• Paz

Moving to Penang Malaysia with kids

Thinking about spending some time in Penang? It has incredible beaches, it is an inexpensive location, and is known for some of the most exquisite food in Malaysia. After fourteen months of living in China, we have selected Malaysia as our next adventure and specifically Penang.

Why we chose Penang.

  • A substantial Chinese population and we can practice our Mandarin.

  • The weather is beautiful, and we needed some warm weather after a cold winter in Guangzhou

  • Cost, it is more expensive than Guangzhou but still way cheaper than anything we would pay in the States or Europe.

  • Lots of Expats living in Penang - maybe we can make some new friends!

  • Lots of Expats means that we can get by with speaking English.

  • The best reason of all, it was a new adventure and a country we had not yet visited with cheap airfare.

Arriving in Penang

Our flight from Hong Kong to Penang was an easy, uneventful one on China Air, which has excellent flights within Asia for amazing prices.

We arrived at the Copthorne hotel, and we were a bit disappointed by the rooms and that we could not access wifi within the rooms. Traveling and working remotely means wifi is critical to us. There was a fantastic play area in the restaurant, so the kids were able to play while Zeek got some work done, and we filled our bellies.

Then the Tsunami warning came. Day two of our Malaysian adventure, we were faced with a Tsunami warning. There had been a massive earthquake off of Sumatra, which set in motion perfect conditions for a Tsunami to hit the beaches of Penang. Remembering the terrible Tsunami of 2004, we were terrified.

The hotel staff was NOT intent on relaying information. Zeek had to work that evening, and we did not want the kids in the lobby near the glass. I took the kids to the room and attempted to put them to bed and be calm, while Zeek stayed and finished.

I mean, this was one of the Top 10 Scariest Moments during our 10 years of travel. It helps put things into perspective. Don’t get worked up about a missed flight or a bad meal while traveling, these are inconveniences and should be treated as such.

After the Tsunami Warning

The next day the sun rose, and all was well in the world again. It is funny that one night, you can be praying that a 20-foot wave doesn’t hit the side of the hotel, and twelve hours later, you are staring at a calm ocean and watching the beautiful sunrise. If we had stayed in Wisconsin, we wouldn’t be experiencing this, the good, the bad, the scary, and the gratitude we feel. We continue to grow as individuals and as a family.

Getting Settled

Now that we had successfully overcome our anxiety of a possible Tsunami, we needed to get working on getting ourselves settled. No time for a holiday.

Items on the Todo list - (Time frame - 3 days)

  • Cell Phone

  • Apartment

  • Connect with other Expat families

  • Wifi

  • Insurance

  • Activities for the kids

  • Transportation?

Getting settled in a new country can feel daunting, but it doesn’t need to be. Don’t get in your head about it. It is a series of steps, and you just have to go through them. Penang is very familiar with Expats, and almost everyone spoke English.

Cell Phone Coverage in Penang

When traveling to any country, it is essential to go with an unlocked phone, so you can change your SIM card when arriving in the country. We purchase two SIM cards upon arrival in Penang with a primary cell phone and data package for roughly USD 10. We weren’t sure exactly how much talking time this would give us, but it doesn’t break the bank, gives you a local number so people can reach you, and lets you connect to data for maps, Whatsapp, and your email.

We have started traveling with these handy SIM card pins so we can easily swap out our sim cards.

Apartment Hunting

When it comes to looking for homes, I always try to work with the person that best answers questions and phone calls. Things can be stressful enough in a foreign country than worrying about if someone is going to call you back.

After connecting with two agents in Penang via phone, it was clear that Jason from Pen Properties was thorough, professional, and responsive. He showed us six-short term apartments. We ended up going with a month to month fully furnished apartment in Miami Green. It checked all of our buckets, pools, near the beach, on a transportation line, and had a fantastic view.

Side note: Looking for properties from another country can seem complicated. It was straightforward once we were on the ground in Penang and could connect face to face.

Connect with other Expat families

One thing I really love about Expats is that they are so friendly and helpful. I believe that once you have been in a foreign country, lost, dazed, and confused, it makes you a more generous and understanding person, especially to someone who has just arrived.

Once we had checked out of our hotel and moved our four suitcases to our new Miami Green home, I reached out to Tracy, the mom of a travel blog on living in Penang. They had two children, almost the same age as ours, and asked if she would like to meet up. I have done this in many countries; Amsterdam, China, Spain, France, and I am happy to report that each family is still friends today.

Tracy replied with loads of information on schools, activities, restaurants, and so much more. She then offered to pick us up and take us grocery shopping. This was all the day after she just got back from traveling. She came to Miami Green and picked us up. We met her and her kids and jumped in the mini-van. She drove us around to some big store shops so we could stock up on yogurt, milk, etc. She then took us to a delicious local restaurant, and we had one of the best meals of our lives. Advice - reach out and make a friend. :)


One of the downsides of our apartment was there was no wifi. However, we have found that abroad it is extremely common to pay for wifi as you need it. A trip to a cell phone kiosk and about $75 got us the wifi that we needed for that month. It wasn’t as inexpensive as I would have liked, and the connections were not surprising. We are heavy wifi users due to our work. If you are a light wifi user, it would have been fine.


Travelers insurance and health insurance is always a big question when traveling to countries halfway around the world from your hometown. During our Tsunami warning, I will admit I was double-checking our emergency evacuation plan on our traveler’s insurance, just in case. Don’t travel without proper emergency travelers’ insurance. We are happy to see a local doctor for earaches and other common sicknesses.

Activities for the kids

Through our quick connections with other Expat Families and the help of the internet, we were able to tour 3 schools within a few days. It ended up that we could only apply for 2 of them, due to age restrictions. After a family discussion, we opted out of the schools. Our apartment had three amazing pools, and we were up for some lazy mornings, and exploring the city together while we were there. We opted to homeschool our 5 years old, and well, the two-year-old was busy being two. Looking for some kid activities, check out this article.


After jumping on the bus a couple of times and trying to bring groceries home with two toddlers, we thought it would be good to rent a car for a month. This would let us make a couple of big trips to the grocery store, get outside of the city, and give us a bit more freedom. I connected with Jason from Pen Properties and asked him for a few places to rent a car short-term, along with posting on the Penang Expat Facebook Group. Within 24 hours, we had rented a car for two weeks for $300. This is a bit expensive, but we thought it was perfect and it gave us time to find a less expensive car rental if we really enjoyed having a car in Penang.

Our time in Malaysia was memorable for all of us. We made some fantastic friendships and ate delicious food. Meet another family who rented a different apartment in Penang, the Bohemian Travelers.

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