Cost of living in Malaysia (2022 guide)

Gabriela Peratello
21.02.22
6 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.

📑 Table of Contents

Average cost of living in Malaysia per month

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

Check out how much 1 USD is valued as MYR today

Let’s get started with a few examples of the costs of living in different places in Malaysia. We’ve excluded rent for these calculations as this can vary widely — expats in Kuala Lumpur who chose a city apartment are likely to pay more rent than those in more modest accommodation in rural areas, for example.

We’ve also shown the costs in USD so you can compare your new life in Malaysia to the day to day living costs you have in the US.

Here’s a closer look at the costs of living in Malaysia as an expat:

LocationCost of living — single person/monthCost of living — family of 4/month
Kuala Lumpur¹486.75 USD1,735.76 USD
Penang²456.77 USD1,613.76 USD
Johor Bahru³501 USD1,783.81 USD
Malaysia — average⁴457.32 USD1,622.22 USD

Malaysia cost of living compared to the US

Moving on, we’ll see how some key costs line up against similar things in the US. The standard of living in Malaysia is pretty high — but how much will it cost to achieve the dream of a new life there?

Let’s compare a few major costs for expats in Malaysia against the same costs in some major global cities elsewhere in the world.

Comparing basic cost of living1 bedroom flat in city center (monthly rent)Lunch for 2 (3 courses, mid range restaurant)Transportation (monthly pass)
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia¹461,.08 USD18.52 USD23.90 USD
Penang, Malaysia²308.82 USD14.34 USD16.13 USD
New York City, USA⁵3,279.87 USD100 USD129 USD
San Francisco, USA⁶2,443.10 USD85 USD81 USD

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 Wise, 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.

Learn more about Wise

Average monthly income in Malaysia

Average salaries in Malaysia are fairly low, in keeping with the low cost of living. Here we’ll look at the average salaries for Kuala Lumpur as this is often where expats arriving in Malaysia for work will wind up.

PositionAverage annual salary⁷
Cashier4,365 USD
Copywriter13,691 USD
Financial analyst27,573 USD
Graphic designer14,425 USD
Mobile developer32,377 USD
Product manager22,544 USD
Receptionist5,603 USD
Software engineer21,331 USD
Teacher35,982 USD
Web developer18,200 USD

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Cost of living in Malaysia in USD

cost-in-usd

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 center, or in another city entirely.

Living expenses in Malaysia (excluding rent)Kuala Lumpur average cost¹Penang average cost²
Single person, per month486.75 USD456.77 USD
Single person, per year5,841 USD5,481.24
Four person family, per month1,735.76 USD1,613.76 USD
Four person family, per year20,829.12 USD19,365.12 USD

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)¹Average monthly cost (Penang)²
One bedroom apartment (city center)461.08 USD308.77 USD
One bedroom apartment (outside of city center)282.09 USD213.26 USD
Three bedroom family home (city center)857.23 USD565.51 USD
Three bedroom family home (outside of city center)562.94 USD398.25 USD
Internet27.25 USD27.77 USD
Utilities (gas, electric and water for a 85m² apartment)47.94 USD50.80 USD
Read further: full guide for buying property in Malaysia

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 cost⁸
Family doctor check-up15 USD
Cold medicine for 6 days4.15 USD
Antibiotic prescription5.71 USD

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 cost⁸
Gasoline (0.25 gallon)0.50 USD
Monthly bus/transport pass23 USD
Bus ticket, single use0.72 USD
Taxi tariff, 8km/5mile journey8 USD
Toyota Corolla, new29,982.13 USD
VW Golf, new40,143.37 USD

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)164.52 USD
Private school for lower grades (annual)6,388.99 USD
University tuition (University of Malaya)Fees vary depending on course, starting from around 2,500 USD for international students
University tuition (Universiti Kuala Lumpur)Fees vary depending on course, from around 3,500 USD to 6,000 USD for international students

Moving to Malaysia from the USA: best cities to live in

While Malaysia is a huge country, expats do tend to head to a few key places to live. That’s often because they’re looking for career opportunities, great infrastructure and an easy way of life.

We’ll profile a couple of top picks below. However, if you’re not keen on Kuala Lumpur or Penang, why not check out alternatives like Langkawi, Ipoh or Johor Bahru instead.

Cost of living in Kuala Lumpur

kuala-lumpur

Kuala Lumpur (locally shortened to KL) is the capital of Malaysia — and so a popular place for expats moving to Malaysia for work. While it’s one of the most expensive places to live in Malaysia, the costs are still extremely low compared to big cities in the US.

Outside of rental costs, a single person could easily get by on 500 USD a month, and a family of 4 will get a good lifestyle for around 2,000 USD. Looking for a flat in the city center? A further 500 USD a month could net you a one bed place, with a 3 bed apartment coming in at under 1,000 USD¹.

KL — like other major Asian capitals — is big, busy, vibrant and crowded. If you love the buzz of a city, it could be perfect. But even if you want a quieter life it’s worth considering as there are still quiet residential areas in the suburbs which combine a high quality of life, with easy access to many of the best facilities in the country.

Penang cost of living

penang

Penang is a big draw — especially for people retiring to Malaysia.George Town is a historic town on Penang Island which has UNESCO recognition thanks to its historic buildings.

Many are restored shophouses which now host cafes, restaurants and bars — but there are also plenty of areas where the older trades still flourish. George Town sees a lot of tourists — but there’s also an established expat community, and lots of local festivities and activities to get involved in.

Costs of living in Penang are lower than in Kuala Lumpur, and you’ll be able to choose between the historic George Town, or a home in a range of other idyllic places on the island. Panang has great healthcare facilities, and is well connected to the capital when you need to catch a connection to get back to the US.


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!


Sources:

  1. Numbeo - Cost of living in Kuala Lumpur
  2. Numbeo - Cost of living in Penang
  3. Numbeo - Cost of living in Johor Bahru
  4. Numbeo - Cost of living in Malaysia
  5. Numbeo - Cost of living in New York
  6. Numbeo - Cost of living in San Francisco
  7. Teleport - Kuala Lumpur salaries
  8. Expatistan - Cost of living in Kuala Lumpur

Sources checked on 02.18.2022


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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