Retire Early on $759 USD per month in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia

Could I Retire Early on $759 USD per month in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia?

Our early retirement world tour continues today on the island of Borneo in the State of Sarawak in the city of Sibu, Malaysia. Borneo is the 3rd largest island in the world. Sarawak Malaysia occupies the northwestern corner of Borneo. Sarawak State is one of the 13 states that together form Malaysia. Google Map Sibu.


During our exploration of Borneo Malaysia, in previous videos on our Retire Cheap in Malaysia YouTube Playlist, we took you to Semporna, Sandakan, and Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah Borneo Malaysia. Our Malaysia YouTube Playlist has 40 videos to help you find your favorite place in Malaysia.

Sibu is about 6 hours east of Kuching. So we flew to Sibu from Kuching instead of taking the bus when we learned Airasia had roundtrip flights for about $25 USD (100 RM) per person Sibu has about 180,000 people which is about half the population of Kuching Sarawak, the capital.

In years gone by, Sibu was known as a gangster town with higher crime than other parts of Malaysia. Both those days seem to be in the past since Sibu started strictly enforcing the laws. We were surprised to hear that because it seemed to us like a very nice place to live.

In fact, we spent the ending of 2022 in Sibu including New Year’s Eve with thousands of other people in the Sibu Town Square and we didn’t see anyone that could have even played a gangster character in a movie. There must have been at least 20,000 people enjoying live music, food, and town fireworks on New Year’s Eve.

They have an amazing Christmas Celebration in the town square that goes from before Christmas to New Year’s Eve with thousands of people, Christmas decorations, and what seemed like at least 50 booths that had food, gifts, and games.

There is an amazing mix of cultures here in Sibu and no one culture seems to be dominating others politically or otherwise. In general, the cultures seem to mix rather nicely in east Malaysia in a very authentic way. However, Malaysians make me feel welcome no matter where I am in Malaysia so this is unlikely to determine where I decide to live.

This report and video share my favorite markets, restaurants, and things to do in and around Sibu along with my retirement desirability factors and overall retirement desirability score.

My Favorite Markets and Restaurants in Sibu

Sibu Markets

Sibu Night Market: Night markets are where people go in the evening to see and be seen. It is also where you can try out local favorite foods. You will also see clothing, shoes, accessories, and gifts. In tourist areas, night markets are often way overpriced to reflect the earning power of those in the area. But this night market seemed to be catering mostly to locals presently.

Sibu Central Market: This is where locals would shop to get fresh fruits, vegetables, and meats for a bargain. This is an open-air market with individually owned booths. You will often find cheaper fresher foods in this sort of market. Make sure to check out what is for sale on the second floor.

Everwin Supermarket: This is more of a western-style supermarket that you would expect to pay more for food than the central market above. But sometimes you need something that you can’t find in the central market. Here is an alternative grocery store you may prefer if it is closer to where you are staying.

Parkson Mall: Here is one of the larger malls near central Sibu if you prefer shopping in malls over walking the old town area looking for things. This 5-story mall has many stores including the Parkson Department store and the above Everwin Supermarket.

Christmas Market: The last few weeks of the year including the New Year’s Eve countdown, there is a Christmas Market right in the Sibu Town Square. We attended the NYE party which was open to everyone and had both live music and DJs and fireworks at midnight.

Sibu Restaurants

Happy Family Ice & Refreshment House: This is a Chinese-style vegetarian restaurant with delicious food and some amazing Taiwan frozen desserts you have to try (coconut, peanuts shaved ice about $1 USD). We paid about $1.50 USD per meal. This was my favorite meal in Sibu. It is only about 300 feet from the Texas Inn where we stayed.

Sushi King: They have both sushi and vegetarian sushi here for about $1 USD to $1.75 USD per roll. They have these all over Malaysia. We eat here all the time. Depending on how hungry we are, we usually spend about $8 to $12 USD for both of us.

Spring Dew Vegetarian: This is more of a fine dining place for vegetarians. The dishes were about $3 to $5 USD. We loved the food here.

Sing Hin Corner: Qiang had heard that the Kampua noodle was addictive and outstanding, and she loved them. We also had butter coconut toast, coffee, and milk tea. We are recommending this place for breakfast. We both had breakfast for under $5 USD.

Yalin Coffee Shop: To really understand what Malaysia is about, you need to spend a few hours at a hawker station. It could best be described as a food court with multiple individually owned food booths each making its own family recipes. Each food booth rents its space from the hawker owner. The hawker owner sells the drinks and you have to buy 1 drink from them in addition to any food you buy and eat there. People sit and chat for hours and people watch. This one also had Tsing Tao beer for 3.50 RM which is about $0.80 USD. The dishes at the various booths range from about $1 USD to $2 USD.

Khoo Peng Loong Food Garden: This multi-food seller (hawker station) is located right across from where you board the river boat tour. Qiang has a larger pork noodle dish and a large beer both for 12.50 RM ($3 USD).

Opps Kopitiam: This is where Qiang had red wine-marinated chicken rice which is famous in Sibu Sarawak. Her dish was about $1.80 USD.

PappaRich: We didn’t eat here this time but this is one of Qiang’s favorite places when she wants to eat Malay food.

Sibu Old Town Walking Tour

Here is a Google Map of our Sibu Old Town Walking Tour. This is the walk we start in the above video. The Google Map is editable so you can add or remove stops based on your preferences. Click the Google Map on your smartphone and start walking. Google Map Sibu Old Town Walking Tour

Our Estimated Cost of Living in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia

Here is our estimated cost of living converted into US dollars if the two of us were to Retire Early on $759 USD per month in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia on a tight budget. But we are all different, so you will have to put your feet on the ground in Sibu to determine your cost of living based on where you would live, what you would eat, and how you would entertain yourself. The below exchange rate was about 4.2 Malaysian Ringgit (RM) to $1 USD when we were there but that varies so check the current exchange rate.

Rents: You will see furnished 1 bedroom apartments in the range of about 1000 RM to 1600 RM ($238 to $380 USD) per month if we were willing to sign a lease for a year or more. The text in the below advertisement says studio but if you browse the pictures it has a bedroom separated from the living area by a door. Here is an example of one we found on Facebook while we were in town.

By walking neighborhoods, I can usually find cheaper ones than by searching on the internet, but we will use 1200 RM ($285 USD) per month for this estimate. Be sure to read my report on how I find perfect apartments around the world so you will know why I would expect to get better deals with my feet on the ground.

Utilities: Sibu is at sea level, so, we would need to run our air conditioner many nights and midday on warm days. Electricity would cost about 140 RM ($33 USD monthly). Gas and water would be another $12 per month so about $45 USD per month for our estimated utilities per month.

Groceries: Based on our time here and the money we spent on groceries, we estimate about $230 USD per month on groceries for the two of us. But that only works if you shop at the open-air public markets for fresh foods. If you like going to air-conditioned indoor supermarkets you could quickly pay $100 more per month. If you want to buy imported goods like foreign wines and cheeses, you could easily add another $100. We would shop mostly in the public market where the vegetables, fruits, rice, and meats are cheaper, and only go to the more expensive supermarkets to get what we could not find in the public market.

Restaurants: If we went out to eat twice per week, once for date night and once for lunch somewhere, plus some street food, we would spend around $28 per week or $115 per month in restaurants for the two of us. We would eat mostly in mom-and-pop-style restaurants rather than the expensive expat-style restaurants.

Cell Phone Data: The cost to recharge our prepaid service is 60 RM $14 per month. My android phone will act as a hotspot so we can both be on the internet at the same time when we are out of the house together.

Laundry: Many apartments here have washing machines but you will see coin-operated laundries around also. We would rent a place with a clothes washing machine so we would only spend another 20 RM ($5 USD) on detergent. People hang dry their clothes here.

Water: We would buy a new Joven Water filter about once a year for 265 RM ($60 USD). That works out to be about $5 per month.

Internet: Our home Internet service would be about $30 per month for 60 MBPS WIFI.

Transportation: The fun areas around Sibu are all tightly packed in the city center. So if we moved here we would just use Grab Taxi to get groceries home and walk everywhere or ride bicycles the rest of the time. We estimate around $30 per month for transportation.

Alcohol (Optional): Tsing Tao beer’s regular size is about 3.50 RM ($0.80 USD) in the market. But you could easily double those in bars and restaurants. So for the two of us, we estimate about $80 USD per month since we would drink more at home than in bars.

Entertainment (Optional): We would budget about $100 per month for entertainment for the two of us.

Retire Early on $759 USD per month in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia

Sibu Sarawak

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Not all of your potential expenses are listed in the above table. Visit Numbeo for Sibu and add anything you spend money on in your home country each month that is not mentioned in the above table. This is our estimated cost of living if the two of us moved here on a tight budget. To fully understand what it would cost you to live here, you must do an exploratory visit and put your feet on the ground. Our costs of living are generally much lower than a new traveler’s because we are great bargain hunters but there are a few people that live cheaper than we do.

Never move anywhere until you have visited first personally to verify the living costs for your lifestyle and needs. I am not guaranteeing these prices. These are just my notes and estimates from the time of my visit and this post. Your costs will likely be drastically different depending on your lifestyle and the time since this post.

More typical ex-pat living costs in here range from about $1400 to $2400 per month. But people spending that much often have higher incomes or pensions. They often report spending more on entertainment, eating out, and alcohol. Many also have more expensive cars, houses, or apartments.

Many of you will likely be unable to retire on so little here. I give example reasons why in this report: Understanding Why Overseas Living Costs Vary Widely. Several other reports you should read include How to NOT FAIL at Retiring Cheap Overseas and the Two Biggest Risks of Retiring Early for Cheap Offshore, which explain why you should have emergency funds available for unexpected large expenses. Links to those are provided below.

Where We Stayed

Texas Inn: This hotel is where we stayed for about $25 USD per night. If you book earlier than we did you might find it for $20 per night. We show it to you in the above video. It is very near the center of town so we just walked everywhere.

If you decide to live or retire in Malaysia for a year or more, and, you will be trying to live within the budget we are estimating in this report, you are going to have to put your feet on the ground and look for less expensive long-term accommodations. Here is our process for finding places as we slowly travel: How to find great apartments around the world.

Sibu Nightlife

Not much going on here. You may find something interesting if you walk this nightlife map on any given night, whether just people watching, live music, or DJ music. It starts with the night market. Sibu Nightlife Walking Tour

Traveling in Sarawak Malaysia

We flew from Kuching Sarawak to Sibu Sarawak on AirAsia for about $25 USD per person roundtrip. That does not include the checked luggage package because we traveled with only our backpacks and no checked bags.

Livability Factors and Retirement Desirability Score

Here are the factors I think about when I consider a place for early retirement potential. After I discuss each factor, I will assign an overall retirement desirability score.

Walkability: High Desirability. I love living in walkable areas of the world where you can walk to restaurants, grocery stores, nightlife, and other interesting things to do. If I decided to retire in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia, it would be a completely walkable area. The only thing we used a taxi for was getting to and from the airport. Qiang read about the AirAsia Ride taxi so we tried it when we landed in Sibu.

Internet: Medium. 30 MBPS. The internet can be spotty around much of Malaysia, but you should be fine in Sibu. Just make sure to get your own Wifi Router.

Food: Medium. The international food choices in Sibu seemed to be predominantly Asian. I would rate it low for food choices, but the quality of what you do find in Sibu is so high, I am rating it medium.

Transportation: We like living in walkable neighborhoods, and Sibu central is very walkable. So, we would probably live in central and just use a taxi to get outside the central area (which would not be very often). Other than the commuter ferries transporting people up and down stream on the river, we didn’t see any other form of public transportation.

Weather: Medium. Here is the weather in Sibu. The average daily temperatures range very little from average highs of 87F, 30C, in January to the average highs of 91F, 33C, in May. The average nightly lows also range very little from 73F, 24C, in December to 74F, 23C, in May. The most rain falls from November through April, with the wettest month being January when it rains 14 inches (36 cm).

Things to Do: Low. Strolling on the waterfront, river boat tours, people watching, malls, night markets, cooking, yoga, biking, martial arts, gyms, restaurants, bar hopping, golfing (limited), live music, running, coffee shops, street food, and kayaking.

Healthcare: Medium. There are a few hospitals in Sibu that should be able to handle many of the routine problems likely to arise in retirement. Plus, Kuala Lumpur on mainland Malaysia is getting to be should be as a fairly great medical tourism destination, for price and quality. So if you get an odd disease of sorts that needs a specialist, you are just a short flight to Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok.

Expats: Low. I was unable to find any Facebook page dedicated to helping new foreign retirees adjust to life in Sibu. I did find this Facebook page designed for people that have questions about the Sarawak Retirement visa conditions. Even if you are able to locate an expats group in Sibu, make sure to make friends with both locals and ex-pats for a richer experience living here. I explain why in my report, The Top 10 Mistakes International Retirees Make.

Real Estate: Medium. Foreigners can buy property in Sarawak in their own name with certain limitations. But I never recommend buying real estate overseas until you have lived somewhere for at least 2 years and I would probably never buy for the reasons I state here: Why Retired Expats Should not Buy Real Estate Overseas. Make sure to read that before deciding to buy real estate overseas. Almost everyone else is going to try to get you to buy so read at least one source explaining why it may not be a good idea for everyone.

Visa: Medium. Sarawak has decided to create retirement visa rules that are more reasonable than Western Malaysia’s retirement visa rules. Even if you don’t qualify for the below rules, you should understand that there are ex-pats that have spent years in Sarawak (lawfully) without even applying for a retirement visa. You may just have to get (lawfully) creative if you want to stay here but do not qualify for the following retirement visa rules. Remember, the following financial requirements are in local currency so convert them to your currency to really understand the requirements. The following Sarawak rules (and further requirements) are found at this link. Here is a Facebook page where people discuss the requirements in more detail.

Category A: Main applicant above 50 years old, spouse has no age limit. S-MM2H program is very attractive for applicants above 50 years old.

Category B: Main applicant between 40-50 years old may apply if they purchase a property above RM600,000 in Sibu and RM500,000 in other cities of Sarawak.

Category C: Main applicant between 30-40 years old may apply if their children pursue education or long-term medical treatment in Sarawak.

Main applicant can bring along spouse, children below 21 years old and parents in a single application.

S-MM2H program holders can reside anywhere in Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor Bahru etc.  Originally, the MM2H requirements said a visa holder must visit Sarawak at least once or twice a year to fulfill minimum stay requirements of just 15 days per annum in Sarawak.  But now, there is chatter online that Sarawak has started to increase the number of days required per year.  So just be aware that this may not be permanently settled.  

S-MM2H Program has TWO types of applications: Application with FIXED MONTHLY INCOME or Application with FIXED DEPOSIT PLACEMENT.

S-MM2H applicant can show proof of monthly offshore income or pension funds of RM10,000 for married couples or RM7,000 for single applicant.


S-MM2H applicant can open a fixed deposit account of RM300,000 for married couples with children or RM150,000.00 for a single applicant at any bank in Sarawak.

From second year onwards, S-MM2H holder may withdraw up to RM120,000 (couple) or RM60,000 (single) for approved expenses related to the purchase of a house, car, education or medical purposes in Sarawak. In other words, MM2H holder must maintain a minimum Fixed Deposit balance of RM180,000 (couple) and RM90,000 (single) until termination of MM2H Program.

Sibu Sarawak Overall Retirement Desirability Score: High. I am ranking Sibu as having high desirability for people interested in smaller towns. They should also be people interested in integrating more with locals and less interested in being surrounded by other foreigners. Both Qiang and I enjoyed the lifestyle and attitudes of the people here. Plus, it is a more integrated culture than western Malaysia. I also really like Kuala Lumpur, Georgetown Penang, and Sabah Malaysia. I would need to spend more time in all of them before being able to decide which are my favorites. More on that later. But you will need to put your feet on the ground here to determine that for yourself.

Thanks for reviewing my report, Retire Early on $759 USD per month in Sibu Sarawak Malaysia.

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