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Cover Story: Revealed – Why is Ipoh the Best Location to Retire in Malaysia?

 
By SeeFoon Chan-Koppen and Tan Mei Kuan
They came, they saw and they stayed. This is what retirees from outside of Malaysia have done in Ipoh.
They come from all corners of the world, settling here after their work contracts were over and choosing Ipoh instead of some other cities like Kuala Lumpur where they may have worked; or Penang where a substantial number of expatriates have also chosen to retire.
And western expatriates are not the only ones choosing Ipoh as a retirement destination.
Recently in mid-2018, a group of researchers and experts in the field of retirement living from China, HongKong and Taiwan, were in Ipoh on a two-day visit and were very impressed by what they found. Ipoh Echo went exploring and here’s what we uncovered.

Not only for Western retirees but Asian senior citizens now eyeing Ipoh
Top amongst Asian retirees are the Japanese with Malaysia consistently ranking the Top Choice For Long Stay Amongst Japanese Aged 40 Years and Above, acclaimed the report by Long Stay Foundation Tokyo. This ranking which has been consistent from 2006-2019, sees a large number of them choosing Ipoh with some like the Ushiamas having been here for 50 years.
Dato’ Tomiyasu Ushiama and Datin Mina Ushiama are luminaries and stalwarts in Ipoh having been here for 50 years, when the then young Tomiyasu, set up a joint venture between Sagami Rubber Company and Ng Song Choon Brothers Enterprise in Ipoh. This very amicable collaboration saw the Ushiamas deciding to stay on after Dato’s retirement where they now enjoy the salubrious environment of Meru Golf Resort in Meru Valley.
“We are nature lovers. And we love the beautiful surroundings of Ipoh, serene limestone hills with morning mist, Kinta river winding in the town, parks, caves, flora (various kinds of orchid, hibiscus, bougainvillaea, heliconia, birds of paradise, etc.) and fauna (kingfishers, hornbills – Yes, we saw a pair of hornbills at Clearwater Golf Course! – otters, iguanas, etc.)
“Besides golf, swimming and other sports and hobbies, retirees can do lots of volunteer work. There are many NGOs in Ipoh who needs your support. Dato’ was the founder of PMJFS (Perak Malaysian-Japanese Friendship Society) which has many activities, amongst which are Japanese language classes, Japanese cultural awareness programs and every December, “Mochitsuki” Festival, Annual dinners, etc. We never have a dull moment here in Ipoh.”

There are more than 50 Japanese families living in Meru Valley Resort, many of whom are retired couples who enjoy golfing and an active lifestyle. The residents are offered peace of mind with 24-hour patrolling security guards and CCTV. The availability of a Japanese-speaking staff at the Meru Suites comes in handy too, especially when help is needed with communication or services. The resort also shuttles the long-stay guests every Saturday into the city’s malls for them to shop.
What People Say
“This charming city definitely has much to offer to retirees out there,” said Professor Raymond Ho, a Shenzhen University visiting professor and a finance researcher who specialises in retirement living. “Particularly those from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan as they share similar cultural backgrounds and languages with Ipoh”.
He cites the weather as one of the three factors why Ipoh is ideal for retirees. “Next, the people here are generally well-mannered and approachable. I especially treasure the fact that most people here have positive family values, where husbands and wives live harmoniously together in treating each other well.
“And finally, the city centre is not overcrowded with traffic and skyscrapers, giving it a lot of room for development,” he concluded.
 
Ian Anderson (Conservationist)
Retired British navy commander Ian Anderson, 80, well-known for his work in conserving Ipoh’s heritage, agreed that the low cost of living was one of the primary reasons he and his wife, a local, decided to live here. “The property prices in Kuala Lumpur and Penang are ridiculously expensive. The property I bought here is a fraction of what I would have had to pay in those two places. Besides that, the cost of living is generally lower. Yes, it is an affordable place to live for expatriates. In fact, it is the best place to live on the west coast of the peninsular.
With 20 years of experience here and before that 10 years living and working in KL, the great thing about Ipoh is the cleaner air, the greener city and the significantly less traffic. Life is good here. I tell everyone that. When people say Ipoh is quaint and rustic, I say Ipoh is lovely because of that. I love this place,” said Anderson.
 
The Lucks
Heinz Luck and his wife Ruth have lived the last 12 years in Malaysia, eight years of it as non-working retiree under the Residence Pass Talent (called RP-T) programme. Prior to this, this Swiss national has worked and lived in Switzerland, Germany, Saudi Arabia, in Bahrain, Czech Republic and now in the peaceful confines of Meru Golf Resort.
“We lived and I worked  for the last 4 years of my career in Kuala Lumpur. As retirement drew nearer, although we loved the idea of continuing to live in Malaysia, we found that the idea of living in busy, bustling KL was not what we wanted. We love nature and also love playing golf and tennis. Ipoh and Meru Valley Golf Resort in Ipoh matched most of our criteria. That’s why we bought the house. As we were still working at the time, we could plan the renovation of the house and garden so that when retirement was due, we simply could move from KL and in.”
“In Ipoh one never feels the size of the 700,000+ population living here. The inner city of town still conserves traditional buildings. Here the true multi-ethnic and multi-cultural way of doing business can still be experienced in all facets. People are generally more friendly, everything is nearby and traffic jams are rather the exception than the rule. Good food is offered everywhere and the cost of living is very attractive.
“It is still not easy to find good quality housing unless one is building from scratch. Meru Valley Golf Resort is one of those few areas in Ipoh and from our perspective and definitely the best one to choose.”
To learn more on Meru Valley Resort, visit http://meruvalley.com.my/
“People are more laid back here than in many parts of the country and very communicative and friendly. And then there is the food which we consider the best in Malaysia.
“We came and stayed in Malaysia on our free choice and have not regretted the last 12 years we stayed and lived here. All in all, we regard Malaysia and particularly Ipoh for us to be the best choice we have taken. We appreciate staying here for as long as we can foresee …”
For more on RP-T, visit https://rpt.talentcorp.com.my/
 
The Muellers
Peter Mueller a Swiss ex hotelier who earned himself the sobriquet of “Borneo Mueller” for his pioneering work in developing and managing two Holiday Inn Hotels in Sarawak, followed by managing stints in Kuala Lumpur with other chains, now lives in happy retirement in Sitiawan, with his wife Raja Mardhiah.
Ipoh is the ‘big city’ to quieter Sitiawan and an easy commute for this energetic couple who will easily drop in for a dinner party in Ipoh when the occasion arises. Sharing similar feelings on Ipoh’s conducive environment with other expatriates who have retired here, Peter is full of praise for the well equipped medical facilities in Ipoh and services provided by well qualified and competent doctors.
“Ipoh and also the whole of Perak has everything. Tourist attractions are aplenty. Ranging from Beach to Mountains, wonderful Caves, historical places, are all available within a short drive. It’s a true paradise waiting to be explored especially for the retiree who has time on their hands.”
 
Peter Bucher (aka Pak Peter)
Peter J. Bucher widely known as Pak Peter is Swiss by birth and Perakian by choice. After more than 15 years working in the hospitality industry – mostly island and beach resorts, it was clear to him that KL was not the place to retire.
“Ipoh offers a lot of opportunities for active and open-minded senior citizens who wish to get involved in community projects. I am passionate about local arts, culture and literature and began “Sharpened Word – Sharpen your mind, Enrich your life” with a fellow Perakian.
“I am also an active Toastmaster and mentor of a Gavel club (junior Toastmasters) and occasionally I go back to my roots as a hospitality professional. The admonition ‘The experienced teaches the novice’, is an obligation, not a burden.
“It is so easy to retire and settle here in Ipoh. My advice to newcomers here, with time on their hands, is to get involved in community service and become a member of an association or club and they’ll find it easy to make friends. It’s in our hands, as newcomers to reach out.”
 
Green Acres Retirement Village
All of the retirees interviewed here own their homes but what other housing options are there in Ipoh for foreigners wishing to retire here?
GreenAcres is a retirement village catering to independent and mobile seniors looking for a quality retirement lifestyle, environment and peace of mind. Inspired by retirement villages found overseas, their emphasis is on active ageing and ageing gracefully. As such, there are a host of facilities, social activities and fitness classes – such as karaoke, mini theatre, fitness centre, Zumba, and tai chi – to enable the residents to maintain their health and wellness.

GreenAcres started operations in September 2017 with the completion of its Phase 1 villas (26 units) and the Clubhouse. An additional 28 units of villas in Phase 2 were completed in May 2019. The comfortable and compact villas translates to ease of upkeep for the residents, and each home is specially designed with more than 10 age-friendly features such as wider doors; lower and larger switches; wider and longer handles on furnishings; bathroom grab rails; taps with lever handles; seats in the shower; ramped entryways at the main entrance; step-less bathrooms; emergency call buttons; and lever handles on all doors. Interested readers can call 012 521 8319 or 05 253 6555 or email to info@greenacres.com.my.
MM2H
Malaysia and in particular Ipoh, is definitely a most desirable retirement location for foreigners but what of the legalities and procedures involved?
The official portal of Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Programme (www.mm2h.gov.my) explains: “MM2H Programme is promoted by the Government of Malaysia to allow foreigners who fulfil certain criteria, to stay in Malaysia for as long as possible on a multiple-entry social visit pass. The Social Visit Pass is initially for a period of 10 years and is renewable. It is open to citizens of all countries recognised by Malaysia regardless of race, religion, gender or age. Applicants are allowed to bring their spouses and unmarried children below the age of 21 as dependants.”
 According to the programme statistics, the top 10 participating countries from 2002 to 2018 are People’s Republic of China, Japan, People’s Republic of Bangladesh, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Republic of Korea, Republic of Singapore, Islamic Republic of Iran, Taiwan, Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, China and the Republic of India.
For direct applications, apply online via the MM2H Check N Track website for pre-submission (http://mm2honline.motac.gov.my/). Then, submit the documents at the MM2H counter. Once done, collect visa/passport from the MM2H counter.
One can also opt for application through appointed agents.

Among the required documents are letter of application, copy of resume, copy of MM2H application form, copies of IM.12 Form (Social Visit Pass), coloured passport size photographs, copy of passport or travel documents, letter of good conduct, self declaration on health conditions, certified copy of marriage certificate (if accompanied by spouse), a certified copy of birth certificate or legal documents (if accompanied by children or parents), certified copy of latest bank statement or other related financial document, latest certified copies of payslip or income statement (if employed) or pension slip and authorization letter. For application through appointed agents, one must add on the personal bond which must be completed and signed by a Malaysian who is one of the board of directors, shareholders, managing director or manager from the appointed MM2H licensed company.

The website also highlights that applicants are expected to be financially capable of supporting themselves on this programme in Malaysia: “They have to maintain the balance of RM100,000 (for aged 50 years and above) or RM150,000 (for aged 50 years and below) of fixed deposit until they terminate from MM2H Programme. MM2H participants are allowed to withdraw part of the required fixed deposit from the second year onwards for approved expenses relating to house purchase, car purchase, education for children in Malaysia and medical purposes.”
According to mm2h.com, a government-approved MM2H agency and also the publisher of The Expat magazine, the Minimum Foreign Investment Values (MFIV) for residential property for Perak are RM1,000,000 (minimum purchase price – foreigners) and RM350,000 (minimum purchase price – MM2H holder) with its date of enforcement from March 1, 2014.
Come and retire in Ipoh. What’s stopping you?
 

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