The 4 Best Areas to Live in Penang: A Guide for Retirees & Expats

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Penang is a charming island with an old cultural heritage, located in the Northwestern parts of Malaysia. It’s one of the top choices when foreign retirees and expats decide to settle down in the country.

It’s not strange that Penang has been voted as one of the top 10 destinations to retire in the world as living costs are low, the weather is great, and you can enjoy one of the best cuisines in the world. Worth mentioning is that Malaysia was voted as the fifth best country to retire in 2018 according to Forbes, where Penang is undoubtedly a big contributor.

In this article, I explain which areas that are most popular among expats, retirees and other foreigners in Penang at the moment. If you find it hard to decide whether you should buy or rent real estate in Penang, you can find valuable information in the end of the article.

Where do most retirees and expats stay in Penang?

The Northern parts of Penang have been the preferred place for foreigners since long back.

You can find more leisure activities and points of interest compared to the Southern parts, especially in areas of Georgetown to Batu Ferringhi. Some examples are the colonial buildings and local architecture, the Botanical Garden, Penang Hill, Penang National Park, Shoppings and more.

The Southern part is more local and less expensive, but have gained more traction among real estate buyers and long-term renters, and should also be of interest (more about that later).

1. Gurney Drive

Gurney drive is one of the most popular areas among MM2H holders and foreigners from mainly Hong Kong and Europe. It’s on the top of our list as it offers many modern conveniences and a high quality of life in general.

Expats that hold management positions in international companies tend to prefer Gurney drive, as it’s located within a short distance from areas with more commercial activity and corporations.

If you decide to buy a condo or a house here, you’re able to reach shopping malls such as Gurney Plaza & Paragon Malls, hawker centers, and other amenities within walking distance.

Foreigners that look for bigger units (above 2800 sqft / 260 sqm) and that have a budget above RM 5000 (USD 1200) often choose places like:

  • Gurney Paragon Residences
  • 11 Gurney Condo
  • Millenium Condo
  • 8 Gurney
  • The Regency
  • Setia V Residence
  • Sunrise Tower

Those with lower budgets, mostly coming from India, Korea and China, tend to go for Gurney Beach, PG 1 Condominium and Gurney Park.

2. Tanjong Tokong & Tanjung Bungah

Tanjong Tokong & Tanjung Bungah

Most of the MM2H-holders and foreigners that who choose to live here are European, Americans, Singaporean, Korean, Chinese professionals and retirees. Here, you can enjoy a beautiful seaview and direct access to the beach.

Tanjong Tokong which is located nearest to Gurney & Georgetown has become one of the top choices. The most up-market and exclusive seafront residences that offers modern amenities and convenient living is in Seri Tanjung Pinang.

It comprises resort styled condominium, suites, colonial style courtyard terraces, semi-detached houses, and landed properties with private pools. Rentals range from RM 3000 – RM 9000 (USD 723 – USD 2170). Prices are are around RM 10,000 (USD 2400) per sqm and onwards.

Interesting projects in Tanjong Tokong and Tanjung Bungah include:

  • Quayside Condo
  • 18 East Andaman Condo
  • Straits Quay Serviced Residences
  • Marinox Condo
  • Ariza Courtyard Terraces
  • Villas By-The-Sea

Foreigners that have lower budgets with Penang standards, which is generally below RM 3000 (USD 723) in Tanjung Tokong, tend to choose properties in projects such as:

  • Marina Bay
  • Tanjung Park
  • The Peak Condo
  • The Breeza Condo

Popular condominiums sizes above 400 sqft (37 sqm) located in Tanjung Bungah with beachfront include:

  • Infinity SuperCondo
  • Springtide Condo
  • One Tanjung Condo
  • The Cove

Many MM2H-holders and expats that come with families of 4-5 people prefer to live in landed properties in this area. One of the most popular is Permai Garden Residences with 3 storey terraced-houses, one of the latest projects with gated landed properties, managed by Alila.

Permai Garden Residences

Picture of Permai Garden Residences

There are also 2 international schools in Tanjung Bungah, Dalat International School and Tenby International School. Another upcoming International school is Prince of Wales International School.

3. Batu Ferringhi

Batu Ferringhi

Most MM2H holders and expats who choose to live Batu Ferringhi are European, British and Korean.

Some of the most popular condos are Miami Green Resort, Seaview Garden and Island Resort, while popular landed properties include Moonlight Bay Resort and Shamrock Beach.

You’ll reach the Upland International School within a 10 minute drive, hence, this are is highly popular among families with primary and secondary children. The newest projects near Batu Ferringhi town worth having a look at are Bayu Ferringhi Condominium and Ferringhi Residence.

Just keep in mind that the demand of rental units decreases in this area as people have started moving to Tanjung Bungah and Tanjung Tokong, where there are new options available.

4. Gelugor / Bayan Lepas

Gelugor and Bayan Lepas are preferable among MM2H-holders, retirees and expats for several reasons.

First of all, these areas have seen a lower influx of foreigners and offer a more genuine local lifestyle. It’s also a preferable choice among expats that work in multinational companies in Bayan Lepas or on the mainland, as they can reach these areas within a short distance.

Rents and property prices are lower as well, making it a suitable place for foreigners that work from home, having a lower budget.

This is also a reason why we see increasingly more newly completed projects in the Southern parts of the island, attracting more people from the above category.

Below I’ve listed popular condos in different areas located in the southern parts of Penang island.

Gelugor
  • Vertiq Condo
  • Pearl Regency
  • The Light Collections
  • BaysWater Condo
  • Platinum
Bayan Lepas
  • Promenade Condo
  • Arena Residences
  • Elite Heights
Queensbay
  • Summerton Condominium
  • Tropicana Bay Residences
Batu Maung
  • The Loft Condominium

The Light Collections Gelugor

Picture: The Light Collections

Rental values in Bayan Lepas are relatively low compared to the Northern parts of the island, that’s more busy with foreigners. Monthly rents range between RM 2000 ~ RM 5000 (USD 482 ~ USD 1200). You can enjoy a nice 3-4 bedroom unit that’s fully furnished, and with seaview or hillview, at this price level.

7 reasons why retirees & expats choose Penang

Malaysia attracts a number of foreigners that wish to either settle down or have a property as a getaway retreat. The region as a whole have a number of locations that attract foreigners for various reasons.

Below, I’ve listed some distinct features that diversify Penang from other places within Malaysia, but also regionally:

  • Penang has a warm tropical weather which is highly appreciated among foreigners that come from cold countries. They can escape their country during the Winter months and enjoy all the nice sea views and beaches that Penang has to offer
  • Penang is famously known for being more relaxed and for having a genuinely nice and friendly community. The warm welcome of local people attracts foreigners interests, and to engage with the locals, in addition to finding their own international community of friends
  • Penang is very accessible with many cheap travel options. Foreigners can travel between Penang and their home countries with direct international flights
  • Penang is like a melting pot of diverse cultures and with a fusion where “East meets West”. There’s a wide variety of food options and Penang is famous for having one of the best cuisines in Asia
  • Penang offers low living costs, you can stretch your pension budget or savings and still live a comfortable lifestyle. Families with young children can enjoy low-cost education fees with a high quality and standards
  • Georgetown has been listed as a UNESCO World heritage. The architecture and culture of Penang are preserved since long time back. This fascinates and attract many foreigners interests, as they can live a modern life with strong cultural presence just around the corner
  • Penang is safe – crime rates are lower compared to other Asian countries and cities like KL, Manila, and more

Should I buy or rent real estate in Penang?

Deciding whether you should buy or rent is not always easy. Renting is more convenient and brings less responsibility, at the same time , you might miss out on future price appreciations.

Not to forget, the feeling of owning a property is unique in itself.

However, rents are very budget friendly and one of the key points that speaks for renting as the best option. In addition, Malaysia has introduced minimum investment requirements towards foreigners, these are among the highest in Penang, where you need to pay at least RM 3 million (USD 722,000) for a villa on the Island.

2 reasons why renting is the preferred option over buying among expats and retirees

Overall, we see that many foreigners decide to rent property for various reasons. Below I’ve covered three of the main reasons why we continue to see this trend.

Foreigners want flexibility

Many foreigners have adopted a “Wait and see” strategy and preferably rent units instead of buying. Either they plan to buy at a later stage or keep on renting, waiting for the market to recover.

By renting a unit, you have more flexibility and can decide when to switch location, or to leave.

High investment requirements and better investment options

As mentioned above, Penang has high investment requirements, as of 2018, you need to pay at least RM 3 million (USD 722,000) for a landed house on the Island. The limit is set to RM 1 million (USD 240,000) for strata-title properties, like condominiums, and is still considerably high.

Having the option to rent a spacious and modern place for RM 5000 (USD 1200) a month, instead of locking in a big sum of money in an illiquid asset that won’t appreciate much in the coming years, many foreigners decide to rent property instead.

A weak local currency still attracts foreign buyers

Malaysia’s local currency, Ringgit (RM), has depreciated much over the years, making Penang attractive for foreign real estate buyers. Buying in 2018, with the current exchange rate, is at the same status quo to buying a property 4-5 years ago.

Malaysia also offers the MM2H visa which is renewable and gives you the right to stay for 10 years at a time. With cheap living costs, medical care (with high standard), and the high quality of life in general, keeping a property more than 5 years is easy for many.

Quoting Shan Saeed at IQI Global: A stable and mature real estate market make the economic landscape for properties appealing to sophisticated investors.

Summary

Penang has received a big share of foreign retirees and expats over the years. This will probably increase over the years as this coastal pearl gains more attention in the media.

The Northern part of the island is most dense with people and has been developed over a longer time, while the Southern part offers a more local lifestyle, but receives more and more foreign renters and property buyers.

Prices in the South are not as high compared to the North and there’s more affordable space available for developers.

Renting is still a preferred option in Penang as property prices on the Island are comparatively expensive to other cities in Malaysia. In addition, the investment requirements are quite significant as you need to put up at least RM 3 million when buying a villa, which equals to around USD 720,000.

Rents are very low in comparison and there are many units available in a number of modern condos.

Malaysia, and Penang specifically, always grab a top spot when it comes to rankings of Best places to live and retire in Asia. With its cheap living costs, cultural heritage, climate, and food, I think we can both agree that it’s well deserved.

About the author:

This article was written by Eunice Ooi, currently working for IQI Global in Penang, Malaysia.

IQI Global is an award winning company that has helped many locals and foreigners to find new developments, sub-sales and rental properties all over Malaysia.

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