Living In Penang Expat Guide part 1 – Pros and Cons of Living in Penang

Living In Penang Expat Guide part 1 – that will be the topic of today’s article.

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Living In Penang Expat Guide

The question that pops into most people’s minds when they think of Penang is, “why?” Malay food? Check. Tropical beaches? Ditto. Decrepit colonial buildings and street market culture? Of course! Yoga retreats and westernized coffee houses? This is the right place!

Penang has something for everyone: history buffs, foodies, beach bums, party animals, yoga enthusiasts, you name it. The island of Penang has so much to offer its visitors that you’ll be able to experience a wide range of activities during your stay.

If you’re looking for an oasis away from the noise and the pollution of the city, check out Batu Ferringhi. A bit more on the touristy side, but some nice hotels and bars to get your drink or dance on. Or are you looking for an up-and-coming place to call home?

If so, head over to Bukit Mertajam, about 20 minutes away from George Town. The town has a lot of potentials but lacks the commercial element to make it more vibrant. Still, there are some good opportunities here if you’re willing to look for them. And Bukit Mertajam is where I stayed during my visit.

For something different, check out Penang Hill. So, now that we’ve covered where to go. Let’s talk about how to prepare for your trip. Just in case you haven’t heard from your friends who have been here before, there’s no such thing as “tipping culture” in Malaysia.

Overview of Penang Cultures and Tradition

Living In Penang Expat Guide

The state of Penang is located on the northwestern coast of Peninsula Malaysia. It consists of Seberang Perai, formerly known as Province Wellesley, and comprises mainland territory that has an area about three times that of Singapore at the Straits of Malacca.

Although it is geographically separated from mainland Malaysia by the South Channel, it is generally seen as a part of Malaysia and is widely considered the most developed state in Malaysia. Penang’s economy was once heavily dependent on tin mining and the cultivation of tropical spice products such as palm oil and rubber.

However, it is now more diversified with flourishing sectors such as tourism and hi-tech manufacturing. Penang is also one of the most urbanized states in Malaysia. The Malays are the native people of Penang with their own unique cultures and traditions.

As a majority, they live in Seberang Perai, while significant minorities reside in George Town. Malays often celebrate Malay customs such as weddings.

Chinese are the second-largest community in Penang. The early Chinese settlers came to Penang mainly from the southeastern coast of China between the late 18th century and early 20th centuries, especially from Sarawak, Fujian, Guangdong provinces. Without further ado, below are the five interesting things to know about Penang cultures in relation to the Malaysians.

Baju Kurung

Baju Kurung refers to a long tunic and trouser outfit for Malaysian women. It is worn on formal occasions, including religious observances such as fasting, visiting the sick, and attending funerals. The material of Baju Kurung traditionally consists of cotton fabric, but, in recent times, other materials are being used, including silk.

The Nyonyas

The Nyonyas are the female descendants of early Chinese settlers in Malaysia, particularly Malacca and Penang. They have adopted many elements of the local Malay customs, especially under Islamic influence.

Among these is Baju Kurung for special occasions instead of the cheongsam. Their traditional function is as hostesses for social functions, and their modern role is as merchants and businesswomen.

Main Streets

Although George Town’s cityscape constitutes a picturesque, charming landscape of colonial architecture, its main attraction lies in the fact that you can still experience life like it was way back then. The city is dotted with Ming- and Qing-style houses, Chinese shophouses, temples, mosques, and churches.

Living In Penang Expat Guide


Reggaeton is a genre of Malaysian popular music that has evolved out of western musical influences such as hip hop. It is extremely popular among Malaysian youth. Although the term “reggaeton” may sound awkward to non-Malaysians, it is an ever-growing craze among Malaysian teenagers.

Dikir Barat

Dikir Barat is a kind of chant or poetry in rhyming couplets accompanied by the music of serunai (oboe), drums, and gendang (drumsticks). The rhythmic tapping of the heels on the floor punctuates the drum beats. This is a traditional art form from Northern Malaysia. It has been adapted to be performed in stage shows by many Malay artists, including P Ramlee and Siti Nurhaliza.

Pros and Cons of Living in Penang as an Expat

A person deciding to emigrate from his/her home country is a big step, and Penang is a place with major pros and cons for all who make this decision. Many expats have considered the experience of living in Penang as one of the most fulfilling experiences in their entire lives.

Despite the giant leap that moving to Malaysia entails, it also takes a lot of responsibility, and before settling down here, you should carefully consider the pros and cons that come with this decision. Only then will you be able to enjoy living in Penang truly.


It’s an Exotic Location

Malaysia is one of the most beautiful countries on the planet. The postcard-perfect beaches, blue waters surrounding the island, and the lovely locals make it one of the most idyllic places for expats who are worn out by the fast pace of city life. The environment is conducive to relaxation and can help you get back your inner peace that city living dissipates so quickly.

A Safe Place for Families

Penang is a safe and secure location for families. The crime rates are very low in this city, which is another enormous pro when you consider moving here. As an expat, your children will be able to grow up in a lovely environment with no worries about safety whatsoever.

A Welcoming Community

Penang has one of the most welcoming communities in the entire country. Locals go out of their way to help expats feel at home. They will even invite you over for dinner and give you a place to stay when you first arrive at one of Malaysia’s most popular destinations.

There Are a Lot of Jobs Available In Penang

The current economic growth in Malaysia is immense, which means that there are a lot of jobs available in Penang. Expats can find work easily in the tourism, healthcare, IT, and banking industries. Just about any expat can find employment in Penang without too much trouble.

The Standard Of Living Is Very High

While the cost of living will vary depending on where you choose to live, the standard of living in Penang is higher than in most countries. Everything from transportation to healthcare and education becomes extremely affordable compared to expat destinations like the USA and UK.

No Time Wasted Commuting

Traffic jams and endless commutes can be a way of life for many people who live in large cities, but they are virtually nonexistent in Penang. Many expats choose to live on the outskirts of town, where they can have a house with a garden for their kids to play in but still be closer to work than if they lived downtown.

There Are Plenty of Activities

Expats living in Penang will never run out of things to do. With the beaches, mountains, world-class diving sites, and shopping malls all within a few minutes of anything in Penang, you will always have something to do.

Amazing Food

Penang is home to some of the best food on earth. You can find any cuisine or dish from around the world here. The weekend markets are crawling with stalls that sell delicious foods that you can’t find anywhere else.


A Higher Cost-Of-Living

While there are a lot of benefits to living in Penang, if you’re not careful, it can become one of the most expensive places on earth. The cost of rent is extremely high and may end up draining your wallet if you plan on settling down here for any length of time.

There Is a Language Barrier

If English isn’t your native language, you may have more of an uphill climb when looking for a job in Penang. While there are many ESL schools where you can learn the local language before relocating, it would be beneficial to become somewhat fluent before arriving to enter the job market faster.

Large Crowds

Some people enjoy living in a large city where crowds are everywhere you look. While Penang is a very popular tourist destination, it may still be too crowded for your tastes.

Not a Lot of Foreigners

As much as locals in Malaysia love to help expats settle in, Penang does not have a lot of foreign settlers in the area. This can make it difficult to connect with other expats living in Penang.

The Traffic Is Horrendous

Traffic jams and never-ending commutes can be extremely frustrating. While commuting isn’t nearly as bad in Penang compared to some places, the traffic on certain roads during rush hour will leave you pounding your steering wheel. There are a few good roads that cut through town to avoid the worst of it, but you’ll have to plan your route ahead of time.

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