An expat guide to living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
What is it like to live in Kuala Lumpur as an expat?
In this Expat Interview, Claire shares her expat life in this city, so you can have a general view about living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
About Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia’s capital, is a bustling mix of culture, fun, and food.
Known for its sparkly PETRONAS Towers and glitzy shopping centers, this southeast Asian hub has far more to offer than just this.
Rich diversity means there is no end of temples and religious buildings to see and Pasar malams (night markets) selling the best street food.
Oh, the food! It would be wrong not to try all the local delights from the breakfast staple nasi lemak to Nyonya laksa and the brightly colored sweet treats, kuih.
Malaysians are passionate about food, and it’s not hard to see why.
Let’s start the interview to learn about expat life in Kuala Lumpur!
When did you start to live in Kuala Lumpur?
I moved to Kuala Lumpur in April 2017 and have been here for nearly 18 months.
My husband, Ben, was offered a secondment, and we jumped at the chance to live in another country for a few years. The two-year contract gives enough time to get to know the place.
Why did you choose to live in Kuala Lumpur?
We visited Malaysia in 2013 and fell in love with the country, even getting engaged on one of the East Coast islands.
We left declaring that we had to come back to live here one day. And from that moment, we looked for jobs and tried to think of ways to make the dream a reality.
How did you prepare to move to Kuala Lumpur?
We prepared quite poorly.
As it was a secondment with my husband’s company, they took care of most things, which led us into a false sense of security. It meant I nearly didn’t get a visa as I arrived with the wrong documentation.
I would highly recommend doing your research too. Our issue was an easy fix and very common; it was just that my husband’s company hadn’t experienced it before.
What is the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur?
Malaysia is relatively cheap in terms of living costs. Here are the details for the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur
a) Eating out and drinks
Eating out is very reasonable in local places, and buying groceries is far cheaper than where I’m from in the UK. That said, if you want to eat at restaurants aimed at Expats, you will spend significantly more.
For example, I can get a nasi lemak from a local café for a few Ringitt (just under a Dollar), but if I go to a fancy brunch place, I will pay more like 30 Ringitt (7USD). Yes, the portion will be more significant, and there might be fancier ingredients involved, but it’s a big difference.
Another thing that is expensive here is alcohol, as it is highly taxed. So if you like a drink, you’ll need to look out for happy hours, which there are lots of.
b) Apartments in Kuala Lumpur
Bills are reasonable: The two of us living in our two-bedroom flat (using the air con a lot!) costs 200-250 Ringgit (45-60USD) a month in utilities and 150 Ringitt (35USD) for fast broadband.
Our rent is expensive as it’s a newly built condo aimed at expats. At 5500 Ringitt (1330USD) a month, it’s a similar cost to some UK cities.
Transport is cheap. Taxis particularly are easy to get and cost very little. The public transport system is excellent and also very affordable. I use the Moovit app to find my way around on it.
Did you experience any difficulties when you first moved to Kuala Lumpur?
To some extent, everything is different.
Whenever you move somewhere new, you have no idea how to do the simplest things. Banking, grocery shopping, paying bills, etc., were all new to me, which at times was challenging.
I joined the local Facebook group to find out about doctors, shopping, and everything in between and had the help of other expats working for the same company as my husband.
Did you experience any discrimination from locals because you’re a foreigner?
I wouldn’t say so. I have always felt comfortable here.
There are cultural things that you couldn’t possibly understand, having not grown up somewhere, but on the whole, people are warm and welcoming.
Did you have culture shock? How did you overcome that?
Queuing here isn’t abide by. People will skip the line, and generally, there is a no-nonsense approach to things.
Some people might perceive it as rudeness – I did at first – but living here for longer, I now understand that it isn’t rude. It’s just direct. I have even found myself taking this approach.
What do you like about Kuala Lumpur?
The people, the food, the new coffee shops opening up all the time, the architecture, the ability to go to the beach for the weekend, the galleries, the ever-changing landscape, I could go on!
Is there anything that you don’t like about Kuala Lumpur?
Not really, just how humid it can get, but then the epic storm comes in and clears the stickiness away.
What are your favorite things to do in Kuala Lumpur?
Go for brunch. There is a huge trend for brunching here, which I love. Wander around the huge malls. Visit the temples and museums and see the fantastic architecture. Go to China Town for noodles and find a speakeasy to get a cocktail.
Where do you recommend visiting in Kuala Lumpur?
There are often pop-up markets and events, which have lots of local crafts to buy and activities to take part in.
I also like to go into the city for sunset drinks and Dim Sum. My favorite temples are Batu Caves (they have just renovated it, which looks fantastic) and Thean Hou temple.
Is it easy to make new friends in Kuala Lumpur?
Yeah, it is. People are pretty friendly and chat with you with ease.
I found going to events, classes, and Facebook groups convenient for meeting people. The Meetup app is also widely used here; there are always many activities. Besides that, I talk to people in my building, pool, etc.
Do you hang out with locals or foreigners mostly?
We hang out with other expats, but most of our friends are locals.
Where is your favorite place in Kuala Lumpur to meet friends?
If you haven’t realized already, food is huge here, so it is always over food.
A common greeting is, ‘have you had your lunch yet?’ Meaning, shall we get something? So we usually meet at a new place or a place ‘That does the best….’
Can you tell us a memory that you have in Kuala Lumpur?
Getting used to the new toilets was interesting. My first experience involved covering myself and the cubicle in water. Note to self, don’t mess with an electronic bidet!
Did you change your perspective about Kuala Lumpur after living here for a while?
Yes, it became home. Somewhere I finally understood, I felt comfortable getting around in, and somewhere I know where to get the best coffee, laksa, curry, pizza, etc.
I’d say this took close to a year, but I felt settled here within six months.
What are your advice and tips for moving/ living in Kuala Lumpur?
Do your research on travel blogs, forums, and social media for advice and tips. Get involved in things locally, join groups, do hobbies, and learn the language.
Take time away from it. Kuala Lumpur is a fast-paced city that never really sleeps and gets very humid. Go to the coast, see other parts of Malaysia because, as they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder.
Would you recommend others to live in Kuala Lumpur?
Definitely! The low cost of living makes travel around South East Asia easier.
The culture and different ways of life make it a great city to live in. I love it, and I have to leave soon and know I will be leaving a piece of my heart here.
What have you learned from living abroad?
So much. I was a bit too sensitive before I moved the Kuala Lumpur.
The directness of locals has helped me lose some of my British reserves. That family and friends are the most important things in the world. That difference is what makes us all special, and that food has the power to build strong friendships!
I’m a Yorkshire-born girl who lived in Nottingham for 12 years and decided to move to Kuala Lumpur to see what life is like here. I want to understand what it is like to live life in a different country. What makes people happy here, and what it’s like to live in a capital city that is also a transport hub for southeast Asia.
I love writing as it feels like sharing something about life, a different perspective. In that respect, I am reading other people’s blogs too. I write because I want to share my experiences with others, the recipes, the books, and the places.
Don’t forget to follow Claire’s adventures on her blog, Facebook, and Twitter.
The opinions expressed here by Expatolife columnists are their own, not those of Expatolife.