By Kirsten Raccuia, International Living

In 2010, Larry John paid $142,000 for his three-bedroom, two-bathroom condo with a sea view, in Penang, Malaysia. It’s off a tree-lined street in a well-kept, gated development, with a top-of-the-line gym and swimming pool.

“In Canada, to find something similar to what I have now—with an Olympic-size swimming pool, wading pool, Jacuzzi pool, tennis court (which can be used year-round), gym, games room, and conference and meeting rooms—would cost at least 50% more, with much higher condo fees and property taxes,” says Larry.

“The cost of living is low, and the multitude of shopping malls and restaurants makes Penang a great place to retire,” he continues. His monthly budget is less than $1,600 a month, now that he owns his own home. If he had the same budget back in Canada, “it would be very difficult, and I would have to forego many activities. I’d have to live in a place half the size of my current apartment, and eating out would be a luxury. Travel would be extremely costly and other social outings would be out of the question. It might not be possible to own a vehicle, given the high cost of insurance and government fuel taxes, and therefore I would have to rely on public transport. Given the harsh winters, that is an uncomfortable thought.”

Penang, off the coast of western Malaysia, offers a perfect balance of nature and First-World amenities that make it a wonderful haven for expats. It boasts lush jungle-covered hills bursting with wildlife, as well as fancy modern high-rises and pristine beaches. Almost everyone speaks English, so communicating is never an issue. With the mix of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cultures, there is always a festival to watch or take part in. And because of that mix, the food is among the best in Asia. Pick from any number of massive food courts strewn about the island, and you’ll get the best noodles or curry of your life for $1 to $3.

Another of the great benefits of retiring in Penang is the world-class medical care, which Larry experienced when he suffered a frozen shoulder. “I was unable to rotate my arm without feeling incredible pain,” says Larry. “In Canada, it would take at least three months to see a specialist.” But in Penang, he just walked right into the hospital and saw one. After the initial exam, he made an appointment with an orthopedic surgeon, who diagnosed the problem as a frozen shoulder.

“At 7 a.m. the next morning, I checked in for out-patient care and was put under general anesthesia while the surgeon rotated the arm to loosen the frozen ligaments. The procedure itself took only minutes. I was very impressed with all the staff and the doctor from the time of check-in to check-out.”

In two days, Larry resolved the issue without surgery and the total cost was just $1,167. To aid in the healing process, he went to a local physiotherapist for a couple of hours of therapy and home exercises. Each session was only $14 to $16.

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