Perks of Working in Penang

Thu, Jun 22, 2023

8 min read

If you’re looking for a new job in another country or seeking to relocate for career progression, Malaysia should definitely be on your radar. Oftentimes, people picture the capital, Kuala Lumpur (KL), as the main hub for expatriates. However, you’ll be surprised to know that another beautiful state, Penang, is also a top expatriate destination and has the second largest foreign community in Malaysia after KL – this means finding an expatriate community there is pretty easy!

Penang is one of Malaysia’s 14 states, located on the West coast of Peninsular Malaysia. It’s divided into two parts: George Town is the state’s capital which is situated on Penang Island, whereas Seberang Perai lies on the Malay Peninsula. Penang gets its name from the Malay term “Pulau Pinang”, which translates to “Areca nut island”.

Although it may not be as lively and bustling in comparison to KL, it still has everything you need. You can take brisk walks at Batu Ferringhi beach, shop at Queensbay Mall, indulge in all the delicious food, as well as experience vibrant festivals depending on the time of the year. Penang has also recently risen to the top of lists of liveable cities because of its impressive infrastructural development, business and government-friendly regulations, and thriving tourism sector.

If you still need more convincing as to why Penang is a fantastic city for you to work in, keep on reading!


1. Cost of Living

Taking the leap to work abroad is a HUGE decision to make due to factors such as the cost of living and lifestyle. You’ll constantly have questions in the back of your mind such as “Can I afford to live there?”, “Will my life be exciting and full of fun yet peaceful without worries?”, “Will the place I live in be a safe place with the amenities that I want, or do I have to sacrifice some creature comforts?”.

Fear not! Penang’s daily cost of living is fairly low, but you that doesn’t mean you have to compromise the quality of the products and services that you receive.

Cost of Living


2. Meals

On average, a meal will cost approximately RM10 to RM30. For example, food such as Char Kway Teow and chicken rice at hawker stalls (local street restaurants) only cost about RM8 to RM15 whereas drinks such as teh o ais limau (local ice lemon tea) and iced Milo varies between RM1.20 to RM5. 

Undeniably, having dinner at a restaurant in a shopping mall (approximately RM60 per person) or drinking Starbucks (RM18 per drink) will be more costly; thus, it all depends on how lavish your lifestyle is.

Malaysian Food


3. Internet Subscription

There are numerous Telco providers (e.g., Maxis, Unifi, Time) that charge between RM80 to RM300 per month, depending on your required bandwidth. For instance, Unifi offers a 30Mbps subscription for RM89 per month.

Telco Provider Time’s Fibre Plan PricesTelco Provider Time’s Fibre Plan Prices

Telco Provider Unifi’s Fibre Plan Prices

Telco Provider Unifi’s Broadband Plan Prices


4. Transporation Costs

Public transportation such as taxis and buses are also easily accessible. The main public bus service is by Rapid Penang, and it covers an extensive area both on the island and mainland. A 1-month pass transportation card that offers unlimited travel around Penang costs only RM110 for adults and RM55 for students. You can also pay the bus fare by cash or credit/debit card if you opt not to purchase a transportation card based on the distance travelled for each ride (see image below).

Rapid Penang’s Fare for a 1-Month Pass Transportation Card

Rapid Penang’s Fare for a 1-Month Pass Transportation Card

Rapid Penang’s Bus Fare by Distance

Rapid Penang’s Bus Fare by Distance

Another convenient and efficient alternative is e-hailing apps such as Grab, especially if you need to get to your destination faster. As long as you have a smart phone, you can download the app from Google Play Store or Apple Store. The app functions by finding you the nearest available driver and shows you an estimated fare before you place and confirm your booking. On average, it will cost around RM2 (or more due to updates in fare structure) per km to travel by Grab.


5. Water Bills

Water consumption charges are relatively low in Malaysia, especially more so in Penang, so you can expect to pay as low as RM2.50 and an average of RM5.55 monthly if you shower twice a day.

Testing The Waters


6. Property Rental

As rent often takes up at least a quarter of an expat’s disposable income, it’s an important factor to consider before moving into a new city. But fret not, you can rent a place in Penang for less compared to KL (see below). Some popular areas to live in are Batu Ferringhi, Straits Quay, George Town, and Queensbay.

Cost of Rental in Penang vs KL (Numbeo, as of 21 June 2023)

Cost of Rental in Penang vs KL (Numbeo, as of 21 June 2023)


7. Personal Safety

In general, Malaysia is a pretty safe country to live in. According to the 2022 Global Peace Index, Malaysia was ranked among the top 25 most peaceful countries, placing 18th out of 163 countries on the list. In comparison, the United States of America came in at 129th place.

Within Malaysia, Penang is also one of the safest havens for people to live in due to its lower crime rates, which are significantly lower than that of KL’s. Of course, it isn’t completely crime-free, and you do have to look out for the occasional petty crime.

Safety In Family


8. Peaceful Life

If you crave for an oasis of serenity, Penang is the right place for you. Compared to the hustle and bustle of KL, life there is much more easy-going. Even George Town, the island’s commercial centre and the capital of Penang, exudes chill and laid-back vibes.

Penang Is Peaceful


9. Language and Culture

Don’t forget to jot down certain dates on your calendar — you won’t want to miss out on all the unique festivals that Malaysia has to offer as a multicultural country! Some of the cultural celebrations you can experience annually include Chinese New Year, Hari Raya Aidifiltri, and Hungry Ghost Festival. You’ll get the eye-opening opportunity to witness all the bright lanterns lighted up and joyful festive songs being played to lift everyone’s festive spirits!

As a multicultural country, Malaysia loves other cultures as well, which is why there are also other annual events such as the Penang International Food Festival, Japanese Bon Odori Festival and St. Anne’s Feast Day which are hosted in Penang. These festivals are a wonderful way to meet new people, whether it be tourists and locals. By doing so, you can make lifetime connections and learn more about other cultures while feasting on various types of food!

Chinese New Year Lanterns

Chinese New Year Lanterns


10. Food

From hawker stalls to fine dining restaurants, there’s always something for everyone in Penang. You will never get bored of eating Malaysian delicacies because of the wide mixture of local Chinese, Malay, and Indian cuisines. The abundance of street food that you can find, ranging from Char Kway Teow to Assam Laksa to Fruit Rojak and many more, will certainly leave your mouth watering.

A little fun fact: Did you know that Penang and KL's versions of Hokkien Mee are two very different foods? Penang’s Hokkien Mee consists of noodles served in a bowl of spicy prawn broth, otherwise known as Har Mee (Prawn Noodles) in KL; whereas KL's Hokkien Mee is prepared by stir-frying it in a black sauce and is considered a dry dish (in comparison to a soup-y dish).

Penang Hokkien Mee

Penang Hokkien Mee

KL Hokkien Mee

KL Hokkien Mee

It’s important to know that Penang foodies are very proud of Char Kway Teow, a filling dish with noodles, meat, vegetables, and cockles. In Hokkien and Teochew, char means stir-fried and kway teow refers to the flat rice noodles that are used to cook the dish. Everyone seems to have their personal opinions on which restaurant serves it the best, but that simply means you won’t run out of new places to try out different types of Char Kway Teow.

Penang has a very diverse food scene so if you’re someone who loves a good food trip. Just know you’ll never go hungry!

Char Kway Teow Char Kway Teow


All in all, Penang is a great place for you to start your career in a new environment, while enjoying a laidback yet modern city lifestyle. With that said, we sincerely hope that this article has given you a better idea of what Penang is like. Now you can consider Penang as a potential place to build a new life for yourself.

If you need someone to talk to or advise you about moving to Penang for your career, our consultants are always ready for a quick chat about any available job vacancies we have in Penang!

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