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A good place to retire

12 Aug 2019 / 19:29 H.

ACCORDING to the United Nations Programme on Ageing, about 16% of the world population will be 65 or above by 2050, compared to about 9% currently. In other words, every sixth person on the planet will be a senior citizen in 2050.

With higher levels of education, nutrition, sanitation, healthcare, and economic wellbeing, people are living longer. Most seniors and retirees prefer to grow old in their familiar surroundings but some choose to retire abroad.

It may come as a surprise to those of us living here that Malaysia is considered one of the best choices when choosing a new country as a place to retire.

Malaysia is often cited in lists of the world’s best places to retire. International Living’s Annual Global Retirement Index in 2019 lists the top 10 countries as: (1) Panama, (2) Costa Rica, (3) Mexico, (4) Ecuador, (5) Malaysia, (6) Colombia, (7) Portugal, (8) Peru, (9) Thailand, and (10) Spain.

Malaysia makes the list because of qualities such as its reasonable cost of living, high quality healthcare, widespread use of written and spoken English, and natural beauty. As their correspondent said, “Idyllic beaches, islands that seduce the senses, and some of the most pristine ancient rainforests in Southeast Asia -- this is Malaysia.”

When compiling its overall ranking, International Living rated Malaysia as having the best healthcare system of all the countries it profiled. It said of Malaysia, “The healthcare in the Southeast Asian gem is simply world class with up-to-date and sophisticated infrastructure.”

Other notable organisations also rate Malaysia highly. Forbes magazine, in its 2019 list of best places to retire abroad for Americans, said that, “Despite a steamy climate, Malaysia draws US retirees for its low cost of living, outdoor vistas and exotic mix of cultures.” Malaysia and the Philippines are the only Asian countries that made their top 24.

The U.S. News and World Report said of George Town in Penang, “Life here is both traditional and 21st century, exotic and comfortable.” George Town is the only city outside of North and Central America and Europe to rank inside the top 10, in their 2019 list of most affordable places to retire overseas. The U.S. News article praised George Town’s rich cultural heritage as recognised by Unesco, and its status as an Asian culinary capital.

Indeed, the Malaysian government itself encourages foreigners to live here through the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme, which was introduced in 2002. This programme is open to foreigners of all ages and is not specifically directed at retirees. However, it does provide senior citizens additional benefits and incentives to retire here, such as a straightforward way to obtain visas to live here.

In ranking Malaysia among the best places in the world for retirees, all of the organisations above stress some universal qualities. These include Malaysia’s natural beauty, diverse and tasty food, quality healthcare, affordable cost of living (by western standards), easy visa or residency requirements, widespread use of English, and good access to amenities and entertainment.

The aspect of affordability is often calculated by comparing the cost of living in Malaysia to western countries such as the United States or those in Europe. The target audience for most of these lists is residents in western countries with high cost of living. Retirees from those countries would have built up their savings in a country with higher average earnings and beneficial currency exchange rates relative to Malaysia. Thus, to them, goods and services here will seem comparatively cheap.

However, to those of us living and earning salaries in Malaysia, living costs have increased significantly and purchasing power has been reduced. This is especially a concern for Malaysian senior citizens on fixed savings or pensions. The qualities that make our country attractive to retirees from other countries, including the natural beauty, diversity, and good services and amenities, must be treasured and preserved for everyone, including our own seniors.

Citizens and federal, state, and local governments alike must play their part to value and maintain the qualities that Malaysia is known for. In addition, officials in government must put in place policies to ensure continued access to services, amenities, and a high standard of living for our own seniors and those with lower incomes.

Having Malaysia appear on lists for foreign retirees is a positive thing. But it’s as important to make sure that the qualities that keep our country on those lists are maintained for our quality of life and happiness at all stages of life.

Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com

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