With its friendly and welcoming locals, high-quality condos, top-notch travel opportunities and comfortable lifestyle, Kuala Lumpur has long been a popular destination for savvy expats. Just last year, in a comprehensive survey by Internations, it jumped 23 places to rank 15th worldwide for providing the best expat experience. In my recent post about living in KL, I spoke about many of its perks and can certainly vouch for it being a great place to live. But where are the best areas to live in Kuala Lumpur for expats? This article will guide you through the top suburbs you should consider.
What should I expect to pay?
Typically, for a decent condo in these recommended neighbourhoods, you’ll probably pay around the 3’000 MYR mark per month (approx. $9’000 AUD or £600 GBP) as a modest estimation.
Of course, like anywhere, cheaper finds and hidden gems are possible too. The Sailor and I are one of those fortunate renters, and we managed to secure a great condo in the Mont Kiara area for 2’400 complete with a jungle view, 120 square metres of space and olympic sized swimming pool.. as well as all of the other added extras.
However KL is not short on more expensive, luxurious suites if your budget can stretch that far. You’ll generally find KL pricier than Bangkok but still much more affordable than Singapore.
Most expats tend to seek rentals in condos rather than houses. This is for a few reasons.
• Condo offerings are usually more plentiful
• Condos offer all of the standard facilities (swimming pool, gym…etc) – houses don’t always
• Condos are usually cheaper and are virtually always within gated communities
Here are my top 6 places for expats to live in Kuala Lumpur.
• Mont Kiara/ Sri Hartamas/ Desa Sri Hartamas
Perfect for: convenient living and close proximity to two International Schools (GIS & MKIS.)
Mont Kiara is often described as the ‘Beverly Hills’ of Kuala Lumpur. It’s a very popular expat neighbourhood and has become one of the most expensive areas to live in KL.
As most condos are only at 50% occupancy and developers are continuously building in the area, there’s an abundance of available lets. There’s also a plethora of condos to choose from catering for most tastes and budgets- from older, spacier and cheaper condos, to smaller, sleeker and pricier ones. There are a few houses available too, although generally at a higher premium.
A downside to the ongoing developments is the noise and it’s not uncommon for condos to be built close together, so it’s more likely you’ll get a concrete view rather than a blanket of green. However some are better situated and provide a pleasant city view of the KL towers or the jungle, for example along Jalan Kiara 5, or in the Kiaramas area.
Whilst Sri Hartamas and Desa Sri Hartamas are technically different suburbs, they border Mont Kiara and to most residents it feels like an ‘extension’ of it.
Sri Hartamas offers a lot of dining options, as does the area around the Mont Kiara 1 shopping centre. A bigger mall called Publika is also a popular venue for dining and small scale retail needs, as well as having one of the better BIG supermarkets.
Mont Kiara is my neighbourhood and I’ve enjoyed it for all of its conveniences and jungle entry which is just in front of my condo (like gold dust here!) However if I had a car, I’d definitely consider other areas in this list.
If you work at or have a child attending one of the international schools, then living here beats the traffic which becomes heavily congested during peak hours. But as it‘s quite a busy suburb, it would be nice for something a little less populated, polluted and noisy. Whilst many families live here, it’s not uncommon for them to move to Desa Park for more space.
• Bukit Damansara (aka Damansara Heights)
Perfect for: seekers of a quieter residential neighbourhood.
This affluent suburb is conveniently located between TTDI and The Botanical Gardens, as well as being right next to Mont Kiara and Bangsar. If you’re working centrally or on the west side of the city, then getting to and from work should be relatively easy as it’s surrounded by freeway.
I really like Bukit Damansara as it’s quite peaceful and mainly residential, but with some great restaurants and bars. When I visit places such as Huckleberry, it feels like I’m visiting a Malaysian version of Belgravia in London. And as it’s quite hilly, you also get some nice views of KL.
In terms of accommodation, pickings seem to be slimmer for smaller budgets. It’s not impossible to get something around the 2’000 mark, but it’s likely you’ll be paying in excess of 3’000. There is a mix of houses and condos available in this area.
• Desa Park City
Perfect for: families and green space.
Desa Park has been built like a city for its conveniences but with a rural feel. It’s a popular location for families and people seeking more tranquillity.
As well as having a hospital, International School and clubhouse for residents, it has a lovely park with eateries overlooking a lake and a small shopping centre. This neighbourhood is a nice place to walk around and children can happily ride their bikes.
The population density is low and Desa provides some nice condos, houses and bungalows to choose from. The rental prices are also favourably less than Mont Kiara and Bukit Damansara as it’s a little further out.
Although Grab taxis are a really convenient and cheap way to get around, a car is recommended as this neighbourhood is further out. It may also feel a little isolated for some.
Perfect for: shopping and eateries.
Bangsar is a hugely popular hangout for expats and middle/upper class locals alike. Even if you don’t live here, you’ll be a regular visitor for all of its trendy international restaurants and shopping centres.
This large township has a mix of busier areas around its commercial quarters, as well as quieter residential districts. It is generally a low-rise area with many houses and a few high-rise condos in the mix.
As Bangsar is only 2.5k away from KLCC and close to the other western suburbs, it’s a good option if you’re needing to be in close range to the Alice Smith School or Garden International School.
Rents do tend to be higher here for all of its conveniences, but if your budget can be stretched a little (or if you don’t mind sacrificing your condo specs) then Bangsar can be for you.
A popular venue for locals and visitors is Bangsar Baru, which is where I spend most of my time. It’s home to the strip of restaurants and bars around Jalan Telawi and is where you’ll find Bangsar Village I and Bangsar Village II shopping centre. It also houses a well-known Sunday night market (Pasar Malam.)
Another favoured hub is Bangsar Shopping Center in the eastern Taman Sa district, which houses one of the best supermarket in KL (Jason’s Food Hall), as well as many decent eateries and retail shops. In addition, Mid Valley Megamall and The Gardens Mall is just a stones throw away.
Bangsar is split into a few different locals. The big main road that runs through Bangsar (Jalan Maarof) divides it into east and west. Some neighbourhoods/housing estates on the east-side to consider are: Bangsar Park, Bukit Bangsar, Bangsar Utama and a part of Bukit Bandaraya.
On the west side, you can find Bangsar Baru, Lucky Garden, Off Jalan Bangsar, the other half of Bukit Bandaraya and Pantai Hills.
Bangsar South is also another option that lies below the Federal Highway. It boasts great city views and some stylish mid-range and high-end condos, a 6-acre central park as well as a growing number os services. It’s also close to the popular hiking forest, Bukit Gasing.
• TTDI (Taman Tun Dr Ismail)
Perfect for: a chilled, convenient neighbourhood.
TTDI is by far one of my favourite neighbourhoods in KL. It’s a popular residential area but has a relaxed vibe and feels like it’s blessed with more space. I often venture here through the jungle on weekends to enjoy the laid-back atmosphere and delicious eateries, or for a night of laughter at Malaysia’s only dedicated comedy club ‘Crackhouse’.
TTDI is mainly a low-rise area with many houses and a few condos. It is bigger than one might assume on a first visit, as it has a few central hubs with restaurants and shops.
The locals are generally affluent Malaysians, with a few discerning expats who have made this quieter suburb home. In terms of accommodation, it is much cheaper than neighbouring Mont Kiara. Condo prices start at about 2’000 and up and there are also many houses and bungalows on offer.
TTDI has a nice park with a lake and has jungle access, as well as a golf course a gold course. It has a couple of small shopping centres for essentials, as well as a BIG and Hero supermarket. TTDI is also conveniently right next to bigger malls like 1 Utama.
Perfect for: suburban living a stone’s throw away from KLCC.
Those of us who live on the west-side of the city don’t have much of a reason to visit Ampang, but I checked it out recently and was pleasantly surprised.
It’s no new news that Ampang is a popular expat area; it has been for decades. Apart from being lined with Embassies and thus diplomats who like to live close to work, it is also home to an American international school, ISKL.
If I were to have been based on the west side of KL or KLCC, then I would definitely consider Ampang as a potential home. The suburb sits just outside the main hustle and bustle of KLCC, yet feels very suburban. Although like many places in KL, one downside is the traffic.
Ampang is quiet a large district with a few parks, lakes and the jungle that lines its eastern parameters. I found the area around Tamarind Springs Thai fusion restaurant (Taman TAR) to be particularly pleasant to walk around or jog; you would be hard pressed to believe you were in KL at all.
Ampang is also refreshingly low-rise. Whilst many wealthier KLites and expats live in huge gated mansions, there are a number of bungalows to let, as well as low-end and high-end condos.
Here are a few do’s and don’ts when renting in KL.
- Bear in mind that when visiting condos, it is not uncommon for it to appear dirty and unkept. Unlike the western world, in Malaysia rentals are not usually cleaned before viewings. Properties are normally only cleaned before you move in. Therefore try to see past the dust coating and former tenants nail polish stains.
- Request pertinent improvements to a property before agreeing to take it. Asking for painted walls or upgraded fixtures and furniture is not uncommon.
- Live in city centre, unless you have to or particularly like being in the thick of the action. It’s a nice place to awe over the Petronas Towers whilst sky-dining at dinner, but it’s quite busy and congested. KLCC in my opinion is for visiting, not living.
- Offer the asking price on your condo. Rental prices listed on popular property sites like iProperty (my favourite) and Property Guru are usually indicative. It is very common for renters to haggle down the price.
For example, if a condo is listed for 3’000 pcm, you may be able to get up to RM 400 off of the asking price. A friend of mine rents a sizeable condo in Mont Kiara for 3’500pcm, when the asking price was 4’300. As a general rule, the higher your budget, the more you can haggle.