- Ease and availability of residency visas
Malaysia offers a government sponsored program called Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H), a ten-year long renewable visa which allows foreigners unlimited entry. Technically a social visit pass (as opposed to a residency visa), the program was specifically designed for middle class retirees that choose not to work. (Online income rules are sketchy). Financial requirements are not inexpensive but help make sure applicants have sufficient means.
Applicants 50 years or older must post a fixed deposit of $150,000 MYR (about $43,000 USD) with a local Malaysian bank. Interest is paid at local rates and funds are accessible only for purchasing property or medical emergencies. Funds remain on deposit unless you abandon the program. Additionally, one must show minimum income of $10K MYR (about $3500 USD) and $500K MYR (about $150K) in liquid assets, verifiable with three months bank statements. The income requirement goes away once the visa is approved and you can’t work anyway.
Although pricey, applicants can file from overseas either directly or through a government approved agent. Once conditionally approved, applicants have six months to enter the country and complete the visa, requiring a trip to Putrajaya, the government center. We found an exceptionally professional agent that explained the process from start to finish via extensive email correspondence. Educated in America, our agent streamlined the process complete with an ongoing checklist of completed documents easing any concerns about entry requirements.
- Inexpensive access to many destinations
Intending to travel extensively during the early years of retirement, we sought a centrally located destination relatively close to neighboring nations with convenient international options. Served by Southeast Asia’s best discount airline, Air Asia is the most amazing low-cost airline we’ve ever flown. Headquartered in Malaysia, the airline serves all its neighboring countries at rock bottom prices. Unlike some other regional carriers, the fleet is new and modern, the company expands exponentially every year and provides a schedule for all timetables. Constantly adding destinations throughout China, Indonesia and even as far away as India and Europe, the service is professional and they even serve real food for free.
Served by major carriers like Cathay Pacific and Singapore Air, Malaysia is one of Southeast Asia’s hubs offering flights all over the globe at prices often less expensive than other popular expat locations in Latin or South America, mostly due to demand. Locally speaking, Malaysia’s roads are well paved and although traffic is heavy, Penang is not as chaotic as Bangkok or Manila. Alternatively, overnight train travel allows easy jaunts to Thailand and Singapore.
- Sociability and interaction with the local culture
Differing immensely from the gated expat suburbs located throughout Latin and South America, “expat neighborhoods” are not well-defined. Generally speaking, Malaysians co-exist peacefully with each other. Predominantly Muslim but officially secular, it’s one of the few places with little fundamentalism and very low anti-American sentiment. Creating a social network of varied cultures ranks high for us and the mix of Europeans, Australians, North Americans, Chinese and locals all in one apartment complex provides a welcoming feeling.
- Political and Financial Stability
Despite the turmoil of the last election and recent clashes between conservative and liberal groups about the Sedition Act, an obsolete remnant of the British Empire, Malaysia is a safe country, politically and financially. Politically, an eventual change in leadership is inevitable since the ruling party enjoys the longest consecutive run of power anywhere on the globe. Viewed in a positive light, change always occurs as a nation makes economic gains. A thriving middle class and technology driven economy have given Malaysia the lead as the fastest growing Southeast Asian nation.
Continuously gaining ground, Malaysian personal income is at all time highs yet remains low by American standards, allowing the perfect combination of modern goods and services available at prices akin to 1980’s America for most items. Although inflation is higher than the USA, the central bank is also much less influential than its US counterpart. Additionally, the currency is stable and survived the Great Recession better than all its emerging market counterparts. Aiming for a “fully developed status ” by 2020, experts predict Singapore will take over as the world’s financial hub this century and Malaysia will play an important role in future development as its closest neighbor.