Malaysia is one of the most exciting Asian destinations for expats and digital nomads. The country offers an easy to obtain 10-year visa, a tropical climate, an English-speaking population, historical sites, white beaches, a great infrastructure, and on top of everything, a low cost of living.
The cheapest places to live in Malaysia are:
- Alor Setar, Kedah
- Ipoh, Perak
- Melaka City, Malacca
- Johor Bahru, Johor
- George Town, Penang
- Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Malaysia has already long been a hotspot for various Asian cultural experiences, including Malay, Indian and Chinese. And now, people from all over the world are moving there. Furthermore, the Malaysian government made it easy for expats to move to the country by offering an MM2H visa. Whether you prefer a bustling life in Kuala Lumpur, or the relaxed lifestyle of Penang island, Malaysia has got you covered.
The cheapest places to live in Malaysia
Research shows that Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru and George Town are among the world’s cheapest places for expatriates. However, here is our detailed guide of the least expensive places to live in Malaysia.
Alor Setar, Kedah
Alor Setar is the state capital of Kedah. With a population of 400,000 people, it is the second largest city in the state. The coastal town itself has a historical significance for the country and hosts many beautiful temples, mosques and museums.
Alor Setar is surrounded by paddy fields, and is close in proximity to Thailand resorts, as well as the capital Phuket. This gives you great opportunities to have holidays every weekend and still have a high quality of life while living in Malaysia.
While being located on the coast, you get to enjoy seafood and a seaside climate. Furthermore, the most popular tourist destination in Malaysia, Penang island, is just one and a half hours away.
Alor Setar also has an airport and can be reached from Kuala Lumpur by air (55 minute flight time), rail or bus (6-7 hours).
Ipoh is the capital city of Perak. It’s located nearly 180 km north of Kuala Lumpur and is the best place to live on the peninsula’s west coast. From Ipoh, you can reach the island of Penang in 1.5 hours (150km).
Furthermore, it’s the fourth largest city in Malaysia with a population of about 600,000, with 70% of Ipoh’s inhabitants being of Chinese origin.
Ipoh is a top destination for long-stay Asian travelers, expats and digital nomads. It’s a landlocked city with a laid-back vibe and a charming downtown.
Ipoh offers a high standard of living at a much lower cost, vast greenery, beautiful nature, a sunny climate and tasty food. In fact, Ipoh is already very popular among expatriates and retirees, especially from other parts of Asia.
Rich in historical heritage, the city has some remarkable temples. Moreover, Ipoh has Malaysia’s best food scene outside of Penang. It’s also famed for its natural sites. There are plenty of parks, lakes, limestone hills and forests near the city.
Regarding the cost of living, property in Ipoh costs just a fraction of what you would pay in Kuala Lumpur. Hence, it’s an affordable place for expatriates.
On top of that, Ipoh is known as the “Hipster Capital of Malaysia.” That’s because coffee culture continues to pick up, with more than 60 cafes to choose from for relaxing on a nice day. And you have to visit Ipoh’s famous street food at the Lost World of Tambun.
In terms of infrastructure, all necessary conveniences are available in the city. There are supermarkets like Jaya Grocers, AEON, Tesco, Giant and EconSave. You’ll find as well the usual chains like Starbucks, Nandos, Hanamaru and Yoshinoya.
You can also enjoy movie theaters, parks and even golf clubs. To reach the city, you can take a train from Kuala Lumpur. It takes about three hours.
Melaka City, Malacca
Melaka city, also known as Malacca, is the capital of the coastal state Malacca in southwestern Malaysia. It was called Malacca until 2017, after the government decided to change the name. Expats might want to consider Melaka as a home base.
Located just 148 kilometers from Kuala Lumpur, it’s close to both Singapore and Malaysia’s capitals, and it’s a relatively big city with a population of around 600,000.
As the third smallest state in the country, it’s an underrated cultural hotspot and famous for its cuisine and historic buildings. The state has one international school, and public transportation is limited to buses and private cars.
It’s known as one of the most historical cities in Malaysia due to its rich history. There are many museums and old buildings that are worth visiting—all due to various cultural influences, from Malay to Portuguese to Dutch.
Finally, Melaka is a great place for someone looking for a slower pace of life. Here, you can get a balanced lifestyle of city and nature. But for this reason, Melaka’s expat community is relatively small.
Johor Bahru, Johor
Johor Bahru, located in the far south, and right on the border with Singapore, is the capital of the Malaysian state Johor. Around 660,000 people live in Johor Bahru.
Johor Bahru also has a small international airport that has direct flights to Singapore’s Changi Airport, which is only 21 miles away. Thus Johor Bahru can be a great low-cost base for further exploration.
Johor Bahru is an affordable place to live. Almost everything in Johor Bahru is one-third the price that it would cost in western countries. A couple can live comfortably with a monthly budget of around $1,500.
That includes renting a modern and comfortable apartment, owning a car, eating out several times a week, and all incidental expenses. Expats here can have a high standard of living on a very modest budget.
A basic Malaysian style two-bedroom furnished apartment rents for around $300 per month, and luxurious apartments cost up to around $1,000 per month.
Plus, it’s insane how close Singapore is. By crossing the border to buy things, you can save a third of your budget.
Furthermore, Johor Bahru has an active and large expat community. It’s probably the third most popular location to live in Malaysia after Kuala Lumpur and Penang.
George Town, Penang
The city of George Town is located on the beautiful island of Penang. It’s the third largest city in the country with a population of about 700,000 residents.
Any Malaysian would say that their favorite place to go for a weekend trip is the island of Penang.
George Town is full of cultural and heritage charms, and it is also a sought-after destination for the best street food. It’s also part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The island Pedang and city of George Town have been top expat destinations in Malaysia for years. There are tens of thousands of expats here, so meeting them is pretty easy.
George Town includes a high-tech manufacturing hub regarded as the “Silicon Valley of the East.” The city also serves as the financial center of northern Malaysia and it’s the nation’s most vital medical tourism hub. So if you are looking for high-quality, yet affordable medicine, this is the place.
In fact, the island Penang is a healthcare haven. For years, many people from surrounding countries, like Indonesia, Hong Kong, and Singapore, have traveled to Penang for affordable, first-class medical services. Over 700,000 foreigners came to Malaysia last year for medical treatment.
As a result of Penang having been a British colony, English is widely spoken. George Town is a multicultural city with about 60% of its inhabitants being Chinese, 32% Malays and 7% Indian.
In George Town, you can find everything, from beaches and shopping malls to great food and a vibrant culture. Yet, the cost of living is low–a couple can live comfortably for $1,500 a month.
Rent in a modern highrise with a pool, a gym and security guards will cost between $750 and $800. While that may seem expensive, you’ll be getting a modern three-bedroom apartment and three bathrooms in a 2,300-square-foot condo with a balcony overlooking the ocean. Houses without beach views cost significantly less at around $550 to $650.
Another advantage of living in Penang is its proximity to the Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
Kota Bharu, Kelantan
Kota Bharu is the capital of the state of Kelantan, located in the north-eastern corner of the peninsula. It is probably the smallest city on our list with around 300,000 residents. Yet, there are many cultural and heritage treasures to be found in the northern part of Malaysia and in Kota Bharu in particular.
If you like Thailand and would like to travel there occasionally, Kota Bharu is a great base as it’s situated very close to the Thai border.
However, Kota Bharu has fewer expats than the places mentioned above. Moreover, the state of Kelantan is a bit more conservative than other states, for instance Kuala Lumpur or Selangor. Kota Bharu is predominantly a Muslim city, with almost 80% of its population practicing Islam. As a result of the religious influence on the Kota Bharu, there are no mixed-gender cinemas or food services during Friday prayers.
Nonetheless, Kota Bharu has its benefits, such as natural beauty, sandy beaches, awesome delicacies, warm people and a low cost of living.
Other cheap places to live in Malaysia
The following affordable Malaysian cities are also worth looking at, however they aren’t so popular among expats.
Kuala Terengganu is the capital of the state Terengganu. The city is home to over 400,000 people who are predominantly Muslim. Kuala Terengganu has many advantages, such as access to the sea, beautiful beaches, a low cost of living and many fascinating mosques.
Kangar is a very small town with less than 50,000 people and it’s the capital city of Perlis state. It’s located next to the Thailand border and can be a great holiday destination. You can also hop on a ferry and reach one of Malaysia’s most famous tourist destinations, Langkawi Island.
Kuantan is the capital of the state Pahang, and it is located less than three hours from Kuala Lumpur on the highway. With a total population of 500,000 (predominantly Malay), Kuantan is a relatively small city with good roads and infrastructure.
The best and most remarkable part of living in Kuantan is its scenic beaches. Its golden sand, gorgeous jungle and coconut trees are all you’ll ever want. And of course, there’s the added benefit of very low prices due to it not having been discovered by tourists yet.
How expensive is Malaysia?
More and more tourists are visiting Malaysia each year as a result of it having some of the most desirable destinations in Asia. Moreover, Kuala Lumpur’s airport is a great hub if you want to travel around Asia. Therefore, moving to Malaysia can be the perfect start to your new adventure!
However, Malaysia isn’t as budget-friendly a destination as Thailand, Vietnam or Cambodia. Cities like Kuala Lumpur are becoming known as the new Singapore with rapidly rising real estate prices.
For example, some things cost much more in Malaysia than they are even in Western countries, such as alcohol and imported food products. Cars can be double what you used to pay at home. But some things are very cheap in Malaysia, including local produce, fuel, food in small local restaurants and properties for rent and sale.
Despite the increase in the cost of living, Kuala Lumpur is currently ranked as the 188th most expensive city. That makes it far more affordable than most. In general, the cost of living in the Malaysian capital is 42.72% lower than living in the US.
Hence, Malaysia is still much more affordable than other Asian places like Singapore, Hong Kong, Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo.
Also, the cost of living depends on which part of Malaysia you want to live in. Prices vary not only between regions, but also between cities. That’s why we have selected the cheapest places to live as an expat, digital nomad or remote worker. Places like Kuala Lumpur have a high cost of living, while places like Kedah have a relatively cheaper cost of living.
Furthermore, the local currency–the Malaysian Ringgit, has dropped due to recent inflation. Now, it has become slightly more affordable if you earn money in other currencies. Yet, inflation makes the lives of locals and expats working in Malaysia more expensive.
One can still live on a lower budget by choosing less expensive restaurants or shopping in less well-known malls and mainly consuming local produce.
So is it expensive to live in Malaysia? Living in Kuala Lumpur can be costly. If you want to spend less, but still live in the capital, you can choose to rent a place in less expensive areas.
Also, when eating out, the places most recommended for tourists are often overpriced. For example, Jalan Alor, a street lined with hawkers serving local food, tends to have prices up to 50% higher than elsewhere. So go where Malaysians go. There are many food courts where you can get a cheap, good quality meal.
How much money do you need to live comfortably in Malaysia?
For the cost of living in Malaysia, a single person will need around $1,014 per month. A couple can live comfortably in Malaysia on $1,500, and more luxuriously on $2,500 per month.
Malaysia is a haven for expats, digital nomads and anyone with foreign income. The cost of living in Malaysia can be up to three times lower than what you used to pay back home.
Additionally, you will have a large number of housing options, from average apartments to luxury homes.
The single person estimated monthly costs are $1,014. The overall cost of living is about 43% less expensive than in the US, while housing costs 72% less than in the US, even in the country’s most expensive city Kuala Lumpur.
Across Malaysia, basic monthly living expenses can be from RM2,500 ($600 USD) to RM5,000 ($1,200 USD), depending on the size of the household.
In Kuala Lumpur, a furnished one-bedroom apartment in an expensive neighborhood costs about $467 per month. A three-bedroom apartment in the center of the city will run you approximately $887 per month. Utilities, such as gas, heat and electricity, will cost about $50 for two people.
Expats who don’t like city living usually choose to live on the island of Penang, where a three-bedroom apartment costs about $560 per month.
A 5-mile taxi trip in Penang costs about $8; in Kuala Lumpur, it will be about $5. Monthly transportation tickets for public transit range from $27 – $30, while a liter of gas costs just $0.55 cents.
A basic lunchtime meal will be about $4. Alcohol however is quite expensive. A beer from the supermarket will set you back on $2.90 for a bottle and $5 in the pub.
A dinner for two in a western restaurant will cost about $36 and $18 in a more local place. In contrast, a meal from the street food vendor costs under $4.
Two movie tickets cost only about $9, and gyms are about $35 for a monthly membership.
Compared to other developed countries, Malaysia has a low cost of living. However, due to rapid development, prices continue to rise, especially in the capital Kuala Lumpur.
But even if you choose to live in its most expensive city, the cost of living in Malaysia is still low. This all makes it an attractive destination, not only for expats, but also for retirees with a limited budget.
From city life to island living, you can enjoy it all in Malaysia. The people are friendly, the weather is warm and the beaches are beautiful. And, perhaps most importantly, it will cost you a whole lot less to live there than it will to live in the US, Europe or other Asian countries.
Want to move to Malaysia?
Getting a remote job abroad is the best solution when moving abroad, particularly to countries like Malaysia, where local salaries are low. However, many Western countries don’t allow their employees to work from different locations.
But not in our case here at Support Adventure. We are an expat outsourcing company that allows employees to work from all parts of the world, including Malaysia!
Currently, we have open positions for helpdesk IT support, service dispatching and occasionally admin assistance. You can apply for a remote job with us here!