Back to Malaysia

Malaysia - Cost of Living

Penang, and indeed most of Malaysia, maybe ‘Asia-easy’ and comfortable for the Westerner, but it is still cheap to live there.

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The cost of renting a three bedroom apartment in the city is 86 per cent lower in Penang than in Sydney, restaurants are more than 70 per cent less and groceries almost 60 per cent cheaper.

Your dollar goes a lot further in Penang than in Sydney, that’s for sure. And for a retiree having the financial freedom to drop into a café for a coffee or a restaurant for for dinner, significantly adds to the quality of life. In Australia many retirees simply can't afford to do this, especially those on Government pensions.

Fiona commutes to work in Australia for month-long stints. Recently, though, she took ten months off—long-service leave on half pay—which worked out to be what her pension would be if she retired. She managed to live well.

‘Internet is so cheap here,’ she said. ‘It costs A$20 a month unlimited download. The phone costs A$18.50 a month.’ Fiona added that landline calls are ‘dirt cheap’ and an hour on the phone to her parents in Australia costs about A$1.50; however, she warned, ‘Mobile to mobile is expensive’.

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For Fiona and her partner Grant, who teaches in Penang, the decision to live in Malaysia was very much about lifestyle as they are both keen divers. They regularly dive off the islands of Langkawi, but also travel to the Perhentian Islands off the east coast, which is a six-hour drive from Penang. ‘It is the most glorious place—the water is so blue,’ Fiona said. ‘It is so cheap. We can say to family in Australia, “Come here and we’ll go to the Perhentians, we can have a shack on the beach, hammocks between palm trees.”’

At home in Penang, they shop at the wet (food) markets for fresh produce. ‘There is no bargaining. It is set price—not a foreigner’s price—but very cheap,’ said Fiona.

‘All fruit and vegies for the week cost us less than A$18 for a family of four,’ said Grant. ‘You can get pork, chicken and fish there. We can buy chicken fillets to feed the family for less than A$4. A Chinese dinner at a local restaurant for all of us will cost about A$20, with soft drinks.’

One thing that is expensive is cars, especially if you buy an imported car. Local cars, though, are still reasonable. Grant just bought a locally manufactured, seven-seater, manual people-mover, which cost about A$20,000.

Also, being an Islamic country, booze is highly taxed. Even so a beer is still 14 per cent cheaper in Malaysia than in Australia.