In this report, we ask the question, Is Malaysia or the Philippines better for budget retirees?
I will talk about how they compare with respect to Cost of Living, Food, Health Care/Insurance, Love, Nature, Language, Visa, Expats, Safety, International Travel Hub, Public Transportation, Internet, and Alcohol.
Cost of Living
Just a few days ago we did a report showing you our living costs in Malaysia which ranged from around $1000 USD to $1500 USD per month for two people. They ranged depending on which city we stayed in and how many meals we ate in restaurants per month. Whereas our cost of living in the Philippines ranged from about $1000 USD to about $1300 USD for two people. We are more city people so we don’t live in small towns. But if you are willing to live in a small town and grow some vegetables and cook at home more often, you could probably save $100 to $200 USD per month from those ranges. The Philippines wins the cost of living factor, but only slightly.
Let us talk about cheap local food first. Malaysia has a clear win in the food department. Since Malaysia is an integration of cultures, there are family restaurants in every city of Malaysia where you can find traditional dishes of Malay, Indian, and Chinese foods. Since those are local traditional dishes you will pay around $1.75 USD per meal. In the Philippines, the local traditional restaurants are a little cheaper (about $1.50 USD), but you won’t see as much cultural variety. However, in the Philippines, you will find more choices with different kinds of fresh fish because people live mostly on the coast. Of course, depending on the size of the city in both the Philippines and Malaysia, you can find expensive international restaurants to tickle your fancy starting around $4 to $6 USD per dish. For vegetarians, Malaysia is a clear winner, because both the Indian and Chinese cultures have traditional vegetarian choices.
Malaysia wins this comparison. With a GDP of $30,000 per person, the medical resources are higher and thus better overall than the Philippines at $9,000 GDP per person. Of course, the care is better in the larger cities of both Malaysia and the Philippines than experienced in the smaller towns. So when odd ailments arise, you will need to do research to find the best hospital or doctor for your situation, but competent treatment is generally available in the larger cities of both countries. You can get private health insurance quotes online for both countries by Googling “Best expat health insurance in Malaysia” or “Best expat health insurance in the Philippines.” Retirement age people get quoted about $2,000 to $3,000 per year depending on age and other factors. But make sure to read the fine print on preexisting conditions, they may try to exclude them. The Philippines has a public health insurance option for expats and locals called PhilHealth. PhilHealth costs about $375 USD per year for ex-pats. The overall life expectancy in the Philippines is 71 years old, whereas in Malaysia it is 76 years old. So the average person lives 5 years longer in Malaysia. The average life in the USA is about one year less than in Malaysia.
Cost of Living Disclaimer
Our cost of living estimates includes only the cheapest food, rent, and local transportation. It does not include medical insurance or any other expenses. Before moving here, you must do a temporary exploratory site visit in order to accurately calculate your personal cost of living here for all costs for your lifestyle and needs. Plus, make sure you have access to significant additional savings in case you face an emergency. Since medical insurance and other expenses vary widely for each person based upon their age, lifestyle, and needs, so we cover ways to estimate those expenses in other reports.
Love or companionship is a fairly nuanced topic. So I have done a separate report on that which you can find in our eBook membership catalog (link provided). That report explains why Malaysia is better for finding long term love that can travel with you outside their home country. Malaysians can go to 178 countries without obtaining a visa in advance, whereas Filipinos must get a visa in advance for all but 67 countries. However, if you don’t plan on traveling much in retirement, there might be a slight advantage to a Filipino lover. The GDP in the Philippines ($9000 USD per year) is much lower than Malaysia ($30,000 USD per year). So even if you have a modest budget, the locals may perceive you as well to do, and thus more desirable.
The Philippines have a big advantage if spectacular nature is your thing. There are over 7000 islands here, many with striking white sand beaches, waterfalls, and world-class snorkeling and diving. The negative for the Philippines is that many of the retirement cities don’t have white sand beaches on the sand in front of them. But that turns out to be good news because you have to take a 10 to 30-minute ferry from where you live to see them. That means they are often much less populated which means they are beautiful and private in many cases. The islands are formed by volcanic activity so there are steep mountains covered in lush vegetation, palm trees, and tall waterfalls landing in natural swimming ponds. So mature is the most appealing thing about the Philippines. But Malaysia also has its share of natural beauty. There are beautiful underdeveloped natural parks, highlands, and the third-largest island in the world, Borneo. Malaysia also has the islands of Semporna, Borneo which are the most beautiful white-sand beach islands I have seen anywhere in the world. But they are hard to get to. The reason the Philippines wins the nature comparison is that no matter where you are in the Philippines, you are almost never more than a 60-minute ferry ride from one of these natural beauty islands. You can also just drive up the volcano mountain behind you to see beautiful palm tree-covered mountains.
In both Malaysia and the Philippines, you will find more English speakers in the cities than in the countryside. Also in markets in both the Philippines and Malaysia people are able to negotiate prices in English, except in the smallest towns. But there always seems to be a nearby English speaker that can help you in both countries. Honestly, I haven’t had a hard time in either country talking to people in English.
Both the Philippines and Malaysia offer retirement visa programs requiring you to deposit large sums into local banks. But many foreigners can stay in the Phillippines for up to 36 months without getting a retirement visa or making a large deposit. After 36 months you have to exit and then re-enter the Philippines and start the 36-month process all over again. Since I like to travel, I would be leaving the Philippines more often than every 36 months anyway, so I award the Philippines the visa comparison award. When I am in Malaysia, I just do a visa run every 3 months. But since I stay in other parts of SE Asia for a week or more when I do visa runs from Malaysia, they stamp my passport with 90 days on every re-entry so far.
Most of the ex-pats in Malaysia I see are in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, and Malacca. But I see ex-pats everywhere I go in the Philippines. If you like finding yourself in groups with other ex-pats, the Philippines are a clear win for you. If you prefer fewer ex-pats around you, Malaysia is the winner.
Malaysia feels safer to me. As I have said before, I have traveled the world since 2007 and have not been the victim of violent crime since leaving the USA. But that kind of data is purely anecdotal–maybe I am lucky? So I thought I would look at crime rates by country. At this Wikipedia link, I read that overall, Asia has the lowest homicide rate among all continents in the world at 2.9 homicides per 100,000 people, whereas the Americas have the highest homicide rate at 16.3 homicides per 100,000 people. Specifically, Malaysia has 2.11 homicides per 100,000 population while the Philippines has 6.46 homicides per 100,000 people. Just for comparison sake, the United States has 4.96 homicides per 100,000 people. It looks like Malaysia is safer than both the Philippines and the United States.
While we have done our best to share our travel data with you, we are not responsible for any errors or omissions, or for the results obtained using this information. All information is provided “AS-IS,” with no guarantee of completeness, accuracy, timeliness, or for the results obtained using this information, and without warranty of any kind, express or implied, including, but not limited to warranties of performance, merchantability, and fitness for a particular purpose. In no event will we be liable to you or anyone else for any decision made or action taken in reliance on the information for any consequential, special or similar damages. Any reliance on the information is strictly at your own risk. Instead, you should consult with legal, medical, financial, tax, and/or other such appropriate professionals familiar with your unique and detailed factual situation before taking any actions.
International Travel Hub
This one depends on where you will fly most often? Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia is one of the best travel hubs in the world. That is because it is geographically situated closer to other parts of SE Asia, India, The Middle East, Europe, and Africa. The Philippines are closer to Japan, China, the United States, and other parts of the Americas. Flights to Sydney are about the same from Manila and Kuala Lumpur.
Malaysia wins if you are talking about regularly scheduled buses running in the cities of Kuala Lumpur (KL), Penang, and Malacca, which usually cost about $0.25 USD to go across town. KL even has a modern above-ground commuter rail system. Many smaller towns in Malaysia also have city buses. Malaysian transportation systems often have better online resources to figure out how to use buses and rails. The capital of the Philippines, Manila, has a light metro, rapid transit, buses, Jeepneys, and a commuter rail. The smaller cities in the Philippines often have buses, 3 wheel tricycles, and Jeepneys. To get between islands of the Philippines, people use ferries and short-hop flights. You can get around using public transportation in both countries without buying a car.
The Internet is world-class throughout much of Malaysia. The Philippines still struggles with Internet speed and bandwidth, but it is getting better. If you are going to need strong Internet while you are in the Philippines, you will likely need multiple systems to maintain connectivity. We have used our phone as a hot spot, broadband Internet, and broadband wireless internet over the cell phone networks to maintain consistency here. When one goes down, you fire up another. It is not as bad as it used to be though.
Alcohol is cheap and widely available in the Philippines, both local and international brands. Not true in Malaysia. Alcohol is highly taxed and often restricted in ways that make it harder to find or only available at certain times and places. If you move to Malaysia, you’ll quickly figure out how to buy alcohol without much trouble, but the prices could easily be twice as much as western countries.
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Please feel free to grab a free copy of my eBook, How I Fired my Boss, and Traveled the World for 13 Years. Make sure to check out our retire cheap reports all over the world. This is Dan of Vagabond Buddha. Thanks for stopping by. The world is your home, what time will you be home for dinner?