I’ve been living in Penang as an expat since 2013. One thing I’ve learned is how crucial my friendships here have been for me. They have nurtured me, consoled me, and made my life on this island more meaningful. Without them, this island could easily have swallowed me up and left me very lonely. Penang expats, you know who you are, you are my secret sauce. Mark is my not-so-secret sauce, but you know that already.

This post isn’t just how to meet people in Penang-I’ve lived in Spain, France, Greece, Brazil, London, and Cape Town before Penang. These tips will work for any new country you are moving to.

If you are planning to move overseas, one of the first steps to creating long-lasting happiness is finding your tribe. Getting in with the Penang expat community as soon as possible was imperative for me. When everything is new, friends can change your entire outlook on a place and help you get accustomed to your new home much quicker.  So no matter where you are moving, start connecting before you get there.

When you do find your tribe, they become the family you get to choose. You’ll go through important milestones with them: birthdays, anniversaries, and deaths. You’ll need them, lean on them, and miss them when they are gone.  

The thing about the Penang expat community is that they are an incredibly welcoming bunch. As an expat living in Penang, I can honestly say that the friendships I’ve made here are deeper than many I had in Chicago. Expats make deeper connections because we are all in the same boat; we all have a common bond of living outside our home country.

Penang Expats and Local Friends 

woman in front of sunset: penang expat in front of sunset

I know the title of this is Penang Expats; however, I’m not suggesting that you only make expat friends. Not at all. Locals are just as important. They can teach you everything you need to know about your adopted home; in a way expats probably can’t. Not to mention that you didn’t move across the globe to hang out solely with people from your home country. If you did, then I’m not sure why you moved. 

You will meet locals along the way, after settling in.  All the below resources, regardless of their name, have expats and locals within their group. 

There is room for both in your social circle. Don’t limit yourself. 

Expats can support you emotionally; when you are missing home or when you can’t find Hellman’s mayo or when all you want is to go on a Target run. Expats can help you figure out things before you move because they’ve already done it and know EXACTLY what you are going through.

You are starting from scratch, people. You are about to embark on a new expat life, in a new country, with new friends. There are numerous ways to find your tribe within the Penang expat community.  

This is going to be a list of invaluable resources for your future, so let’s get cracking… 

Pre-Move

woman walking in front of mural that says the best gift is you

It’s imperative to start connecting with Penang expats before you decide to move.

Having a group of expats to contact before you actually step on that plane is so helpful. I’ve had people reach out to me asking what to pack – if they’ll be able to buy nice sheets here or a can opener. It may be basic stuff, but when you are starting to pack up all of those little questions can do your head in. And if you’ve only been to Penang for a quick visit, you probably don’t have all that figured out. How could you?

The first place to start is Facebook. I give specific Penang-centric groups here but if you search, you’ll find these kind of groups for locations all over the world.

Penang Expat Groups on Facebook

table of food

Honestly, there are a lot of Penang expat groups on Facebook. Some of them are crap, others are for selling things, and others are there for people to bitch. The ones below are my go-tos and have been for years. 

These groups really are a wealth of info. If you have ANY questions about coming to Penang, just post it in a couple of these groups, and you’ll get a ton of answers. 

I still use these groups whenever I can’t find something or have a question about restaurants, books, stores, the post office, pretty much anything.  They are the first place I post. Within an hour, my question will be answered with more info than needed. 

What’s great about connecting with these groups before you get there is not only the info you’ll receive but the connections you’ll make. I know A LOT of people who stepped off the plane with plans to meet up with people they’ve connected with already in place. 

What could be better than moving to a new country and having a lunch date within the first week? That is the power of these groups. 

Internations

three girl friends on bed with legs up: penang expats

Internations is a useful resource for finding out what’s happening in Penang, or anywhere for that matter.

You can go to the chapter on their site and see what kind of Penang events they have. It’s free to sign up, and once you enter your hobbies or interests, you will start receiving emails of events they sponsor in the area. You might not be able to attend them yet, but you will start meeting people through it as well. There are forums specific to each location so you can start asking questions before you get on the ground. This is a worldwide site, so no matter where you go, or currently live, it’s a great resource for meeting people. 

They also have written guides and forums that have loads of great intel. 

However, be forewarned, some assholes try to use it as a dating site. I’ve had quite a few guys from nowhere near Penang reach out about getting to know me. You can report those people as well as block them.

Once I changed my profile picture to one of Mark and me, it seemed to remedy that situation. 

Spiral Synergy

Michelle Grimsley, a long time Penang expat, created Spiral Synergy as a social network and events group. She does a little bit of everything from garage and antique sales to heritage and local artisan tours. She sets up day trips to some of the area’s most fascinating happenings like a nighttime firefly visit to the mangroves or to a whispering fish and seafood auction where the bids are quietly spoken to the fisherman. There is so much stuff in Penang to see, and Michelle seems to have her finger on the pulse.

She puts out a free weekly newsletter that has the latest info about what’s happening, what’s for sale, and cool events. She also has a Facebook group with the most up to the minute details. 


If you think Penang could be your future home, read all about living in Malaysia (pros and cons). Another related blog is Life as an Expat: What you Need to Know and How to Be a Happy Expat


Post-Move

friends eating pizza : penang expats eating

Coffee Mornings 

In Penang, there are three well-attended coffee mornings held each week. They are fantastic for meeting expats and locals. A bunch of long-term expats go, so it’s not just for newbies. 

Mondays at Brown Pocket, a coffee shop in Gurney Paragon.  10 am-12 pm.

Thursdays at Kafka in George Town from 10 am-12 pm.

Saturdays at Back Kettle in downtown George Town from 10:30 am-12:30 pm. 

The Monday and Saturday coffees are the most popular ones to attend.

Coffee mornings are pretty popular in a lot of expat havens around the world, not just Penang.
 

The Gym or Exercise Groups

Although we have a gym in our apartment building, we joined a popular gym to be sure that we left our apartment and reached out a bit. I’ve met a lot of expats and locals there, which helps with accountability (sort of), which I honestly need.

If you’re not into gyms and would rather exercise outdoors, there are walking, running, hiking, and boot camp groups to join. Just google them or search them on Facebook.

Penang Free Sheet

This resource is another great one for meeting Penang expats. It is emailed out weekly detailing what’s on in Penang that week. It lists all sorts of things to do, from events at the theater to wine nights and cooking classes.

Healy Mac’s

Healy Mac’s Bar at Straits Quay is a place where you can always find expats hanging out. It’s one of the more well know expat bars in Penang. While this isn’t exactly a group, it’s a bit like Cheers when you go in there; everyone knows your name, and you’re greeted by a smiling face.  Every Monday night, they host a quiz night with all sorts of prizes. It gets pretty crowded, so go early if you want to participate. 

Healy Mac isn’t my go-to hang out, but I’m an old expat. If you are a newbie, I def suggest checking it out.

In every expat haven, there is at least one bar, cafe, restaurant where loads of expats hang out. Just ask around and you’ll find at least one.

Hin Bus Depot Sunday Market

Every Sunday, there is a pop-up market there with local foods, crafts, and art. It’s a lovely outdoor space strewn with art where locals and expats hang out and support small businesses.  

My Final Advice

two hands cheer-ing with bottles

Do NOT decline any social invitations!

There are always a ton of Penang activities going on. Find expat events and go to all of them – say yes to everything, not matter where you live. Go to all the local festivals and hangouts and start chatting. People here are so kind and warm-hearted, if you just show up with a smile, you will be chatting away before you know it. 

I understand that going somewhere new and chatting to people isn’t easy for everyone – I’m thinking about you introverts!  But you know what? Moving abroad isn’t easy and certainly pushes you outside of your comfort zone. You need to make your adopted country feel like a home. Not just a new place. 

And for that, you’ll need friends.


If you are struggling with your expat life in Penang or anywhere in the world, reach out. I’m here to help.


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