Monday, November 14, 2011

How I Moved to Penang, Malaysia to Live (Part 2)

In my last post I discussed the logistics of my move up until my experiences with the banks. I will now continue my story of my move to Malaysia.

I arrived in Penang on July 4th, 2008 to start the next chapter in my life. I had put money down and signed a purchase and sales agreement on a condo, in a complex I had seen before and liked. The unit was furnished and needed no renovation. It was also reasonably priced. When I first came here I lived in a service apartment for a month, which was a bit inconvenient. It was not near any shopping area nor public transportation, but it did have a nice pool and a great bar. It was also quite cheap to stay there. After only a couple of weeks the seller of my unit told me I could move in to the condo before final papers were passed, without having to pay any rent. I was extremely happy to say the least. At the end of August the move was accomplished. Shortly after my friend in Boston mailed my few remaining possessions, so I did have a little bit of home with me.

With my friend's help all of the utilities were set up and working. To give an idea of what the utility costs are I will share what I pay for mine. The amounts are in approximate US dollars. Satellite TV with premium channels comes to about $46 a month; electricity (includes washer, dryer, A/C all night in 1 room, 1 fan 24 hrs/day, TV with home theater system, 2 laptops, 2 aquaria , electric oven and a few smaller kitchen gadgets)averages out to be about $60 a month; water is $5 every 2 months; condo fees are about $160 every 3 months and finally taxes are about $300 per year. I have bottled gas which I pay about $16 every 6 months. We eat out most of the time because local food is so much cheaper than buying food and cooking at home. It may not be healthy, but it is good.

Once I moved in to my new condo, and had it painted with vibrant colors, instead of the all white walls, got some plants and hung pictures, I was all set. The move was officially completed.

I retired early when I moved here and did not receive Social Security until just recently. I applied for Social Security online with the US Embassy in Manila and the called shortly after they received my application to interview me. This took less than 15 minutes and was painless. I chose to have my benefits deposited into my account in the US.  I was reasonably concerned about filing my federal and state income taxes from Malaysia and had a great deal of trouble finding answers from the IRS or other government sites. If you look for information you only find results pertaining to people working and living abroad, not retirees. I did find out that you MUST have a US address to file electronically with Turbo Tax and other major commercial companies. I settled for a free site suggested on the IRS website, using a US friend's address. I have to file my Massachusetts tax using the the downloaded forms from the Internet.

If some Americans are reading this and contemplating moving here I would like to offer a few suggestions. If you decide to move here I would suggest to visit a couple of times and when you finally decide to move look for a nice rental place before you buy. Property here is nothing like in the US. When buying properties that are being built you will be paying so much until the building is completed. The price may sound cheap, but remember you will still have to pay between 10 and fifteen thousand to renovate to make it livable. Window and door screens that are standard in the US do not exist here, so you will have to get used to that. There is no central gas or hot water here either. You can  have small hot water heaters in the kitchen installed and the bathrooms have water heaters for a hot shower. Local people here do not wash dishes in hot water, but cold water. This goes for food courts, coffee shops, hawker stands and most restaurants.  Western style kitchens with ovens are becoming a little more common in the newer built condos. These are always electric. The stove tops are mainly gas and are powered by bottled gas, which is cheap and easy to get.
The hardest thing for me to get used to were the Asian style bathrooms. These bathrooms are small, with no electrical outlets. They consist of a sink, toilet and a hand held shower. When you take a shower, everything gets wet. And I mean everything. I found it quite annoying to walk in to the bathroom in the middle of the night and find a still wet floor. Using the toilet caused my pants to become wet, which really annoyed me. Many times I dressed to go out, including socks, and then had to use the toilet again. So I had to take my socks off, go to the bathroom, dry my socks off and put them back on. I have 2 bathrooms and I quickly got one converted to a Western style. Most newer units do have Western style bathrooms now. If you have to convert a bathroom make sure you go to a reputable contractor, as most local contractors do not understand the concept of a dry bathroom. Most condos do not have enough or convenient electrical outlets, so you may want to have more installed. This is not too expensive, but it is messy as the walls are all concrete.

These are only some annoyances or inconveniences you will either have to get used to or try to remedy. You must realize that  Malaysia is a country of only a little over 50 years of age and thus cannot be compared to the US and other developed countries. Malaysia has some beautiful buildings, beautiful scenary, great food and most of all beautiful people. If you move here don't make the mistake that many expats make by just sitting on your balconies drinking and enjoying the view and not getting to know the locals. If you want to just socialize with other Americans and expats and eat at high end Western restaurants, there is no since in coming here. Stay home.

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