Why Move To Malaysia?

When three years ago I announced to my friends and family that I was leaving Barcelona to travel, and that I was starting in Malaysia, their first question was “Why Malaysia?”. Their second question was “And where the heck is Malaysia?”. It’s in South East Asia, by the way. Next to Thailand, which is way more popular than Malaysia for expats and travellers.

Even though I had never been in Malaysia before (or anywhere in Asia, for that matter), I expected to like it based on my research and what my friend Tom Hayton, who lived in Malaysia for 5 years, told me about the place.

I have to say I didn’t have a good first impression of Malaysia. My cousin (and travel companion) and I arrived in Kuala Lumpur in March and were greeted with a suffocating heat and humidity. Meanwhile, back in Barcelona, they were having the biggest snowstorm ever.

After that, we spent the next few days awake mostly at night due to jetlag, and hanging around a not so nice part of town (where we had booked a hostel for the first week). We realized that wasn’t what we signed up for and booked a ticket to Phuket, Thailand for two days later.

Funnily enough, before we left, we met Hani, an old friend of Tom’s, and we hit it off right away (spiler alert: she’s my wife now). We still moved to Phuket for two months, but kept in touch with Hani and ended up moving to Kuala Lumpur afterwards for three months.

This is my list of things that make Malaysia a great place to relocate to as an expat, which may not seem obvious at first if you come here for just a few days.



As opposed to the superpopular Thailand, where the language barrier can be a problem and even reading something is mission impossible due to their hieroglyphic-like alphabet, language in Malaysia isn’t much of an issue.

Malaysia is an old British colony and because of that, English is spoken by a big part of the population. The official language is Malay, the mother tongue of the Malay ethnic group, the biggest one. But there’s also a big Chinese (32%) and Indian (8%) population, so English is often used as the common tongue. Even though some people speak very good English (specially people in their 20s and 30s), be prepared for some heavy accents or situations where the other person simply doesn’t speak English,


It’s hot (25-35ºC) and very humid (75-95%) in Malaysia, depending on the season and the area of the country where you are. It rains often too. I personally dislike rain, that’s why I’d have a hard time living in London. But rain in Malaysia is different. In Kuala Lumpur, even on the rainy season, it rarely rains more than one or two hours a day. But it rains very heavily. It’s also quite predictable once you get used to it, so it’s relatively easy to avoid being caught by the rain. On the plus side, it cools the day down and because of that, this is probably the only place I’ve ever been where I’m happy that it rains on a daily basis.


Malaysia is very well located in South East Asia. Its borders are shared with Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei, and maritime borders exist with Singapore, Vietnam, and the Philippines.

AirAsia, Asia’s most popular low cost airline, uses Kuala Lumpur’a airport as its central hub, so there’s lots of cheap flights all across the region. Roundtrip prices for next month according to AirAsia’s website: Singapore $70, Bangkok $79, Bali $107, Ho Chi Minh City $115, Melbourne $123, Phuket $131, Hong Kong $189, Tokyo $247, Shanghai $262, Seoul $368 and the list goes on and on. You can find way better deals if you plan in advance, but as you can see it’s pretty affordable. When people living in Europe or the US consider a holiday in any Asian country, it all comes down to the same problem: local expenses will be low, but the flight cost is ridiculous. If you live in Malaysia both the holiday cost AND the flight can be cheap!

Cost of living

Malaysia offers great value for money if you’re an expat. Rents vary a lot depending on where you stay in the city and the type of housing you want (apartment at a condo with gym, whole house, etc ). 3 years ago I stayed at a decent 2 bedroom apartment at a condo with pool in Bangsar, which is a pretty cool area to live in, for $577 /mo. Now I’m staying with some friends at a way better two bedroom apartment in a nicer condo, in the same area, and they pay $729 /mo. There are way cheaper options if you’re willing to give up some comfort (pool, space, location…), and way more expensive as well.

Most condos have a laundry shop where you can get someone to do wash and fold your laundry for like $0.30 a pound. A maid to come for 4-5 hours to clean your house might cost you $20.

Cabs are cheap here as well, with most rides costing around $2-$3. If you choose to drive, even paid parking spots in malls usually cost no more than $0.5-$1 an hour.

Going to the movies can cost from $3 for basic seats and movies all the way to $9 for the comfy seat, 3D movie, etc.

Eating out can be extremely cheap, or just as expensive as in Europe or the US. You can eat a delicious local meal for $1-$2, $5 or so for more expensive options (shrimps, etc) or maybe spend $10-$15 at a fancier restaurant at a mall (still sticking to Asian food). There are some great Sushi places as well for $15-$20 per person. If you want Italian, American, steak, etc. then you’ll probably looking at $20 or higher. Overall, cooking at home is only recommended if you’re going to be eating things like meat, salads, etc. If you’re into Asian food, you’ll be eating like a king for very cheap.

Drinking is expensive, though. Between importing costs and the very high tax on alcohol (it’s a muslim country after all), the cost of drinking is very high compared to everything else. The same wine that in Spain costs €4, here you’ll find it for €20 on the supermarket. A bottle of rum that would cost €13 in Spain, here costs €40-50. Drinks might be slightly cheaper or same price than other places in the US or Europe. A cocktail usually goes for $5, and a beer for $3. It doesn’t get much cheaper if you buy beer at the supermarket either.

What some friends do, considering that flying is cheap and they take regular weekend escapades, is buy their alcohol at the airport, where there is no tax and a bottle can cost half as much as in the city. It’s a good idea, but still doesn’t help with the cost of drinking at a bar.


Other than the cost, which can be really cheap, food here is delicious. Before I came here I had tasted sushi, chinese, thai and indian food back home. After being in Asia I can say the only authentic Asian food I had tasted was sushi.

First of all, pretty much everything is spicy here. Our most spicy food in Spain is probably the lowest here. If you’re not into spicy food (I wasn’t at first), you’ll be sweating and drinking juice or milk tea after every bite. But after a few weeks you’ll be hooked and will love it. Don’t get me wrong, I still don’t go for the “real spicy” stuff here, but the basic spicy tastes great.

You’ll find delicious Malay, Chinese and Indian food everywhere. Some good Thai, Vietnamese, Korean and Japanese too, although pricier. And for more money, I’ve also tasted decent burgers, pasta, pizza and even tapas. Basically, if you love food, you’ll be right at home.

On the grocery front, you’ll find almost everything you want if you shop at the right places, but expect to pay a premium for imported or not very locally consumed goods, and the quality won’t be as good as back home sometimes: bread, cheese, pork cured meats, etc. Overall, you’ll find eating in more expensive than eating out.

Being an expat here

White people are usually pretty well regarded here. You could say there’s positive racism towards white folks. Salaries in Kuala Lumpur are OK for locals, but usually expats command higher salaries, even in local companies. Still, the ones who do really well are expats who come here relocated from their country’s office (say, the UK or the US). They usually make the same salary as back home, sometimes with a relocation bonus, and here that means big bucks.

The community of expats, at least those who I’ve met, seems pretty great as well. They mostly have good jobs and are cool and interesting people. It also helps that they make good money when it comes to planning things to do. In Barcelona there’s a lot of expats that have local salaries (not great) or living on savings who are always scrapping by, and the difference shows.


With an expat salary, life can be just as comfortable as back home, if not more. Eating out all the time, good apartments, pool and gym right in the condo, frequent weekend escapades, AC on all the time, a fast and reliable Internet connection… The only thing I find more unconvenient than back home is that Barcelona is small, walkable and the public transportation is great, while in Kuala Lumpur you pretty much need a car to move around.


The mix of Malay, Chinese and Indian cultures along with a lot of Western influence and expats living in town make Kuala Lumpur a very diverse and interesting place to live. As a comparison, I found Bogotá (Colombia) to be more homogenous. People share a similar look and personality traits, while here that doesn’t happen.


Kuala Lumpur is huge (the metro area is home to roughly 7.5 million people), and there is a big variety of entertainment offers. Clubs, bars, movie theaters, concerts…

If you get into the expat circle you’ll see there seems to be a pool party pretty much every weekend, too.

There are also awesome places to visit without leaving Malaysia during a long weekend: Langkawi, Cameron Highlands, Penang, Batu Caves, Sarawak in East Malaysia…

If you like diving, Perhentian Islands have some of the best spots in South East Asia, although you should only go March to October due to monsoon season. And if you’re into surfing, Bali is great for that and just around the corner.



Huge city plus crappy public transportation equals traffic jams. It doesn’t matter if you’re in Los Angeles or Mexico City, the formula is never wrong, and it isn’t here. If you skip rush hour you’ll be mostly in the clear, though.


Malaysia isn’t Afghanistan, Iran or Saudi Arabia, but you can still feel it’s a muslim country in many ways. It’s not too bad, though. As an expat, here are the things I’ve noticed that are quite annoying (some more than others):

  • The ridiculous “sin tax” on alcohol.
  • The annoying traffic jams around mosques on Friday afternoons, during praying time.
  • If you want to buy alcohol or pork at the supermarket, you have to pay that first at a different line and then line up for the regular line for the rest of the products.
  • Less freedom of speech in the arts. It’s quite common to ban or censor movies, shows, videogames, etc. depending on their content.

I hope that by now you’ll be curious enough about Malaysia that you’ll consider visiting if you’re in the region. I’ll be here for another week and then spend a month in Bali (being so close and all), to be back later in Kuala Lumpur for another week or two before moving on with my travels. If you happen to be in town while I’m here or just want to ask anything about Malaysia, get in touch.

My name is Manuel and I'm an entrepreneur from Barcelona, Spain. I run SwingLiving and I write here about online businesses, productivity, personal development and more. I hope you enjoy it.
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  • http://jugad2.blogspot.in/p/about-vasudev-ram.html Vasudev Ram

    Interesting article, thanks. Saw it via discuss.bootstrapped.fm .

    I had been to KL some years ago and liked the place and people. Great food options too, as you say. Bangsar is a nice area too – home to expats, I think. I ate at a nice traditional Indian restaurant there one time – traditional, as in, like the original Indian food you get in India. I had a veg thali there – more out of curiosity, to see how authentic it would be (I’m Indian and know about veg. thalis.) Found it to be pretty close to the real stuff and of good quality.

    Had plenty of other types of food too, while there, in fact mostly other local types – Malay, Chinese, Nyonya, Malaysian Indian (quite different from Indian in taste, though they use many of the same ingredients), also Thai …. Great stuff. The food courts there were great. In one place you can get to try, on different meais, lots of different kinds of ethnic foods. I even had Australian or New Zealand food there in one stall – actually flown from AU or NZ – I forget which. And yet not expensive.