unfinished blogs – no. 7 – The utilities blog – water, electricity, and gas…in Penang

I’ve been writing this blog for three years this month, and have accumulated many partially written blogs that remain unpublished. I may as well just publish them as is, and if I ever feel inspired to finish any, do so later.


November 16th, 2012

In the UK, we paid about GBP40 per month for electricity, about GBP40 per month for gas, and GBP89 for water. Electricity and gas were metered, but water was a fixed charge, and not metered.

Here we pay about RM170 per month for electricity. Expats report bills ranging for less than RM100 up to RM800, depending on their homes, and usage, of course. Our bill is very similar to that of the UK, but in the UK we lived in a two bedroom flat, with gas central heating, but, importantly, we were out of the flat working five days a week, which would have kept the bill much lower. Thus, electricity is costing us less here, even though it cannot be said to be cheap. But electricity heats the water for showers and baths, and runs the aircons, so we use it for more functions, here.

These are the tariffs, becoming more expensive as you use more:

Electricity: Tenaga Nasional:

First 200 KW/hour: 0.218 RM 43.60

Next 100 0.334 RM 33.40

Next 100 .400 RM 40

Next 100 .402 RM 40.20

There is no town gas, so you have gas delivered in canisters, costing RM27 or so for a litre cannister. This has lasted us from about three months to about six months, depending on how much we ate in. If three months, then about GBP2 per month.

As for water, it costs RM6 minimum per two months, and usually we only use the minimum, so it is less than GBP1 per month. Usually we pay Indah Water several months in one go to save the trouble of paying every two months, and then every bill we receive shows a negative debt to them.

How to pay? With electricity, one can pay online with most banks. With gas, you telephone and it is delivered, so one pays the bike delivery person. It is more difficult with water – you can pay at the post office.


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.

Is the MM2H visa worth considering after all the new taxes?

In the latest budget the government is apparently only allowing foreigners to buy properties in excess of RM1m, or houses in excess of RM2m.  So if you just want to rent, then it doesn’t affect you.  From memory,  Japanese and English people are the two nationalities who have taken up more MM2H visas than others.  Japanese mostly rent, so it is no problem for them. But many of us (English) prefer to buy so we can renovate the property to suit our own taste and convenience, and at these prices, many other countries’ property prices are more attractive.

In addition the Penang government wishes to impose a surcharge of 3% on foreigners’ property purchases.

Then the federal government wishes to impose draconian capital gains taxes, making it uneconomic to move, as if your property has increased in value, then so have others, but you lose a large chunk in CGT, so need extra money to cover the increase on the new property you wish to purchase. The most economic place to move is out of the country.

So, they prefer foreigners not to buy property now? Before they wanted us to buy property.

Certainly, we spent a lot of money and employed a lot of people renovating our property.   That was a big contribution to the local economy.  Had we continued to rent, then they wouldn’t have had this input.  And living here we contribute to the local economy, by patronising the local businesses.

Thus, if you already own a property and do not wish to move, or are happy to rent, then MM2H will work for you still. Otherwise… Germany, Malta, Turkey, Thailand, Panama, Ecuador, Uruguay are a few countries you could investigate where you can buy cheaper property and have a nice environment.

But the government changes requirements for the MM2H visa every three months or so, so they may decide these new impositions do not apply to MM2H holders.  We shall wait and see.

And then the awful GST is coming soon…

A little more information here.

All this is a pity, because Penang has greatly improved since we first moved here six years ago, and looks like a lot more improvements are coming.

If you want an MM2H retirement visa for Malaysia, consider applying soon

We’ve been here over five years.  I preferred to get an MM2H visa before we moved here. I think I have explained why in earlier blogs. is all about MM2H visa, although not the agent I used.

However, some people did it differently. When we were here at first we knew many people who lived here on a tourist visa and simply left the country every three months,  and received another three-month tourist visa on their return. Some owned properties here.

For visa eligibility and length of stay, see

Their plan was simple.  They kept an eye on cheap flights six, nine or more months in advance, and booked so they had always left within their visa’s three-month validity.  They had a short holiday, and then returned. In this way they visited many countries, and did not have to tie up any money in getting an MM2H visa. It was very flexible.

Anecdotally, this doesn’t really work any more. The people we knew who did this no longer live here.

It seems the length of stay you will get on a tourist visa on arrival depends on the immigration officer.  If it’s only occasionally that you come to Malaysia, then you’ll probably get the full three months you get on UK passports, and many others.  But if the officer looks through and sees many Malaysian stamps, and can see you are more or less living here, then the length of stay granted can be far shorter.

Thailand Immigration seem to be similarly cracking down on what they possibly see as abuse of tourist visas.

So, if you do want to stay in Malaysia most of the time, now an MM2H visa seems the easiest way, even though at first you have to deal with the application process.

Apparently, though, the Malaysian Government is considering making the eligibility requirements for the MM2H visa much stricter.  See here for more details.

The Malaysian Government has always tinkered with this visa, sometimes making it stricter, and sometimes less so. But applying sooner rather than later might be advisable.

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.

Langkawi – December 2012. Holidaying here. Retiring here?

One Malay word you should know if you are in Langkawi – “Pantai” = “Beach”.

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Tanjong Rhu beach – in the north of Langkawi

I wrote a blog about Langkawi after my visit in April 2012, and I have just returned from my third holiday in Langkawi in about four years. I will combine my previous blog with this, adding more information. The smaller photos are from April 2012, the larger from December 2012 – so you can tell


  • In August 2008 we drove up to Kuala Perlis and caught the ferry over to the main ferry terminal in Langkawi.  All we had to do was phone a contact who ran a parking lot, give an approximate arrival time, and he bought the ferry tickets.  When we arrived we could park undercover and he gave us the tickets, and pointed out where to catch the ferry.
  • In April we flew on Air Asia from Penang to Langkawi, which is about 25 minutes in the air, but from when we left home by taxi to when we were in our hotel room about four hours had elapsed.  Which was about the same amount of time as driving and catching the ferry, although the flight was less strenuous.
  • In December 2012 we drove again to Kuala Perlis and caught the ferry over to the main ferry terminal in Langkawi.
  • There are other alternatives, such as a ferry from Penang to Langkawi, directly; or driving to Alor Setar, and catching a ferry from near there. See blog on this.


  • High season is supposed to be between mid-November and mid-April, which corresponds to the dry season -but we got low season prices in early April, and rain didn’t bother us. As I mentioned, we’d previously visited in August, and again we had no problems with the weather. In December 2012 it was often overcast, and rained sometimes, but it wasn’t a problem – however, prices are far higher in high season, so it really isn’t worth coming at this time, unless you have no choice. Car hire in December was RM90 a day for a smaller car than we hired in April for RM70 a day. Accommodation is also far more expensive – perhaps 40% more.


  • Langkawi has changed quite a bit in the intervening four years. Now there is a vast range of accommodation available – from very cheap to very expensive (resorts), and many choices in between.  Cenang Beach is the mass tourism area.  There are a lot of motels now, homestays all over the island, and you can even stay in a caravan at a beach. Or you can camp at the government fruit farm, mentioned below. Homestay seems to mean that the owner lives in part of the building, and has also built separate (often en-suite) rooms with separate entrances, so you have little interaction with the family. They are like motels.
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You can rent this caravan at the beach

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a “homestay” – battled mosquitos for two nights

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another “homestay” – much nicer – and had mosquito screens


  • Car rental is cheap – from RM40 or so a day for an old car in poor condition, RM70 for a newish car in good condition, and motorcycle hire is also available.  It seems you can also rent bicycles.  If you rent a car, check the tyre condition before you drive off, too.  They will also give you a road map, most likely.  Of course, there are taxis; and buses exist, but I saw very few, so you’d need a lot of time.

This one year old Proton Saga cost RM70 a day to rent, and RM50 deposit, in April 2012.

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A tiny Kia Picanto with 93,000km on the clock – RM90 per day in high season

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If you park in Kuah they have a parking voucher system – you can buy vouchers in the Panasonic store. I have never seen it enforced, but the vouchers are cheap, anyway.


  • The standard of driving in Langkawi is better than in Penang, and there are not so many cars on the road, so driving can be quite relaxing.  As Langkawi is quite small, it doesn’t take very long to get where you are going.  I think it took about 40 minutes to drive from the crocodile farm in the north-west, to Kuah, the main town,  in the south. Cenang Beach to Tanjong Rhu, about 30 minutes.  A GPS is handy, as the maps you get are not so detailed.
  • Petrol is cost the same as the mainland, at 1.90 a litre.  In three nights / four days we used about RM40 of petrol for about 250KM – but put in RM50 as we didn’t want to be low on petrol on the other side of the island where there is no petrol station so near. (Yes, this happened to us last time.) In December 2012 we saw many more petrol stations – in five days, four nights we put in RM50 and did quite a lot of driving.
  • You are warned not to drive at night because of cows and water buffaloes on the road.  Cows are a tan colour, and not so hard to see, but water buffalo are grey, and hard to spot.

cows wander the roads at night


  • As a tourist there are some nice things to do, and the airport tourist office has brochures and maps, of course.  I’ll just mention a few activities.
  • Our favourite beach is Tanjong Rhu in the north of the island – but there are some other nice beaches, too.  And I have never seen jellyfish there – so you can swim in the sea.  As you approach Tanjong Rhu there is an open manned barrier for some reason.  As of December 2012 you are stopped and given a sheet of rules to follow. From the second time we stopped and showed we already had the paper, and then were waved through. The speed bumps on this road are nasty, and there is one secret unmarked one near one of the bends in the road – watch out if you don’t want to become airborne.
barrier on road to Tanjong Rhu

barrier on road to Tanjong Rhu beach

  • Another nice beach on the north coast, past the crocodile farm – which is quite fun, but hot.
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Pantai Pasir Tengkorak, I think

  • You can  also swim in waterfall pools in the jungle.

waterfall pool – the wet season hasn’t yet started, so water level fairly low

  • When we were there we could walk off into the jungle and not get attacked by mosquitoes – much.  We did get the odd bite, but nothing like the jungle, or even anywhere outside,  in Penang.
  • The government agricultural research facility – Taman Agro-Teknologi is interesting. They take you on a bus within the grounds to eat the fruit in season, and then drive you around, stopping to show you different fruit trees and landscapes.

Dragon fruit plants at the Taman Agro-Teknologi

  • And the Bird Paradise and Wildlife Park is worth a visit if you like birds.  Many attractions charge tourists a higher price than Malaysians. I dislike this, so I asked if I could get the lower price as I was a resident; and I showed my Malaysian visa.  I was charged the lower price, which was RM15 instead of RM22.  The tickets we were given had printed on them that they were children’s tickets. This question is worth trying everywhere there is discriminatory pricing.

one of my favourites

and this is a friendly one

  • There is far less litter than much of Malaysia. It was so nice to see beaches and jungle paths with the only litter being leaf litter.  This is so different from elsewhere in Malaysia.
  • You can fly micro-light planes at a spot on the perimeter road of the airport.

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  • There is a Thursday night market, and a Sunday night market in Cenang Beach area. We went to the Thursday night one. Half of what they sell is food, but also clothes, knick knacks, etc.
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Thursday night market

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  • Oriental Village in the west of the island.

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  • Oriental Village is really just like a craft village with the cable car, restaurants, and a hotel. The cable car is the star attrraction. You can read reviews here. In high season, arrived at 10AM, the starting time, and already there was a very long queue.  There is no guidance as to how long one will have to wait. Plus, one member of a large family might wait in line, and just before boarding the rest of the family will turn up.  This can really slow down the queue. The adult price is RM30 for a ticket, but if you pay RM50 extra per person you can jump the queue – but not so many people were doing this the day we were there.  A major problem is that the cable car is often suspended because of the wind.
part of the queue for the cable car

part of the queue for the cable car

VIP queue - extra RM50 per person, please

VIP queue – extra RM50 per person, please

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  • It is a pleasant enough place just to wander around, and there are other attractions too, as shown in photos below.
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it’s nice just to wander around

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shops selling clothes, souvenirs, and there’s even a Zon Duty Free shop.

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you can rent Segways

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flying fox

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or take a duck tour

  • I really enjoyed the island hopping tour.  We found one for RM25 per person from an agent along the Cenang Beach road, with a 9AM pickup from accommodation, and a 1PM drop off.  As we were staying on Jalan Pantai Tengah it was only five minutes by van to the launching beach. First you visit an island with a fresh water lake in the middle, which is a ten minute walk from the jetty, and you can swim and/or hire a paddle boat. Then you go to a spot where you can see eagles flying. Finally you disembark again at an island beach where you can swim for an hour.  There are too many photos to display here, so please see another blog I wrote on island hopping.
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About five minutes walk uphill, and five downhill to the lake.

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RM20 to rent a paddle boat – but guess what – they are all rented, so you have to rent a solar “powered” one for RM30. Bait and switch. You still have to paddle as the “power” is almost non-existent.

plenty of eagles to see

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we had an hour to swim and laze on this beach. Guard your belongings against the monkeys!


  • Food is more expensive than Penang and it is much more expensive to eat out, and there is less variety.
  • Since we live in Penang we didn’t really see the point in spending a lot on food. In April 2012 we had a big breakfast at the hotel, which was included, and ate fairly lightly later in the day. In December, there was no breakfast included or available where we stayed, so we ate some fruit and chocolate we’d bought, and had an early lunch.
  • The biggest variety of restaurants is in Cenang Beach. Kuah, the main town, of course has restaurants, too, as do the various malls. And there are the usual hawker centres and roadside stalls.
  • It is difficult to get enough vegetables. There are markets around the island, however, where you can buy them.  Or ensure you have a hotel buffet breakfast to ensure you have your daily allocation of vegetables.
  • We enjoyed fish and chips on the north coast, at Scarborough Fish and chips.

English style fish and chips

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The menu – very reasonable for Langkawi – but it is on the north coast, so perhaps not so convenient. Good to visit after the beach as you can use their shower, and change.

  • Very basic restaurants charge quite a lot for each dish, perhaps RM20 – RM30. There were a few restaurants that had food not available in Penang, and thus of interest to us, but the prices were way too high for an open-air shack where mosquitos would eat you alive at night. If you spend a tiny bit more you can eat in much nicer restaurants. We particularly liked the Little Mexican, and its charming hostess, Karima.  We ate outside, and there were no mosquitos there.
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at the top of Jalan Pantai Tengah, on the right hand side.

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fish fajita – delicious

  • Restaurants close quite early, so try to get there before 8PM. Rasa (Malaysian and International cuisine), on the main Cenang road, seems to stay open later, and is popular, good, and a similar price to other restaurants.
  • Of course, Langkawi is tax-free for at least alcohol and tobacco products.  There are many duty-free stores, and Cenang prices are about the same as Kuah.  It also means restaurants often charge a lot less for alcohol, too. A can of Royal Stout cost me RM1.80 in a store.  Sparkling wine costs RM30 and up, and champagne RM150 and up. For more, read this on Langkawi’s tax status.

this cost RM47 – the view somewhat more per night

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beer prices in a duty free store – cold or non-chilled are the same price


  • I think it is too quiet for me to retire here, and too isolated – you can’t just drive onto the mainland and go somewhere.  And I would miss the variety and low price of food in Penang. Vegetables are a big hard to track down in Langkawi, and eating out is a bit expensive in Malaysian terms.  There is not such a variety of things to do.
  • Certainly the tax status of Langkawi is attractive, though.  As a result, you can afford to drink alcohol in restaurants.  And Malays are much more relaxed about alcohol than elsewhere in Malaysia. The chocolate selection in shops is good, and far cheaper than the rest of Malaysia. The driving standard is better than Penang even though some drivers have yet to discover indicators in their cars.  And police leave you alone – I have never seen police roadblocks there. The beaches are quite nice, and are swimmable with no jellyfish in north that I have noticed.
  • A local Japanese lady we spoke to said that the two downsides of living in Langkawi are you really need to speak Bahasa, and for some hospital treatment you have to go to the mainland – Penang etc.
  • However, if you wanted a very quiet life, perhaps it would suit you, if you had no medical concerns. Bahasa doesn’t strike me as too difficult to learn.

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.