Cost of living in Malaysia: Your guide

TransferWise
19.07.17
4 minute read

Malaysia’s low cost of living and high quality of life means that many expats choose to relocate here. The Malaysian government has encouraged foreigners to retire in Malaysia, as a fixed income can go a long way here. The capital Kuala Lumpur also pulls in huge numbers of working expats looking for an adventure. In fact, you’ll find expat communities of retirees, digital nomads and people employed locally, in all of the larger cities.

If you’re retiring, temporarily relocating or moving to Malaysia for good, it’s helpful to have a picture of what life there will cost as an expat. Here’s a quick guide.

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How expensive is Malaysia in comparison to the UK, the EU, the USA and Australia?

The official currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR on currency exchanges).

You can find out the exact value of your money in MYR, using an online currency converter - but here’s a rough guide:

  • 1000 USD = 4,290 MYR
  • 1000 GBP = 5,469 MYR
  • 1000 EUR = 4,832 MYR
  • 1000 AUD = 3,262 MYR
Comparing basic cost of living1 bedroom flat in city centre (monthly rent)Lunch for 2 (3 courses, mid range restaurant)Transportation (monthly pass)
Kuala Lumpur, MalaysiaMYR 2,390MYR 70MYR 125
Penang, MalaysiaMYR 1,104MYR 65MYR 110
London, UKMYR 9,274MYR 300MYR 720
New York City, USAMYR 12,926MYR 324MYR 507
Sydney, AustraliaMYR 8,492MYR 261MYR 527

One major factor that adds expense for expats in Malaysia, is the cost of converting cash to MYR from your home currency. Even if your bank says it offers fee-free money exchange, you can be sure that its cut is rolled up in the exchange rate it uses. To get the best deal, you should use an exchange service like TransferWise, which applies the same mid market rate you’ll find on Google or Reuters. With a quick service, and low flat fees to transfer your cash, this can be a much better deal than relying on your home bank.

What are the general living expenses for Malaysia? How much can you get by on?

Although the day to day costs of living in the capital city, Kuala Lumpur, are similar to other cities in Malaysia, rents are much higher here. You can live well for much less if you choose a home outside of the city centre, or in another city entirely.

Living expenses in Malaysia (excluding rent)Kuala Lumpur average costPenang average cost
Single person, per monthMYR 2,036MYR 2,058
Single person, per yearMYR 24,432MYR 24,696
University student, per monthMYR 1,268MYR 1,302
Four person family, per monthMYR 7,310MYR 7,487
Four person family, per yearMYR 87,720MYR 89,844

What are the average salaries for Malaysia?

Average salaries in Malaysia are fairly low, in keeping with the low cost of living.

Salary averages for MalaysiaAverage annual salary
CashierMYR 18,723
CopywriterMYR 57,344
Financial analystMYR 118,115
Graphic designerMYR 61,870
Mobile developerMYR 138,868
Product managerMYR 96,694
ReceptionistMYR 24,032
Software engineerMYR 91,491
TeacherMYR 154,334
Web developerMYR 78,063

How expensive is housing and accommodation in Malaysia?

The amount you pay in rent is a big driver of your overall cost of living. Rent in Kuala Lumpur is much higher than elsewhere in the country, so if you’re planning on staying for a long time, you might decide that buying a property in Malaysia is a better option.

Renting in MalaysiaAverage monthly cost (Kuala Lumpur)Average monthly cost (Penang)
One bedroom apartment (city centre)MYR 2,390MYR 1,104
One bedroom apartment (outside of city centre)MYR 1,342MYR 839
Three bedroom family home (city centre)MYR 4,495MYR 2,408
Three bedroom family home (outside of city centre)MYR 2,156MYR 1,817
InternetMYR 163MYR 157
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m2 apartment)MYR 214MYR 164

What about healthcare and dental costs in Malaysia?

Healthcare in Malaysia is available at both public and private institutions. Health infrastructure, especially in the large cities, is well developed, but having private health insurance can mean you get access to services quicker than you might through the public system.

Healthcare serviceAverage cost to you
Family doctor check-upMYR 54
Cold medicine for 6 daysMYR 15
Antibiotic prescriptionMYR 20

How much is travel and transportation in Malaysia?

Kuala Lumpur is a notoriously congested city, so using public transportation is a good plan. See what it’ll cost you here:

Transportation and vehicle prices for MalaysiaAverage cost
Gasoline (One litre / 0.25 gallon)MYR 2.11
Monthly bus/transport passMYR 125
Bus ticket, single useMYR 3
Taxi tariff, 8km/5mile journeyMYR 20
Toyota Corolla, newMYR 119,406
VW Golf, newMYR 148,444

How much does education cost?

Malaysia is rated as one of the best cities in the world for students, based on the costs of living and quality of education available. There are public and private universities, including Malaysian campuses of universities based elsewhere in the world.

SchoolAverage cost
Preschool / kindergarten (monthly fee)MYR 861
Private school for lower grades (annual)MYR 27,200
University tuition (University of Malaya)Fees vary depending on course, starting from around MYR 10,700 for international students
University tuition (Universiti Kuala Lumpur)Fees vary depending on course, from around MYR 15,000 to MYR 20,000 for international students

It’s easy to see why so many expats have chosen Malaysia as their home. Some move to frenetic Kuala Lumpur to work in one of the large international businesses there, while others opt for a calmer pace of life in stately George Town. The real adventurers get off the beaten track entirely. Whatever you fancy, the low costs mean that you can have a really great life for less money, making Malaysia a fantastic destination for a permanent move, or just to spend a year or two exploring somewhere new.

Good luck with your new life in Malaysia!


This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.

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