A friend of mine lived in Tokyo for many years. He demonstrated Japanese culture for his many visitors by dropping his wallet on a pedestrian clogged street. Then he walked briskly away from it, much to the amazement of his visiting friends. In each case (and yes, I do think he was lucky) a breathless man or woman caught up to him, wallet in hand.
Japan has one of the world’s lowest crime rates. So while many Americans brave Mexican and Ecuadorean retiree destinations, it’s worth considering where the Japanese flee for a setting sunset of their own. One such place is Malaysia.
According to International Living’s annual retirement rankings, it’s cheaper than Mexico, Ecuador and Panama. Malaysian health care beats every Central and South American country in the study. Comparative crime data compiled by the United Nations shows that Malaysia’s a heck of a lot safer as well.
Located 120 miles north of the equator, Malaysia sits between Singapore, to the south, and Thailand to the north. It offers everything from world-renowned golf courses to first class shopping in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur.
Chances are, if you watched the first television series of Survivor, back in 2000, you brought one of Malaysia’s idyllic beaches into your living room. The show was filmed in Borneo, which has an impressive eco-tourism industry. You can climb Mt. Kinabalu, view Pygmy elephants in the wild, and watch the human-like Proboscis monkeys swinging from vines in the jungle as you head down the river in a small boat.
Best of all, the Malaysian government wants you to come. To facilitate foreign retirees, they created a program called Malaysia My Second Home, starting with a few hundred expatriate retirees in 1997. As of 2012, the total had exceeded 20,000 members.
To qualify, retirees over the age of 50 must deposit 150,000 Ringgit ($50,000 USD) into a fixed income Malaysian bank account. Malaysian ringgit is partially pegged to the U.S. dollar. It is far more stable than the Mexican Peso. Those unwilling (or unable) to deposit such a sum must demonstrate retirement income of at least $3,300 per month.
The organization also helps retirees find a medical insurance policy, set up a fixed deposit bank account, and can guide the acquisition of a car or home. In 2009, when I first researched Malaysian retirement for a magazine, foreign retirees were given a narrow price band: $75,000 to $166,000 for home purchases. There’s no upper limit on the website today, but foreigners wishing to buy homes must now spend at least $166,000. Such changes to the rules, according to company representative Adrian Lim, are what frustrate members the most.
Most expatriate retirees are focused around the capital city of Kuala Lumpur—near the country’s top medical centers and first class shopping areas. Rental costs for 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom luxury condominiums with a swimming pool, weight room and tennis courts start at roughly $900 a month.
The low cost of labor makes luxury services affordable. Full time maids hired to cook and clean cost $200 per month. Hour-long quality body massages at reputable spas start as low as $15 an hour. Manicures and pedicures go for a fraction of what you would pay in the United States.
My wife and I are addicted to Malaysia. The border is just 5 miles from our Singapore-based home, and we’ve visited no fewer than thirty different times. But that doesn’t mean you’d like it.
Before considering a foreign retirement destination, spend a few months in the country. Rent a home for the winter. Get in touch with some expat retirees. Ask for first hand medical-related experiences and see if the climate suits you. Global retirement rankings and the gushing of a travel writer are two things—but first-hand experience carries more weight.