Moving to Kuala Lumpur
Kuala Lumpur (“KL”), the Malaysian capital, has built up a solid reputation for being South East Asia’s travel and business hub and one of the most expat-friendly cities in the world.
Although it’s the most expensive city in Malaysia, when compared to other near-by cities like Singapore or Hong Kong, your money will go a lot further. Expats on a budget will find education, buying a home, shopping, and healthcare in KL very affordable.
The iconic Petronas twin-towers, huge shopping malls (3 of the 10 biggest malls in the world are in KL), and booming construction industry, symbolise the nation’s embrace of modernisation and innovation. Despite its rapid industrialisation, Malaysia’s colonial roots are still visible throughout the city.
One cannot talk about Malaysia without mentioning the food. The country consists of 3 main ethnic groups, Malay (50%), Chinese (22%), and Indian (9%), all of which. Foodies will be spoiled for choice between family-owned joints, delicious street food, and Michelin star restaurants throughout the city.
Malaysia has a tropical climate – temperatures are consistently between 22c and 32c with high humidity levels throughout the year.
The majority of Malays are Muslim and the official religion is Islam. When visiting and living in Malaysia, you should be aware of local customs and practices especially when it comes to dressing appropriately. The Muslim population does not drink alcohol, so, although it is widely available, heavy taxes make it an expensive habit relative to incomes.
The majority of expats in Malaysia bring technical and specialist skills to the booming service sector, which employs 89% of the workforce in KL, mainly in finance, insurance, and real estate. Foreign talent is increasing in demand as many Multi-National-Corporations use Kuala Lumpur as a base in South East Asia.
Hays, a global recruitment firm, found that Malaysia is facing a chronic shortage of highly-skilled staff, leading to stiff competition among companies to recruit and keep the best talent.
Average monthly income in Kuala Lumpur is 8,500RM (USD $2500) and expats with specialist skills typically experience little difficulty in getting an employment visa. Local companies need to prove that a specific task cannot be fulfilled by Malaysians and must adhere to a quota of local labour in their company.
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Although living in one of KL’s suburbs may sound appealing, incidences of petty crime like home and car break-ins and purse snatching are common, especially due to the expat community being targeted more often than not. Most apartment blocks come with guarded options but if considering a townhouse or a bungalow, it is important to think about security and safety.
The other downside of living in a thriving economy is the amount of construction. Building sites are very common throughout the city and in every neighbourhood. The likelihood is that construction noise, pollution, and traffic will be a regular feature in your life in KL, which is important to keep in mind when house hunting.
Due to its reliance on expat communities, accommodation is well-suited for their tastes. Most housing options including a shared or private pool, barbecue pit, fitness facilities, mini-markets, and children’s playgrounds.
- Family Friendly: Damansara / Taman Tun Dr Ismail (“TTDI”) – Slightly removed from city life, these west districts of KL attracts expats and locals alike due to the range of housing and convenient access to stores and facilities.
- Hip and Trendy: Bangsar – Bangsar’s links to the city, restaurants, markets, and expat-tailored shopping centers has attracted a large expat community and middle class locals. The area’s western influences can make it feel like an expat bubble at times.
- Upmarket: Mont Kiara – Luxurious Mont Kiara is a favourite among expat families due to the number of international schools in the area and convenient facilities. However, the area isn’t well connected to the rest of the city so having a car is recommended.
- Up and Coming: Petaling Jaya – Popular with locals commuting to KL and Klang Valley. Technically not part of KL but its transport links has led to it being more of a commuter town with an abundance of restaurants, attractions, and shopping malls.
A two-bedroom upmarket condo in KL can set you back upwards of 6,000MYR ($1700) but condo apartments in areas outside of the city center typically cost half as much.
House rents are very similar to apartment rates. Currently, the average sale price for a detached house is $139,960, and the housing market is enjoying a boom right now.
For foreigners considering a long-term stay in Malaysia, the government has introduced an incentive called Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H), which is specifically designed to make it easy for families, students, and workers to live in Malaysia for up to 10 years.
Schools and education
The choice for relocating families will usually be between private and international schools as the language barriers and culture shocks would be difficult to overcome at a public Malaysian school.
Private school lessons are taught in English and expat children will be able to adapt quickly. The curriculum focuses mainly on science and mathematics. Fees range from 10,000 to 15,000MYR per annum ($3000 – $4500).
Parents will not struggle to find a place at a private or international school as there are many to choose from.
Tuition fees for International schools can be quite high though – anywhere from 30,000 to 60,000MYR per annum ($8800 – $17700). Most schools also require an application fee and an enrollment fee beforehand so be sure to research and allow for this.
The most prominent schools stick to the British National Curriculum, although you will also be able to find schools offering the International Baccalaureate.
A day in the life
Depending on the mood, a typical day in KL would be spent either exploring the city by travelling between trendy coffee shops, restaurants, and exhibitions, or soaking up the sun and firing up the BBQ by a condo pool.
You might start the day like the locals with some Nasi Lemak – rice, peanuts, anchovies, and spicy sauce or some Roti Canai – an Indian flatbread with chickpea sauce. Either way, your local Mamak, a quintessential local fast food experience, will usually feature at some point.
Although the humidity and lack of pavements makes it unadvisable to explore the city by foot, you might find yourself at the Lake Gardens, the biggest green area in KL, which hosts two large man-made lakes, botanical gardens, and a Bird Park.
Towards the tail end of the day, watching the dramatic sun set over the city from one of the many high-rise bars is always a delight. Or, if you crave some nightlife, you will usually end up in the Changkat Bukit Bintang area, where you will be spoiled for choice for pubs, clubs, and bars catering to all tastes and budgets.