Penang (Pulau Pinang) spans Penang Island and a sliver of land on the Malaysian peninsular named Seberang Perai. The beautifully preserved heritage colonial buildings and traditional Chinese "shop houses" jostle for space among teetering temples and elegant domed mosques.
Long revered as Malaysia’s food capital owing to its sizzling blend of cultures, Penang produces some of the region’s most mouth-watering signature dishes and bold blends of spices. Whether you opt for street markets or up-market restaurants, the delicacies never fail to delight.
The state’s tapestry of cultures and religions has given rise to an energetic cultural calendar, packed with flamboyant festivals and vibrant local art communities. These provide an exotic backdrop to a growing expat community lured by the country’s "Malaysia My Second Home" international residency scheme.
Whether expat professional or retiree, the fantastic climate, laid-back lifestyle, the abundant creature comforts and incredibly friendly people make moving here an easy leap of faith. Penang, like the rest of Malaysia, also offers a world-class medical system and excellent international schools.
What is special or unique about your city?
Founded in 1786 by an adventurous English trader, Captain Francis Light, the island of Penang is known as "The Pearl of the Orient." Today, Penang is comprised of Penang Island and a strip of the mainland on the adjacent coastal area known as Seberang Prai (Province Wellesley). It is the oldest British settlement, rich with history, and its tropical beaches, cultural diversity and famous cuisine add to its allure. Its name (pronounced "Pinang" in the Malay language) was derived from betel nut trees growing in abundance before the British set their feet on the island.
Penang's state capital, Georgetown, is the largest city in Penang with a population of 250,000 people and is considered the "pulse" of Penang. It is a vibrant city with lots to do and it too, is full of history and culture.
Georgetown was added to the UNESCO's World Heritage listing, which has resulted in an influx of private and public investments and creative energy. Here you can visit the State Museum and Art Gallery located on Farquhar Street, which is the perfect starting point to many of the town's heritage sites.
Once you get settled here and find your way around, we think you're going to love it!
What are a newcomer's first impressions of your city?
Expats are taken aback by Penang's beauty, but also by the friendliness of the locals, the perfect weather and the delicious food.
One thing they are usually unprepared for is the abundance of motorcycles (small ones at that) that are fast and unpredictable - squeezing their way through the narrowest spaces (including cars) to get ahead.
Are these impressions likely to change?
In the future, their impressions of the traffic congestion may change because there are plans to build elevated highways to ease the traffic situation in Georgetown. The Penang state government also has near-future plans to introduce a light rail system within Georgetown. Both of these things will help ease traffic issues a lot.
What is the local language?
The official language is Bahasa Melayu. However, English is widely spoken, written and understood and is the language used in business. Other major languages are Hokkien and Tamil. Quite a number of Penangites are able to speak three or four languages. Many rural areas may have fewer people that can converse well in English, so knowing a few words in the local language is always appreciated by the residents.
How easily could I live in this city without knowing this language?
The majority of the shopkeepers and owners of food establishments speak and understand English, so Bahasa Malaysia is not really necessary. Most taxi drivers understand English, but when a driver with limited English is encountered, some local phrases/directions would be helpful to know.
Here are some simple phrases in Malay:
Selamat datang - Welcome
Terima kasih - Thank you
Selamat pagi - Good morning
Selamat tengah hari - Good afternoon
Selamat petang - Good evening
Selamat malam - Good night
Jumpa lagi - See you again
Apa khabar? - How are you?
Baik – Fine
What are good things to remember in order to avoid offending the other residents of this city?
Some tips to avoid offending residents of Penang are:
- Always take your shoes off when entering someone’s home.
- Do not point with your index finger.
- Do not raise your voice or get angry when trying to communicate with Malaysians.
- With the exception of handshakes, there is no public contact between the sexes.
- Kissing in public is frowned upon and should be confined to your home. This includes even husbands and wives.
- When introducing a man and a woman, it is recommended that the female's name be said first.
- Keep your hands out of your pockets in public.
- When passing an object, or touching someone (such as shaking hands), do so with your right hand as the left is considered unclean.
- Feet are also believed to be unclean, so do not show the soles of your feet or point them toward another person in public.
- Drug trafficking has a mandatory death penalty if convicted.
- You are not expected to tip a taxi driver but you are expected to tip porters.
How might the local weather affect my daily life?
Penang is a tropical island and the climate is uniformly warm and humid throughout the year. If you are not used to the humidity, this might be hard at first, but it doesn't take long to get used to it. Temperatures range from about 27 degrees Celsius in the morning to about 32 degrees Celsius during mid-day. Afternoon thunderstorms are common throughout the year, although September to November are considered the wettest months. Most offices and modern shopping malls are equipped with air conditioning, as are the apartments and houses that expats live in. If walking or shopping on the streets of Georgetown, light cotton clothing and a hat are recommended.
Is there anything else I should know about the overall character of your city or its people?
Living in Penang is very relaxed and most residents are pretty laid back. When making appointments with contractors you shouldn't expect them to show up promptly at the agreed time.
Also, sometimes the locals may say "yes" to you even though they may mean "no." This is because they don’t like to disappoint and try to avoid conflict at all costs. When interacting with Malaysians, be firm but friendly with requests, and don’t point out their mistakes.