After four months in Penang, we've finally hitting the road again. Our destinations: Kuala Lumpur and Cherating in Malaysia, Bangkok and Chiang Mai in Thailand and Singapore (not in that order!) before returning home to Australia for a month for Christmas. We're excited to be travelling again but very sad to be leaving Penang. When we started this trip, one of our aims was to try to find a place outside of Australia where we would be happy to live. We wanted somewhere less expensive than Australia, with a good standard of living, easy access to facilities, good schooling, an interesting culture that we could learn from and most importantly a great social network of friends. Penang offered us every one of these options. The food in Penang was just amazing and cheap. The cost of living is about 1/3 of what we pay in Australia, but if anything we had an even better standard of living. And we made so many great friends, particularly in the last few months when the kids started making friends and we spent every afternoon down by the pool or playground catching up. We've enjoyed hosting many families in our house too. The more the merrier!
In case you are considering moving to Penang, here is a break down of our costs. These costs are based on a family of 4, with two young children that don?t eat a lot and aren't enrolled in an international school.
FYI: RM3 is roughly 1USD or 1AUD
The cots of renting an apartment varies depending on size, age, furished or unfurnished, quality of furnishing, length of rental agreement and the facilities the complex has.
We rented in Miami Green - one of the nicer apartment complexes near the beaches in Penang, with several pools, a squash court, tennis court and 24-hour security (I have no clue why it 'needed' 24 security guards as crime rates in Penang are very low and we felt safer there than in most Western cities. In 5 months we heard of one break in and one bag snatching in another suburb entirely, not near our apartments).
For a furnished apartment in a complex with a pool expect to pay RM1200-5000 per month. You can rent a lot cheaper than this but you will be in an older apartment block without facilities or security, and the apartments will often be quite small. Apartments in Georgetown and over near the bridge are more expensive. Apartment near the beaches near Batu Ferringhi and Tanjung Bungah tend to be between RM1200-3000 per month furnished. Unfurnished and longer leases are cheaper though.
You can also rent large, modern houses for a similar price to apartments although its almost impossible to rent one for anything less than a 12 month lease.
Buses in Penang are great but not quite comprehensive. They service Georgetown well but school drop offs and grocery shopping is a little hard without a car. You don't need a car but life is a lot easier with one.
If you're moving to Penang, find out where the nearest local markets is - Grocery stores are expensive but the markets are cheap. You may need to go the supermarket every few weeks for some western brands, formula, yogurt, nappies, cereal and non-halal foods, but everything else can be found at the markets. Chicken and seafood are available at the markets. Mince, steak, sausages etc are cheaper if bought from a bulk butchers rather than the supermarket.
Eating out in Penang is quite inexpensive. If your happy to eat where the locals do you'll often pay only a few ringget more than you would cooking at home. Hawker Markets and small local restaurants will offer the cheapest food, whereas the tourist restaurants in Batu Ferringhi will blow your budget (even if they are quite cheap in comparison to what you'd pay back home in the west in a good restaurant).
At a Hawker Market or local eatery
At a local restaurant
There are a lot of great International Schools in Penang. St Christopher's Elementary School is the cheapest and has a fantastic reputation. Dalat, Tenby and Uplands are a lot more expensive but very good schools and your best option with highschool aged children.
We had hoped to send Noah to St Christopher's but they have a long waiting list so we ended up just sending him to a local Chinese run daycare. Formal schooling in Penang doesn't start until 7 years of age. Like the rest of Asia, Malaysia is very focused on education so daycares have become mini-schools, covering the same content that would be covered in Kindergarten and Grade 1 in the west. Daycares in Malaysia generally follow a very Asian eduction model so it can be hard to find playbased learning for younger children if this is what you are used to. Some daycares will have even the three year olds sitting down with pencils in hand writing. Others take a more relaxed approach in the younger age groups, but generally from 4-5 years the children will be doing 2.5 hours of lessons per day.
Daycares commonly offer three options - 5 half days per week, 5 full days per week or a mix of both (for example three half days and two full days). We sent our children to Apple Tree Daycare in Tanjung Bungah. Taska Lin has one of the best reputations although its more expensive. If play based learning and small teacher-child ratios is important to you check out the new Cherie Hearts Centre in Tanjung Tokong. If we return next year Hayley will attend that centre (the only reason we didn't send the children there this time was it had only just started and there were no 5 year olds enrolled so Noah would be lost for friends!)
Cinema: RM40 (a family of four, including snacks)
Doctor's consult: RM20 at a local hospital, RM50 at a private clinic
Emergency consult with xray: RM70
Parking: RM1 per three hours on weekdays, RM3 per three hours on weekends.
If you're contemplating a move to Penang and want to know the cost of something I've left out please let me know and I'll add it into this post. Or if you live in Penang and think I'm wrong on any of these costings ... or have some additional information I'd love to know.
NOTE: We're getting a lot of questions after posting this from other families looking to move to Penang, which I think is fantastic! But we were holidaying long term (5 months) in Penang so we don't really know the answers to questions like tax rates in Malaysia and buying a car. We're more than happy to answer anyone's questions but if you have specific questions pertaining to working there it might be best to head to one of the expat forums. Best of luck and perhaps we'll see you soon when we head back for another six months!