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I’d heard lots about being a digital nomad in Penang so I was keen to see what the fuss was about and check it out for myself. During my three weeks there, I reviewed plenty of the co-working cafes in George Town. I’m here to share them all with you along with my complete review of being a digital nomad in Penang!
This charming city has so much going for it: street art, street food, friendly locals, excellent day trips and most recently, a digital nomad scene. The latter was a necessity as I had a ton of neglected work to do after my busy few weeks through Bali, Java and Malaysia.
The following guide will cover the best cafes for working, as well as my essential tips for being a digital nomad in Penang, Malaysia!
Living costs for digital nomads in Penang
George Town is a very affordable city to base as a digital nomad compared to Western countries. I didn’t find Malaysia quite as affordable as Vietnam or Thailand but it’s not far off.
Accommodation: I paid US $350 for a month’s accommodation in Penang. I had a comfy double room and access to an equipped kitchen in the centre of town. You could obviously spend more on accommodation but you could also spend a lot less if you shop around or sign a longer lease.
Food: If you’re considering basing as a digital nomad in Penang, you may be persuaded by the food prices, not to mention how delicious it is. You can eat a real for 5 MYR which is around $1.20.
Mobile data: This is fairly cheap in Malaysia and you can get decent monthly packages for as little as 40 MYR. Whenever I had internet problems in cafes, I knew I could hotspot my phone.
Where to stay in Penang
There are plenty of options in Penang and you will probably get a discount for longer-term stays too. Check out Facebook groups like Penang Digital Nomads where they are often posts advertising rooms.
Food in Penang
If you’re the kind of digital nomad who loves eating street food you will be in heaven in Penang. It’s one of the world’s best cities for food thanks to moreish Malaysian cuisine and the numerous food courts. Check out my Penang street food guide.
If you’re looking for healthy food in George Town, you may be disappointed as its limited. However, if you’re a long-term digital nomad in Penang, you’ll likely have your own kitchen and at least there are plenty of decent supermarkets.
Getting to Penang
Getting around Malaysia is really easy because there are fast trains, buses and internal flights. There’s even an international airport in Penang so you don’t need to travel via KL to reach Thailand for example.
For getting around Malaysia, I think Penang would be a great place to live as a digital nomad. You could easily visit other places in Malaysia and Thailand during weeks off. There are so many cool Malaysian destinations like Ipoh, Taman Negara National Park and the Cameron Highlands. You could spend years in Penang carrying out amazing trips in your free time.
For booking buses in Malaysia, use 12GoAsia.
George Town is just across the water from Butterworth so after hopping on the ferry, you can connect to buses and trains in Butterworth bound for the rest of the country.
Getting around Penang
I was disappointed that in Malaysia they don’t have Grab scooters like Thailand and Vietnam because these make getting around particularly cheap. I think Malaysia is a bit more sensible to be honest.
On foot: George Town is a walkable city, apart from when it’s hot. If you’re sightseeing or cafe-hopping, you can see much of the city by foot.
Uber: When I couldn’t be bothered to walk, I walked Uber. These were always efficient and very affordable.
Hiring scooters: I personally haven’t tried this but people tell me it’s stricter than Thailand and you might be asked for your international drivers licence.
Meeting other digital nomads in Penang
I only spent 3 weeks as a nomad in Penang so I didn’t connect with as many other online workers as I did when I was a digital nomad in Hoi An or Chiang Mai. However, I know there are lots of other digital nomads in Penang so I suggest using Facebook groups to connect like Penang Digital Nomads.
Groups like this have made me loads of friends in new cities around the world so I would highly recommend them.
Things to do in Penang
I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t want to base somewhere unless I liked it and could enjoy my leisure time too. Penang fits the bill because it’s such a cool place. George Town is full of culture thanks to Little India and all the Chinese temples and mosques.
There are nice restaurants, cute cafes and lots of atmospheric street food markets. You would definitely keep busy at weekends, especially since there are plenty of cool bars.
Penang island is also a great place to escape the city, visit beaches and go hiking. Penang National Park is a must-visit with over 1,000 hectares of greenery. Places like Kek Lok Si Temple and Penang Hill are just a short bus or taxi ride away.
Co-working spaces in Penang
I personally prefer to work from cafes where I get food and coffee for my money but I know some people would rather guarantee a good working environment than grapple with cafe crowds and Wi-Fi.
While I didn’t go to any official co-working spaces in Penang, I hear good things about ACat website. A friend of mine spent a few weeks working here and vouched for the Wi-Fi and comfort levels. You can hot desk for 25 MYR a day or get a month’s pass for 300 MYR.
Coworking cafes in Penang
After writing about the best co-working cafes in Saigon, I thought I would share my favourites from Penang.
Since I mainly work from cafes, I have a lot to say on this topic. Many of the George Town cafes are more than just a room with food and Wi-Fi; they’re stylish spaces adorned with street art and other quirks. Whether you’re into that or you just want your flat white and high-speed connection pronto, these are the best coworking cafes in Penang.
The first coworking cafe in George Town I tried ended up being my favourite. With a giant Ernest Zacharevic work of street art on the wall, I liked how very ‘George Town’ Coffee Addict feels.
Throw in some plastic flamingos, hanging dreamcatchers and a vintage store and art gallery in the back, and you’ve got yourself one hipster cafe. They also serve the best value brunch deal I found in the city (and I’m sure I’d have sniffed out a better one), plus the Wi-Fi is super speedy.
The only downside is that Coffee Addict closes at 6pm and stops serving food at 3pm. If you’re used to European cafes, this might seem normal but I like how Asian coffee culture usually extends to the evenings. If you’re a freelancer you’ll know that work doesn’t always end at 5pm!
Secawan ‘n’ Such
Secawan ‘n’ Such (also called Secawan Hutton) is just metres from Coffee Addict and I wonder if they put their heads together over the decor. This coworking cafe in Penang also has a giant street art mural on the wall – a coffee-themed one!
What sets Secawan apart from other cafes in George Town is that it has an actual coworking room at the back. The main cafe can get quite loud with groups at lunchtime so digital nomads in Penang will love this designated work zone, especially since the Wi-Fi is fast.
Bean Sprout Cafe
Bean Sprout Cafe is one of the best digital nomad cafes in Penang. When I visited, it was so quiet and peaceful that I basically had it all to myself, plus the Wi-Fi is great. You order at the counter and can take a seat in the shabby-chic cafe with no one bothering for you for hours. Perfect when I needed focus!
I had the delicious ‘toast three ways’ dish with a slice of avo toast, a slice of bacon and egg toast, and a slice of smoked salmon toast. In case you didn’t know yet, Malaysians love their toast. As does Rose 😉
Meet Up Cafe & Bar
I definitely liked the ambience of Meet Up Cafe & Bar – it’s a shame the Wi-Fi wasn’t the best. It was passable but you’d struggle if you were uploading large files for example. Otherwise, I liked the quiet background music and the fact that the staff left me to my devices without hassling me to buy more.
I didn’t see any other Penang digital nomads working here, I’m not sure why not.
More by Arang Coffee
Right next to my Airbnb, I ended up at More due to convenience but I have to say I liked working there. It’s more of a social cafe than a coworking one but the open plan nature and spread-out tables meant I didn’t feel distracted. They have lots of glutinous food if you get hungry (though nothing healthy) and the nachos sent me into a cheese coma.
This quiet minimalistic cafe would have been the perfect Penang coworking cafe had the Wi-Fi been better. It was so bad when I first arrived that I hotspotted my phone but later it worked fine. I don’t think you can guarantee a strong connection here.
Otherwise, I enjoyed the comfy seats and natural light. They also serve smoothie bowls – a rare healthy meal in George Town! The other downside was that there are no toilets and you have to use the public ones out back.
Looking for more cafes in Penang? Check out my complete coffee shop listing.
Thanks for reading my Penang digital nomad guide!
I hope this has answered your questions about working online in Penang as a nomad. If you manage to tap into the digital community, I think it would be a great base.
The cafe Wi-Fi definitely isn’t speedy compared to other nomad hubs like Chiang Mai but it wasn’t the worst, plus the co-working spaces are affordable. You could live very cheaply in Penang while exploring Malaysia.
Check out my recent Malaysia posts:
- How to spend 2 weeks in Malaysia
- 101 Southeast Asia travel tips
- Perfect 3 month Southeast Asia itinerary
- The ultimate Southeast Asia bucket list
- How to spend 2 days in Kuala Lumpur
- 5 Instagram cafes in Kuala Lumpur
- A street food guide to Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
- How to spend 1 day in Ipoh
- A self-guided Ipoh street art guide
- Visiting the spectacular caves around Ipoh
- 10 fun things activities in Melaka
- The Melaka coffee guide
- The best food in Melaka
- Melaka street art guide
See you next time for more adventures,
Ps. Liked this Penang digital nomad guide? Pin this for later!
Malaysia quick links
Flights – I use Skyscanner and Kayak and search by month to see the cheapest dates.
Confused about visas? I use iVisa to check visa requirements and apply for visas online.
Stay connected with E-sim data plans that don’t require delivery or collection; just span the QR code.
In my opinion, Lonely Planet offer the best guidebooks. Get the latest Copy of Lonely Planet Malaysia.
For Malaysia buses and trains, I use 12GoAsia. The search feature allows you to compare prices and durations.
I use Booking.com for accommodation. They have the best range of hotels and self-catering apartments, plus you can filter by review score and price to find the best-rated budget places. For hostels, I use Hostelworld.
To save money on accommodation, I use Trusted Housesitters, a website that connects homeowners going away and travellers who can sit their homes & pets.
For activities, I use GetYourGuide and Viator as they both have a huge range of affordable tours.
Need travel insurance? I use World Nomads. They cover 150 countries and have 24-hour emergency assistance.
Check out my resources page for more travel discounts and tips!