Langkawi – A Good Place For Retirement or a Second Home?

Pantai Kok, Langkawi

I recently spent a few days touring round the beautiful island of Langkawi, which is one of Malaysia’s top tourism destinations.

Many foreign visitors must fall in love with the beaches, spectacular hills and laid back lifestyle of Langkawi and dream of buying a holiday or retirement home or running a business on the island.

Here are a few thoughts on whether or not this is a good idea:

Visa & Tax

The good news is that thanks to the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) scheme it is relatively straightforward to obtain a long term visa provided applicants meet the criteria of the scheme. Under this visa you are not permitted to work although the scheme was amended a couple of years ago to allow visa holders to obtain part-time work in certain circumstances. Establishing a business locally is also possible. You can find details on the Government’s official MM2H page.

Even better news is that foreigners living in Malaysia under MM2H pay no income tax (except on any income earned in Malaysia). Pensions and overseas investment income are not taxed.

Schooling

If you have school age kids you need to take schooling into consideration.

There are no international schools in Langkawi.  You could:

  • Enrol your child at a local school but lessons would be taught in Malay or Chinese, depending on the school. Great for learning a second language but the quality of education might not help the child in later life.
  • Send the kid to boarding school in your home country. Fine if you were planning to do that anyway but seems a bit selfish if your only aim is to spend time on the beach!
  • Send the kid to boarding school in Penang (Uplands School) which is 2 hours 45 minutes away by ferry. Might be better to live in Penang instead of Langkawi so you can see your child every day.
  • Homeschool your child from your sunbed on the beach (best option!).

Healthcare

Unlike the Thai island of Phuket (only 100km away) which is a medical tourism destination, Langkawi does not have an international standard hospital. The local Langkawi Hospital would probably be OK for minor procedures and is no doubt really cheap. Local hospitals usually involve lots of waiting. More serious conditions would need to be treated in Penang or in KL.

Getting Out

Even when you live in paradise you need to get out sometimes.

Langkawi has a nice airport but to get to most places you will have to fly to KL first and change planes there. There are a few international routes from Langkawi; to Singapore, to Vladivostok (the island is popular with Russians) and to Guangzhou.

Ferries link Langkawi to Kuala Perlis, Kuala Kedah, Penang and Satun (southern Thailand). However there is no car ferry meaning that you would always have to rely on rented cars or public transport whenever you visit the mainland.

Shopping

Duty Free Bed Sheets?

As far as I could tell there is only one large supermarket on Langkawi;  Billion, in the main town of Kuah. Apart from that there are numerous general stores and also many duty-free shops. The whole of Langkawi is a duty-free zone meaning that it has cheapest booze, tobacco and chocolate in Malaysia. Since Malaysia has the second highest alcohol duties in the world, this is quite a benefit for Langkawi residents and visitors. Designer branded items are sold in some of the duty-frees.

The main beach area of Cenang is lined with shops selling T-shirts, swimming costumes, flip-flops and other seaside essentials.

Property

If you Google ‘property for sale in Langkawi’ you will see relatively few results. The reason could be that the majority of land on Langkawi is Malay Reserved Land meaning that it must stay in the hands of Malays. Some property owners and vendors have devised various schemes to get around this requirement but in my view they all involve a degree of risk. It is unnecessary to take these risks as there are plenty of properties in other parts of Malaysia which are not Malay Reserved Land and which can provide the purchaser with perfectly clean freehold title.

What are the alternatives? There are condominiums and apartments in Langkawi sold on a freehold basis. They are not always easy to resell on the secondary market if you later decide to dispose of your property.

Personally I would opt to rent.

I met a middle aged expatriate couple who live on a boat in Langkawi. They cycle to Langkawi’s scenic spots and seemingly enjoy an active and attractive lifestyle. It might seem idyllic to be able to up-anchor and sail off to a new destination when they tire of Langkawi but this life would not suit our family. There is no room on a boat for all our junk (we have far too many possessions), it is not suitable for pets and there is no garden. And you need to be seriously rich as a boat is a depreciating asset.

Perdana Quay, Langkawi

Boredom

I have a good friend who lives in southern England who says that he would get very bored living in a place like Langkawi. I can see his point. In just five days in Langkawi I reckon I visited nearly all the places of interest on the island. But that doesn’t mean I would get bored. These days with the internet, YouTube, Kindle and so on you need never be without your favourite books, magazines, TV programmes and films wherever you are in the world.  As long as you have friends and/or family around you, life on Langkawi could be very pleasant.  Of course if you cannot live without the theatre and opera then Langkawi is probably not for you.

Take a look at my Malaysia-Traveller website for details of things to do and places to see in Langkawi.

Conclusion

I think Langkawi would be a lovely place to spend a few months perhaps while writing a book say, or for those wishing to escape a European winter. I’m not so sure if it is perfect for long term retirement.

I would avoid buying a property here.

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Putrajaya Haircut

I went to my usual barber today for a haircut. I like going to this barber because his shop is within walking distance of my home in Putrajaya and he decorates his salon with quirky old antiques. He is quick – I rarely spend more than two minutes in the chair but maybe that is an indication of my lack of hair as much as his scissor skills. Best of all he is cheap, just RM8 for a basic cut.

Today however there was a notice stuck on the mirror indicating a revised tariff. It is still RM8 for Malaysians but the new charge for non-citizens is RM12. OK that is still pretty cheap but it is slightly annoying because, as far as I know, I could be his only non-citizen customer! Perhaps I shall have to try claiming the Senior tariff next time.

Here in Malaysia we are used to having separate charges applied to foreigners in place like museums. I think that is fair enough especially for services which are paid for, or subsidized by, the government.  But for private enterprises like a barber shop it is less justified and seems a bit discriminatory. After all, those of us on the Malaysia My Second Home scheme are partly attracted to Malaysia by its low cost of living. If we are going to be charged 50% more for everything that attraction disappears. What next – a separate foreigners-only queue in the supermarket?

Having said all that, I cannot complain too much. I can still fill my car up with subsidized petrol at around 38 pence per liter (that’s what people in UK were paying in 1984!).