We recently made the big plunge – our family of 4 relocated from Melbourne, Australia to Penang, Malaysia. Our primary motivation for this move was lifestyle – we wanted more free time. We basically hoped that by living somewhere substantially cheaper than Australia that we could basically buy ourselves time. Have we achieved this? Most definitely yes. Below is a breakdown of our costs.
We rent a massive two storey, 4 bedroom, 2 living area, 3 bathroom house for about $830 USD a month. This includes all bills such as cable tv, internet and electricity as well as someone who mows the lawn. We live in a quiet street less than ten minutes walk from the main beach and tourist area of Penang. It is a great location.
Our house is too big for us really. We were used to a two bedroom apartment back in Australia. It is lovely though and a great price, so we are very happy. You can certainly rent cheaper places, especially if you are going to stay long term. A longer term lease on a house like ours may only set you back $400 USD a month (with utilities extra). There are many apartments available in Penang for cheaper as well.
We rent a small car by the month which includes insurance and unlimited kilometers for about $415 USD. This is great as we can get around super easily.
There is also a public bus system with fares costing a maximum of just over $1 USD depending on how far you are going. It is not as extensive as I would like, but it does go to anywhere you should need to go. Taxis are readily available.
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If you want to explore more of Malaysia, long distance buses are very comfortable and affordable. We caught a bus all the way into Thailand for less than $10 USD. Penang is a major hub so there are buses to most places in Malaysia.
The food has to be one of the best parts of living in Penang. It is considered one of the food capitals in Asia and the Malay, Indian and Chinese populations ensure great food in each of these cuisines. There are also lots of other choices and Western style food is readily available. Eating at a simple restaurant or hawker center starts at around $1 USD. This food can be incredibly good, so don’t think that cheap means bad. A nicer restaurant is around $5.50 USD per dish. On average, I would spend about USD$2 for a great meal.
For drinks, a fresh juice is around $1 USD. Alcohol is not that cheap and not that readily available. In a shop, a beer is around $2 USD.
Food from the supermarket is cheap as long as you buy local products. If we were to buy the same food as we did in Australia – things such as pasta sauces, cereals we were used to – it gets a lot more expensive. However, given the low cost of eating out, it does not save much money to cook at home anyway.
There are general stores everywhere with most things you are likely to need quickly. A loaf of bread is about $0.50 USD. A can of coke, $0.60 USD. A large McDonalds meal deal is about $4 USD.
Most attractions are less than $10 USD for an adult and there are plenty of things to do for free or close to – like gardens and parks, the beach, visiting temples or checking out the colonial architecture in Georgetown. Things like the cinema are very cheap.
We also spend money on a cleaner which is about $4 USD an hour. We have young kids and they go to preschool. This is $110 USD a month for 5 mornings a week.
Toiletries, clothes, etc are all easy to find and very cheap. There is a massive Tesco store 15 minutes from where we live that has everything.
All in all, living in Penang is very cheap. We have been able to have a great lifestyle – in a big house with a car, eating out great food whenever we want, for only $2,300 USD per month for four of us. You could certainly spend a lot less than this by living in a smaller place and not hiring a car or using preschool and still have an excellent quality of life.
This post is by Sharon Gourlay, an Australian digital nomad who currently lives in Penang, Malaysia.