rainforests, headhunters, and tropical beaches
by Steenie Harvey
Malaysia’s palm-thatched beach resorts make for dream vacations…powdery white beaches hemmed by palm trees…tropical islands and rainforests filled with plants and animals you’ve never seen before. And it’s a haven for scuba divers—where I made my firstsnorkeling attempt, in fact.
But what few
people realize is that it’s also a place you should consider for a longer
stay…even retirement. It’s safe, cheap, there’s no real language barrier,
and the country is simply beautiful. I would certainly jump at the chance
to go back to this part of Southeast Asia for a longer period. A number
of my fellow Brits are doing so through the Malaysian government’s “Silver-Haired
To spur economic growth, Malaysia is inviting foreign retirees to live there as “permanent tourists.” You don’t have to be British, and you don’t need silver hair to qualify. The program, originally set up to attract western Europeans and Japanese, has recently been expanded to other foreign citizens. The only exclusions are Israelis and citizens of the former Yugoslavia.I think there are three good reasons why adventurous retirees should consider Malaysia. First, the language. Thanks to the British legacy, just about everybody speaks passable English. The country is populated by an ethnic mix of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and various indigenous tribal peoples. Although the official language is Bahasa Melayu, English serves as the lingua franca.
Second is the safety factor. Malaysia makes no apologies for being tough on crime, and I certainly never felt threatened during my trip. This is a place where they hang drug traffickers, and even minor offenses usually result in prison terms. Reading an English-language newspaper, I was shocked at the case of a man who got two years in jail for stealing fruit from a hawker’s stall.
perhaps the most enticing reason, is Malaysia’s sheer diversity. Beaches,
tropical islands, mountains, rainforests…historic cities like Melaka and
Georgetown…national parks where you can encounter exotic plants, animals,
and people who live much the same as they did thousands of years ago. You
would never run out of sights to see, and domestic airfares are
The government obviously wants to bring in hard currency, but financial requirements aren’t overly prohibitive. You need about $31,000 in annual income per couple -- or about $15,500 per person, to qualify. Or you can transfer approximately $40,000 into a Malaysian bank account. (See the sidebar on the next page for details.)
is a mystery to you, there are two parts to this country of around 20 million
people. Peninsular Malaysia stretches between Thailand and Singapore and
includes the capital, Kuala Lumpur. East Malaysia comprises the states
of Sabah and Sarawak, which lie in the exotic island of Borneo. Only an
hour’s flight from KL, Borneo truly is the Land of Adventure. Don’t miss
the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of all those dotty Victorian
meets Western standards with a number of private clinics serving KL’s expatriate
community. GPs charge $7 to $13 for private patients. Private hospital
wards charge $46 to $92 for single rooms.Yet despite the air-conditioned
malls and supermarkets stocked with Western brand names, cities aren’t
totally Westernized. Wherever you go, you’ll encounter the pasar malam,
or night market. Some stalls are devoted to food and spices; others are
festooned with curios and all the fashions of Freak Street. It was a tremendous
novelty for me to see caged pythons, fishing fetishes, monkey skulls, and
edible birds’ nests; hawkers peddling everything from chrysanthemum tea
to coconut-laced laksa curry, giant prawns, and Indian roti bread.
Maybe Danny’s story about the tourist stripped naked by orangutans was only a traveler’s tale, but I’m a complete coward. And so were my companions. I don’t know who whimpered, who shrieked, but picture this: ten unintrepid hotel guests scrabbling at breakneck speed up a jungle trail. Perhaps we’d all got the Wild Man of Borneo confused with King Kong, but it was nothing like what you see on the Discovery Channel.
Your dollar stretches a long way here. (On the shopping front, camera gear is particularly good value. I bought a 35mm Canon for half the cost of back home.) And amazingly I didn’t manage to get through all my vacation spending money for once. Lunch in a food court costs $2 to $3 for soup, a chicken dish, fruit, and beer. A slap-up dinner in a 5-star hotel ranges from $11 to $25. If you must have a Big Mac you’ll pay around $1.15. Eat Indian, eat Chinese, eat Thai…local seafood is delicious with Tiger Prawns, lobster, and crayfish appearing on most menus. Of course, everybody returns from Asia with at least one culinary horror story. Mine relates to a Chinese restaurant and a starter of cold jellyfish. I’ll usually try anything once, but this wobbling yellow abomination was just too disgusting even for my cast-iron constitution.
Most expatriates are in Malaysia to work and therefore lease properties, usually in and around Kuala Lumpur. However, under the “Silver-Haired Program,” foreigners can also buy homes. The climate won’t suit everybody—a country of tropical rainforests means tropical rain. Cities can get very hot and sticky, though conditions aren’t so humid along the coast and in hill-stations like the Cameron Highlands, famed for orchids and tea plantations.
A recent survey
on expatriate living costs by Malaysia’s Chamber of Commerce & Industry
has monthly rentals ranging from RM2,000 (US$526) for furnished 3-bedroom
condominiums in Petaling Jaya, to RM17,000 (US $4,474) for luxury colonial-style
bungalows in KL’s swish Kenny Hills neighborhood. Smaller, furnished 1-bedroom
apartments in prime KL residential areas start at $342 monthly. In suburbs
such as Petaling Jaya the starting figure is $132. Spacious
With tree-lined streets and well-stocked supermarkets, the Ampang, Ukay Heights, and Taman Tar districts are popular with expats of KL city center. Ampang is often called Ambassador’s Row because of the concentration of embassies and legations. Here the average-sized villa ranges from $1,974 to $2,632 monthly and often includes golf/country club membership. Villa rents are a bit higher in Kenny Hills, another swanky area.
Sought-after neighborhoods west of the city include Damansara Heights, Bangsat, and Pantai Hills. Homes here are mostly apartments and condominiums. 11 kilometers southwest of KL, Petaling Jaya is a satellite town, home to middle-class locals, where properties are far less expensive than in the expatriate enclaves.
For buyers, small bungalows in suburbia start at around $28,950, though you can pay $600,000 or more for detached properties in exclusive areas. Depending on the neighborhood, 2-bedroom condo apartments sell from $22,000 to $92,000.
websites are www.centuryprop.com/
Also look under the real estate section of www.jaring.my for contacts.
One agency experienced in arranging expat rentals for is Meridian Properties,
79A First Floor, Lorong Mamanda 1, Ampang Point, 68000 Ampang, Selangor
Dasul Ehsan, Malaysia; tel. (603)457-2876, fax 457-4271, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org