Category Archives: MM2H

The Malaysian Social Visit Pass

Impaired Driving; Malaysian style

Fundamentally, every story has a beginning, a middle and an end. Except when you live in Malaysia where situations get stuck in limbo until you force an ending. About a year ago, Diane and I visited the offices of JPJ, an acronym for the Malaysian Road Transport Division which is their equivalent of The Department of Motor Vehicles. Hoping to take advantage of a benefit given to MM2H holders, we wanted to get Malaysian drivers’ licenses despite the fact that we’ve had no vehicle since arriving almost two years ago. Being an ASEAN member state, residents can drive legally in Thailand with a Malaysian license and since we thought an eventual move was in the cards, it seemed like a reasonable thing to do. Instead, it turned into one of those developing nation bureaucratic nightmares you hear about and try to avoid at all costs. Mostly skirting any instances of endless hours in government offices (which we’ll quickly make up for when we move to Thailand), our streak ended and proved that the chances of successfully convincing a Malaysian to bend any rules even when t’s their mistake are zero to none.

Recapping the story, Malaysia allows automatic conversions” of foreign drivers licenses to certain countries including the U.K. and Hong Kong. Not long after we arrived, our neighbors, who are fellow MM2H holders and ex residents of Hong Kong, brought their current foreign license to the local office, paid a fee and were in and out in about an hour. Unfortunately, The United States and Canada fall into a different class deemed “non automatic” conversions that need applications and approvals from the head office in Putrajaya, the government’s administrative district. While only a minor extra step for expats living in Kuala Lumpur or the surrounding Kluang Valley, expats that choose quieter environments like Penang need to either spend time and money making multiple trips to the capital or apply at a local state office. Complicating things, there’s a special requirement for American citizens that involves a trip to the U.S. Embassy in KL. Requiring “verification” of your foreign driver’s license, they’ve decided that a local JPJ officer can certify a Canadian or Bangladeshi license, but only an affidavit with a pretty stamp and seal from suffices for Americans. Nowhere to be found on their website, we knew about this rule because our agent at Joy-Stay (Malaysia’s best MM2H agent) told us before we left North America so when we visited KL in July 2015 to complete our MM2H paperwork, we also made a trip to the Embassy. Charging $50 for a citizen notary service, they have a standard form created for this but in theory it’s stupid because a U.S Federal agency can’t legally verify any document issued by a state.

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Movin’ Out

After recent comments about leaving Penang and moving to Thailand once our lease expires later this year, I’ve received a lot of questions asking what’s wrong with Malaysia so I thought I’d address the topic. In one short sentence, there’s nothing inherently wrong. Simply put, Malaysia offers the best long-term retirement visa in Southeast Asia and while the application requirements are not inexpensive and the process is a bit tedious, the benefits far outweigh the hassles when compared to other neighboring countries. For example, Thailand’s never ending revolving door policy of visa runs and short-term non immigration visas with endless reporting requirements and lack of permanent residency options for most applicants makes Malaysia’s MM2H look like an expat’s dream come true. For anyone looking at Malaysia as a retirement option or a temporary escape from the United Trump States of Draconia, I highly recommend the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program and I’ve written extensively about it on this blog.

My best ant-Trump shirt

My best anti-Trump shirt

Having said that, our situation is exactly what the blog’s title implies; an experiment. While Malaysia offers excellent infrastructure, English-speaking citizens and a myriad of annual festivals featuring three different cultures, it’s not everything we’d hoped it might be and it’s simply time for us to move on. Given our situation, it makes sense to stay in the MM2H program since we paid the annual fee for six years (when our passports expire). Additionally, the timing of our fixed deposit purchases was one rare case in our married life where we got hosed big time. (MM2H requires participants to keep a 150,000 ringgit fixed term deposit in a local bank while on the program). Arriving when the exchange rate was 3.7613 per USD, 150,000 Malaysian ringgit cost us $39,879 USD. Even with an annual reinvested interest payment of 3.3%, the current exchange rate of 4.42 means our fixed deposit’s current value hovers just over $35,000 USD. Even though the fixed deposits need to stay intact for as long as you stay in the program, local banks won’t let you take a term longer than one year. Suiting them perfectly, Malaysian fixed deposit rates rise with terms exceeding one year and since the central bank lowered interest rates twice during our first year in Penang we’re now earning only 2.9%. With nobody on Wall Street anticipating a rising Ringgit, even after six years of interest payments, we’ll probably just break even when we leave Asia and cash in our fixed deposits.

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Thank God I’m an Expat

Over 75 years ago, a dying Lou Gehrig gave his farewell speech at Yankee Stadium and immortalized the phrase

“Today..I consider myself…the luckiest man…on the face of the earth”. 

Although the words are a bit strong for my situation, I empathize. Unlike many of you, when I wake up tomorrow and take the bus, I won’t arrive at work knowing at least half my co-workers (or more) condone racism, violence and intolerance. Nor will Diane be groped, disrespected and taunted by a national leader who brags about sexual assault. I also don’t have to sit down my kids, look them in the eye and explain why the newly elected president threatens to send them away because of their religion. When we see a police officer, he’ll be the only one on the street with a gun. He’s there to protect us, not the ruling party’s political opponent from assassination threats by deplorable citizens. The Malay, Indian and Chinese citizens of my moderate Muslim host nation don’t get slurs hurled at them like Chink and “Terrorist”. And best of all, Diane and I don’t have to ponder leaving a new America destined for senseless internal violence, protectionism and trade polices certain to destroy everyone’s retirement portfolios (Of course, Trump supporters will never own a stock portfolio)

hateWhile I’ve never been so ashamed to be American, I should feel relieved that we planned on spending the next presidency in Asia anyway. Instead, my throat has a lump, my stomach is tied up in knots and I’m actually feeling a numbness that I haven’t felt since the morning of 9/11 (and we were lucky enough to be living in Calgary at that time). Uncertain why I even feel this way given that we’re pretty damn lucky to be retired and living overseas with a comfortable bank account at ages 51 and 45, helplessness engulfs my every muscle and I actually think I may cry. Literally. Diane is lucky; her personality allows her to accept things she can’t change while I ponder the consequences of a million things that might go wrong but probably won’t. Financial consequences aside, I can’t help feel sorry for the women, people of color, gays and lesbians, Muslims, Jews, Mexicans, Asians, brown-skinned people, and 49 million sane Americans that didn’t choose to place a stark raving lunatic in the most important and powerful position on the planet.

hilaryMostly I feel sorry for all of you whose grandchildren are almost certainly doomed to a planet that’s barely inhabitable. For those unfamiliar with events on other side of the planet, let me assure you that climate change is the single most important issue for every citizen of planet Earth. Here in Asia, they barely recycle, litter the seas with garbage, burn everything despite laws prohibiting open fires and every year produce the globe’s worst environmental disaster (the annual haze) in the name of profits. Yes, profits. The only thing Emperor Trump gives a shit about. And since he denies climate change, vows to bring back coal mining and wants to disband 30 years worth of clean air and environmental acts that keep your air clean, the world looks to America and the West for leadership. But I guess 52 million assholes didn’t see that little blurb about every single month this year being the warmest on record. How could they? They were busy coining the phrase “I grabbed her Pussy“. And it’s now perfectly acceptable speech for the world’s most powerful leader.

pussRecently I vowed to keep the politics off the blog because it’s about expat life, early retirement and travel. I designed to both entertain and inform. So please accept my apologies. Writing is the only way I know how to get my emotions out and the next 24 hours will need to sink in. With the U.S. markets set to open with a 700 point loss, 2008 will probably seem tame by the time January 20th gets here and I’m a bit panicky over the prospect of a large shortfall in 2030 when we’ll need to draw from the retirement portfolio we worked so hard to accumulate. But I digress. Obviously, over half of America doesn’t give a shit about anything but keeping white privilege alive. Thankfully, I’m an expat living in a tolerant nation and I’m glad to help anyone that’s bold enough to try something different. The MM2H visa is Southeast Asia’s most generous long-term retirement visa and while many Americans remain fearful of any nation where Muslims live, I assure you they are friendlier, more tolerant and better citizens than half your moron neighbors that just damaged American democracy beyond repair.

And one more thing. Good luck “moving to Canada“. I’m married to a Canadian so luckily I’m automatically eligible for instant permanent residency status (Unless Trump fucks that up also). For everyone else, I can tell you that Canada has its own problems and certainly doesn’t want an influx of refugees since they’ll no doubt wind up accepting the Syrians that America already committed to taking. And I guess that’s the end of the Trump University trial, all the sexual assault cases and ever seeing any tax returns despite the obvious conflict of interest with a president that holds financial interests in over 53 nations including Russia.

Luckily, I’m an expat and as promised, I’ll soon be posting all the experiences we just had in Cambodia. Wishing to close out with something positive, I’d like to reiterate that here in Penang, xenophobia is nonexistent, hatred is unheard of and misogyny is not tolerated so I’d invite you to try life outside America. If you want to escape a nation hopelessly divided and filled with hatred, come join us. Malaysia will be happy to take you.

malaysia

Thanks to everyone for letting me express my profound sadness and cheers from Penang, Malaysia.

Three Demerit Points

After three relatively easy but frustrating trips to JPJ, Malaysia’s Department of Motor Vehicles, I’m happy to report one of us has a shiny new Malaysian driver’s licence. Unfortunately, all I got was a walk to the little room where I argued my latest rejection letter to the senior officer and another walk to Counter Six. For those unfamiliar, this all started six months ago when we decided to take advantage of Malaysia’s program allowing conversion of foreign driver’s licenses for MM2H participants. As I explained in an earlier post, there’s a host of nations with bilateral agreements that are eligible for an “automatic conversion” but the United States, Canada and the UK are not on that list. Instead, we fall under “Appendix B” which are nations whose citizens need to apply at a local JPJ office and wait for the government headquarters in Putrajaya to return an approval.

expiredHypothetically simple, Americans need a valid current driver’s license (more on that shortly), a special letter from the U.S. Embassy in Kuala Lumpur “certifying” your driver’s license as valid (even though regulations prevent a Federal agency from verifying anything issued at the state level), an application (it’s in Malay so you’ll need Google translator or a help from a local), the MM2H Conditional Letter of Approval and some cash for a fee. Thinking we were lucky to have a good agent that told us about the embassy letter, it turns out nobody at the local JPJ office knew about the rule requiring an officer to certify the Conditional Letter of Approval. Being Malaysia, that rule is nowhere to be found on the government website explaining conversion procedures nor did we see it on any expat forum like ExpatGo or InterNations. So the first trip in February was a waste of time resulting in two rejection letters.

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Asian Road Rage

Remembering the old saying “Don’t get caught in the system“, Diane and I recently went back to the JPJ, Malaysia’s version of the Motor Vehicle Department. Making our second attempt at converting our foreign driver’s license into a Malaysian one, our first trip resulted in two rejection letters. Back in the early spring I posted about how Malaysia allows an automatic conversion of foreign drivers licences for certain countries with bilateral agreements. Unfortunately, the United States and Canada aren’t on that list and citizens of “Appendix B” countries not living in the immediate Kuala Lumpur Area have to file some paperwork at a local JPJ office. After meeting with an agent and chatting about whatever they feel like talking about, the staff then forwards the application to Putrajaya, where the nation’s government offices are. Assuming everything’s in order, they’ll mail you an approval letter and then it’s back to the local JP office again for more paperwork, some fees and a shiny new Malaysian driver’s license. At least that’s what’s supposed to happen.

studentPart of the process involves an interview with a JPJ officer that’s supposed to “certify” all the paperwork including your passport, current valid foreign driver’s license and Conditional Letter of Approval for the MM2H Visa. Sadly, the head office forgot to train the rest of the nation on the procedure and the JPJ website for converting licences makes no mention of two very important requirements. Luckily, we knew about the first one thanks to our very competent MM2H agent. For anyone thinking of living outside of Kuala Lumpur, be aware that recently updated rules state that local JPJ field offices can’t certify a drivers’ license issued in the United States. For that, you’ll need an appointment at the US Embassy in Kuala Lumpur to get a special letter thatcertifies your valid foreign driver’s license.

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Risky Business

Deciding not work anymore sounds great to many people, especially when you’re fifteen years away from the “standard” retirement age. But as the saying goes “it’s all fun and games until someone loses an eye”. Never before in modern economic times has it been riskier to end your income stream and that weighs on me every day. Having been extremely lucky twice, Diane and I bought and sold two houses in totally different markets and came out ahead in both cases. Allowing us to put a large down payment on our California house at a time when nobody was buying, we sold our Canadian house four months before the market peaked and then negotiated a purchase price one year later well below asking price in 2008 when sellers were desperate. Amazingly, after a 30% decline in our home’s value, Bay Area home prices rebounded quickly allowing us to sell last year at a 12.5% premium over asking price. Fast forward 14 months and here we are living mostly from that sale for as many years as it lasts.

ringgetBut all good things come to an end and although timing is everything in life, sometimes life throws you a curveball when you’re expecting a slider. With North American interest rates at all time lows and not expected to rebound to anything meaningful in my lifetime thanks to 40 years of horrible government policies worldwide, it’s been comforting seeing our MM2H Fixed Deposit accruing interest at 3.3% annually. For those unfamiliar with the program, the ministry requires participants of the Malaysia My Second Home Program (MM2H) to place a fixed deposit of 150,000 Ringgit in a Malaysian bank and maintain it while on the program. Most banks issue two separate deposits of 100,000 and 50,000 each with one year maturities and interest can be either paid as a cash dividend to a local checking account or reinvested as part of the principal. Unfortunately, the ministry prefers (decrees, actually) that fixed deposits must be set up with twelve month maturities and renewed at prevailing interest rates. Unexpectedly, Bank Negara (Malaysia’s central bank) recently cut nominal interest rates despite never ending claims about having the strongest economy in Southeast Asia and the move adversely affects interest starved citizens of western nations.

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Inglorious Expats

Usually marking anniversaries with celebratory posts, I’ll start this post by stating that today is exactly one year since Diane and I handed over our passports and received our MM2H stamps. Arriving only six weeks earlier, everything went according to plan and despite never having visited Penang, we established ourselves quickly. Before receiving our approval notifications and traveling back to Kuala Lumpur for the last steps, we secured a lease, bought new phones, established service and set up all relevant utilities like electric and internet. Since that time, I’ve written many posts about our expat experiences other than travel and they’ve usually been well received. Given I’m not part of today’s young generation deriving a paycheck from “online income“, I’ve tried to write fairly entertaining stories with my own slightly sarcastic but relatively realistic slant. But noticing a decline in the number of likes despite an increase in readership, it appears I’m beating a dead horse and my post the other day about our first negative infrastructure experience took dubious honors as my first post with no likes two days after writing it.

Out with friends

Out with friends

Having written about topics like establishing ourselves in a foreign nation, learning about the local cuisine, taking off the beaten path day trips and living through the annual haze season, I’ve shared a bit of expat life as seen through the eyes of two average middle class people (one American and one Canadian) that chose an experimental early retirement over daily cubicle life after an unexpected layoff. Also including detailed stories about the Malaysia My Second Home Program (MM2H), I’ve received lots of comments and emails thanking me for providing valuable information about Southeast Asia’s best retirement program. Retiring at a rather awkward age, it’s not always thrilling, often financially challenging and sometimes downright unexciting. Unable to always churn out really exciting content, I’d be lying if I said each day is filled with a new adventure so perhaps the blog’s almost run its course. The pictures on this post feature scenes from our life in Penang and part of the blog was to illustrate all parts of expat life, not just the best days.

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