After my first working vacation in Vietnam, I had a feeling that I would like to spend more time in Southeast Asia. I loved the food, the people, the landscape and the culture. I seriously started considering retiring somewhere in Asia, a few years before I actually could take early retirement. I decided to visit different countries in Southeast Asia to get an idea which would be the best country to retire to.
Each year I took a two week vacation and spent time in a different country. I visited Vietnam, Taiwan, China, Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore; the countries I felt would be most to my liking. After visiting each I then had to research the retirement options offered by each and the cost of living and lifestyles each offered. Taiwan and Singapore were eliminated as being way too expensive and they had no special retirement options for expats. China was too big and I didn’t quite feel comfortable there when I visited. It too had no retirement provisions for expats. Even though I had spent more time in Vietnam I realized I would have to learn the language and I was a bit worried about healthcare there. That left Thailand and Malaysia. I really love Thailand, but I realized that foreigners cannot purchase property there, other than condos. They also do not have any special provisions for retirees from foreign countries and foreigners have to report to the local police station one a month, which to me would be a real hassle. I was also worried about the political stability of the country when the king eventually passes away. They do however, have excellent medical facilities and healthcare and all of the modern conveniences. Another downside was that English is not widely spoken in Thailand.
Finally there was Malaysia. I really liked the people of Malaysia and their varied cultures. The one aspect about Malaysia that I loved was the variety of different cuisines that could be found in Malaysia. It reminded me of the various cuisines I could find in my hometown of Boston. Communication in Malaysia was not a problem, as many people speak English quite well. Malaysia offers a program called MM2H (Malaysia My Second Home) which gives eligible retirees a 10 year social visit pass, which is renewable. I have a very close friend who lives in Penang and this fact along with the above positive aspects of living in Malaysia, sold me on retiring in Penang, Malaysia.
Once I decided where to retire I had to prepare my actual retirement and make arrangements for banking, medical care, housing and everything else that goes with a major move. I first put my house in Boston up for sale, which was worrisome as it was the beginning of the housing mess in the US. Luckily I did not have to wait that long and I got a decent price for my house. The biggest problem I had was with banking. Even though there are large American banks in Malaysia, you have to have about $250,000 to $500,000 in the bank at all times to take advantage of the international banking services. At the recommendation of my local bank in Boston I use my ATM card to withdraw money for my everyday expenses and write checks for larger amounts when needed. My pension checks and Social Security checks are automatically deposited into my Boston bank account, so I don’t need a large bank account here.