Kuala Lumpur (KL) is Malaysia’s capital and biggest city. It’s often listed as one of the top destinations for expatriation for several reasons. First off, it’s very multi-racial with a substantial population of Malaysian locals, Indian-Malaysians, Chinese-Malaysians, as well as expats from across the globe. With this mix of different cultures, I believe you’ll have an easier time adapting. Besides the exotic culture, Kuala Lumpur is interspersed with skyscrapers, surrounded by lush forests, has tropical weather, and most importantly, it provides an unparalleled quality of life to expatriates along with many business/job opportunities. Whether you’re temporarily or permanently moving to this beautiful city to study, work, or retire, it helps to have a picture of what it will cost you to live there. Lucky for you, that’s what this whole article is about.
What is the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur? Living costs in KL are relatively affordable, depending on your lifestyle and the area where you choose to stay. The average monthly cost of living for a single expatriate is $850/month, while that of a family of four is $2,795. Of course, these estimates apply if you’re living frugally and renting in the city’s suburbs.
In recent years, prices of necessities such as housing have increased due to the higher crude prices and the Ringgit’s weakness against the US dollar. Even so, Kuala Lumpur remains more affordable than most major Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, and Singapore. You can also live very well on a lot less here than in a western country. To save even more, consider living outside of the city center. Note that the currency used in Kuala Lumpur is called the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR). At the time of writing, 1 US Dollar = 4.19 Malaysian Ringgit. Without further ado, let’s hop into specific living expenses and see if Kuala Lumpur is affordable for you.
Monthly Cost Of Living in Kuala Lumpur for a Family
The greenery outdoors, good weather, as well as different cultures and faiths in Kuala Lumpur make it an ideal location for families. Those with children will also find excellent schooling options and a host of extra-curricular activities to keep kids busy and happy. That being said, the average cost of living for a family of four is $2,795/month, without rent. To break this down even further, here’s a look at common expenses incurred by families:
A family will need a 2 or 3-bedroom apartment to live comfortably. In that case, expect to spend between $750/month and $1,000/month to rent a two or three-bedroom apartment in the city center. The prices are lower if you move farther from the city center. Alternatively, you can choose to buy a family home. Foreigners are allowed to buy property to boost investments in the real estate market. Kuala Lumpur apartments range from $1,435-$2,870 per square meter, while the estimated annual mortgage rate for a 20-year mortgage is 4.56%. With housing come utility bills, which are reasonably inexpensive in Kuala Lumpur. Expect to pay around $190-310 for monthly utilities.
Food is an inevitable expense for all households and costs about $400/month. The exact amount will, however, depend on several things, including the family’s eating habits, where you choose to shop, and how often you choose to eat out. Most families make their meals to cut down on food costs.
There are several ways for families to get around in Kuala Lumpur. You can choose to buy a car, which might come in handy, especially if you have kids. Expect to pay around $35,765 for a Volkswagen Golf or $26,126 for a Toyota Corolla. Note that gasoline costs $0.50/litre; plus, you’ll also need to budget for maintenance and repairs. Public transport, on the other hand, is an efficient and cheaper option. A one-way ticket costs $0.72 and monthly travel pass is $24, which comes to $96/month for a typical family.
Parents with kids will also have to budget for childcare. The maids here are mostly immigrants from the Philippines and Indonesia and are generally represented by an agency. Those from Indonesia typically cost $90/month and generally speak their native language. The ones from the Philippines are about twice as much, around $175/month, and generally speak some English. These maids are live in, meaning you have to provide food and shelter. Finding domestic help can seem daunting with agencies and government regulations in the mix. Be sure to look for advice from one of the expatriate forums on social media.
Education costs are bound to take over as a family’s biggest expense. The good news is there are Government schools in Kuala Lumpur that you can take your child to for free. You’ll, however, need to budget for school uniforms, exercise books, stationery, club/team membership, after-school enrichment classes, and PIBG fees. Alternatively, you can take your child to an international school where they can learn their home country’s curriculum in their native language. Private schooling will cost you between $2,800-14,500/year per child.
Monthly Cost of Living in Kuala Lumpur for Single Person
Relocating alone can be exciting and scary at the same time. On one hand, you get to discover new cultures, make new friends, do your own things, and experience personal growth. On the other hand, it can get lonely and you won’t have an immediate support system. If you manage to deal with all that, Kuala Lumpur will expose you to experiences and opportunities that would have never come your way had you stayed put. As a gateway to the rest of the country, this frenetic city pulls in a huge number of single expats looking for great job/business opportunities and an exciting adventure.
Relocating to Kuala Lumpur requires a ton of research and planning to ensure you have everything planned for. To help you get started, this text will feature what a single expatriate would spend living in Kuala Lumpur. The good news is your lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur can be as extravagant or as humble as you wish it to be. Expect to spend about $500 on monthly expenses (excluding rent). Your expenditure break down will most likely be as follows:
|Expenses||The average monthly cost for a single person|
|Basic health cover,||$13|
|Basic grooming supplies||$20|
In addition to these constant costs, a single person will have to budget for the following variable costs as well:
This is a variable cost because some people are daily commuters while others are digital nomads. Either way, public transportation is the best way to get around the city. A one-way ticket costs $0.72 while a monthly travel pass, which is a more cost-effective option for daily commuters, goes for $24. Taxis will charge from $0.48 per km.
Entertainment and Shopping
Leisure time is very important for single expatriates in Kuala Lumpur as it provides an opportunity to mingle, have fun, and make new friends. The city overflows with all sorts of cosmopolitan activities that appeal to people from all walks of life, including clubbing, going to the movies, golfing, exploring the outdoors, and even shopping. People are also spoiled for choice with typical attractions like beautiful beaches, zip-lining, parks, and much more. Depending on the kind of experience you’re looking to have in Kuala Lumpur, your monthly cost of entertainment will be around $60.
Cost Of Living in Malaysia for International Students
Kuala Lumpur has emerged as a top study destination due to its state-of-the-art education system, extensive use of the English language in its institutions, and most importantly, the low cost of living. While the actual cost of living will depend on an individual’s lifestyle and the location of their accommodation, international students should expect to spend about $350 on monthly expenses (excluding rent). Here are the most important expenses you should budget for when planning your expenditure:
Tuition fees are usually the biggest concern for most international students. The good news is Malaysian universities are relatively affordable. For starters, the annual tuition fee for a diploma course ranges from $1,500-7,500, while a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree will cost between $2,250 and $10,000 per year. The actual cost of education will, naturally, depend on the institution you enroll in and the courses you undertake. Public universities are self-managed and government-funded, which makes them your cheapest study option compared to private universities.
Despite being the lion’s share of expenditure, accommodation is relatively low in Malaysia. There are different forms of accommodation for students to choose from –whether it’s fully-catered accommodation on-campus; or off-campus in a single or shared occupancy, apartment, furnished studio, or a house. Studying abroad means staying on a budget; with that in mind, affordable accommodation will cost you about $70-188 per month. Basic utilities for those who are renting privately will cost another $40/month.
Food prices are also economically priced to be accessible to all. Your food cost will be around $140-225 if you’re buying three meals per day in a basic restaurant. You’ll obviously spend less if you cook or share food costs with your friends or a roommate in shared accommodation.
Students who stay on-campus or close to the university may not incur any traveling costs to and from school. They should, however, budget for up to $16 a month for other traveling. Those who live off-campus will need money for commuting every day. Students who are registered with any Malaysian school can purchase the RapidPass Pelajar. This is a 30-day travel pass that allows students to use public transportation as often as they want at a standard cost. The current payment structure for international students is:
Bus (unlimited bus use): $17/month
- Integrasi (unlimited bus, LRT and Monorail): $29/month
- A Rapidpass Pelajar card: $2.39
Other costs that students need to budget for include:
Mobile phone bills: $9-25/monthBooks. Reading Materials and Stationery: $16-32/month. This will largely depend on the course you’re undertaking, as well as the nature and number of projects in that course.
Medical costs (A health cover): About $120/year
Personal expenses (toiletries, socializing, clothes, and so on): $32-64/month
To help manage these expenses, the country allows international students to work part-time during semester breaks or holidays. Students can also look into various grants, funding offered by universities, and scholarships that can help pay for part of or the entire tuition fees.
Average Monthly Costs of Living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
Monthly rent for an apartment
The amount of money you pay for housing is a big determinant of your overall living costs. Rent in Kuala Lumpur is quite affordable compared to other major cities across the globe, but still much higher than anywhere else in the country. Expatriates have plenty of housing options to choose from in the city center but if you want to save more, consider living outside of the city center. That being said, here are the average costs of rentals in Kuala Lumpur:
|Type of housing||Cost/month (city center)||Cost/month (suburbs)|
The above estimates are for basic housing. If you want furnished housing with life comforts such as air conditioning, added facilities like a swimming pool or gym, then you’ll have to dig dipper into your pockets. For those who are looking for luxury, a spacious condominium with on-site services in a modern highrise building is worth considering. Condos are, however, very expensive with the average monthly cost for renting ranging from $875 for 75 sqm to $3,657 for 300 sqm. If you’re planning to stay for longer, buying a property is also worth considering.
The monthly cost for an internet provider
While not as speedy as more high-tech Asian cities like Hong Kong and Singapore, the internet in KL is decent and reliable enough to get things done online. The average internet speed is 11 Mbps. Choosing the right internet service provider in this city can be a bit of a hassle given the many options available in the market.
Here’s a list of the things to consider that will ensure you get the best deal possible:
- Contract terms
- Download and upload speed
- Data cap quota
- Types of internet connections
- Customer support
- The network’s coverage in your area
- Add-ons and special features
The most popular internet service providers in KL include:
TIME: With its full-fibre network, this ISP ensures stable internet connections and offers some of the fastest broadband speeds of up to 1Gbps. Some of their best plans include 100Mbps of unlimited internet for about $24/month, 500Mbps for $33/month, and 1Gbps for $48/month.
TMNET: This is the largest broadband service provider in KL and the country at large. They provide cheap internet connections, Internet Protocol television, free or limited calls to TM lines, and other multimedia services, all in one package. Their subscriptions start from $26/month for the Streamyx package and $30/month for the UNIFI Pro Plan.
Maxis: With a super-fast fibre network paired with mesh Wi-Fi, you can rest assured of a stable and speedy internet connection of up to 800Mbps. You can get unlimited data with speeds of up to 30Mbps for $21/month, 100Mbps for $30/month, or 800Mbps for $71/month.
The monthly cost for a mobile phone provider
There are some basic points to consider when choosing a mobile phone provider, including fees and rates, coverage, customer services, payment terms, and most importantly, how much you intend on using the phone. Most Malaysians prefer a prepaid plan as it allows users to control their mobile usage and not get stuck in a bad contract. On the other hand, postpaid plans are cheaper in the long-run, especially if you have to make international calls. They also offer a wide range of services at a standard price and you don’t have to worry about low balance or inability to recharge credit.
Main mobile phone providers in KL + their rates
Digi: For just $19/month, you can get unlimited calls within the country, 20GB internet, and 5GB roaming internet. Alternatively, you can purchase the Digi postpaid 120-package, and get free roaming and IDD to 10 countries.
Maxis: This phone provider offers a variety of packages to suit every need. For starters, you can get the latest smartphones, share lines for your family, unlimited calls & SMS to all networks, free roaming to all Asian countries, and 40GB worth of data for only $11/month.
Celcom: Enjoy 20GB worth of data, unlimited calls to all networks, unlimited Whatsapp and Wechat + a Celcom eSIM for $19/month. Those on prepaid plans can make calls within the country at about 7 cents/min. Roaming charges will vary depending on where you’re calling to.
The monthly cost for health insurance
Kuala Lumpur provides both public and private healthcare. Even though public healthcare is only for Malaysian nationals, a certain section of nationals (persons with disabilities, students, those earning less than $72/month, and Government servants) can get their medical expenses reduced significantly or waived. This leaves a huge number of foreigners with the option of private healthcare, which is very expensive.
In that case, having a private health cover is an absolute must. The good part is you’ll have access to more efficient services, at shorter waiting times than through the public system.
Most employers provide group insurance, but it’s limited and may not cover outpatient care. An individual health cover would be prudent to ensure you and your family are covered for all eventualities. You can also consider an international health cover before traveling since Kuala Lumpur has several hospitals and clinics that allow iPMI covers.
A typical health cover in Kuala Lumpur costs about $100-500 a year for one person, depending on the types of services offered.
The monthly cost for groceries
Groceries in Kuala Lumpur are quite inexpensive, and you should have no problem eating exceptionally well for under $200 a month. Even so, the exact amount you’ll spend will depend mostly on where you shop, as well as your tastes and shopping habits. High-end supermarkets offer a great selection of familiar and exotic goods for foreigners, but at a higher price. Neighborhood wet markets, on the other hand, tend to have local produce at a fraction of the supermarkets’ prices. Needless to say, imported products and ingredients cost more than locally produced ones. Wines and spirits are also heavily taxed in Malaysia, bringing their costs above Europe, Australia, and US costs.
Here’s a list of common groceries for every household and their average costs ($) in Kuala Lumpur:
|1l of regular milk||$1.61|
|dozen of eggs||$1.28|
|1kg of boneless and skinless chicken breasts||$3.01|
|A loaf of bread (500g)||$0.80|
|1kg of local cheese||$10.75|
|Beef round (1kg)||$7.80|
|A bottle of mid-range wine||$16.72|
The monthly cost for eating out
Of course, you won’t be cooking all the time. Lucky for you, Kuala Lumpur is the gastronomic hub of Asia. The city’s ethnic mix has obviously resulted in a wide variety of wonderful things to eat, with cuisines ranging from typical Malaysian to Japanese, Thai, Chinese, Indonesian, Indian, and various western eateries. Open-air cafes and restaurants are everywhere, and food prices range from affordable street food to top-notch fine dining.
For starters, an extremely tasty and plentiful meal at the local hawker stall costs less than $2. Restaurants are also reasonably priced. A basic lunchtime meal in an inexpensive restaurant costs $3.58. You can also get a combo meal from a fast-food restaurant for just 3.58. Expect meals to start from $10 per person in more fine dining restaurants.
Alcoholic drinks are more costly than even the food. At a restaurant, a can of imported beer is about $3.25, while, a ½ liter bottle of local beer goes for $2.35. A bottle of wine will cost between $12.50 and $15.00. Kuala Lumpur also has a fantastic café culture with a cappuccino going for about $2.68.
You can add a trip to the movies to your night for just $4.29 a seat.
The monthly cost of public transport
Traveling within Kuala Lumpur and across the country is made easier thanks to the vast and efficient public transportation system, which includes buses, metered taxis, and light rail commuter trains. You get to save some money with this expense given how cheap public transport fares are.
You can just hop on a local motorbike and they’ll take you anywhere within the city for less than a dollar. A one-way ticket costs $0.72. The rail system is a bit complicated to use, especially if your destinations are not in the same line. Different lines will require different tickets, thereby increasing travel costs. Fortunately, monthly travel passes on all public transport systems are available for about $24/month.
Taxis are also available with fares starting at $0.48 per km. Note that red and white taxis are generally cheaper than blue taxis. Taxis have a notorious reputation of tricking individuals into paying higher fares. Therefore, insist that your taxi driver uses a meter or consider ride-hailing apps like Uber or Grab as their rates are easier to track.
The city is notoriously congested and traveling by bus or taxi might take longer. Luckily, there’s the LRT and Monorail that beats the traffic. Walking is also an option; it will give you a chance to take in all the beautiful sights of the city.
Average Salary in Malaysia
Now that you know what to expect in terms of monthly expenses, it’s time to review Malaysian salaries so you know what salary you should ask for. Even though salaries in Malaysia are fairly low, the country has recorded significant growth in the average salary over the past couple of years. On average, a person working in Malaysia takes home about $820/month after tax. There are states that pay more than the national monthly average, while others pay less.
Some of the highest paying states include:
- Putrajaya: $1008/month
- Kuala Lumpur: $950/month
- Selangor: $830/month
- Johor: $750/month
Average monthly wages by job title:
- Financial analyst – $2300
- Product manager – $1900
- Web developer – $1554
- Graphic designer – $1141
- Receptionist – $500
- Cashier – $375
There you have it –a glimpse of what Malaysians earn in a month. While this gives you a good idea of what to expect, bear in mind that several other factors will impact your actual salary such as industry, employer, age, your skills, level of education, and so on. The most required level of education for employment is a Bachelors’s degree and most employers will require 4-8 years of working experience.
Cost Of Living in Malaysia VS India
The overall cost of living in Malaysia for the Indian family is 2.8 times more expensive than their home country. To break this down even further, let’s take a look at different expenses in both countries.
Housing in Malaysia is about twice as much as in India. For instance, the average cost of renting a one-bedroom apartment is $352/month in Malaysia and $163/month in India. A 3-bedroom apartment, on the other hand, is about $640/month in Malaysia and $370/month in India. Basic utilities for an 85m2 apartment cost about $45 in Malaysia and $36 in India.
The cost of food is also higher in Malaysia than in India. Expect to pay 50% more for groceries and about 26% more for restaurants in Malaysia. On the bright side, Malaysia has a more diverse food scene compared to India. This means that despite high costs, eating out in Malaysia can be as expensive or as cheap as you want it to be.
Basically, if you lived in Malaysia instead of India, expect to pay more for virtually everything. The only thing I found cheaper in Malaysia than in India is gasoline. Luckily, Malaysian salaries are just as high to allow residents to afford such high living costs. This brings the local purchasing power in Malaysia 15% higher than India.
Cost Of Living in Malaysia VS Philippines
First off, both countries have an interesting mix of different cultures, making them ideal for expatriation. They are also known for having gorgeous beaches, exotic jungles, delicious cuisines, and affordable prices. However, Malaysia, being a more developed country, is bound to have higher living costs compared to the Philippines. It’s about 40% more expensive.
If you lived in Malaysia instead of the Philippines, you’d pay 18% more for housing. For instance, renting a one-bedroom apartment is $351/month in Malaysia vis-à-vis $280/month in India. A three-bedroom apartment is $640 in Malaysia but $578 in India. For those looking to buy, you’ll need $2,038/square meter in Malaysia but 1,859/ square meter in India. Utilities are significantly cheaper in Malaysia than in the Philippines. Basic utilities for an apartment (85m2) are $45/month in Malaysia as opposed to the $115/month in the Philippines.
The cost of food in Malaysia is about the same in the Philippines. Some groceries are cheap while others are costly in Malaysia than in the Philippines. Restaurants are generally cheaper in Malaysia while alcoholic drinks are cheaper in the Philippines.
The other items you’ll find cheaper in Malaysia than in the Philippines include internet, mobile phone plans, and gasoline.
Malaysians have a higher purchasing power than Filipinos given their higher salaries.
Living In Malaysia Pros and Cons
Malaysia is often listed as one of the top international places for expatriation for good reasons. The biggest benefit is affordability. For a modern country, Malaysia offers a high standard of living at a relatively low cost. Expatriates can easily find accommodation in the most elegant neighborhoods across the country at almost half the price it would cost to rent a regular apartment in a western country. Local produce is available in plenty and at low costs. The country also has a large market for oil and gas companies, which in turn lowers petrol and gas prices.
Other advantages of living in Malaysia include a cutting-edge healthcare system, a rich and delicious food scene, tropical rainforest climate, friendly locals, a simpler lifestyle, exposure to different languages and cultures, and the fact that a good number of people speak English.
As for the cons, one of the most frequent complaints from those living in Malaysia is too much noise. There are various holidays for different cultures, which are often completed with all kinds of noises from powerful fireworks to yelling, electronically amplified music, screaming, and so on. Also, be prepared for all-day loudspeakers’ noise from mosques. Bring good earplugs. I must say, some disadvantages can only be realized once you settle down. One thing is for sure, things won’t work the same way they do in your home country.
Kuala Lumpur Expat Housing
Housing in this city comes in different forms to suit a variety of needs and budgets. Expatriates can choose from stand-alone houses, terraced houses, semi-detached houses, condominiums, and apartments. Condos are the most popular options among expatriates since they are regarded as more secure and tend to have added amenities such as swimming pools, gyms, and so on. They are also the most expensive and might end up costing you more than the recommended 30% of your income.
Accommodation can either be completely unfurnished, semi-furnished, or fully furnished. Most apartments are generally unfurnished while condos are mostly furnished. Furnished accommodation is obviously more expensive than unfurnished accommodation.
When it comes to finding accommodation in Kuala Lumpur, you can use an agent, look through local publications and newspapers, or simply check online.
While it’s good to immerse yourself in the local culture when you move abroad, having a familiar experience or environment can help ease the transition. This means finding accommodation in areas with a high concentration of other expatriates who can help you feel right at home.
In that case, here’s a list of expat-friendly neighborhoods in and around the city of Kuala Lumpur:
- Kuala Lumpur City Centre
- Mont Kiara
- Taman Tun Dr Ismail (TTDI)
- Damansara Heights
- Desa Park City
- Bukit Tunku
- Desa Sri Hartamas
About the author: Marta Kovachek is the author of this article. She graduated from the University of Chicago with a master’s degree in Economics. Marta enjoys writing about the current economic situation and loves helping our readers to find their next "destination". From places to live to complex social and economic topics, we always enjoy Marta's work. Please contact us in case of any questions.