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Money & costs

What is the local currency?

The local currency is the Malaysian ringgit (RM or MYR), which is divided into 100 sen.

What denominations does it come in?

  • Bank Notes: 1, 2, 5, 10, 50, 100, 500 and 1000RM
  • Coins: 1 cent, 5 cents, 10 cents, 20 cents and 50 cents

The value of the ringgit is currently around RM3.20 to US$1. (Rates are subject to change without prior notice.)

What is the best way to exchange currency?

There are numerous banks in Penang, both local and international. Currency can be exchanged at any of these banks or at licensed foreign money changers. Traveler's checks can only be exchanged for Malaysian ringgit at some authorized money changers, as well as at commercial banks or hotels.

What are commonly-used forms of payment for everyday purchases (such as groceries)?

Cash is most commonly used, but credit card purchases can be made at most major grocery chains, department stores.

Will I be able to use my credit card around town? If not, list when I’ll need cash.

Credit cards are accepted at most department stores, hotels, gas stations, larger restaurants and large supermarkets. Keep in mind that some smaller stores that accept credit cards will charge an extra two to four per cent for the purchase.

Many businesses offer a discount if you pay with cash. Taxis only take cash, as do the street markets and stalls.

By what method are bills (such as rent and utilities) paid?

Payment is made directly to the provider/landlord by either cash or check, or at the post office. Some utility companies have phone and Internet banking access (through a local bank account).

What are the requirements for opening a bank account? At what stage of the settling-in process should I open it?

To open a bank account, you must furnish a valid passport and a letter of employment confirmation. It is best to open the account as soon as possible after arrival. Foreign currency accounts are available at major local banks and international banks.

Will foreign residents be able to find banking services in their native languages?

Yes, there are major international banks that offer services in English and other languages.

Are there any restrictions on services for those who are new to your country?

Some utility accounts (i.e., telephone) require a refundable deposit from a foreign resident in order to establish the service..

What are typical banking hours?

  • Hours vary from bank to bank, but generally they are as follows:
  • Monday - Friday: 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
  • Saturday (second and fourth of the month only): 9:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m.
  • Sunday: CLOSED

Are automatic teller machines (ATMs) available around the clock?

Yes, you can find ATM machines throughout the city, as well as at most large supermarkets.

Is there any other money information that might help me?

Things to keep in mind: 

Traveler's checks can sometimes be difficult to cash if you're not in an urban center; some currencies are only cashed through the banks.

Malaysia is experiencing a large amount of credit card fraud, so it is wise to limit the use of your credit card and be wary of having the card removed from your sight (i.e., by a restaurant employee, shopkeeper, etc.).

The Touch 'n Go card is a stored-value card that is very useful for toll roads and transport on the light rail system. The card can be purchased at the designated stations located at various toll booths around the city and can also be topped up at these stations or at the ATM machines of certain banks.

The debit card system is not currently used for purchases in Malaysia.

IMPORTANT NOTE:

Crown Relocations has made every effort to present accurate information. However, regulations, rates and other variables are subject to change and Crown Relocations cannot accept responsibility for the errors that might result. Should you have any questions or need additional information, please contact your local Crown representative.

Food

Penang is famous for food – and for good reason. For very little money you can eat a feast of varied and delicious foods. We eat mostly Indian meals, however there is a great variety to be found. The most common culinary styles are Malay, Indian and Chinese, however, there is plenty of Korean, Thai, Western, Italian.. pretty much anything you can think of.

Banana Leaf:

Your meal is served on a banana leaf, literally. You will get a big scoop of rice, and 3 or so different vegetable curries. Accompaniments include variations of dhals, sauces, poppadoms and pickles, depending on where you go. Some places will just serve you the one round, others will continuously top you up with rice and vegetables until you can’t east anymore.

Banana leaf for one person usually costs between 5-6 ringgit,  Add on around 6-10 ringgit to add a bowl of chicken, fish, meat curry and around 1-2 ringgit per naan bread, roti, etc.

Roti Canai & Dhal:

One of the cheapest ways to eat in Penang, Roti Canai is a simple dish. Comprising a roti bread & one or sometimes two small dishes of Dhal for dipping. A single serving will cost around 1 ringgit.

Our typical breakfast usually consists of 2x roti canal, 2x teh tarik and a plate of mixed, chopped tropical fruits –  costing us around 11 ringgit total for both of us.

Laksa:

The famous Penang dish. Fish gravy with coriander, mint and other flavourings. A bowl at a food court will usually only set you back around 4 Ringgit.

Wantan Mee – A Chinese style noodle dish with dark sauce, wantons and sliced pork. around 2-4 ringgit

Satay – Skewered meats cooked over charcoal – from 5-9 ringgit for 10 with dipping sauce

Drinks:

Drinks vary from place to place, in my experience the average prices are: coconut to drink around 3.50 ringgit, Teh tarik – 1-2 ringgit, Lassi varies from 3 – 8 ringgit depending where you go.

Accommodation

Penang is not as flexible as chiang mai with the monthly condo rentals, we did manage to have one offered to us on a short term lease, but we decided on the buddhist sanctuary instead.

We pay 40 ringgit a night for a small cottage with a queen bed, air-conditioning and private bathroom. The rates are higher, but the price is dropped for our longer term commitment to staying here.

Hotels & Hostels we stayed at varied from 60-80 ringgit a night, but we selected cheaper ones. Also important to note that we arrived right before Chinese New Year and Thaipusam Festivals, so I expect a lot of places were sold out or had the prices hiked up.

From the research I did, it appears that between 900-1200 ringgit a month will secure an average-nice condo in a good area, but difficult to find on monthly rental. If you are happy to sign up for 12 months, you should have no problems getting something even as cheap at 700 a month. It’s worth noting that Penang has a somewhat bizarre system of building all the condos entirely out of 3 bedroom, 2 bathroom apartments, even a single person would most likely live in a 3 bedroom place.

Transport

Taxis vary. It is very unusual to find a taxi driver who will use the meter, it is normally a pre-negotiated rate.  Usually a taxi ride will cost you at least 15 ringgit, often even more. Penang traffic is notorious and at the wrong time of day it could take you hours just to get from one part of the island to another.

The bus system is excellent, but try to catch it mid morning (the best time for low traffic!) The journeys cost between 1-4 ringgit per person depending on the bus route/distance, but the bus drivers don’t give any change, so make sure you come prepared with change, or be prepared to sacrifice the difference.

Read more Penang travel guide at here.