Living in Kuala Lumpur as an Expat – Tips from The Petronas Towers

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As the Malaysian Airline A330 descended to approach Kuala Lumpur International Airport, I could not help but marvel at the view from my window seat. The deep blue sea below me turned to a bright turquoise near the horizon. Dense tops of emerald palm trees fringed the Malaysian side of the Malacca Strait, the strip of sea that separates Malaysia from Indonesia in the west. It was a picture perfect view of a tropical haven. “Paradise”, I thought to myself.

Petronas Towers

Petronas Towers

The weather felt warm as I came out of the airport and hopped into a taxi. Off we drove to the city that I highly anticipated to be my future home. It was my first time visiting Malaysia, and I was here for the final job interview arranged by an international recruiting firm. Kuala Lumpur struck me as a spacious, clean city with beautiful weather, a lot of greenery, and peaceful people who like to mind their own business. After living in Kuala Lumpur for a year and visiting most part of Malaysia, my views of this serene, beautiful country haven’t changed.

A Melting-Pot of Cultures

Living in Malaysia can be a learning experience of a lifetime, as you come across a diversity of cultures that coexist together in perfect harmony. Malaysia is home to some 29 million people including Malays (50.4%), Chinese (23.7%), Indians (7.1%), and indigenous people (11%). The equatorial country has a sizeable number of immigrant workers and foreign residents, who are estimated to constitute 7% of the population. The Chinese and Indians have been living in Malaysia for many generations. Islam is the majority (and the official) religion, followed by Buddhism, Christianity, and Hinduism. However, everybody enjoys complete religious freedom and national holidays are observed on different religious occasions such as Islamic New Year, Chinese New Year, Eid, Deewali, and Christmas.

Living in Malaysia

Living in Malaysia

Expat-Friendly Environment

Malaysia is one of the most expat-friendly countries for many reasons. Almost everyone speaks English, so there’s no language problem. The multi-ethnic society has plenty of room for other cultures and nationalities to thrive. The healthcare facilities are the best in the region, and affordable. The standard of doctors and hospitals is comparable to or even better than those in the United States. The education system is based on the British system and is better than most other Asian countries, as is Malaysia’s literacy rate of more than 93%. The world-class transportation and utilities infrastructure makes it a joy to live and travel in Malaysia. The food is delicious and the cost of living is lower than Thailand and Singapore. And yes, the weather is great throughout the year.

Expat Life in Malaysia

Expat Life in Malaysia

Plenty of Places to Explore

I work in Kuala Lumpur and my office is in the once world’s tallest Petronas Towers. From my 70th floor window, I have sweeping views of the clean and green Malaysian capital and the fringing Titiwangsa Mountains, where the splendid Genting Highlands resort is located. Just one-hour drive from the Petronas, it’s the perfect place to spend a weekend with your family. Kuala Lumpur is itself bustling with shopping and restaurants, but if you really want to taste the charms of this wonderful country, you’ll need to travel to the breathtaking islands of Langkawi, Perhentian, or Penang. Mount Kinabalu  and Cameron Highlands are ideal for escaping the summer heat. But Malaysia has a lot to offer not only for adults, but also for families.

Housing in Kuala Lumpur

From the housing point of view, Kuala Lumpur again figures among the best cities in the world, particularly Asia. The residential apartments in the neighboring Thailand and Philippines tend to be much smaller and poorly serviced. Kuala Lumpur apartments are generous in space and cheaper to rent or buy. Buying is a good option for those who want to settle here permanently or earn rental income; however, according to Malaysian laws, foreigners can only buy property if the purchase price for a single property is more than 1 million Malaysian ringgit, which is about $320,000. The excellent 2,500 square-foot apartment where I live costs me $1500 per month.

Housing in Kuala Lumpur

Housing in Kuala Lumpur

Areas and Activities to Avoid

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office currently has an advisory against travelling to the islands off the coast of eastern Sabah, because of insurgency and kidnappings. The unrest is limited to those remote areas only, and the rest of the country is very peaceful and secure. Be mindful that possessing illegal arms or drugs is punishable by death in Malaysia, and homosexuality is illegal. However, bars and nightlife are available in Kuala Lumpur.

Malaysia may feel like home to many foreigners, particularly Americans who are living in Kuala Lumpur, who’ll find this city as modern and spacious as some of the best American cities. My assignment here may last a couple of more years or less, but I’m in no mood of going back anytime soon.

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Miki Mo

I am a traveler. I have seen lots of places – from exotic Asia to sophisticated Europe! What makes me appreciate every place the most are the warm people who welcome me – and their willingness to show their culture and tradition! Most of the events I really love, involve feasts and celebrations – each country, each ethnic group has a unique way of celebrating nature, and each has unique tradition – which is such a magnificent scene to watch. Truly, there is a lot to learn in the world – a lot of things to explore, and the journey never ends, well, at least for me ☺


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