MM2H visa

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.

Langkawi – December 2012. Holidaying here. Retiring here?

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

20121221 (27)s

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.

Langkawi – some observations from my latest visit. And could I retire here?

Tanjong Rhu Beach

I have just returned from my second holiday in Langkawi in about three and a half years. So, while I cannot claim any vast knowledge, I would like to make a few observations.

For a newer version click the green button.


  • 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.
  • This time 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.
  • There are other alternatives, such as a ferry from Penang to Langkawi, directly; or driving to Alor Setar, and catching a ferry from there.


  • 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.


  • Langkawi has changed quite a bit in the intervening three 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.

You can rent this caravan at the beach


  • 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.


  • 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.
  • Petrol is slightly cheaper than 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.)
  • 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 black, 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 there are no jellyfish – at least at this time of year – so you can swim in sea.  As you approach Tanjong Rhu there is an open manned barrier for some reason – just slow down and drive through.
  • 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.


  • Food 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, so we had a big breakfast at the hotel, which was included, and ate fairly lightly later in the day.
  • 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.
  • We enjoyed fish and chips on the north coast, however.

English style fish and chips

  • Of course, Langkawi is tax-free for at least alcohol and tobacco products.  There are many duty-free stores, but probably the cheapest are in 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


  • 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. Certainly the tax status of Langkawi is attractive, though.
  • 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.

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.

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?


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:

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
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

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