Living In Malaysia: 20 Things You'd Want To Know As An Expat Moving To Malaysia!

·16-min read

If you are considering living in Malaysia and wondering what Malaysian people are like, or what life in Malaysia has to offer, then you’ve come to the right place!

We answer some of your burning questions about what it's like living in Malaysia, as well as some important things you need to know before moving here:

Q1 - What’s the attitude towards foreigners and expats in Malaysia?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Malaysians are known for our signature Malaysian hospitality. We’re friendly, easy-going, and love guiding foreigners who want to immerse themselves in our culture.

Whether you live in Kuala Lumpur (KL), or venture out to rural areas, Malaysians are a helpful bunch. English is a common language, so you’ll find it easy to communicate in English with the locals anywhere you go.

The immense variety of food is a national pastime that brings everyone together, especially during the many festivals in multicultural Malaysia.

This means that all year round, you can expect to be invited to the homes of your newfound Malaysian friends, to celebrate with them and stuff your belly with amazing home-cooked food.

Q2 - How easy is it to find an apartment or house in Malaysia?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

With just a few clicks, you can easily find properties for sale on the No. 1 property site in the country – PropertyGuru!

Before you begin hunting for your dream home, one of the things to consider is your preference for a high-rise condominium or landed terrace (of which there are plenty).

High-rise condominiums with basic facilities in major cities are generally cheaper. There are many transit-oriented developments located close to public transportation, schools, parks, hospitals, and banks that bring lots of convenience to your daily life.

You can also find an amazing array of upmarket developments with all the best amenities to explore too! There’s a huge range of property types depending on your budget and preference.

If you love tending to the garden, or prefer the ease of driving up to your front door and walking straight into your home, then landed properties are for you.

Not only will you get more space in case you're wanting to start a family or already have one, but in the long run, you might also get a better resale value.

7 Reasons Why Buying A High-Rise Unit Is As Good As A Landed Property
7 Reasons Why Buying A High-Rise Unit Is As Good As A Landed Property

Relevant Guide

7 Reasons Why Buying A High-Rise Unit Is As Good As A Landed Property

Q3 - What areas are popular with foreigners or expats?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

You can find pockets of expat communities all across Malaysia. A good number of them have taken to calling KL, Penang, and Johor Bahru home.

Some of the areas in KL that are popular among the expat community include mature townships like Bangsar, Sri Hartamas, Mont Kiara, and Damansara Heights.

For those who might be worried about being homesick, there are many restaurants serving international cuisine and supermarkets that stock up on imported goods, giving you a familiar taste of home.

In historic Penang, places like George Town, Batu Ferringhi, and Tanjung Bungah are among the more popular places for expats to live on the island.

As major tourist hotspots, you'll be right in the middle of all the action – from world-renowned hawker food, to having a rocking good time at Hard Rock Cafe.

Remember, it's constantly-summer Malaysia, so don't forget to bring your flip flops and head to the beach for incredible views of the sunset!

Located close to Singapore, Johor Bahru has a sizeable expat community with many choosing to live in places like Medini City, East Ledang, and Horizon Hills while commuting to work in Singapore.

Soaring house prices due to land scarcity in Singapore has made Johor Bahru an attractive market for homeownership, given the comparative price versus the land size you get.

Q4 - Is property expensive to rent in Malaysia, and what’s the deal with rental agreements?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Overall, rent in Malaysia is pretty affordable, especially if you choose to live further away from the city which will allow you to get a much larger abode.

For under RM1,500 a month you can either rent the following, based on your needs:

Renting a property is a great way to gauge how a particular location appeals to you, before purchasing one of your own.

A key element to ensuring peace of mind when renting a home here is to understand what goes into a rental agreement. We’ve even got a checklist here to make it easy for you to navigate.

While renters enjoy more protection under Malaysian laws compared to landlords, it is important to understand your rights and fulfil your obligations as a tenant.

Don’t forget to get a tenancy agreement sorted out! This will help avoid any disputes with your landlord for the duration of your stay.

Q5 - Is Kuala Lumpur property expensive compared to other areas?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Like most capital cities in the world, KL commands the highest property prices in the country. However, moving a short distance away from the heart of the city will get you properties at slightly more affordable prices.

Some affordable areas outside the city centre include Kepong, Bandar Sri Damansara, Kelana Jaya, or Taman Sea. From these mature areas, it will take between 20 to 30 minutes to get to town by car or public transport.

Q6 - Can I buy a house as an expat in Malaysia, and are there any restrictions?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Yes! Malaysia welcomes those looking for great investment opportunities to buy properties here. To get right down to the nitty-gritty of what it takes for a foreigner to buy a property, check out this comprehensive guide we put together for you.

There are some restrictions to take note of, such as foreigners being prohibited from buying properties built on Malay Reserved land, or investing in low and medium-cost housing.

It is also worth noting that in some states like Selangor, foreign buyers are restricted from buying auction properties and purchasing agricultural land.

Your best bet is to research and do your due diligence on the best places to buy a property in Malaysia, before setting your heart on any one location.

Q7 - Is the cost of living in Malaysia expensive for things like food or shopping?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

One of the main reasons expats choose Malaysia is because the cost of living here is remarkably affordable. Apart from the prices of alcoholic beverages at bars, which can be quite steep, everything else is considered cheap!

Food, groceries, electronics, clothing, mobile data plans, public transportation, and all your daily necessities are affordable, especially if you know where to shop.

With the rise in online shopping and businesses vying for the attention of consumers, you can bet your bottom dollar that the price wars greatly benefit consumers.

Q8 - What would RM100 buy me?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

RM100 worth of groceries such as bread, eggs, some meat, vegetables, and snacks from the local market can last a couple about a week.

If you prefer eating out, RM100 will take you quite a long way if you choose to go for hawker food, which is priced under RM10 for a meal and drink.

For under RM100, you can get wireless broadband for your entire home, or a mobile data plan with enough data for light to medium usage.

Q9 - What’s the local lingo like, and are there any helpful phrases I should know?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Malaysians are easily impressed and amused by foreigners speaking the local lingo. It doesn’t matter if your pronunciation is spot on or not, it's the effort taken to blend in that counts!

Moving to Malaysia means you will probably pick up another language, or at the very least learn some basic words like ‘selamat pagi’ (good morning) and ‘terima kasih’ (thank you).

Most Malaysians speak three languages. Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, while English is widely spoken and understood across the board.

The Chinese and Indian communities speak primarily Cantonese and Tamil, but they also speak other dialects like Mandarin or Hakka, and Telugu or Malayalam.

Manglish: The one unique aspect about the way we have evolved to speak is in stringing words from all the different languages into one sentence.

Don’t be surprised (or confused) if you experience customers walk into a local eatery like a ‘mamak’, and say ‘Anneh, tapau satu nasi goreng’.

This essentially means: Anneh (brother in Tamil) tapau (takeaway in Cantonese) satu nasi goreng (one fried rice in Malay).

Soon enough, you’ll be speaking Manglish and ending your sentences with ‘lah’ for emphasis. Just wait and see lah!

Q10 - What are the top tips to mingle and make friends with locals?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Malaysia is a Muslim country, so as a general rule of thumb, dress modestly - especially if you are visiting places of worship.

You definitely don’t want to dress like a crazy ang moh (a playful term we use to refer to white folks) in wacky colourful shorts and shirts all the time! Food is a great uniting factor, and you can’t go wrong here.

Whether it’s enjoying pleasant conversation with friends over good food, or driving from KL to Penang just for some char kuay teow, you can be sure that we will go to great lengths to get the best food, and bring you along for the ride!

Q11 - How do I avoid getting scammed when trying to find a place to live?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

If it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Your best bet is to not let your emotions sway you so easily.

Avoid situations where you feel pressured to make upfront payments, or are enticed into circumventing local laws.

In the long run, the hassle and potential legal implications won’t be worth it. Take a look at these three types of property scams that are common in Malaysia, and how you can avoid them.

At PropertyGuru, we have lots of resources for those looking to buy or rent properties in Malaysia. So sit back, relax, and brew a cuppa before diving in.

Q12 - What’s the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) Initiative I’ve Heard About?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

In 2002, the MM2H programme was introduced by the government to promote Malaysia as a great place to live and own a property.

The programme essentially provides successful applicants from around the globe with a renewable multiple-entry visa, for a maximum of 10 years.

In 2019, the government reduced the minimum price threshold for property purchases from RM1 million to RM600,000 for successful MM2H applicants.

However, barely a year later in August 2020, the Malaysian government temporarily suspended the MM2H scheme in light of Covid-19, and to allow the Tourism, Arts and Culture Ministry to comprehensively review the programme.

To find out more about the MM2H scheme, this comprehensive guide will take you through the eligibility criteria, a checklist of documents needed for the application process, and all the important things you need to know about the programme.

Q13 - Do all houses have air conditioning? And is that important?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Even though we live near the equator, not all houses or apartment units come with air conditioning.

Whether you will need one or not depends on how well you hold up during the hottest months of the year which are from March to May.

Do remember that cooling your home down can cost you a lot in electricity bills, but we’ve got you covered with some tips on how you can stay cool indoors.

Q14 - Do I need a car in Malaysia, or can I get around easily with public transport?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Having a car is definitely convenient, but not so much if you want to live in KL and hate traffic jams. Thankfully, KL is pretty well connected via trains busses and e-hailing cabs which means you don’t necessarily need to own a car.

However, places like Penang and Johor are not as connected, but you can still get around easily using e-hailing services or by renting a car for a day or two.

Q15 - How bad are, and how do I avoid, the traffic jams at rush hour I’ve seen reports of?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Daily rush hour traffic, and congestion on the main highways during festive periods, can get extremely bad.

During the festivities, there have been reports of people taking well over seven hours to get from KL to Penang, a journey that would otherwise only take four hours.

A top local tip is to plan ahead to avoid going out during lunchtime on Fridays. Things can get quite hectic on the roads with everyone rushing to their local mosques for Friday prayers.

The Johor-Singapore causeway is the busiest international land border crossing in the world, with an average of 350,000 travellers daily.

Traffic jams on the causeway during major holidays in both countries can cause backlogs stretching for kilometres.

Thankfully, with applications like Waze and Google Maps, or websites like Jalannow.com, you can easily find traffic updates in real time, or plan your trips ahead of time!

Planning ahead is key, and in the city most people try to leave their office early (before 4:30 pm) or much later (8 pm onwards) to avoid the madness.

This is a great time to make friends, and build relationships with colleagues by going for a few drinks while waiting for traffic to subside.

Q16 - I’ve heard about flash floods, what’s the deal with those and what should I know?

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Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

Malaysia experiences two monsoon seasons a year – the southwest monsoon, that starts around the end of May and lasts until September, and the northeast monsoon, that lasts from October to March.

States on the east coast of peninsular Malaysia like Kelantan, Pahang, Terengganu, and east Johor experience severe flash floods, with many of those affected living in low-lying areas along rivers.

Luckily, you can protect yourself by researching in advance to avoid at-risk areas, or taking out comprehensive insurance plans for your home and car.

To get a better understanding and to prepare for any eventualities, here’s a guide that walks you through what you need to do in the event of a flood.

Overall, when it comes to experiencing natural disasters, Malaysia has it better than most countries in the region thanks to our strategic geographic location.

We are largely protected from earthquakes, typhoons, and volcanic eruptions that frequently batter neighbouring Indonesia and Philippines, displacing thousands from their homes.

Basically, Malaysia is a great place to live with wonderful weather all year round. What few challenges the weather throws our way, we’ve learnt to overcome together, reflecting the strength in our unity.

Q17 - Are there any areas of Malaysia that might be more of a culture shock for foreigners?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

One of the biggest things that tends to take some getting used to (or never at all) are public squat toilets. It is essentially a ceramic toilet pan at floor level with ceramic plates for your feet.

Using them requires good balance and aim, especially if you are not used to squatting down with your feet flat on the ground (also known as doing the Asian squat).

On the plus side, if you master the Asian squat, it is supposedly a healthier way to poo (and your well-toned legs will be something to show off later)!

These days, most public places around the country like malls, restaurants, and transportation hubs have proper toilet bowls with only one or two stalls fitted with a squat toilet.

On the geographical front, interiors of Sabah and Sarawak can be somewhat of a culture shock to the uninitiated.

Up until about a century ago, Sarawak's Iban and Sabah's Kadazan-Dusun indigenous tribes were headhunters, and struck fear into the hearts of British colonialists.

To this day, some of these villages still display the severed heads of their ancestors' enemies. Don’t worry though, it’s perfectly safe now!

Q18 - What’s the food like in Malaysia?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

In one word: "Glorious"! We mean it.

The diversity in our culture is represented by our food. We expertly marry an assortment of herbs and spices to come up with spectacular dishes like crab curry, chicken rendang, or bak kut teh (a pork rib broth).

Our national dish is the nasi lemak, which is a coconut milk infused rice dish, served with a spicy sambal, and condiments like roasted peanuts, dried anchovies, and cucumbers.

Wash down the heat of the spiciness with a cup of teh tarik (the direct translation for this is 'pulled milk tea'!) to complete your meal.

For those with adventurous taste buds, you simply must give the king of fruits a try. The durian has a pungent odour, but the flesh is sweet with a creamy texture.

It is in an acquired taste so if you’re looking for something more palatable, give rambutans or mangosteens a try. Both these fruits have a sweet and slightly tangy taste to it, without any stink.

Many Hindu and Buddhist practitioners in the country are either vegan or vegetarian, so finding these types of foods is easy, with a large variety to choose from.

Q19 - Are there bars and a fun nightlife in Malaysia?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

You can find an abundance of nightlife concentrated in cities like KL, Penang, and Malacca.

Coley in Bangsar is a hip cocktail bar serving locally-inspired concoctions like whisky and bubble tea, whisky and sour, and plum gin and coconut.

Bangsar is a wonderful place for expats to call home with many amenities and facilities nearby. Some of the developments of interest in the area include Suasana Bangsar, ViiA Residence, and The Estate @ South Bangsar.

Mish Mash in George Town, Penang serves a slice of old school charm, and boasts fuss-free, flavourful cocktails.

George Town is a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site where you will find well-preserved colonial buildings, and world-famous hawker food. Developments of interest here include Residence 21, The Shorefront, and Setia V Residences @ Gurney Drive.

South of KL, in the historical state of Malacca (it also has a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site title!), is the award-winning Geographer Cafe.

Set in a traditional pre-war shop-house, you can expect to get a good mix of Asian and Western grub, with a side of great drinks, music, friendly service, and the lively atmosphere of the city.

Some call it home away from home. Developments that might strike your fancy include Ozana Villa, Residensi Melaka Tengah 1, and The Shore @ Melaka River.

Q20 - What’s the one top tip from a local to an expat, on making the most of their time in Malaysia?

Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia
Living in Malaysia, moving to malaysia, Living cost Malaysia, malaysian people, Live in Malaysia, life in malaysia

To really live in Malaysia, you have to experience everything! And by that we mean try all the local food (even durians, at least once), get to know the locals, and celebrate all the festivities by dressing up in the different traditional costumes. Now that’s cultural appreciation!

Want to take a look at luxurious residences and find out where some of the most prestigious postcodes in Malaysia can be found? Check out this list of some of the most expensive properties in Malaysia!