Living in Malaysia: Essential Expat Guide + Pros and Cons
Living in Malaysia as an expat in 2023 can be a wonderful experience. There is so much to explore and discover in this Southeast Asian country – from diverse cultures and good food to breathtaking natural beauty and a low cost of living, there’s something for everyone.
You can enjoy an incredible blend of cultures, bustling cities and a welcoming expat community, as well as the chance to make friends with locals and travellers.
This successful Asian country is known to have a warm and humid climate and quickly developing infrastructure, making it an ideal place to settle in as an expat in Malaysia.
There are also plenty of areas to explore and leisure activities to enjoy, that include learning the language, tasting different cuisines, relaxing on a tropical island, or going on jungle hikes.
Finding accommodation is relatively easy, too – be sure to take your time while looking for the perfect place to call home.
With so many exciting opportunities, living in Malaysia as an expat can be a truly enriching and rewarding experience!
Continue reading to discover what life in Malaysia is like as well as the most important things to know before moving to Malaysia as an expat. You will also find a list of pros and cons of living in Malaysia in 2023.
Daily Life in Malaysia
Fast facts about life in Malaysia:
- Country name: Malaysia
- Capital: Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur
- Size: 330,345 km² (127,547 mi²)
- Official language: Malaysian Malay, Chinese, Tamil, English
- Government: Federal constitutional monarchy
- Currency: Ringgit (RM) (MYR)
- Religion: Islam
- Time Zone: Malaysian Standard Time (MST) GMT+8
- Calling code: +60
- Voltage: 240V supply voltage and 50Hz
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Is Malaysia a good place to live
Malaysia is a diverse and beautiful place to live, offering delicious and affordable food, beautiful architecture, quickly growing infrastructure and a great community of expats.
The community of foreigners in Malaysia isn’t as large yet as in countries like Thailand and Indonesia, so it’s much more tightly knit and sees more people who live here long-term and aren’t just passing through.
You’ll love the melting pot of cultures in cities like Kuala Lumpur, where Chinese, Indian and Malaysian communities live together, giving you unique experiences at every corner.
Kuala Lumpur is a fantastic city to use as a base, and you can spend weeks just exploring the many things to do here. You’ll love the wide variety of unusual shopping malls, beautiful temples like the Batu Caves and Thean Hou Temple, and vibrant areas like Chinatown, Brickfields or KLCC.
When you leave the city behind, you’ll find yourself in colonial settings like Georgetown, Malacca or even in the dense jungle of East Malaysia, where you can see rare animals or climb Mount Kota Kinabalu.
Explore the white-sand beaches of islands like Langkawi, Perhentian, or Tioman and soak up some sun before going on a snorkelling or scuba diving adventure in these pristine waters.
Most visitors will get a 90-day visa on arrival when entering Malaysia, which is perfect for tourist purposes and shorter stays in the country.
However, as an expat, you may want to stay longer, which can lead to some issues when it comes to the visa.
The easiest way is to be hired by a local or international company, which can sponsor a working visa, allowing you to stay in Malaysia as long as you are employed.
Digital nomads may find it difficult to obtain this and will most likely have to leave the country after 90 days and do a visa run to be able to reenter. It’s best to consult with a visa agency to look at the options that may be available.
Language in Malaysia
Learning a language is an enjoyable way to explore a new culture and to broaden your horizons. Knowing a few travel words in the main language of the country you’re living in, such as good morning, thank you, and hello, makes life that much more pleasant
Malaysia offers the perfect opportunity for this with its rich cultural heritage and linguistic diversity. English is widely spoken in major cities like Kuala Lumpur, but if you venture into smaller towns, you’ll need to pick up some words of Bahasa Malaysia.
The good news is that the language is surprisingly easy to learn and understand, so you’ll be able to explore and communicate with locals in no time.
The language barrier really isn’t anything to worry about in Malaysia as an expat, since Mandarin, Cantonese, Bahasa Malaysia, and Hindi are widely spoken languages among locals, meaning they, too, need English to communicate.
This means most business transactions, social activities and events take place in English, so you’ll find that more people speak the language than in other Southeast Asian countries where the culture is more uniform.
Safety in Malaysia
Malaysia is a safe country to explore, but like any other destination, it pays to be aware of your surroundings.
Cities such as Kuala Lumpur offer plenty of excitement, but you should stay alert and use common sense while navigating the bustling streets. Although crime rates are low throughout Malaysia, it’s always best to practise caution when travelling.
That being said, Malaysia is a great place to visit and offers many attractions for all types of travellers.
You won’t be confronted with unsafe situations or crime, and if it does happen, it will most likely be pickpockets and nothing worse. To avoid this, keep your belongings close to you and avoid walking home alone late at night.
Things you’d want/need to know as an expat moving to Malaysia
Malaysia has a population of 33 million people, with the majority being Malay (60%), Chinese (25%) and Indian (7%). This means that you’ll get to experience different cultures and cuisines during your time in Malaysia, especially in big cities like Kuala Lumpur.
Education is important in Malaysia, and there are plenty of options available for all ages, from preschool to university.
Expats moving to Malaysia should ensure they have the right documents and paperwork in order, as they will be required when applying for school places. You’ll find fantastic universities and international schools available, so even families travelling with children will enjoy Malaysia as an expat destination.
The climate of Malaysia is tropical, so it’s important to dress accordingly. It’s always hot and humid, so dress in light, airy clothing.
However, also keep in mind that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country, so you may be asked to cover your knees and shoulders in official buildings, offices, temples and tourist attractions.
Malaysia is a Muslim country, so every year, Ramadan plays a large role in society. During this time, many restaurants will be completely closed or only open in the late evening. Social events and life, in general, will be impacted, so make sure you know the dates, so you’ll know what to expect.
Cost of living in Malaysia
The cost of living in Malaysia can be quite cheap, depending on where you live and your lifestyle preferences.
Kuala Lumpur and the islands like Langkawi or Tioman are generally a bit more expensive, but the cost of living is still reasonable.
You can find meals in Kuala Lumpur for as little as $2, but nicer restaurants will charge closer to $5 to $15, depending on the location. Alcohol is generally expensive but widely available. You’ll pay at least $10 for a cocktail and around $6 for a beer.
Housing is priced relatively reasonably in Malaysia and can be cheap in remote areas but much more expensive in Kuala Lumpur or on tourist islands.
It is possible to get by on as little as 600$ a month in Malaysia.
In KL, you can find a small one-bedroom apartment a little bit outside of the city for around $500 per month and closer to $800 with a more central location. A lot of permanent expats actually live in the outskirts, which makes the cost of living much cheaper.
Kuala Lumpur has a fantastic public transport system with various types of trains, buses and even a free bus system in the city centre. Rides cost less than $2, and you can get almost everywhere quickly and conveniently.
Ridesharing apps like Grab or Gojek are also very popular, and rides are very cheap.
In the rest of the country, you can use long-distance trains or buses, which even connect Malaysia to Singapore or Thailand. You can also rent a scooter if you’re a confident driver. You’ll have no problem getting around.
Pros of living in Malaysia
- Delicious food from different cultures, such as China, India and, of course, Malaysia. Kuala Lumpur especially has the best selection of places to eat.
- Kuala Lumpur is a modern city with great hospitals, health care, schools and job opportunities. The city is often underestimated and can be compared to Bangkok or Singapore, although it’s much more affordable. It is becoming a popular choice as a base for digital nomads.
- Welcoming culture and friendly people. You’ll have no problems finding friends.
- Great public transport, especially in Kuala Lumpur. Long-distance trains are also highly recommended.
- Beautiful nature, including mountains, beaches, and jungle. Make sure to visit East Malaysia to see incredible untouched nature.
- Plenty of tourist attractions, such as temples, waterfalls, and islands. There is always plenty to do and see in Malaysia, and you won’t be bored any time soon.
Cons of life in Malaysia
- Not the cheapest country in South East Asia. The cost of living is affordable, but places like Vietnam or Cambodia are a lot cheaper.
- Alcohol can be expensive, so if you enjoy nightlife, this may not be the best choice. You can find bars in clubs in Kuala Lumpur, but they’re less common in more remote areas.
- Kuala Lumpur can be dirty and polluted. The city centre is clean, but as soon as you leave the tourist areas, you may be faced with this issue. Smog and air pollution is also a large problem.
- High humidity and hot temperatures year-round. This can be uncomfortable in the long run, and mold is an issue in most households.
- The country imposes a high import tax rate on all foreign goods, so there is a high cost on foreign products in general.
- Long-term visas may be difficult to obtain. Unfortunately, this is the case for many countries in this region.
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Is Kuala Lumpur and Malaysia a good place to live? What do you think?
I hope this has answered many of your questions and concerns about what life in Malaysia is like. Is there anything else you’d like to know about living in Malaysia? Let me know 🙂
All the best with that move,