With a vast mix of cultures and nationalities, Malaysia offers expats a lifestyle replete with first-world comforts and conveniences, while its easily accessible jungles and island getaways still allow for a sense of adventure.
The country consists of two different geographical regions separated by the South China Sea. To the west is Peninsular Malaysia, while the sparser territory of East Malaysia includes Sabah and Sarawak regions of Borneo Island.
Living in Malaysia as an expat
Life in this Southeast Asian country is filled with excitement and diversity.
Traditionally a country reliant on resource exports, Malaysia has expanded its economy in areas such as science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism, resulting in an increase in expat employment opportunities.
Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city in Malaysia, is the financial, cultural and economic centre of the country, and a major hub for international air travel. Among the skyscrapers and Dutch architecture, the city is packed with luxury shopping malls, quality restaurants and colourful markets. It is a melting pot of cultures and offers expats an energetic lifestyle.
With options ranging from standalone houses to condominiums with gymnasiums and swimming pools, expats can expect finding accommodation in Malaysia to be a walk in the park. Housing here is generally quite inexpensive and most expats report that they can afford more spacious abodes than back home. Expats should note that the price of housing in central Kuala Lumpur can be steep compared to other spots in the country.
Getting around in Malaysia is generally cheap and easy, particularly within Peninsular Malaysia. The country has an extensive bus system, and the Light Rail Transit makes getting around quick and easy. Taxis and ride-hailing services are also easy to come by in the larger cities. East Malaysia, on the other hand, is slightly less developed when compared to the mainland. Driving outside large cities is generally preferred by many expats, although traffic in places like Kuala Lumpur can be heavy.
Malaysia has an affordable public healthcare system with a high standard of medical care. There are also a number of top-quality private facilities available. The country is a popular medical tourism site with excellent service, top-tier facilities and exceptional staff. Despite the affordable healthcare system, expats are advised to have health insurance, since foreigners don’t qualify for the public healthcare scheme.
Cost of living in Malaysia
The cost of living in Malaysia is generally reasonably low. An expat’s biggest expense will most likely be accommodation, with food, transport and healthcare much more affordable than in Western countries such as the US or UK. Even education in the country is generally highly affordable.
Expat families and children
Malaysia has many public schools with great reputations. Although facilities and teaching standards are generally decent, schools can be short-staffed. Kuala Lumpur offers a range of great international schools that hold their own against neighbouring Singapore’s renowned institutions. Expats can also choose between multiple private schools in the country.
Malaysia is an exciting expat destination, but it is not without its challenges and differences. The myriad of cultures and immigrants make it a place that can be foreign, yet welcoming to newcomers. As a popular tourist destination, expats can visit wonderful beaches, nature hideaways and serene tea plantations, to get away from the city bustle over weekends.
Climate in Malaysia
Although separated into two distinct parts, Malaysia’s landscape and climate are fairly similar. The country has equatorial weather, with the southwest monsoon season from April to October and the northeast monsoon season from October to February. There is a dry season from June to October, when burning is conducted in many parts of the country, which can lead to heavy pollution. Expats with respiratory problems may wish to keep this in mind.
Malaysia is a stable country eager to attract foreign businesses and investors. The diverse population ensures a warm reception for expats as they settle in. With a high standard of living, beautiful sights to see and interesting cultures to explore, any expat will enjoy their time here.
Population: 32.7 million
Capital city: Kuala Lumpur (also largest city)
Other major cities: Johor Bahru, Ipoh, George Town
Neighbouring countries: Malaysia is bordered by Thailand to the north, Indonesia to the south and southeast (which it shares the island of Borneo with), the Philippines to the east across the South China Sea, and Singapore to the south.
Geography: Malaysia has a diverse landscape of coastal plains and mountainous terrain. The two major regions of Malaysia, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo, are separated by the South China Sea. There are also a number of outlying islands that form part of Malaysian territory. Mount Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo, is the highest mountain in Malaysia. The country’s diverse mountains and rain forests are home to some of the most unique creatures on Earth.
Political system: Federal parliamentary constitutional elective monarchy
Major religions: The majority of the population is Muslim. Buddhism and Christianity are also quite prominent.
Main languages: Malay is the official language, while English is widely spoken in business. The Chinese population in Malaysia usually speaks Cantonese, while the majority of Indian population in Malaysia speaks Tamil.
Money: The Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), divided into 100 sen.
Electricity: 240V, 50Hz. Malaysia uses three-pin, UK-style plugs.
Internet domain: .my
International dialing code: +60
Emergency contacts: Dial 999 for a police ambulance emergency or 994 for fire emergencies.
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the left side of the road. The country has an extensive public transport system consisting of trains, buses and ferries, though this is less developed outside of Kuala Lumpur.
►Learn more about Culture Shock in Malaysia
"Malaysia, in general, is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s not on a lot of people’s radar, but once you are here there is so much to explore." Read more about Emily's expat experience in Malaysia.
"I love the year-round hot weather and sunshine, the relaxed pace of life despite living in a capital city, the food and the incredible travel destinations right on our doorstep!" Learn more about Anna's experiences of life in Kuala Lumpur.
Are you an expat living in Malaysia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Malaysia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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