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Chilling and Retiring in Malaysia

In the latest episode of the Financial Coconut Podcast Network, we ventures across the Causeway to Johor Bahru, Malaysia to explore why some Singaporeans are choosing to relocate there for their retirement years or career opportunities.


Hossan Leong, Creative Director of Double Confirm Productions is also an actor, comedian, director, television and radio host, motivational speaker and one of Singapore’s most loved entertainer. He is better affectionately known as ‘Singapore Boy.’ He shared that he’s “coming out of retirement” from stand-up comedy to do a show called “Happy Ever Laughter” in June with Selina Tan. He also revealed that the popular Dim Sum Dollies will be returning to the stage at the Capitol in Singapore later this year, with Leong as their “chopstick.”

Gary Teh, a 54-year-old who retired 14 years ago from a high-powered corporate career in the semiconductor industry. After two decades of constant global travel that kept him away from his young children, Gary decided it was time for a change. He and his family uprooted from Singapore and spent 10 years living in New Zealand before recently returning to the region.

What prompted your move from Singapore to JB after retiring at 54?

Gary explains that after two decades of constant corporate travel, he was ready for a lifestyle reset to spend more time with his children. His family first relocated to New Zealand for 10 years before returning to Singapore in late 2022.

“One year in Singapore, we had enough,” Gary said with a chuckle. “When you compare both places, for the amount of money I’m retired on, and the value you get in Johor Bahru – it’s a no-brainer.”

He details the stark cost-of-living differences, stating: “The rental I’m paying right now for a super luxurious landed property, a leisure farm, I can only afford to rent a one bedroom HDB flat in Singapore…My personal inflation has dropped like 60 or 70% just by crossing the border.”

5 Ways Living in JB Saves Money for Retirees:

1. Housing costs a fraction of Singapore
2. Dining out is very affordable
3. Petrol and car costs much lower
4. No need for expensive COEs
5. Overall lower costs across the board

A Thriving Singaporean Expatriate Scene

While the finances make JB enticing for retirees, Gary notes there is already an established Singaporean expat community in areas like East Ledang and Horizon Hills. “It’s almost like a little Singapore community over there,” he remarks.

The influx of Singaporeans moving to JB, especially post-COVID, has created a thriving expatriate community. “Some of my friends’ parents have bought that in East Canada side. Mm-Hmm. So East La Horizon Hills the usual. Yeah. Communities. Yeah. The little Singapore. I, I think it’s, yeah, it’s Hoan said just value you.”

The Business Opportunities

For Hossan, moving to JB was more about professional opportunity than retirement. In 2015, he and his Australian partner Paul Rae established their company Double Confirm Arts and Media in JB to take advantage of demand for their corporate training, events, and entertainment services across the Causeway.

“Johor has given me a lot of opportunities,” says Hossan. “We have an employment pass which allows us to live and work here freely and stay as long as we want.” He stresses the importance of properly establishing a local company and securing proper employment visas, rather than working in Malaysia on social visit passes.

The duo chose JB due to its proximity to Singapore and abundance of business potential, especially with the upcoming Iskandar Malaysia economic corridor. Hossan says, “This whole Johor Bahru area is going to boom – financially, tourism, arts/culture, oil/gas and more. Singapore is signing special economic zone agreements so there will be more open borders.”

A Thriving Life Across Two Worlds

Both Hossan and Gary appreciate being able to straddle lifestyles in JB and Singapore. Gary’s daughter works in Singapore three days a week, which he helps commute her over for. His son attends university at NUS while living on campus.

Hossan’s company frequently works on projects in Singapore, while his creative endeavors often bring him into the city-state as well. Yet they get to return home to the relaxed, affordable lifestyle of JB. As Hossan states, “Johor is my springboard point back to Singapore for work, and up to KL, Penang and beyond.”

For those considering a similar move, here are a few key takeaways from Gary and Hossan’s experiences:

1. Evaluate your priorities and lifestyle needs. Is the high-flying corporate grind worth sacrificing quality time with family?
2. Consider the cost-of-living differences. The value you can get for your money in Johor Bahru versus Singapore is staggering.
3. Embrace the expat community. There’s a growing number of Singaporeans making the move across the causeway, creating a vibrant social scene.

However, Hossan stressed expats cannot simply relocate without legal status. His employment pass allows working freely, while Gary benefits from Malaysia’s long-standing MM2H retirement program. The hosts agreed upfront costs are worth long-term stability and opportunity to truly integrate into the Malaysian lifestyle.

The Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Program

For retirees considering a similar move, Gary shares his experience obtaining the popular MM2H visa, which allowed him to resettle in Malaysia with relative ease years ago when the financial requirements were lower. However, he notes the program is being revised after a 95% drop in applications when qualifications were raised.

As Hossan summarises: “There’s a lot of checkboxes that need to happen before you can uproot yourself from Singapore to live in Malaysia. You just can’t rely on social visit passes – you need to get the proper long-term visas and residence statuses.”

With Malaysia’s government committed to revamping the MM2H program, now could be an opportune time for Singapore retirees to explore options for affordable lifestyles just across the border.

Both guests dismissed common concerns about safety in Johor Bahru. “The locals here are so welcoming,” said Hossan, expressing he feels equally safe there as in his native Singapore. On currency fluctuation, Gary manages living expenses by transferring ringgit bi-monthly from his Singapore accounts. Overall, their messages emphasized exploring options and not being deterred by misconceptions.

For those considering border-hopping retirement, the expats ended with wise advice – rent first to truly experience an area before committing. With lower costs but comparable amenities available just across the Causeway, Johor Bahru is undoubtedly an attractive prospect for expats seeking an international lifestyle at a fraction of the price. 

You can check their full interview on Chills with TFC, Episode 172 on Spotify, YouTube, Apple podcast for a candid glimpse into the reasons for their move and if Johor, Malaysia and for invaluable first-hand insight beyond online reports alone.

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