Time does fly when you’re having fun! Upon writing this post, I’m still amazed to have been living in Kuala Lumpur for a year and a half already. Since leaving London it’s been hard to keep me in one place for longer than 12 months, but KL’s liveability is proving greater than most other cities I’ve called home.
I spent a year in Melbourne before venturing to KL, a metropolis crowned as being the ‘the most liveable city in the world’ by Mercer for 7 years running. I thought anywhere else would be a hard act to follow, but as it turns out, in many ways KL has given the Sailor and I a better standard of living. With the hundreds of thousands expats who call this city home, it’s not just us that feel this way.
And the stats do stack up. Only last year (2017), Kuala Lumpur was named ‘the most expat friendly city in Asia’ by Internations and ‘the second most liveable city in Southeast Asia’ according to Mercer.
Whilst statistical data doesn’t tell you everything, like how you’ll feel in a place or how your personal experiences will pan out, it is a good indicator into potential liveability. Fortunately on both occasions, Mercer has pulled it out of the bag for me.
Expat Life in Kuala Lumpur
There are so many things I love about life in Kuala Lumpur, and a few things I’m less fond of… like anywhere in the world, living here isn’t always peaches and cream.
In this article I’ll break down why I think KL is an easy and enjoyable place for expats to live, and in another post I’ve written about the ‘other side’ of living & teaching in KL where I’ve opened up about a few challenges.
Let’s start with Leisure Time
Some expats say that there’s limited things to do in KL, and there’s some truth in that. You’re not spoilt with entertainment or leisure options that you might encounter in London, Melbourne or New York, but that’s not to say you’ll be less full-filled.
My lifestyle changed a lot when I moved here and I adapted to new hobbies & ways to spend my time. Events and things going on in the city are often limited and advertised late, so we’ve learnt to keep our ears close to the ground to find out about them and make our own fun.
One thing I do cherish about living here is access to 365 pool days per year and 30°C + average temperatures. On a cold day, it might drop to 26/27 after a storm.
Most expats live in condos that have all of the extra facilities, like swimming pools and jacuzzis. They often feel like holiday resorts with long-term residents and it’s a great set-up for hosting out-of-town guests.
This aspect of leisure time here is awesome. I mean, who doesn’t like to come home after a long day in the office and hit the jacuzzi for some therapy? Okay, so I’ve rarely done that, but quality pool-time over the weekend is a bonus.
Another excellent way to enjoy the city is in the jungle. This is a new hobby I picked up as my condo sits in front of Bukit Kiara and I don’t have a park nearby.
Unlike Bangkok, which generally lacks any form of flora, KL is pleasantly greener. It’s still full of concrete and condos, but from virtually every peak you can see the jungle that surrounds the city and there are large pockets to explore within. It’s a refreshing retreat from car fumes and hi-rises, and I go in religiously each week for a run or walk.
Also sprawled over town are many well-maintained parks for strolling on those lazy Sundays, which were largely formed during the colonial days.
Park-life here is a bit different to back home, in an endearing way. Firstly, instead of dogs running around (who are either not allowed in, or must be on a leash due to Muslim laws) there are monkeys playing on the lawn. And rather than going to feed the ducks, you go to feed the turtles, which you can find in many lakes. There’s also usually a random iguana happily basking…you can see all of this fauna specifically at TTDI park. 👇🏼
Another of my favourites is in the expat suburb of Desa Park (below), which comes complete with cafes overlooking the lake.
If that’s too much outdoorsy stuff for you in the humid heat, then the city offers many malls and markets to cool down in. They are a hub for retail and entertainment, with some hip ones keeping you in check with local designers and the arts.
Wining & Dining
As a foodie, I admit to being a tad disappointed with offerings when I first arrived to Kuala Lumpur. The quality wasn’t always consistent and food was sometimes too oily or at worst, inedible.
But as it turns out, most of these places weren’t typical Malaysian restaurants and I just picked the wrong places to dine.
Like the Aussies, Malaysians are big on food. Whilst it took me time to adjust my palate to all varieties of local flavours (ikan bilis, I’m looking at you!) when I did, I had to pull myself away so I didn’t develop an uncomfortable muffin top! There’s a reason why Malaysia has the biggest obesity rates in Asia.
Nevertheless, in moderation, pulling up a plastic chair at a casual kopitiam or mamak is an experience enjoyed by many expats in KL.
For all of those other days, KL is generously filled with pretty much every world cuisine. Our favourite Mediterranean & French haunts looked after us well for our fix of Western fare. The rest of the time though, we were hitting the Asian eateries!
The Sailor and I probably ate our weight in Pho over the past year and we’ve eaten some of the best Indian and Modern Asian food of our lives – in fact, I take that back. It’s seriously been the best! Even better than Melbourne, and I don’t say that lightly.
But, you’ve got to know where to go. There are many places that “look” nice but don’t deliver. Your best bet is to head to places that are busy, or you’ve only got to ask the locals (hey! local sitting right here 👋🏼 Check out my post on top eats in KL).
I seriously can’t complain about the number of vacations and weekend trips I’ve taken this year. Even whilst saving, I’ve managed 10 getaways.
If I compare that to my holiday (singular) in Melbourne, KL wins hands down. In Melbs all we could afford in a year was taking a budget long-weekend trip to the Great Ocean Road (which was epic though btw!)
(Without bragging) I’ve been kitesurfing in Koh Phangan and to Cambodia, where I nearly kitesurfed (for the lack of wind).
I’ve visited Sri Lanka, Langkawi & Koh Lipe over Christmas, took my first visit to Vietnam and chilled in the Perhentian Islands – to name a few.
Travelling from KL is so convenient. Within 20 minutes you can be out of the city on a road trip and in 45 you can be checking in for your cheap Air Asia flight at KLIA, leading you to a tropical island haven.
It’s worth bearing in mind that travelling within Malaysia is generally more expensive than other places in SE Asia, but it’s still not on par with the Western world. The Sailor and I have also both been working full-time on expat salaries.
Despite being the second most expensive country in the region after Singapore (but still HEAPS more affordable) the savings potential in Malaysia is really good. This is mainly because of the EPF.
EPF is the Malaysian pension scheme. As an expat, contributions are voluntary, but if you choose to put in then your employer must too, increasing your yield.
For example, if you put in the minimum 11% of your salary, then your employer has to match that with an additional 12% minimum. The EPF system also attracts a generous 6.9% interest, as of 2017. Normally I’m rubbish at saving, but this system is ideal for folks like me as you can’t withdraw it until you leave!
Even though we’re saving a lot whilst in KL (the Sailor is better than I am at putting funds aside!) we still have a really good standard of living. I couldn’t imagine having the same in London or Melbourne compared to what we have here, unless we were on a 6 figure salary, and even then it would be a struggle.
Being based in SE Asia of course has cut the costs of living coming from Melbourne. For example my rent has more than halved.
In Melbourne, I lived in a cosy 70 m2 one -bedroom flat in one of the most liveable suburbs for $2000 AUD per month (approx. £1100 GBP.) It was in a great location with a lovely park nearby, and came with a small garden.
In comparison to KL, I live in a 120 m2 three-bedroom flat in one of the most exclusive expat neighbourhoods for 2’300 RM per month (approx. $700 AUD or £460 GBP.) All rooms are en-suite with an additional bathroom.
It also has a balcony and access to (don’t hate me) : an Olympic sized swimming pool, 2 additional secluded pools, a gym, tennis court, squash court, badminton court, sauna, jacuzzi, 2 allocated parking spaces and a herb garden.
Note that we did manage to bag a “g r e a t” deal on our particular apartment (ones in this block usually start from at least 3’5000). For singles or couples you’d typically expect to pay from 3’000 in the expat suburbs, and most will come with at least a pool and a gym.
My Bahasa Malaysia has been slow on the uptake because most KL-ites speak English pretty well.
As a former British colony and being a melting pot of cultures and languages, aside from Bahasa, English is commonly the medium in which people communicate. Still expect language barriers, but on the whole for English speakers, this makes living here a lot easier.
From experience, the people who live in your new place of residence can really make or break your time there. Luxurious condos and roof-top bars might be nice, but if the locals are cold and unwelcoming then it won’t make you want to stay. And nor would it feel good.
As well as being genuinely friendly, humble and kind, local KL-ites have made me feel really welcome as an expat in their country. I’m also continuously intrigued by its melting pot of cultures, which makes Malaysia very different to any other SE Asian country.
According to my Lonely Planet bible on ‘Kuala Lumpur, Melaka & Penang’, if KL were 100 people then:
- 45 would be Malay
- 43 would be Chinese
- 10 would be Indian
- 2 would be other
Although these stats were taken from a 2010 census, so I wouldn’t be surprised if the expat population is much higher than that now.
This means that there’s always some form of celebration going on in the city, as well as many Bank Holidays to accommodate them (always a bonus.)
Although only within the 2%, the expat bubble in Kuala Lumpur is big. You’d be surprised at how many Europeans, Australians and Americans call KL home.
* * *
As I’ve been bunny hopping from one country to the next over the past 7 years, it’s nice to find a place to settle for a while. Malaysia has been one of the most fascinating places I’ve lived and it didn’t take long to adjust to life here.
Although of course, like anywhere in the world, KL isn’t perfect and nor is it for everyone. For some who have never lived in Southeast Asia before, then the initial culture shock or adjustment period may be greater than I experienced. Or you may not like it at all.
If possible, I’d always suggest visiting before taking the leap to relocate your whole life. And if you do get to test the waters beforehand, try not to spend all of your time in KLCC. You probably won’t be living there anyway and the suburbs offer a better quality of life.
For me though and thousands of other expats in KL, the perks of living here largely outweigh any potential difficulties. Generally, everyday life is convenient and easy, particularly compared to other Asian countries. Many expats I’ve known renew their contracts and stay for longer, and some never leave.
As I already had two years under my belt in Thailand, KL in comparison is a doddle. A friend who relocated to KL here before I did described life in the city as ‘expat living for dummies’ because it’s so easy. And it very much is. Standards are much more Western than other places in the region and the language barriers are few.
As Internations suggests, and I would hugely back it up: Kuala Lumpur is probably the best place to live in Asia for expats. The quality of life vs cost and ease of living make it so.
Alex Ferdman4 January, 2020
No mentioning of dating or similar as most travelers are single.
Shezz5 January, 2020
I don’t have experience of dating in KL as I’m married! Although I’d say expats moving to KL in a couple are about 65/35, which still leaves a large enough pool for singles. I can’t comment for travellers.
From my single friends, many would meet potential love buddies the regular way, through Tinder, in bars or via friends of friends. Generally, I’d say the men were more successful than the ladies at finding someone, it just depends what you’re looking for.
Hope this helps!
Kvang4 April, 2020
I’m going to be moving to KL from Australia in a couple of months. If you were going to do that move again, would you stock up on anything before you went (clothes, cosmetics, homewares, etc)? Not sure what’s good to buy there versus here.
Shezz5 April, 2020
Thanks for reaching out.
Good question! On the whole Kuala Lumpur is pretty good for shopping but of course there’ll be a few deviances, mainly with clothes.
For electronics and homeware, KL is well-stocked and I don’t remember being short of anything.
Cosmetics-wise it houses most of the major brands like Mac, Sephora, Bobby Brown etc, although it may be harder (or impossible) to find many of the natural haircare and skincare products you can get here like Sukin etc. I missed having a Chemist Warehouse to buy foreign/Aussie brands cheaply!
Depending on where you shop, finding moisturisers that don’t have whitening chemicals, and tampons, was sometimes a bit harder to find as not everywhere will have a range. You’ll figure out where to shop when you’re there but I’d suggest taking over a few of your favourites to keep you going until then.
Buying shoes was usually more tricky as I have big flipper feet (size 8) and the majority of shoes were stocked from a size 6 and below.
The selection of decent swimwear is quite limited too and many Ozzie brands don’t deliver to Malaysia. There’s only one Billabong at KLIA2 airport and the Roxy/Ripcurl in the city has a much smaller collection. It also takes a while for the new range to hit the racks.
Also underwear…the general size for bra’s etc come up a lot smaller and you may find yourself jumping from a size 10 in Oz, to an XXL in Malaysia!
But other than that you should be fine!
Hope this helps and best of luck with your upcoming move. Shout if you’ve got any more Q’s, happy to help
Kvang5 April, 2020
Thanks so much for the advice. I have size 10 flippers, so I’ll be sure to stock up!
Shezz6 April, 2020
Haha, awesome! No worries at all, happy to help.x
Sarnai Enkhbaatar11 September, 2020
Hi! Great article!
I am considering moving from Bangkok to KL, been here for 4 years.
Most statistics say that KL is cheaper than Bangkok, which I felt the same when I visited KL. Taxis, Grab, Food, public transport (Ding Tai Fung was significantly cheaper) were cheaper than Bangkok. Looking at apartment rentals now, it seems that KL is cheaper too.
So my questions are:
Seen on your other post, you mentioned KL is more expensive, why so?
How would you compare the 2 cities in general?
Shezz12 September, 2020
Thanks for stopping by and reaching out.
To be honest, in general I found Malaysia to be more expensive than Thailand. Although I haven’t lived in BKK, we visited on a number of occasions and lived in Pattaya for two years and compared to KL we always felt that our money went further there.
That being said, it’s been around 4 years since we lived in Thailand so perhaps things have changed since we were there. I guess it’s great if KL works out more cost effective for you!
All the best with your upcoming move.
Zaid10 November, 2020
Hey, thanks for the read! I’m considering a move from South Africa to KL in a few months, and I was wondering if you could share any tips on the expat type areas to look at housing?
Shezz11 November, 2020
Hey Zaid ! Awesome to hear you’re considering a move to KL.
In terms of housing, it depends what you’re looking for really. I always suggest Bangsar as a starting point- it’s quite hip, with a good restaurants scene and has a few shopping centres. It was one of the first suburbs for the ‘high society’ in KL so a downside is that it’s generally pricier than other expat areas. Although a compromise could be checking out Bangsar South which is slightly leafier and cheaper.
If I were to move back I’d probably head to TTDI (short for Taman Tun Dr Ismail) as I love the restaurants there, it’s pretty chilled and has a park nearby (as well as access to the Bukit Kiara jungle).
I used to live on the other side of Bukit Kiara in ‘Mont Kiara’ which is another popular expat enclave. It’s a convenient place to reside and has a great selection of restaurants, although traffic can be a nightmare if you need to travel for work. It’s also getting a little pricier and can be a bit noisy if you live near a busy road/construction site.
Desa Park City is a good one for families and there’s a lot of green space. Ampang/Taman TAR/Ukay Heights is also relatively quiet with green space on the East side, although traffic can be a problem.
There are plenty of other areas too. I’ve written an article about it – The best areas to live in Kuala Lumpur for expats, so check it out.
Or I’ve just dotted a few areas to consider in My Maps for a better visual here.
Most of the suburbs I’d suggest are on the West side. Perhaps you can start off renting somewhere for a fortnight/a month on Airbnb first so you can get your bearings and see if any of these places are right for you. That’s what I did and it changed the game!
Shout if you have any more Q’s and all the best with your search
Zaid20 November, 2020
Thank you Sherri.
I’ve checked out Desa Park and it looks quite nice, but pricey too.
Do you mind sharing the name of the building you’re in, as it seems like far better value! We will be in a serviced apartment for the first month after we arrive, so that time will be used to check out the various options I guess.
Shezz21 November, 2020
Sure, we stayed in Kiaramas Ayuria which is the last condo at the top of the hill. I really liked this particular area of Mont Kiara because it was more peaceful (no noise from traffic) and the air was a lot fresher. Plus we had direct access to the jungle.
We did get a really good deal on our apartment though- normally in our block they start at 4’500, although I’ve seen a few for 3’500. Also bear in mind that the asking price on iProperty or Property Guru are usually indicative, and in most circumstances you can haggle the price down (this is very normal).
I also really liked the apartments in Kiaramas Cendana across the road which was a fraction cheaper than our block but more spacey. My friend had a nice apartment there which she paid 3’500 for (asking price was 4’300).
I hope you find something suitable Zaid and best of luck with your search!
Fadzli Faudzi12 December, 2020
Kiaramas area is my favorite part of Mont Kiara 🙂 Away from the concrete jungle and all the hustle and bustle down the hill
Shezz14 December, 2020
Thanks for the input Fadzli. It’s my favourite part too 😉
Fadzli Faudzi12 December, 2020
Perhaps you should figure out where your workplace (and your kids’ schools will be). Mont Kiara/Hartamas and Desa Park City is more suitable if you have kids whereas Bangsar is more geared towards couples without kids or moving here without kids.
Irma Sefrinta12 November, 2020
Hi! Love your articles!
I’m working on an opportunity to move to KL early next year and your articles are definitely helpful to make me certain that this is the right next move for me!
Couple of things I want to ask:
My office will be located in TTDI and I’m a single woman in my late 20s. Big fan of outdoor activities and I love trying different kind of foods. Would you recommend to rent an apartment in/nearby TTDI or should I also look somewhere else?
I used to live in the Netherlands where public transport is very well connected and I don’t need a car to go to different places. Any thought on public transport in KL? Would you recommend to buy a car?
Shezz13 November, 2020
Thanks for your message and I’m glad to hear the articles have been useful.
I’d say TTDI is a great starting point and would tick many of your boxes. There’s a good selection of restaurants nearby and the jungle/park is on your doorstep. Plus it’s close to work!
You may also like Mont Kiara for most reasons mentioned, and I think there’s a bigger selection of condos to choose form.
I always like to look around different areas first when moving to a new place to get a feel before renting anything long term. Try visiting some of the other neighbouring suburbs too if you can.
In regards to public transport, to be honest I haven’t used it in KL but everyone I know that has says it’s efficient, though it’s probably not anywhere near as connected as in Netherlands.
If you live close to work and don’t have a family then you should be able to get around fine without a car, but it depends where you end up staying and your preference. I walked to work so just used Grab taxi’s whenever we went out which is usually cheap and reasonable, or if we wen’t further afield then we rented a GoCar. A scooter could also be an easier way to get around if you’re a fan of them.
Sounds like you’ve got a lot of planning! I hope this helps and best of luck with your upcoming move.
Irma Sefrinta14 November, 2020
Thanks a lot for the insightful feedback! My company will provide 1 month accommodation to give me a bit of time to look around so I hope that will be enough to find a long term rental.
Indeed there will be lots of planning to be done so I’m just hoping this whole situation with the pandemic will get better soon.
Take care and stay safe!
Alice McCormack5 December, 2020
Hey! Do you have any advice for meeting other expats in KL? I’m considering moving with work and early 30s / single – so just wanted to know if it’s generally welcoming and things to do / expat activities to meet others? Thanks
Shezz6 December, 2020
Thanks for your message. Generally I found the expat community in KL to be really friendly, open and welcoming, so I’m sure you won’t find it hard to meet a good crowd. The locals are really lovely too.
To be honest my school was really big so I socialised mainly with colleagues, but as a starting point you can maybe head to one of the meet-up events organised by Expat.com, Internations.org or via Meetup.com. Otherwise you could try joining a group depending on your interests (maybe check different FB groups). I’m sure work will take you out for a beer or dinner when you get there too!
Hope this helps and best of luck with your plans!