Early Retirement

Retirement to Penang – could I afford not to? May 2013 update.

UPDATE MAY 2013

Research by Bacs Family Finance Tracker claims household bills in Britain have increased by 40 % since 2007. Well, I retired in mid-2007, and moved to Penang in May 2008. Just one more reason for my thinking below.

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Living and working in London:

40% marginal income tax – perhaps comes to 25% of income; 20% VAT; council tax, petrol tax, energy taxes, water costing £70 per month, the cost of getting to and from work, cost of dressing for work, mortgage and interest… So the government takes most of the money, and then the banks and privatised money-gouging utilities get most of the rest…

…leaving just enough to live and have a holiday in the sun every year.

The only “saving” possible was paying the mortgage, but much of that was siphoned off by the bank as interest.

The cost of working was so high that it didn’t seem worth it. Basically I was working to survive in order to work. OK, I did enjoy my work, until near the end, but that is not the point.

Just the annual council tax alone in London can be the equivalent of three months living cost in Malaysia.

It’s almost as if it’s cheaper to retire abroad than to work and live in London. If you have equity in your property and you sell it, you can buy a nicer property abroad more cheaply, and then live on the difference for many years.

Well now I’ll be off to the cinema, where a ticket for the latest film will cost me £1.80.

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Retirement – could I afford not to?

Living and working in London:

40% marginal income tax – perhaps comes to 25% of income; 20% VAT; council tax, petrol tax, energy taxes, water costing £70 per month, the cost of getting to and from work, cost of dressing for work, mortgage and interest… So the government takes most of the money, and then the banks and privatised money-gouging utilities get most of the rest…

…leaving just enough to live and have a holiday in the sun every year.

The only “saving” possible was paying the mortgage, but much of that was syphoned off by the bank as interest.

The cost of working was so high that it didn’t seem worth it. Basically I was working to survive in order to work. OK, I did enjoy my work, until near the end, but that is not the point.

Just the annual council tax alone in London can be the equivalent of three months living cost in Malaysia.

It’s almost as if it’s cheaper to retire abroad than to work and live in London. If you have equity in your property and you sell it, you can buy a nicer property abroad more cheaply, and then live on the difference for many years.

An actual day … retirement in Penang

I did a blog of a typical day –  This explains how I might spend my time usually. The blog this time is a record of some actual days. As there seem to be 365 of them a year, and I have to choose only a few,  I made a note of a few days’ activities, and then picked the most varied of them.

A day in early January, 2013

7.30 up meditate, washing

8.00 at club – swim, sauna, OJ

9.15 home, washing out, eat. Very nice sunny weather

10.15 Gurney Plaza for German

11.45 to haircut

12.45 home – washing in, water plants, write blog, German study,

17:00 Went to QB Mall. Traffic a bit bad and took 30 minutes to get there.  By 19:00 sky was dark and it looked like a storm coming.  Dinner at Habanero.

21.30 A storm had come, and the rain while driving home was quite heavy, while still being safe enough to drive.  Most motorbikes won’t be on the road in this weather, but there were a few nonetheless.

22.00 Read a bit at home

A day in early February, 2013

5.45 Woke up and couldn’t sleep, so studied German.

7.00 Meditated.

7.15 Went for a walk along Gurney Drive to watch the sunrise.

8.00 Had a nap to catch up on sleep.

9.30 Showered, and then…

10.00 Went to Tesco for shopping.  Stayed in coffee shop, read newspaper, surfed Internet etc.

13.00 Dropped in to Cold Storage to buy what is not available in Tesco.  Went also to Mr. DIY.

15.00 Back home, put away shopping.

15.45 Watered garden, as I hadn’t had time in the morning – listened to podcast while doing so.

16.00 A bit of computer / Internet “work”. Wrote a quick blog.

16.30 Then transplanted papaya seedlings to larger pots – again, listened to podcast while doing so. Perhaps too hot and sunny, and should have waited, but impatient to do. This is to do with this project of mine – https://tropicalexpat.wordpress.com/2013/02/03/free-food-forest-in-penang/

17.15 Very black clouds, and then a thunderstorm. Thus seedlings will have less stress as it is cooler. So quite good.

17.30 Showered, phoned a friend abroad and talked for a while.  Then read a bit. Seedlings are happy now, indeed.

18.15 A little housework

19.00 Ate something and watched a film

21.00 Made travel bookings over the Internet

23.30 Bed

Roller blades to Reiki – my spiritual journey

A few years ago I was living and working in central London, and enjoying most of what London had to offer.

Every (week) day I walked to work across Hyde Park, and had to cross Park Lane at the traffic lights at Upper Brook Street.  These lights are very long, so I used to ask for the timing to be right each day so that I arrived at just the right time for me to cross all the way to the other side.  And this is what happened – perfect timing to cross almost every time.  And I said, “thank you” after. But if I forgot to ask, a long wait. I didn’t realise it, but I was asking my guardian angel.  This is a topic of another blog.  But a small start towards spirituality.

Walking across Hyde Park

Being bored with jogging, I bought some roller blades and while practicing in Hyde Park one morning had a spectacular accident, and landed on my hip. I was limping around and walking with a stick, and it wasn’t getting better.

Physiotherapy helped, but after many consultations with doctors, and many x-rays and cat scans the best they could suggest was a hip replacement. But these only last 15 years, so I would have to have several operations throughout my life.

At this time I discovered acupuncture, and it was the first treatment that really helped and gave me hope. But it was expensive to continue for too long.

Soon after I moved to Malaysia, hoping the tropical climate would help.  The type of acupuncture I was receiving was not available in Penang. Then I heard a gentleman called Lee Crock talking on a podcast about an electrical device he sold called an energy cleaner.

energy cleaner

I corresponded with him a couple of times, and he said I could do the same with my hands as with his machine, but the advantage of his machine is that it requires no effort – and it can be used while sleeping, too.  I tried the procedure with my hands, and it worked, so I bought the machine and used it for a few months several hours a day – and still do now, several years later, while sleeping.  I still use the procedure with my hands sometimes. I recently learnt he passed away, about two years ago,  in 2010, and his web page no longer exists.  Anyway, I gradually got better, and returned to normal.  I could walk properly, and even run.

So, now I had found that I can use my hands to heal, and also a small electrical device.

Then a friend told me of some Reiki classes I could take locally, so I took several classes in 2010, practiced,  and became a Reiki master.  This is using universal energy for healing, and I use it on myself and on friends.  Mostly I use it remotely – it doesn’t matter where your subject is – with you, or 10,000 miles away.  Now I use it every morning, before I start the day.

Listening to another podcast while making a trip by car in Malaysia I first heard Dolores Cannon talking about past life regression therapy.Podcastsweb page The purpose of life is to experience – and while alive to help others.  You have perhaps 600 to 800 lives, until you have experienced all and have learnt what is necessary, and worked out the karma you have accumulated, and then you ascend, and no longer need to do this.   If you did not live a good life, then you will have more karma to work off in following lives.  Reincarnation is part of Buddhism and Hinduism, and was part of the doctrine of early Christianity, it is said, and in some groups it was still espoused a millennium later. See p14 for reference to reincarnation.

Dying is not a scary thing. There is no hell. You don’t suffer when you die, but go to a nice place accompanied by someone you know, see people and pets who have passed away that you’d like to see, and pass time very pleasantly.You review your life and what you learned.  At some stage you need to go into another life, and before doing so make a “soul contract” on how you will pass the next life, and when you will die etc.  Your soul goes into a body at birth, at which time the “veil” comes down and you cannot recall past lives, your contract, or anything.  But you have free will, and you don’t know your soul contract, so you may or may not more or less fulfill  the contract during the life.

There is karma you have to work through. And in some lives you will be a good person, and in others a bad person.  You will have lives where you are rich, others where you are poor, etc.  This gives a different slant on life. If someone is evil or does you wrong it is not up to you to punish them – they will have to work off the karma by doing good either in this life or a future life(s).  If you envy someone something, you can think it’s just their turn to experience having that appearance, talent, wealth or whatever it is.

What regression therapy does is use hypnosis to learn about significant past lives that are causing a problem in this life for a person, and then having the unconscious mind understand and eliminate the bad effects, and having the unconscious heal the person.  It can heal almost anything except
schizophrenia, and can’t so easily be used for children.

So I did a course with Dolores last year.  I have degrees in psychology, and have done hypnosis in the past, so it fits in nicely with my background.

So now I continue with meditation, Reiki, and regression therapy… And all this really started with an accident in Hyde Park one morning.

What is normal in Malaysia

I like living in Malaysia.  But, nowhere is perfect.  So, I don’t want to be negative, but this is the way I see things, and I do want to be honest:

There seems to be a law for everything, a licence needed for every activity:

So people ignore laws and just do what they think is right.

Motorcycle helmets are compulsory while riding – but half the time riders don’t worry.

Fireworks are illegal – but most Chinese businesses and most Chinese let them off during Chinese New Year.  And Indians during their festivals, etc.

To get a driver’s licence it appears you have to learn road rules – but once you drive they are rarely observed.

Red lights for motorcyclists mean go through anyway, but just don’t get hit.

However, the police may decide they need extra revenue on the eve of a Muslim holiday, so that may not be the best time to park on double yellow lines, drive erratically etc..

If you enter a shop that employs people (department stores, boutiques), they shadow you – but if you ask them a question they cannot answer it.  They won’t find out for you, either.  If you asked them the same question in a week or a month or a year, they still won’t know.

If you change shop departments they will stop shadowing you.  If you’re in the mood you can play games with them, ducking from one aisle to another to lose them.

Malaysians cannot bear parking any further than they absolutely have to from their destination.  The idea of walking is just untenable. So parking is easy – just park slightly further away and there are plenty of spaces.

It’s hot, the sun is strong, it rains a lot, and the air is salty.  Buildings deteriorate.

Maintenance is something best ignored.  They build nice shopping malls, condos, etc. the building work being reasonably good, and they are popular for a few years, but the buildings are not repainted, water leaks not fixed, and they become shoddy.  The solution – build a new shopping mall somewhere else, and the tenants move there from the old one.  Condos are half heartedly repaired if the owners are adamant enough, but they never regain their former glory.

The condo you bought has a nice view? – don’t worry, land will be reclaimed in front of it and a bigger, better condo built – which will block your view.

Almost all shop assistants seem honest, so you’ll receive the correct change unless they accidentally make a mistake.

If you approach people in a friendly manner, almost everyone will be friendly.

If you buy something that is faulty you will not get a refund – you will only get credit to exchange for something else at the same business.  If this would be a problem, negotiate before you pay.

Should you become close friends with a local family, and they treat you as part of the family, they may at some stage ask you for a “loan” – as they would with their real family.  This seems normal, and you shouldn’t expect your money back if you actually do give them money.

I will add to this as things occur to me.

Why retire to Malaysia?

1.2.12

Malaysia, particularly Penang,  is a great place to retire to.

A beach in Penang near where I once lived

I am often asked, either by locals in Malaysia, or other people when I am travelling, why we chose Malaysia.  Here are some of my criteria for choosing a country, in no particular order:

  • warm and sunny
  • close to the beach
  • affordable
  • retirement visa conditions reasonable
  • freedom
  • safe / low crime
  • convenient for travel abroad
  • easy for friends to visit
  • good food
  • language learnable or English widely understood
  • culture
  • health insurance / health system good
  • expat community

Malaysia rates well on most of them.   Some countries are obviously better for some categories, but on balance we chose Malaysia.  As for where in Malaysia – we thought the main choices were:

  • Langkawi-it’s duty-free – but apart from that and its beaches it doesn’t tick enough boxes;
  • Penang – a smallish tropical island seemed to be the best compromise;
  • Kuala Lumpur- quite good on some aspects, but no beaches, gridlock traffic and more expensive;
  • Melaka – nice but quite small;
  • and the east coast – much less developed, very Islamic to the extent you can’t even get  beer easily in many places, not much western culture, and not many expats.

So how is Penang with regards to those criteria? Sure, it’s warm, often hot, and often sunny, and when there are  few cool days it’s quite a relief.

There are certainly beaches, and it’s easy enough to live very close to one, but swim at your peril – I’m talking jellyfish and pollution.  A little effort would solve these problems, but none is made.  Beaches, however, if you choose the right ones, are nice to walk along, or relax on.  Choose the wrong one and you’re knee-deep in rubbish.

Life is affordable.  I suppose it costs about 20% of the cost of living in London. Cars and alcohol are highly taxed, however.  If you get a MM2H visa, you may buy or import one car duty-free, which eases the pain.

Condo facilities can be quite good

The Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) retirement visa is quite good – probably only the retirement visa for Panama is better.  There are good visa agents who will do all that is necessary so it is quite painless to apply.  However, the government is always tinkering with the details, sometimes for the better, and sometimes not, so it’s difficult to elaborate.

One feels more freedom than in western countries nowadays – but read the local newspapers and you may not be so sure.  So best stay away from the papers.

The main crime affecting expats is bag snatching – be aware of two people on motorbikes if you are walking.  The pillion passenger can snatch a bag and they make off.  The main danger here is simply the horrendous driving.  I do feel since I have been here drivers are becoming a little more courteous, however.

One can fly directly abroad from Penang, although it is often necessary to go via KL, Bangkok or Singapore for longer haul flights. The airport is small and fairly close, so travel is quite convenient.

Malaysia is somewhere in between Europe, Japan, and Australia, so it’s relatively easy to visit or be visited – those locations are important to us.

Food is good, cheap, and there is a huge variety due to the mix of races in this country. Best of all is the tropical fruit.

English is very widely understood so that learning any other language is unnecessary. The local languages are Bahasa, Hokkien Chinese, and Tamil.

As for culture, there is plenty of local culture and frequent festivals; western culture is much thinner on the ground.

Locally bought health insurance is affordable, and the standard of health care is good.   A visit to a doctor costs about GBP6, so there is little need to use insurance for this.

Penang has a quite a big expat community, and there are various associations one can join if one wishes.

After almost four years here, this is my list of good and bad things here:

GOOD
Low cost of living
No tax on International income, or income originating abroad and brought to Malaysia
Relatively free
Not persecuted for driving, as one is in the UK, US, Australia
Tropical fruit
MM2H visa quite good
Low crime
Warm
Between Europe, Japan & Australia
Low cost of flights
Honesty and friendliness of people
English very widely spoken
Common law legal system
Political stability
Malaysia has oil and plenty of water

BAD
Many things not available to buy – but it is improving slowly
Information is hard to get locally
Slow internet
Appalling driving
No infrastructure for cycling/walking
Alcohol and cars expensive
Jellyfish and often pollution in sea means you wouldn’t want to swim
Littering seems to be a hobby for many

And where else did I consider? Thailand. The bad points were, inter alia: lack of political stability, civil law legal system, retirement visa not so good, and hard to buy freehold property.  Indonesia & Philipines: not as safe, and less developed. Panama, Ecuador, Uruguay – geographically not so convenient for me.

International Living magazine in 2012 rated Malaysia fourth best place to retire – behind Ecuador, Panama and Mexico (source The Expat). I subscribed to International Living  for many years, and it’s a good magazine, but it is slanted towards Americans, which may have influenced the ratings.

As a paying customer of the country, I can of course, move on if conditions deteriorate.  But in many respects I have noticed Penang is improving.  It has become a World Heritage site, and many rundown buildings have been renovated and spruced up, the variety of restaurants has increased, some footpaths are appearing enabling one to walk, a cycling path around the island is promised, a new bridge to the mainland is being built,  hygiene and English levels are improving, even some awareness of the health dangers of MSG in food is occurring.

It is actually much nicer living here than visiting as a tourist, so coming for a quick look, although necessary, can be deceptive.  It is easy to stay here and rent a condo on a tourist visa, making a short trip every three months to a nearby country, so that when you return you will have another three months visa.  Many people do this for years.  This way you can make little commitment and decide if it is for you. And you can travel the country and find your favourite location. You will also know what you should ship here if you decide to get the MM2H visa, and what you won’t need.

So, give it some thought.  You can afford to retire much earlier than you may have thought if you choose Malaysia.

View from condo balcony

Tropical Expat