About being an expat

Retiring in Sri Lanka?

Last year I made a trip to Sri Lanka.  Edward has asked me a couple of times if I would write a rough and ready evaluation of whether I would consider retiring there.  So, just off the top of my head, here is a quick response.

I might consider it, but I would need to do a lot more research, and I think at the moment for me the answer would be , “no”.  I liked travelling there, and kept on meeting people and families (often from the UK) who were having their third holiday there.  But I am not sure about living there.

I don’t know the visa situation, nor the cost of rental, or the possibility of property purchase.  Hotels were relatively expensive.  Having only been through Columbo I don’t know the availability of any goods that I might want to buy if I was staying. This is also a problem in Malaysia – if it’s not a mobile phone or its accessories  you want then it may not be so easy to find.  I also don’t know if importing one’s household goods would be easy and tax-free.

Being an island I find Sri Lanka a bit isolated.  I don’t know how many flights out there are, their availability and costs.  I think there is now a ferry to India, too.

I don’t know how good Internet access availability is in general, but mobile Internet was cheap and speeds reasonable.

Domestic transport was cheap, but crowded, although the country roads seemed quite empty and the standard of driving reasonable. I haven’t checked the statistics on that, though.  I’d have to check car prices.  Tourist sites can be expensive to enter.

And it was quite annoying that it was too risky to use a credit card as reportedly so many people will copy the numbers and use them.  So I never used a credit card there. And I only used an ATM there twice – the second time the bank stopped my ATM card as the ATM machine I’d used (in the middle of Kandy) had been used in the past for fraud.  I had a backup card with another bank, but this could have caused a terrible problem when I was doing everything right, correctly, carefully and honestly.

What about the future of the economy and the stability of the currency?  I don’t know.

Alcohol prices and availability are not so good, which may or may not be an issue.  And I don’t know about health facilities, either, but apparently malaria is not a problem now.

Certainly it was easy just to communicate in English,  the food was good and inexpensive, and the scenery and variety of scenery wonderful.  It seemed safe enough, although there is sometimes political violence.  If you don’t attend demonstrations you would likely have no problems.

So, after doing my research on these and other matters I still imagine probably would not want to retire there under current conditions.

Yesterday’s news

Well, if the title didn’t put you off, then here we go…

I was reading a couple of the local newspapers yesterday, The Star & The Straits Times, and they actually had a few interesting articles.

Penang is currently being photographed for Google Street view, and this should all be done by the end of the year.  How long before we can actually access Street View for Penang the article didn’t say.

The Immigration Department says it’s going to be stricter with people who do visa runs – leaving the country for a very short time, only to return.  The article says they will target “unsavoury characters”.  Tourist visas for people from Australia, Canada, EU, UK, & US  are for up to 3 months, allegedly, by the way.

From January 1st there will be a new parking payment system in Penang for MPPP spaces.  This I blogged about a while ago.  What was new was that the rate will be set at 40 sen per half hour.  Currently it is mostly 30 sen, but some places charge 40 sen.

The Sun, a local free daily, had an article about capital gains tax (RPGT = Real Property Gains Tax.)   This is the clearest article I have read on this topic.  For non-citizens, a tax of 30% will be imposed on gains if a property is sold within the first five years, and at 5% from the sixth year on.  This we already knew.  They also write that they want the tax forms submitted within 60 days of the property being disposed of – which they define as the date of the written agreement of the sale – what they call here the S & P = Sales and Purchase agreement.  From experience, months can pass after the S & P has been signed until completion of the sale.  The lawyer who wrote this article suggests this knowledge can help you plan – to which I say, “Rubbish”. I had a plan based on the old regime, which the new tax destroys.  They are constantly moving the goalposts – usually in the wrong direction.

Choosing, buying and selling a tax-free car on MM2H visa in Malaysia. May 2013 update.

One of the biggest advantages of getting a retirement visa in Malaysia is being able to buy a car tax-free.  In our case we saved about MYR 40,000 (GBP 8,000). You can only buy one car tax-free.

If you want to part exchange for a new car in the future, though, or simply want to sell the car, it is not as easy as you might expect.


We took the easy way, and used the services of our visa agent, who will do everything for you: explain the system, take you to car showrooms, and once you have selected a car, do all the paperwork for you.  Then you wait for up to several months for the car to be manufactured/assembled, and then be delivered to you.  The agent’s fee is only a small amount compared to the tax savings.


The visa agent will probably also take care of arrangements to part exchange or sell your tax-free car.  However, the car dealer you are purchasing your next car from may also help you, in which case you can avoid the agent fee.  You may find it helpful to go with someone who speaks Malay, otherwise. It seems that even if your car is several years old, you cannot sell without this bureaucratic procedure and paying some of the tax that had been previously waived.  The following is the procedure if you live in Penang.

  1. Go to the Butterworth Customs office behind Sunway Carnival.  There you need to write a letter asking permission to sell the car, and you will be told the specific format you need for the letter.  Once you have completed the letter they send it to Putra Jaya. (PJ)
  2. The Butterworth Customs office telephones you and you return to the office to pick up the reply from the PJ office.  This letter tells you how much tax you must repay.
  3. You take the letter to an office above the post office in Beach Street (7F?) and pay them the tax by bank draft, and receive a chop and a receipt.
  4. You need to download a form from the road tax department, and then go to JPJ (Road Transport Department) at Bukit Jambul with this form, receipt, the passport you had at the time you bought the car, and the car registration form – and copies of all these, and a copy of your visa.  JPJ takes the registration form and gives you a receipt.  You are now done.  You can hand the car over to the dealer, or purchaser.

Tropical Expat


In all the countries I am familiar with, the major cost of car ownership is depreciation in the value of the car. Buying a good secondhand car, and thus bearing a lot less of the depreciation costs, was probably the cheapest path to car ownership.  A more expensive, but perhaps more attractive approach, was to buy a new car, but keep it for many years – you bear the depreciation, but over a good many years, so that per annum it works out quite low. A friend kept her Honda Accord for 27 years!! It was a bit shoddy, but still performed well, when she gave it away to a friend of hers.

Well, in Malaysia, almost everything, including cars, is perceived as keeping its value, and sold for little less than the new price. Thus it is generally better just to buy the item new.  But for cars this may be changing:

From The Star:

“…the import duty on cars from Japan and Australia would be gradually reduced from the current 30% to 0% by 2016.

He said the import duties would be reduced to 15% in 2013, 10% in 2014 and 5% in 2015.

There are three types of duties on cars: the import duty, the excise duty, which is between 60% and 105%, and the sales tax, which is 10%.”

It was possible to buy a car under an MM2H visa, use it for five years, and then part exchange it for a smaller new car for a very small extra payment, because some cars hold their value very well, particularly Japanese cars.  For example, buy a Honda Civic, use it for five years, and part exchange for a Honda Jazz. Or an Honda CRV, and then a City.

With the changes in the government’s various taxes on cars, it looks like a less viable plan of action, as second hand cars are unlikely to hold their value so well.  To date, Japanese cars have maintained their value best.  But the manufacturers are slower to build in new technology than the Korean and European manufacturers.

And the “luxury” European makes depreciate very fast here, so if you want one, buying second hand might be sensible. Of course, this would mean not taking advantage of the MM2H concession, so instead, if you owned one in your home country, it could be better to import it.

So, if you want a luxury European car, importing one you owned, or buying here second hand is probably best. For other cars that are assembled here, buying new under MM2H, and then keeping long term is probably the cheapest.

Interview with an Expat

Most people I know are retired expats whose native language is English. But a lot of expats from various nations are employed here too. I thought it would be interesting to interview different expats of different nationalities to garner their opinions on living in Penang / Malaysia. This is the first.

This interview is with JY, a young lady from Korea who is employed in Penang. She kindly agreed to talk to me, but prefers to remain anonymous, as it’s easier to be honest then.

Tropical Expat: What brought you to Malaysia?

JY:    Work. I got a job in Korea and then there was an opportunity to come to Malaysia.  My major at University was Chinese literature, and I learnt a little bit of English while I was in Australia fruit picking. And I learnt the Chinese language at University. I heard that Malaysia was a very good country to learn a lot of languages. So I took the opportunity, and that brought me here.

TE:    How long were you in Australia?

JY:    Just one year, while I was at University. It was a very good experience. While I was young I wanted to experience a lot of things. I want to try everything. I was in every part of Australia, because I had to follow the seasons, the tomato season, the grape season… And a lot of people were doing that. So you can see a lot of people’s arguments, and a lot of people in harmony as well. It was really good to learn about people’s relationships, and people’s fights. Human beings are very strange. We had very hard work there.  Everything is so fair in Australia. As a foreigner, if you are doing fruit picking no matter what kind of job you take it’s the same – you’re a fruit picker.

TE:    Did you have a choice to go to other countries other than Malaysia?

JY:    Not in my company. But in other companies I could. I got an offer from Singapore, from Canada, I got an offer from Mexico. It’s not a lot of countries, but I still had a choice. Especially in Singapore there are a lot of job opportunities for Koreans.

TE:    So, what is your job?

JY:    I work in import – export. As long as you speak a little bit of English, and Korean, and have some knowledge of import-export you can get a job in a trading company. I was in the same position in my company in Korea as I have here. I stayed in China for a while, for one year, as an exchange student, and I had a part time job in import export.

TE:    How long have you been here?

JY:    For more than two years. My plan is three years, and then I move to another country or go back to Korea. But I just planned like that and I am not so sure.  I can stay as long as I like with the company but my visa is not permanent, so if I want to stay I have to let the company know so I can renew the visa. It’s very good – I find Malaysia very very good. The work is very relaxed, and I get a lot of training there, so I can improve my work skill. It’s a very good company.

TE:    What travel experience did you have before coming to Malaysia, apart from China and Australia?

JY:    Singapore, Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong etc. for short trips.

TE:    Did you get help from the company to adjust to living here?

JY:    Yes, they did. They helped me financially and non-financially. I really appreciate it. That’s why I could get into (the life in) Malaysia.

TE:    How did you find accommodation?

JY:    An agent.

TE:    How easily did you adapt to living here?

JY:    Quite easily. But I wouldn’t say it was easy.

TE:    What were the difficulties in adapting to Malaysia?

JY:    The weather is too hot, alcohol is expensive, and indirect racism. When I mix with Chinese people they criticise the other races here, and I can understand them, so I feel very uncomfortable.  They look like they are harmonised, but underneath it is like, “you Malays, you Indians”. And local Chinese don’t like China’s Chinese people, and Singapore Chinese hate Malaysian Chinese people. Taiwanese Chinese don’t like China Chinese, Singapore Chinese, etc. They all came from China, which was at one stage leading the whole world. And if you tell them their grandfather came from China they deny it. They talk about it a lot – sometimes it really bothers me – maybe because I can understand (Chinese). Younger people are worse.

TE:    What idea did you have of Malaysia before you came, and what do you think now?

JY:    It is more developed than I imagined. But I had little knowledge of Malaysia, because I just checked the GDP and GNP.

TE:    You said you came because Malaysia is good to learn languages. How is that working out?

JY:    My English has improved a lot. My Chinese has got worse. But I learned a little bit of Hokkien. I expected all the Chinese to speak Mandarin – but they are worse than me. They say proudly that they studied at an international school, and that’s why they can’t speak Mandarin. I need to find some Chinese who speak Mandarin to practice my Chinese. And some Chinese can speak, but not read Chinese.

TE:    How is your life different from working in Korea?

JY:    It’s very relaxed here. Korea is much harder. You have to be the best, you have to be very competitive, for nothing, sometimes. Sometimes it is very good because I have the opportunity to improve myself. But I have to exercise to have a better shape; I have to make up all the time, not because I want to look pretty, but because I have to do it. You have to speak English very well, even though you can’t use English at work. The environment gives you a lot of stress – you have to be the best – you have to be the best. But you know that not everybody can be the best. There is a lot of stress for nothing. I wish people would give up – realise that they are the best at this point, but not at that point.  But they can’t do that as society never allows them to do that. Suicide is a problem in Korea now. In the 1990’s it was a problem in Japan, but they have kind of calmed down now. But in Korea it is really common now. They feel stress for nothing and they have to train themselves very hard for nothing. So it is one reason for leaving Korea. I want to learn when I want to learn, I want to dress up when I want to dress up. Of course I have to care a bit about other people, but I want to care about myself more.

Here I can use my energy on things I like. So at the moment I don’t want to go back.

TE:    What do you miss about Korea?

JY:    Food – local dishes, so I can’t name them. And the stressful life. Can you believe it? The motivation that people have.  When you have a project here people look kind of lazy; they don’t have a hungry spirit, they don’t really try. And I miss the alcohol culture. People here say, “you’re red, you’re red”, and just spoil the mood, when you’re just enjoying yourself.

TE:    What do you like and dislike about Malaysia?

JY:    I like a lot of things here. It’s comfortable, free, relaxed, good food. The beach is near everywhere. It’s a beautiful island.  And the diversity, and the people of different races harmonise with each other, and consider each other. For example, at work the Chinese don’t bring pork to eat, in consideration of the many Malays in the company. So in some ways they are racist, and in other ways considerate of each other. But it can be too relaxed – they don’t have strong energy to finish something, which makes my projects more difficult. They are relaxed and very slow, especially when I go to the tax office or bank. No matter how many people are waiting they just work at their own speed and don’t try to make it faster. There are so many cars here, and it’s not good for people who don’t have a car. Public transportation is really bad. If I can take a bus I would every time. And if you don’t have a car you can’t cross the road sometimes. Cars are more important than humans. Penang is getting better for the rich people, but not really for the poorer people.

TE:    Where would you take a visitor to Penang?

JY:    Batu Ferringhi, George Town heritage area, Straits Quays – to see the yachts.

TE:    What do you typically do in your free time?

JY:    Drink, play with my dog, read, Facebook – which is very important to keep in contact with friends; and email friends.

I try to travel once a month in Malaysia. I’ve been to Ipoh – for the food, Malacca, Genting Highlands, Cameron Highlands, and rafting. Ipoh is a very fun place for me. And Taiping Zoo. And Taiping is interesting, although I have only been there once. I don’t like KL. I have been there so many times, but I didn’t try hard to understand it. I just don’t like it – it’s so messy, so developed, but messy.

TE:    What is your favourite food here?

JY:    Laksa, Hokkienmee, Char Keoy Teoh

TE:    What is your favourite restaurant in Penang?

JY:    I like coffee shops.

TE:    What three things do you like most about living in Malaysia?

JY:    Diversity, good location for travelling, relaxed.

TE:    What three things do you dislike about living here?

JY:    Bad traffic; property investment so people have two or more properties and increase the cost of living; bad public transport.

TE:    Are most of your friends locals or expats?

JY:    Both – local Chinese especially since there are a lot of Chinese in my office, and Indians, but it is frustrating with locals sometimes, and sometimes good.

TE:    Are your expat friends’ opinions the same as yours?

JY:    Not really, but they agree about property prices and traffic. And because I speak Chinese and they don’t understand it, their opinion is different too.

TE:    Thank you very much.

A moving experience. (When I moved to Malaysia I wish I had brought…)


Short answer – everything you can.

It is quite cheap moving from the UK to Asia, probably because many goods are being shipped in the other direction, and there is plenty of space on the ships when they return.

Especially, bring kitchen items, oven, dishwasher (very expensive here), mattress and bedclothes, furniture, DIY items. Electronic goods tend to be cheaper here than the UK, but furniture, crockery, glassware, etc. may well cost far more here, if you can even find what you want.  If you have possessions you like, it can make a lot of sense to bring them.

So bring as much as you can, and as long it is used, if you have an MM2H visa, it should be free of duty. Don’t leave any unused space in your container.

Of course, it makes a lot of sense to come here with the minimum, and not ship your goods until you have  decided both you do want to live here, and where you want to live.  This will take at least six months, and perhaps a year or two.


If you ship your goods before you settle here, be aware that if you use a reputable  international company, and have paid for a door to door packing, delivery, and unpacking service, it should go quite smoothly, although you will still need to supervise the packing, and especially the delivery and unpacking on the Malaysian side.

Pick up for Malaysian delivery, in London

Pick up in London for storage in the UK

They take care of the paperwork, so there is nothing you need do about that, and once the delivery date is set, be at home, with at least two of you – one to watch the unloading from the lorry, and one to watch the delivery into your house or apartment.

On delivery in Malaysia, I watched in shock as six delivery men formed a line spaced about six feet from each other, and started to throw boxes marked “fragile” from the truck along the line to the last man, who was to load the trolley with them. I soon put a stop to that. So these men need supervising.

If you decide to ship your goods before you have chosen your home, you will find that there are no storage facilities here.  So you will either have to keep your goods where you are living – fine if you have the space – or rent an apartment for your goods.

Moving locally is a whole other matter.  It seems impossible to rent a lorry so that you can do it yourself.  But finding good local removalists is very difficult, at least for a reasonable price. You can book a lorry and the number of men you think you need for the job, but you do need to supervise closely.

moving locally

This will cost upwards of a few hundred ringgit. But for many of my things I didn’t trust anyone else, so I made multiple trips by car, in addition to using the lorry.  As I have moved around a bit I have also found that the lorry drivers seem to have very little idea of the roads in Penang, despite them living here, so I have had to have them follow me.

Some lorries have no roof, so if there is any possibility of rain on your moving day, ensure the one you hire does.

hope it doesn’t rain

Your estate agent can help with organising the utilities, post etc. If you are using TM for your phone and or Internet, they can take weeks to transfer the connection, and they will still charge you even though you had no connection.  When you complain you’ll get a refund. So, go into their office and stress it is urgent. When we did this in their main, Burma Road, office,  it took two days – and they gave us a free new phone, even.

If you live in a condo you’ll need to inform management, and security, about your moving, and probably the number plate of the lorry.

So, there are a few tips.  If I recall others I will add them, but it has been a while now since we last moved.