A Quick Expat Guide to Living in Malaysia

by David Tompkins

Expat Guide to Living in Malaysia

living in MalaysiaOne of Asia’s hotspots, Malaysia is known for its natural beauty and diverse cultures. It has evolved into a hotspot for expats, digital nomads, and global citizens seeking an exciting expatriate or retired life. Be it the picturesque beaches, lush green forests, or exciting nightlife, this country has something for everyone. Here’s an expat guide to living in Malaysia.

With its low cost of living, expats and retirees find living in Malaysia comfortable.  Malaysia has always kept its door open for foreigners. Additionally, in 2015, the country’s Prime Minister launched a 5-year-plan to ensure that Malaysia becomes one of the “high income” nations by 2020.

You will love to explore everything that this country has to offer including viewing the world-famous Kuala Lumpur skyline or venturing into its old tropical rainforests. Foodies can indulge in delectable street food or visit the local restaurants to grab some authentic South-East Asian culinary delights. There are more than enough ways to spend your money on this expats’ paradise. Of course, you will have a lot of fun on every penny spent.

living in MalaysiaBefore you make this South-East Asian travel hub your next home, it is important to know it inside out. Here is a quick guide to give you a fair idea about this visitor-friendly expat base:


Malaysia comprises of 13 states and 3 federal territories with a variety of beaches, islands, landscapes, and world heritage sites. If you are a nature lover, you will enjoy the rainforests laden with a variety of flora and fauna. Malaysia is basically divided into Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. Both these parts are separated by the South China Sea. Traveling to Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, and Brunei is easy as Malaysia shares land borders with these neighboring countries.

As an expat, you can plan your digital nomadic life in Kuala Lumpur, Penang Island, and Johor Bahru. These places have all the necessary amenities to make your stay convenient and hassle-free. Apart from the indigenous ethnic groups, the population mainly comprises of Malays, Chinese and people from Indian origin. You will experience the lovely fusion of these cultures no matter where you ultimately decide to settle.

Languages & Dialects

living in MalaysiaMalaysia is home to several ethnic groups and each has its own distinct language. Commonly referred to as Malay, Bahasa Malaysia is the official language of the country since 1968. 50% of the population belongs to Malay ethnicity, followed by the Chinese, Indians, and a minority of the native population. In fact, there are about 134 languages that are being spoken in this country but English is widely spoken in this country.

English is compulsory in schools, so international students should be able to cope up with the educational curriculum here. Interestingly, local Malaysians use a typical version of English which is called “Manglish”- a concoction of Malay, Cantonese, and Tamil language. Expats living in Malaysia will find themselves easily adopting this language.


living in MalaysiaEarlier, Malaysia’s primary economic activity was the production of tin, rubber, and other raw materials. However, after the 1960s, the country developed a robust and well-diversified economic foundation. Today, they are one of the major exporters of electrical appliances, natural gas, and palm oil. Malaysia also is listed among the top 13 countries to record 7% average economic growth annually for 25 years. With a positive outlook in terms of global trade across the region, this is a country where you can invest your precious time and money as an expat.

Foreigners and local business people can invest in diverse sectors that are progressing at a rapid pace. Some of the lucrative fields you can explore as an expat entrepreneur living in Malaysia include information and communication technology and tourism. If you are a professional, you have innumerable job avenues to opt for too.


living in MalaysiaWhen you’re living in Malaysia, you will find there are too many options when it comes to eating out. Malaysia is well known for its local delicacies. With the mix of ethnicities, there various types of cuisines that all Malaysians enjoy together. On a typical day, you can see hawker stalls selling various Chinese food, food trucks selling Malay food, restaurants selling Indian food. There are plenty of dishes to try in various restaurants and some are well known for its specialty dishes.

On the other hand, there are also night markets in every residential neighborhood. They’re also called “Pasar Malam” by the locals which literally means night market. In this brightly lit bazaar, traders sell fruits, vegetables, local snacks, toys, clothes usually at a cheaper price. The pasar malam usually takes place once every week as the traders would rotate to a different neighborhood in a district.


Malaysia’s tropical climate serves as a big appeal for thousands of expats visiting it every year. Throughout the year, the climate is mostly hot and humid. Temperatures usually range between 21ºC to 32ºC in most of the areas across the country. If you prefer a cooler climate, you can take a trip to Cameron Highlands or Genting Highlands. It usually rains every two to three days and it is refreshing after a hot day.  You can expect at least 2000mm of rainfall every year.

Malaysia – An Expat’s Haven

As the capital of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur plays host to numerous expats and digital nomads visiting it for business or leisure. Low lifestyle cost and employment opportunities make it a safe haven for foreign nationals and professionals. Expats may face some hiring restrictions in certain industries or sectors where Malaysians are usually welcomed. However, expats living in Malaysia will find plenty of opportunities in the nation’s National Key Economic Areas. In order to be employable in Malaysia, you just need to fulfill stringent criteria. You will be hired easily if you are highly-skilled, qualified, or adequately experienced in a particular professional domain.

Malaysia often features in the list of top 10 countries for expats looking for an extended stay or retirement. If you are seriously seeking a fulfilling expat life, Malaysia can be your best bet. So, get prepared for the time of your life by planning well in advance. Your expatriate life in Malaysia would possibly be an experience to relish forever!

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