it is literally a norm.
In Asia generally, we are not crazy on political correctness. We do respect other people’s rights, religion, culture and we treasure diversity, but we are strictly not into extreme PC. It is not part of our culture here. We are still very “backwards” in this field according to Western standards, but we are proud to be that way. We do it our way here and it is our identity.
Are there many places to stay or retire to in the world? There are but it really depends on what you are looking for. Let us focus on those that are easy to Quantify. What are you looking for?
- Close to your home country?
- Modern conveniences like internet, telecommunications and transport?
- Political and economic stability?
- Cost of living?
- Access to great and affordable healthcare?
- Characteristics as close as possible to your home country like language, culture?
There are a few places around the world that attract people to stay. Many of them are retirees but there is a growing number of younger people who choose to live abroad.
Central and South America
Probably the easiest to access from North America. If you speak no Spanish, then life will be a little difficult. Some countries have higher crime rate, some may have poorer telecommunication infrastructure and others lack modern facilities like healthcare
Some countries along the Mediterranean and Atlantic coasts attracts retirees or those who want to stay abroad. Facilities may be excellent, but the cost of living is also higher. Furthermore, it is EU and many people are leaving EU for other places. Language and taxation may be a problem as well for some.
The biggest cluster is South East Asia. The Indian subcontinent does attract people to stay but I suspect the number is not be high. As of the writing of this article, there are no formal retirement visas in Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar although there are ways to go about getting a one-year visa. Thailand, Indonesia and Philippines have retirement visas. Singapore is just too expensive for any retirement there. Malaysia has its Malaysia My Second Home Visa or MM2H visa. It is long term visa that is renewable every ten years. It is open to those age 21 or above. Older participants are using it as retirement visa. The younger ones are working remotely from their home in Malaysia because it makes no difference if you are operating on the internet from Malaysia, UK or Japan. Singapore is just too expensive to retire to or stay unless you are working there.
You will not have any problems in language as English is used widely in both Philippines and Malaysia. However, for other South East Asian countries, you need to learn their language to get by easily. The documents are in local language and some of them may not based on the universally accepted legal processes.
SRRV of Philippines has no limit on the visa validity whereas Malaysia’s MM2H is a renewable ten-year visa. Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Indonesia have one-year visas that must be renewed every year. The minimum age for SRRV is 35 years, 21 years for MM2H and at least 50 years for Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia.
Other than countries in EU, financial requirements for MM2H are significantly higher. MM2H is a two-stage process, more complex and the requirements can be double or quadruple of other countries. The number of MM2H application approved per year is very low as well.
When we meet up with potential clients, we tell them that there is no competition among the countries. Every country is unique, and it is up to the person to decide where they are planning to stay. Central/South America and EU are in a league on their own due to their proximity to North America and Northern Europe. Distance alone is the deciding factor although for many English-speaking people, learning a new language is not an easy task. People are looking around the world for a great place to stay, be it to escape the insanity of what is happening at one’s home country or to have a higher quality of life.
So, what is so great about Penang, Malaysia? The people are the most unique. You will find that they are friendly and honest. They are approachable and foreigners ended up having many local friends. They are open to ideas and discussions, knowledgeable and willing to engage, participate and share experiences. You will feel welcome and never at any point of time felt threatened in Penang. If you stay in a country where the English is not widely spoken or used, then your circle of friends is likely to be foreigners and you will feel a little isolated.
Language is never a problem. There will be no misunderstanding as a large majority of the population is English literate. Mandarin is also widely used and understood here. Cantonese and Hokkien are the major Chinese dialect that are spoken. Malaysia is one of the very few countries in the world where people from both east and west (or those who have Asia/European spouse) will feel at home. If a mix pair of Asian/Western couple stays in a western country, the Asian spouse may not feel at home and vice versa. However, in Malaysia, especially Penang, both will feel at home. English is commonly used in business and you can use it in legal and government correspondence.
Quality of life is another factor that is the focus of many participants of MM2H. Compared with other countries in the region, Malaysia is better off in terms of GDP per capita, poverty rate and other statistics. We have higher internet penetration and vehicle ownership. Oh yes, Malaysia has a glut of doctors, a problem that is unheard of. Poverty is low in Penang and healthcare is easily accessible to residents. Practically all the residents here participate in economic activities of the state (have jobs) and enjoyed the fruits of their labour – house ownership rate is good, practically everyone has their own means of transport, eating out is generally not a problem. Thus, no one is interested in creating any form of social unrest. Crime rate is low, stress level is low and the pace of life is slow as well.
Malaysia has one of the best healthcare services in world. It provides services at a fraction of the prices developed countries are charging. Communication is in English with doctors and healthcare workers and there is zero chance of misunderstanding. Malaysia has won many awards for medical tourism and Penang is at the Forefront of medical tourism. Some hospitals in Penang may charge a lot more and some less. So, one needs to know what to look for when it comes to paying for top-notch healthcare. If you have the MM2H, you can buy local medical insurance. Since Malaysia has excellent healthcare, many would like to be treated in Malaysia. It makes no sense for you to buy an expensive international medical insurance when a cheap local Malaysian one will do. If you have children, you can get the insurance for them as well.
Penang has great communication infrastructure. Internet is fast and easily accessible. There is an international airport that connects to Qatar, Singapore, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Taipei, Guangzhou and Jakarta. It is a great base for your tours and travels in Asia.
MM2H visa attracts a specific category of people as the financial requirements are high. It is not a retirement visa but a long-term visa and many of the seniors use it as their retirement visa. It attracts many people who are working in Asia Pacific but choose Malaysia as their base. They can work from their home in Penang if they are not employees of a Malaysia-registered company. The income from outside Malaysia is tax-free and MM2H participants are not given Malaysian tax identification numbers unless they requested for it. The Malaysian government does track where you stay and generally do not bother what you are doing unless it is illegal or causing social problems. Malaysia is not a surveillance society. There are very few CCTVs around, especially in Penang.
MM2H allows you to bring in your children under the age of 21 or parents (of the main applicant) more than 60 years old as your dependents. Penang has many great and affordable schools and it is common for people from other countries to study in Penang. Singapore is just too expensive to stay or let your children study there. Thailand has a language problem where foreigners find it hard to communicate and people go to Thailand if they have an intention to do so and language is not the hurdle. Many foreigners home school their children here in Penang. Generally, the situation here in Penang is ideal for raising children. It is not as stressful as other city states or countries in the far east. Generally, the social ills of society is far less than many Western developed countries. It is also safer and on the whole, we don’t have the “political correctness” baggage.
MM2H does not force you to stay here. Most countries, their long-term visa forces the applicant to stay there. MM2H is designed for mobile professionals and without that restriction, many people just apply for the visa first and then think about it later. The inflation rate is not as high as our developing neighbouring countries and with a good interest rate on your fixed deposit, you are actually being paid to get the visa. If you don’t stay in Malaysia, your money here (that is deposited into a bank of your choice) still gets a respectable 3-4% per year tax-free. Without the MM2H visa, you are not allowed to open a bank account. Thus, if you put money inside here, say RM150,000 and if you cancel the visa 5 years later, you take back all your RM150,000 plus the interest which can be around RM22,000. That is good deal because I believe the exchange rate risk is not that high compared to the gains.