Category Archives: MM2H

The Malaysian Social Visit Pass

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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Readdressing The “DIY” Issue

A few months ago I wrote about our experience at the JPJ, Malaysia’s equivalent to The Department of Motor Vehicles and Licensing. With the expiration dates of our U.S. driver’s licences fast approaching, Diane and I thought we’d take advantage of a rather generous rule allowing conversion of foreign licences for MM2H holders. (Expats on work visas are often disappointed because they’re usually denied). Unfortunately, bilateral agreements only allow certain passport holders an “automatic” conversion and both Canada and the USA are not on that list. So a few months ago we visited the local JPJ office on Penang Island and discovered that conversions must now be processed at another office on the mainland. Arriving just after 10, the process seemed easy enough but after not hearing anything 45 days later, we searched the website and found a rejection letter printed in Malay that was never mailed.

mm2h logoEnlisting our property agent as a translator, it seems the local officer neglected to verify and attach a photocopy of our MM2H Conditional Approval Letter along with the application. As vehicular challenged expats, we put off the trudge of two bus rides and a ferry crossing and having successfully renewed both state license by mail, gave up on the idea. But we have some friends that just got their MM2H approved and were going there anyway to convert their licences so we took advantage of their generous offer and tagged along. Many readers ask us why they should or shouldn’t use an agent when applying for an MM2H visa. Always responding that it’s a personal choice, we used Joy-Stay, the country’s best agent by any standards. For us, our agent’s professionalism combined with her expertise and great relationship with the ministry assured a hassle free experience that made up for the few hundred dollars extra. Her fee comes with a money back guarantee that you’ll be approved and she won’t even accept clients unless she’s confident she can get them approved. Besides, If you choose a DIY method, you still need to put up a security bond that’s covered in Joy-Stay’s package.

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Burning Down the House

As the eve of Brexit decision day approaches, I’ve been pondering why there’s so much nationalism and populism showing up in western democracies lately. Understanding most people on the planet aren’t at the high-end of the economic scale, frustration with large-scale cronyism, élite billionaires and corporate greed is obvious. Realizing it’s not limited to western democracies, I’ll share a perfect example of average citizens versus “the man” that’s right outside our condo’s window. Having foregone convenience by not living closer to Penang’s shopping, amenities and other things that make retirement worthwhile on the island, we chose the beach town of Batu Ferrenghi for its relative peaceful atmosphere and 360 degree stunning views of the jungle and sea. As the one year anniversary of our tenancy nears, we’re slowly losing the never ending war being waged on Penang island’s natural resources by greedy developers.

Routine garbage burning by a local business owner at our bus stop

Routine garbage burning by a local business owner at our bus stop

While there’s many reasons for retiring overseas from lack of gun violence to an inexpensive cost of living, quality of life issues exist on this side of the earth also and my biggest pet peeve is the burning. Proving that any democracy is only as good a the government legislating the rules, I’ve maintained that well-intentioned national laws are useless without enforcement. With a strangely misguided sense of pride, everyone from our building manager to the local food vendors tells us that burning is illegal in Malaysia. Excluding the haze season (which is mostly not Malaysia’s fault), telling us that nobody burns in Penang is about as correct as our property agent’s “guarantee” that the jungle surrounding our condo is “protected land” safe from future development. Unclear whether people turn a blind eye, are too busy to notice or simply choose to believe what their government officials tell them, it’s an outright lie. Unlike Myanmar, where we saw a real “developing nationwith rampant poverty and no waste management resources, Malaysia enjoys the highest economic status in the ASEAN but sometimes still acts like it’s still 1957 when it comes to environmental awareness.

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Transition Complete

Coming to a close, if someone asked me to summarize our first year as retired expats in Asia in one phrase I’d have to choose “always interesting”.

In retrospect, eighteen months of correspondence with our MM2H agent helped make our transition to expat life in another part of the world relatively simple and painless. Knowing we’ll probably wind up in Thailand after our lease expires in July, 2017, we’d still recommend Malaysia to anyone with ample financial means for its above average infrastructure (by Southeast Asian standards), lack of language barriers (everyone knows and speaks English) and relatively disaster proof geography (outside the earthquake and typhoon belts).

imageDespite the statistically strong economy, the Malaysian Ringgit remains at near record low levels versus the USD and British Pound but is unlikely to cause problems for expats (barring any more financial scandals or unexpected calamities to emerging markets). One of the only major disadvantages is a banking system that forces people to the money changer for foreign currency. Having exchanged way too many US Dollars for ringgit at a lowly rate of 3.7613, (it hovers at 4.25 to 4.35 for the last few months) we failed to realize the ramifications of a plummeting currency and kept less than $100 USD on hand which leaves us hosed when we need to buy foreign currency with the ringgit. But other than that, becoming an expat in Malaysia was easier than expected.

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Celebrate Independence, Malaysia !!!

Selemat Hari Merdeka !!

For those unfamiliar, today is the 58th anniversary of Malaysian Independence. It’s a national holiday but not quite as crowded in our little tourist town as Hari Raya (the end of Ramadan). Generally speaking, expats should steer clear of local politics but I feel it’s appropriate to wish Malaysian a happy day and hope they all put aside the many challenges facing their nation for one day and focus on all the positive things that make this multi-cultural nation worth living in. Having said that, I’ll return to our KL Summer Vacation trip that was actually to complete our MM2H visa, allowing us ten years of unlimited entry and exit in this great place. Haze notwithstanding; that’s the one real downer for me and makes me too aggravated at politicians to bother complaining about it. Let’s just say “fully developed” status (sans China) will never be granted in a place that exposes 29 million citizens to unhealthy levels of toxic ash annually for eight straight weeks while its neighbor engages in illegal burning of its forests for financial convenience.

Thinking my last post describing Kuala Lumpur as an indoor paradise may have sounded a bit harsh, I imagefigured I should clarify. Not necessarily a negative thing, my comments were just observations based on our lifestyle choices and since we don’t need a big city for work, Penang happens to work better for us. In fairness, there were many times we came across new and interesting items while strolling the endless maze of malls, shops and eateries. Often wishing Penang had the space or customer base to accommodate such incredible stores as we saw in KL, we thoroughly enjoyed browsing through them all and often wound up sampling foods, buying stuff we had room for in our small travel bags and constantly posting picture on Facebook, hoping our Asian born friends might shed some light. Possibly the biggest and most amazing mega-stores is Isetan. Founded in 1886, this Tokyo based superstore is so immense, it needs space on six different floors of the mall to display everything it sells, including an enormous market dedicated to food.

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Truckin’ by Train

Proving all good things are worth waiting for, our return to the big city culminated with a full-page color stamp in our passports. Exactly 660 days after the Japanese owned and California based bank “eliminated my position” and then mysteriously hired two less experienced people six months later, Diane and I are officially MM2H visa holders. Bypassing all traditional and secure methods of early retirement, we filed the paperwork from overseas as soon as my 50th birthday arrived. Six short weeks after that we sold our overpriced but very comfortable suburban San Francisco Bay Area house, thereby rendering us homeless. Spending six weeks in Canada and probably overstaying our welcome with friends and relatives, we figured we’d take a chance and get a head start, knowing the visa would take about 10 to 12 weeks until we received our “conditional letter of approval”. Defying conventional wisdom according to dozens of forum posters and even our MM2H agent’s advice, we successfully opened a foreign bank account from overseas, bought a one way plane ticket to Malaysia and headed out the door with two suitcases, an Ipad, an Ipad mini and two old Iphone 4S phones that we’d need to replace and bid farewell to our old life in North America.

imageFast forwarding six weeks later, we’d already been settling in to our awesome condo unit in the beachfront town of Batu Ferrenghi when our agent informed us the approval letter came through less than 10 weeks after filing. Allowing applicants six months to complete the rather tedious process of fees, medical check-up, buying medical insurance and placing two fixed deposits (MYR 100,000 and MYR 50,000), we needed to travel to Kuala Lumpur and ultimately to Putrajaya, the Malaysian government centre before our 90 day tourist visa expired or risk having to re-enter so we hit the road last week. Deciding to use the Malaysian train system instead of flying, we packed a week’s worth of light clothes into a newly purchased medium-sized suitcase, ensuring it would fit in the small overhead compartment of the train and contacted our Uber buddy for an early morning pickup. Penang’s airport is rather far from our house and KLIA, in the nation’s capital, is almost an hour away from the downtown core whereas getting to the train only takes a 20 minute drive to the ferry terminal and a 10 minute ride on Southeast Asia’s oldest continuously operating ferry. Conveniently located right at the other side, Butterworth’s train station allows easy access to trains that journey as far south as Singapore and as far north as Bangkok for about the same price or less than Air Asia.

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Monkey Business

No, we didn’t fall off the face of the earth. It’s been a long week back here in the big city and yes, we did accomplish our mission. We are now officially MM2H Holders and are free to come and go in and out of Malaysia for the next ten years, although we will have to renew the pass in six years since my passport expires in 2021. Shelling out lots of cash, they ask you to pay an annual fee up front for as many years as you want up to ten but most people only pay until their passports expire since you have to return anyway at that point. But more on that later. Once we return back to Penang, I will post about our entire trip. For now, however, I have to share something that’s basically made the entire process worth it. No, it’s not some new career or volunteer job that fulfilled our dreams. It’s spending some unexpected quality time with the world’s tamest silver leafed monkeys.

Before you judge me, let me run the disclaimers. Obviously, I’m fully aware that these monkeys belong in the wild foraging for their own food instead of hanging out on people’s shoulders eating bananas that tourists feed them from vendors that make their living selling huge burlap sacks of monkey treats for only 10 ringgit. But I love monkeys so much I could spend weeks with them and never be bored. Intending to volunteer helping animals at various wildlife shelters throughout Southeast Asia, Diane and I will spend time doing things besides being dumb tourists. But this caught me so off guard I had to treat it for what it was; an incredibly enjoyable and heartwarming half hour with monkeys so friendly and interesting, it’s amazing more people don’t know about this area so close to the big city.

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Knowing we’re not in Kuala Lumpur very often, we decided to spend six days even though we only needed a few hours on two days to complete the MM2H visa. Possibly the world’s coolest premier banker, our new friend and relationship manager at our bank agreed to spend some time with us on Saturday to show us the KL Tower and eat some Nasi Kandar where the real (overweight) Malaysian Indians hang out. Having completed the visa on Thursday, we searched for a day trip that didn’t involve visiting ethnic neighborhoods, mosques or walking tours since we walk more than 99% of the population. About an hour outside of KL is Kuala Selangor, a charming seaside town with a unique attraction. One of the few places in the world where firefly colonies are visible, it seemed like an interesting few hours and leaves late in the day since you can only see the fireflies at night.

Touted as a “nature park”‘ there’s a small reserve where the guide books and internet reviews say it’s possible to view birds and “sometimes monkeys if you’re lucky”. Not really making much ado about monkeys, our guide picked us up and told us we’d be making a stop at a lighthouse where the straits are so narrow you can almost see Indonesia. Apparently someone told the monkeys that it’s easier to hang out in the trees near the parking lot and simply wait for the bus loads of tourists to arrive. Named Bukit Malawati, the area is a beautiful spot with an old lighthouse on the top that overlooks the Straits of Malacca.  Featuring some canons that nobody seems to know anything about, the guide was trying to convince our group to leave the parking lot and walk up the hill to experience the view. Totally ignoring her, Diane and I spent our half hour with  sack of bananas and some incredibly awesome “wild animals”.

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Known as “silvered leaf monkeys”, they’re actually Silvry Lutungs, a medium-sized monkey living in Peninsular Malaysia, Sumatra and Borneo. Technically langurs, you’ve probably seen them in zoos described as “Francois Langurs”. But even working at the zoo wouldn’t get you as up close and involved with hundreds of them. Big and small, even mothers carrying little babies will enthusiastically eat from your hands and they’re more than happy to jump on your shoulder and eat their bananas while you explore their little fingers, pet them and just get to know the  like they’re your own personal pets. Unusually non smelly, they don’t poop on you and have the most adorably human eyes. Like dogs, they all have individual personalities and some are more dominant but only with the other monkeys.

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So please forgive me for going ga-ga over something as ridiculous as monkeys that learned how to eat well by simply acting less aggressive than others. Maybe I’m being childish or even irresponsible by feeding wild animals that belong in the trees but they’re not threatened, endangered or any worse off since nobody feeds them dumb shit like potato chips. For us, it was the absolute best anormal experience so far in Malaysia, albeit slightly unethical.

imageOh yes, we did see the fireflies but it’s too hard to take pictures that look like much so instead I’ll just show you the view from our dinner stop. Scenic and reminding me of Borneo, the downside is a horribly disgusting environmental situation that includes garbage everywhere and toilets that literally flush into the murky river. Malaysia has a long way to go despite KL looking like a big city in any G8. Anyway, apologies to the animal rights activists and anyone else offended by feeding monkeys that shouldn’t be this tame but our blog is about our own personal experiences as expats so that’s what we write about. Promising posts detailing the test of our trip including the semantics of MM2H, we’re off to eat some incredible food unavailable in Penang. Perhaps the best part, we love the food but wouldn’t ever have chosen KL or any big city because we’d windup chubby like so many Malaysians living here already are. Ah, progress and its downfalls.

Cheers from the beautiful Traders Hotel in KLCC.

 

Off to the “big city”

ApplogoIng for my blogging negligence, I know I promised more posts about Jamie’s visit but somehow time snuck away. It’s 5:40 AM, now a horribly ungodly hour for early retirees and we are headed downstairs for our personalized Uber pickup. Heading to the jetty, the ferry and then on a train, we’re off to Kuala Lumpur to finally complete our MM2H visa and get stamped.  Taking the train seemed like a fun way to see the country since we don’t have a car or a local drivers license. Planning to stop at the U.S. Embassy for a ridiculous new rule requiring “authenticity” of our U.S. Drivers license, we grabbed an appointment as soon as we could since there aren’t that many. Staying in luxury one last at time, the Traders Hotel is home for the next six days. Planning on sharing the journey whenever I can, adios for now and thanks for following

Cheers

Visiting Hours

Time flies when you’re having fun so first, I want to apologize for the long lag between posts. Out of thin air came our surprise first visitor and running around playing tour guide/host is fun but rather exhausting. Oddly, life can work in strange ways. Confident one of Diane’s coworkers would be first, we even encouraged a contest on our Facebook pages to determine the “lottery winner”. Inundating our friends with over 20 pictures and stories per day, almost everyone seems to love the idea but it’s the other side of the world, making it harder than just a quick three-hour flight across America. Surprisingly, an old female friend from the old days (before Diane and I met) happened to be visiting Phuket and Bangkok and decided to pop in for a few days. Possibly the last person I’d ever expect to be our first visitor, I haven’t seen her since 1995 and know only bits and pieces of her current situation from Facebook messenger conversations. Conveniently located only about an hour from Bangkok, she changed her plans for the return flight home and there she was, looking the same as I remember only 20 years later.

Additionally, we reconnected with a new casting producer at House Hunters International and after a phone conversation, started the next step in the production process which is a very long 15 page questionnaire. Spending two full days creating text that makes our story worthy of being scripted into an episode, we need to compile some pictures next and send that off so that also explains my blogging negligence. FInally, today is Diane’s 44th birthday and after we send Jamie off in a taxi headed back to Penang International Airport, we’re planning on a Western style birthday dinner at a bar-b-q rib joint in Gurney Paragon, the nicest mall on the island. So please accept my apologies for the lack of new posts and bear with us for the rest of the week. Oh yes, next week we’re traveling to Kuala Lumpur to complete the MM2H Visa and finally get our passport endorsements that allow unlimited exit/entries into Malaysia for ten years. Feeling like a long road is finally ending, our new experimental early retirement finally begins. Promising to update everyone on some of the things we did with Jamie before we leave for KL, here’s a few pictures.

By the way, Jamie is also a Pilates instructor but even she was surprised by the effects of heat and humidity when it comes to fitness. Teaching us a few simple routines we can do right on the deck of the pool, we hope to continue adapting and meeting more friends. Thanks very much to all of you for the comments explaining everything unknown to us in recent posts including the Cantonese food restaurant recommendations (which we used, breathing a huge sigh of relief at the first sip of delicious noodle soup that has some salt). Thanks also to everyone posting questions and indicating interest in connecting with us in Penang. We’d love to meet anyone moving to the area, vacationing or just passing through. Cheers for now !!

Got any tips on Cantonese food in KL? PLease share