Long considered a retirement haven, we decided to delve into whether Malaysia is still a contender for expats. A great place to visit, but after considerable research, not a place where we would retire.
Reasons not to retire in Malaysia include the changes to MM2H, an exceedingly hot humid climate and environmental pollution. In addition, with a predominately Muslim population, expats will face unusual cultural norms and strict laws.
With so many attractive retirement destinations throughout the world, the bar keeps rising. While there are many benefits associated with Malaysia, there are also some severe drawbacks in our opinion. Read on and decide for yourself.
1. Changes to MM2H Program
The Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program offered many benefits such as an extendable visa good for up to ten years. What used to be one of the best programs, was dramatically changed in 2021.
Now it’s become more difficult with higher financial means restrictions. According to MM2H website these changes include:
Under the MM2H program, foreigners are allowed to purchase property. As a general rule, property values must be at least RM 1,000,000 (~$236,000 USB), although this varies by state.
The major takeaway is the government has made the MM2H program more restrictive with higher financial thresholds. This in turn makes Malaysia less appealing as a retirement destination.
2. Stinking Hot All Year Round
The best way of describing Malaysia's climate is, either, stifling hot and dry or sweltering through the monsoon season. Any way you slice or dice it, this is one hot country!
The dry season runs from January through August with daily highs of 95°F (35°C). With such intense midday heat, outdoor physical activities are neither pleasant nor advisable.
As a female, a tank top and shorts are considered culturally inappropriate. But, in this kind of heat, I’d die a thousand deaths wearing long sleeves and pants!
The alternative of surviving in an air-conditioned environment sort of defeats the whole point of moving somewhere warmer.
The monsoon season isn’t much better with constant showers and heavy down pours. The wettest months are September and October when it can rain 21 to 25 days each month. The average daily highs are 89°F (31.7°C) with around 75% humidity.
3. Expect Culture Shock
As with any other foreign country, there will be cultural customs and etiquette to be aware of. Malaysia is made up of three ethnic groups including the Malays, the Chinese and the Indian people.
In addition, being predominately Muslim, Islamic rules apply and understanding the do's and don’ts can be mind boggling. Particularly, for western women, many of the social norms may feel restrictive.
Examples of what to expect include:
Strict Laws and Punishment
In addition to these cultural differences, Malaysia has some incredibly strict laws. Many aspects of Sharia law have been integrated.
You’ll see signs prohibiting public displays of affection (PDA). In fact, under Section 268 of the Penal Code, kissing in public is punishable with fines or even imprisonment!
While alcohol consumption is permitted, public drunkenness is a big no-no. Driving under the influence is rigorously enforced with immediate arrest and often extensive jail time. I’m in full agreement with this, especially considering the traffic conditions.
Drug laws are exceedingly harsh with zero tolerance. Possession of any amount of illegal substance will result in a heavy fine and possible expulsion or imprisonment.
More than seven ounces of marijuana is considered drug trafficking and punishable by death.
4. Difficult Access to Malaysia
Ease of access is a big consideration when retiring abroad.
We’ve already discussed how the government has made the MM2H program more restrictive. One also needs to factor in how to physically get to the country. From anywhere in North America, it’s a long ordeal.
For example, one of the best flights from Minneapolis to Kuala Lumpur took 27 hours and 15 minutes. This included two stops; Philadelphia for 3 hours and Doha for just under 2 hours. Other flights ranged from 34 to 40 hours. Getting there is just brutal!
I’ve never been able to sleep on a plane which completely throws me off on an overnight flight. Then, with the 14-hour time difference, my biological clock is completely messed up. I’d need a day or two just to recover.
Not only will getting there test your endurance, it’ll likely limit any visits from family or friends. Alternatively, a flight to Mexico, Panama or Costa Rica is typically three or four hours from most US airports.
This might be one of the bigger reasons not to retire in Malaysia.
Your final leg will likely be on Malaysia Airlines. They haven’t exactly had a stellar history as flight 370 vanished without a trace in March 2014. Then in July 2014 flight 17 was blown out the sky by a surface to air missile. What a safety record!
The pandemic hasn’t been kind to them and it appears customer service has become almost non-existent and riddled with cancelations.
The five most recent reviews on Trip Advisor are all one-star ratings reflecting the frustration and even rage with the airline. Their headings included:
In all fairness, the entire airline industry has struggled over the past couple of years. One can hope customer service and cancelations will be addressed so flying won’t be such an ordeal.
5. Mediocre Healthcare System
In spite of many positive reports of the Malaysian healthcare system, in reality, it’s mediocre at best.
The primary reason is government underfunding with only 3.76% of GDP spent on healthcare. In contrast, the US spends over 17% of GDP with a global average of 9.9%.
According to the World Health Organization, they’re rated 49th in the world. In comparison, Costa Rica is 36th, one position ahead of the US.
Malaysia provides a heavily subsidized national healthcare system investing in public hospitals, equipment and facilities. These are predominately located in major cities with only basic care in rural areas.
According to Move Hub, some of the grim facts include:
Further complicating matters is the exodus of frustrated doctors and other specialists to the private network. Not only can they earn more, the working conditions are far less frantic and demanding.
On a more positive note, Malaysians and legal residents are entitled to low-cost healthcare. While not completely free, the massive subsidization ensures medical costs are inexpensive.
Non-residents, on the other hand, can expect to pay anywhere from 24 to 100 times more for the same treatment.
In the event of a serious medical emergency, the costs of either private or public care can snowball. Based on reasonable costs, private healthcare insurance becomes a sensible option.
Private Healthcare Insurance
The cost of private healthcare insurance starts around $100 per month per individual. This can vary based on provider, age and other factors.
As you can imagine, the private system provides more timely and personal care. In addition, the majority of doctors and other specialists are trained in Australia, the UK or the US.
6. Traffic Safety
Road injuries and fatalities have plagued the country for the past decade. Each year, there have been over 6,000 fatal accidents. According to World Life Expectancy, road accidents are the fifth leading cause of death.
This translates into Malaysia being the 65th most dangerous country in the world to drive in. Driving is more like a free for all with the massive traffic congestion, little observance to traffic laws and thousands of scooters zipping in and out.
They’re all over the road and everyone drives like they’re crazy! Making everything even more unnerving is the British standard of driving on the left side of the road.
Pedestrian safety is another issue as choosing to walk can be almost as dangerous as driving. Sidewalks become an overflow lane for scooters intent on getting through. Right of way becomes a moot point as they roar past.
“Do you feel lucky” might best capture what it’s like to cross the road. It can truly feel like taking your life into your hands as vehicles careen past. Statistically, there’s more than 500 pedestrian deaths each year.
7. High Import Taxes
Another jarring reality are the high import taxes. Almost everything not made in the country, will be a premium price. Typical items generally include:
Many of the things we take for granted back home could actually cost more. For instance, a bottle of wine might be double the price. All this can and will, impact your cost of living.
8. Environmental Concerns
Malaysia has a wide list of challenges when it comes to environmental concerns – hazardous and toxic waste, air and water pollution as well as high noise levels.
The most noticeable is a constant smog called the “transboundary haze”. Some causes include oil production and refining, burning waste, rubber and palm oil processing plants, vehicle emissions and jungle clearing with open burning.
The dry season is the worst for this smoky, smog like haze. According to the World Health Organization, the air quality index can spike to 16 μg/m3, well above the recommended 10 μg/m3.
Another concern is the unsightly proliferation of garbage. Litter is everywhere!
According to Clean Malaysia, Malaysians create about 30,000 tons of waste each day with only about 10% recycled. Bins are provided however the preference is still to just chuck it wherever's handy.
Water pollution is, also, threatening Malaysia’s population. According to UMP News, in 2017 there were 579 rivers. This number shrank to 477 in 2019. With most of the potable water coming from rivers, this is of huge concern.
In addition, the quality of river water has declined. Factors contributing to this are agricultural runoff, manufacturing, greywater from commercial and residential premises, sewage treatment plants and garbage.
If the trends continue, water shortages could become a reality.
The main causes of noise pollution in Malaysia are road traffic and construction. According to Research at UTM, there has been a significant increase in noise levels between 2010 and 2017. Their findings included:
All this hustle and bustle of activity is bad for you. Steady background noises of 65db become annoying and are considered noise pollution. After reaching 75db, this becomes harmful with potential long-term hearing loss.
In summary, these various forms of pollution are serious problems and contribute to the reasons not to retire in Malaysia.
9. Roaming Stray Dogs
There’s a plethora of stray dogs. And it’s generally considered an obligation of society to care for them.
Abandoned by their owners, they live on the streets, survive and thrive. Malaysia's local shelters are overwhelmed and struggling to feed and house the growing numbers of stray animals.
Most people think of them as a nuisance or dangerous. In reality, the dogs would just as soon avoid you than interact, keeping to themselves.
In a way, they actually help with street cleanliness, in the absence of a national program. They’ll scavenge for food thus cleaning up the trash.
On one hand, this helps stop more harmful and contaminated animals such as rats and mice from appearing. On the other hand, because of increased health they’re more likely to breed, increasing their numbers.
The TNR/CNR (trap/catch-neuter-release) program, introduced in 2012, is limited in scope and needs to be expanded. The population of stray dogs will continue to grow until the underlying problem is solved.
Closing Thoughts on Reasons Not to Retire in Malaysia
Malaysia is a wonderful place to visit! It's inexpensive, the people friendly and has amazing sights. English is widely spoken and the food is out of this world!
No place is perfect and some things to be aware of include:
Overall, I believe there are many better options on where to retire. Our related articles below explore some of these.