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 –

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

Cost of living in Penang in November 2012

Just to give you an idea of what it could cost to live in Penang on a monthly basis, where in November 2012 GBP£1 = RM4.9; USD$1 = RM3; AUD$1 = RM3.1

When first here we lived for RM30 per day, plus rent.  Below gives more details of costs of a comfortable life.

RM300 in a low cost condo, with no facilities, and probably in a poor location in a badly maintained building.
RM2,500 for a three bedroom two bathroom condo of about 1,000 square feet, with pool, gym, parking space etc.  in a nice, reasonably maintained building.
And up for bigger, better appointed condos.
Houses, RM2,000 or more.

Home ownership:
Condo: maintenance fees.
House: see tax section.

Electricity is metered, but water is a fixed charge, and you get gas delivered in canisters.

RM200 for electricity, using air cons when necessary, heating water for showers, lighting, TV etc. 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.

RM10 per month for gas. There is no town gas, so you have gas delivered in canisters, costing RM27 or so for medium size cannister. This has lasted us from about three months to about six months, depending on how much we ate in.

RM3  for water; it costs RM6 minimum per two months, and usually we only use the minimum. I use rainwater to water the plants where possible, because the plants seem to prefer it, but in the drier months use town water.

RM900 for groceries. There are supermarkets and markets for fruit and vegetables. But if we buy everything just from Tesco, this is an approximate figure, although prices are rising significantly.

Health Insurance:
RM400 for two of us for policies covering hospitalisation, taken out locally, but covering world wide.  Visiting a doctor in a clinic costs around RM35, or in a hospital RM80 or more.

RM0 if you are renting. The service charge for the condo is paid by the owner, as is any tax on the property. If you own a house, there is a land tax and a charge for the local council’s services, which amount to about RM500 per annum for both for a modest property.

RM1.90 per litre – I live centrally, so even when I drive it is only for about 10 minutes one way, so in a month I spend less than RM100 on petrol.

Car running costs:
Car service – about RM400 for a Japanese car to perhaps RM1,000 for a Mercedes. I only need it once a year as everything is close by in Penang, so I don’t drive many miles. Road tax depends on engine size – see this calculator. Some things are really cheap – puncture repair RM8, for example – with immediate and friendly service. Car insurance, of course, depends on the car value and your no claim discount.  RM2,000 per year for a medium size car, perhaps, with full no claim discount.

RM0.30 per half hour, and up, on Penang Island, for street parking by meter or with parking attendants. RM5 for parking all day, as a guideline. On weekdays it costs RM1 for three hours parking in Gurney Plaza, on weekends more. You can park free, too, in some supermarkets, on suburban streets, at some businesses.

RM10 for a short distance, RM15 for about 10 minutes drive, and up for longer. Taxis are supposed to be metered, but drivers usually prefer not to use meters and quote a price – which they usually won’t lower if you try to bargain.  Occasionally they will, though.  The quoted price and the metered price often work out similar, anyway, and I prefer the former. Pulau Tikus to the ferry terminal is RM15; Pulau Tikus to Queensbay Mall RM35. Pulau Tikus to airport RM55ish. Prices significantly higher between midnight and 6AM, and to the airport there is a special airport charge. Personally I think if you choose a regular taxi company, or several drivers you like, then you will find them honest and reliable, and have no problems.  But even picking taxis from the street I have found the drivers honest and mostly friendly – in Penang. As for KL, I hear the situation is different.

Public Transport:
The ferry to Butterworth is free; returning is RM1.20 as a foot passenger, RM7.70 for a car with passengers. Otherwise there are Rapid Penang buses.  Presently I am boycotting them for a year after my last experience, so I can’t remember the fare, but their site says the minimum fare is RM1.40.  Beware of pickpockets – friends of mine have had things stolen on the bus. I would take nothing valuable, and only the money I needed, and not travel when the buses are full. There are few seats, so it’s likely you will have to stand. Neither are they reliable, and drivers often don’t speak English.  However, they are air-conditioned.

Alcohol is highly taxed, and costs more than the UK, and far more than Europe.  One 330ml can of beer in a supermarket is RM6 and up; a 700ml bottle of local vodka is RM23 (good for cocktails), a 700ml bottle of imported vodka about RM120; a 750 ml bottle of vintage wine bottled in country of origin from RM35 if you look around; 750ml sparkling wine from RM70 if on special; imported liqueurs generally well over RM100. Mixers like Schweppes ginger ale and tonic water etc. cost about RM1.50.

Eating out:
Can be free, at some temples, or on festival days, where shops hand out food, and bottles of water.  Generally, eating out is cheap, but drinking alcohol out is expensive.  A 660ml bottle of local beer is around RM15 at a hawker centre – but noodles might cost you RM3. Of course western food in upmarket restaurants is far more expensive, and a small glass of wine could cost RM20 or more.  Nevertheless, expensive western style restaurants are good value for food if you compare the price to London, Paris, Sydney etc. Local cooking uses far too much sugar, and MSG, so eating out frequently, especially in cheap places like hawker centres,  over a longer period is probably not healthy, unless you are very selective.

From RM7. Yes, very affordable, and cinemas are quite empty weekdays, during the day.

Cable TV:
I am not at all interested. This is the Malaysian provider.

You can join local clubs, such at The Penang Club, The Penang Swimming Club, the Penang Sports Club etc. You need to buy a membership, and then pay monthly dues, which are about RM12,000 and then RM165 monthly for the Penang Club; about RM25,000 membership fee for the Swimming Club; monthly fee unknown; and RM15,000 and RM100 monthly for the Sports Club. You can sell the membership in the future, if you wish.

Did I forget anything important?  Let me know if I did, and I will add the details if I know them, or can find them out.

Meeting people as an expat in Penang

Unless you are a recluse you’ll probably want to make some friends here.

It’s likely that the only people you know are the people at the visa agency.  They are a great resource if you have any questions.

Well, if you move into a condo you can make the opportunity to meet your fellow residents.  The kind of people living there can be one factor to take into account when choosing where you live.

If you are religious, try out different churches until you find one that suits you.

There are several Rotary clubs and Lions clubs in Penang, and if you were a member in another country you would probably fit right in.  There are at least two Toastmasters clubs in Penang that I am aware of.

Peruse the local papers: the Sun and the Star have announcements of clubs’ activities.  The free Expat magazine also announces club meetings. Just attend anything of interest and see how it works out.  It’s easy enough to leave even part way through a meeting if you think it is just not for you. I have seen plenty of people do that. So you have little to lose.

You could also try hosting couchsurfers or join in some of their activities – this has worked for me.
Couchsurfing site.  There are plenty of couchsurfing members in Penang.

With, if you can’t find a group to join, you can create one easily. I am thinking of doing just that, because the only group in Penang I found on it was a Futures trading group.

There are also clubs such as the Penang Club, Penang Swimming Club, and the Penang Sports Club, but these require a substantial investment to join.

And if you are interested in learning languages, at Alliance Francais they hold lessons in French and Bahasa; at the Malaysian German Society, German, of course.

Many women seem to join dance classes and meet many locals that way.

Otherwise, just be open to meeting people whenever you are out, and it can sometimes happen.

Road trip to southern Thailand – driving one’s car from Penang to Songkhla – and parts north

April 3rd, 2012 UPDATE

On Saturday March 31st, 2012 a bomb exploded in the centre of Hat Yai, killing several people, and injuring over 300, including many tourists. What I wrote below about safety seems now out of date. Further information.

The Thai border is only about two hours drive away, and the whole trip from Penang to Songkhla takes about four hours, excluding stops.  When we decided to retire to Penang, we intended to make frequent trips to Thailand, which was another country we had considered retiring to.  This way we could get the advantages of both countries.

Of course, one knows about the separatist movement in Southern Thailand, and how there is often violence, with innocent people, including tourists, being killed and injured. But that is on the eastern side of southern Thailand, in the far southern provinces (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat).  It seems perfectly safe crossing the border on the western side of Thailand, and continuing north to Songkhla.

This blog aims to explain the process, not our trip particularly, but, for ease of writing, I will sometimes use the first person.  Malaysian immigration seems to change their procedure all the time, and I don’t know if Thailand does the same, so the procedure could vary somewhat.

Of course, once you have crossed the border you can head off to Krabi, Phuket, or Bangkok, or wherever you want to go.

the route


We stayed in in the BP Samila Beach Hotel – look on Trip Advisor for reviews or to find where to make a booking before going.

Consider making the outward and inward trips on a weekday, avoiding Malaysian and Thai public holidays and school holidays. Unless you enjoy long queues and bigger chaos at the border.

You will need the car ownership documents for when you cross the border.

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.

A typical day…retirement in Penang

I have so much to do, I don’t know how I ever found time to work.

So, what do I do now I am retired?  A typical day for me will include some exercise, some study, some spiritual practices, eating out at least once, some Internet, some gardening, some DIY, some reading…

I wake up about reasonably early – dawn varies from about 7am to about 7.30 depending on the time of year – do some meditation, some Reiki, and drive the three minutes to the club, where I sungaze, swim, sauna, use the gym for  few minutes, walk along the beach, and then after a shower relax with a cup of coffee and read the paper with a lovely view of the sea.

A short drive home and then I’ll check my plants and water them.

After this it’s a bit hard to continue with the “typical” theme

  • We might walk over to the local market to get some fruit (mangoes, passion fruit, papaya, dragon fruit…)
  • Or wander over to a local dim sum restaurant.
  • Or I might breakfast at home on some fruit and home made yoghurt, and then go out for a buffet lunch at the E&O Hotel.
  • But if we are eating out or socialising in the evening, then I’ll eat lightly, probably at home.
  • If there is no shopping to do I will proceed with some study, some Internet, or a bit of DIY around the house.
  • There is always some gardening
  • And books to read
  • A couple of hours German study a day
  • I try to keep up with my blogging
  • And listen to podcasts on various subjects
  • Of course, there are plenty of day or over night trips to make if we feel like it, to local attractions or nearby towns,or even up to Thailand (a two hour drive).
  • An afternoon nap leaves me with plenty of energy to do whatever we choose for the rest of the day. This is also a good time for a fruit smoothie.

Every day is different, and I never get all that I want done in the day, anyway. It’s a tough life.