An Early Retirement Experiment in Malaysia

  1. Arts, entertainment and weekend getaways

    Retire in MalaysiaWe’ve chosen to live in Penang, Malaysia’s second largest population center. While not as glamorous or exciting as the big city, Penang offers a more laid back environment and enough festivals, nightlife, concerts and entertainment to keep any expat occupied all year-long. Only a few hours away, Kuala Lumpur hosts world-class events from Grand Prix to pop superstar concerts and the nearby island of Langkwai is a mostly undiscovered gem, offering Bali-like beauty at deep discounts.

  2. Language

    Bastardization of the English language irritates wordsmiths like me. Surprisingly, one of the best parts of Malaysia is the lack of a language barrier. Although Malay is the official tongue, almost everyone speaks English and strangely, most Facebook pages, websites and restaurant menus have better punctuation than most places in America. Experiencing a completely foreign culture without the need for Rosetta Stone is an enormous bonus for us. Unlike Thailand, signage is universally English, albeit filled with difficult pronunciations for an American.

Exactly one year ago, our lives changed with an unexpected layoff. Accelerating early retirement by as much as five years, we began preparations for the eventual move as early as 18 months ahead. Financially speaking, it made no sense applying for the MM2H Visa ahead of my 50th birthday since the requirements listed above double for applicants under 50. Even with the “recovery” it often takes a year or more for workers in their prime to find new employment and honestly, I didn’t make much of an effort having enjoyed a 150% increase in net worth over the current year bull market run.

Focusing on all the semantics, I’ve handled all the paperwork, investing, budgeting and household chores while my wife struggles through her commute for six more months. Utilizing one of the world’s best expat forums ever, we contacted and met a Malaysian living and working in the USA that owns a condo in the exact apartment complex we’ve been eyeing in Penang. Agreeing to rent us the unit ahead of time, it appeared we’d only have to close escrow, send off one LCL (less than container) load from San Francisco and hop on a plane.

Retire in MalaysiaSuffering our first setbacks before even arriving, the forum administrator shut it down after eight years and then our would-be landlord changed his mind. Homeless once again, it’s my job to research another housing option, make sure we’re properly invested and find a real estate agent willing to drum up multiple offers on the house. Did I mention the plan involves living entirely on the proceeds of the house for 10 to 15 years and hoping the retirement accounts grow sufficiently enough to take it from there? Assuming my prowess as a self-directed investor with 30 years of financial industry experience taught me something, early retirement looms on the horizon and that’s an accomplishment by itself. Becoming an expat just adds to the fun.

With 168 days remaining until we file the MM2H paperwork, I’m crossing my fingers and hoping our giant leap of faith turns out for the best.

Click for more about Malaysia.

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  1. Hi Rob,

    Could you please send me an email? I have a lot more questions to ask you because I am thinking to do the same thing —-retiring in Malaysia in a couple of years. Thanks.


  2. Mike Middleton

    June 13, 2017 at 2:08 am

    Hi Rob, Great blog. All the places you mentioned interest me, so I appreciate your insight. Are you still in Malaysia? Enjoying it? Any new insights?

    I am at a similar crossroads as you and your wife. Toying with the idea of early retirement. Hoping to live off investment until social security kicks in. Not one for loud, crowded, smoggy cities. I think I’d feel lost there. Not sure.

    How much do you estimate it takes a single person to live on there? Including rent? That initial deposit in a Malaysian bank. It’s refundable-right? In case you decide to back out. Thanks, Mike

  3. I just love the way you have changed your lives to suit your purposes. My wife and I are at retirement age and at the moment wish to live in Thailand although Penang would also suit (Me having lived in Singapore in the 60s). I visited Penang then but I know I wouldn’t recognise it at present. I wish you the very best in all you do and continue to present the best you can.

  4. What an honest and well written article. I currently live overseas and have been going through the same kind of soul searching and have come to many of the same conclusions. Great job!
    My wife and I are thinking of retiring there in 10 years.. how did you find it? I would love to catch up on your saga via email or if you have a follow up article.


  5. Hi Rob, Hope you are still enjoying your retirement. Your well thought out preparation and checklist is very helpful. Please connect with me via email as I have some followup questions. Thanks.

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