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The Four Best Places to Live in Malaysia for Expats

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Malaysia is a captivating country. It’s business-friendly, affordable, has a diverse culture, breathtaking landscape and stunning urban centres – what’s not to love?

This dynamic Southeast Asian nation offers a blend of the traditional and the modern, with a thriving economy and world-class infrastructure that’s complimented by the unique blend of ethnic and cultural identities.

One of the world’s top tourist destinations, Malaysia offers the traveller a choice of urban, rural or even tropical retreats, each with its own unique charm and lifestyle options. Whether you’re looking for the fast-paced excitement of a cosmopolitan hub, the tranquillity of a culturally rich town or the serenity of coastal living, Malaysia will have something for you.

If this country sounds like the place for you, you’re not alone. Nomad Capitalist’s founder, Andrew Henderson, is particularly fond of this Southeast Asian destination. But where exactly should you live?  

Where to Live in Malaysia

Where to Live in Malaysia
Should you join other Malaysia expats enjoying this nation’s rich heritage?

Malaysia has two different parts: Peninsular Malaysia (West Malaysia) and East Malaysia, which is on the island of Borneo. They’re completely separated by water. 

The Borneo part of Malaysia is made up of Sabah and Sarawak and there are a few places in this part of the country that you might want to live in.

There’s the tax haven of Labuan. At once an independent state and a part of the nation of Malaysia, Labuan’s unusual status affords it a comfortable blend of security and independence. 

Brunei is also situated right in the middle but there are few opportunities for expats to live there and, as a strict Muslim regime, this region may not appeal to all Westerners. 

So, our advice is to you to stick with Peninsular Malaysia. Within that region, there are four main places we’d recommend: Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Langkawi and Malacca. 

1. Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, has one of the largest expat communities in Southeast Asia.

Kuala Lumpur (KL), the incredible metropolis in the heart of Malaysia, pulsates with life. With its diverse culinary scene, exciting nightlife and numerous job, business and investment opportunities, Kuala Lumpur appeals to both locals and expatriates.

The main international airport serving Kuala Lumpur is 45 kilometres from the city, but it is easily accessible by various means of transport. Notable locations include Kuala Lumpur City Centre (KLCC),  which is an amazing place to live, work and play; that’s where you’ll find the Petronas Towers, KLCC Park and a variety of impressive architecture.

Another is Mont Kiara, an affluent suburb with a host of modern amenities, international schools, medical facilities and high-end malls. With exclusivity in mind, Mount Kiara’s high-rise apartments and low-density surroundings offer plenty of peace and tranquillity.    

A large modern four-bedroom condo with access to a swimming pool can cost around RM1 million in Mont Kiara, which is the equivalent of just over US$210,000. Wealthy locals and expats also live in neighbourhoods like Damansara in Petaling Jaya.

One advantage of Malaysia is its foreign ownership rules that allow expats to buy property and even land. In fact, Malaysia is one of the few countries in Asia where expats can do so. 

And in Kuala Lumpur, there are plenty of opportunities to buy land and own a home. If you want to buy quality real estate in Kuala Lumpur, see our Real Estate Plan. We can help you purchase top-notch foreign real estate like a local. 

You can read more about living in KL in our guide to this hidden gem for expats living in Asia.

2. Penang

Penang Temple live in Malaysia
Penang is great for many expats looking to live in Malaysia outside of Kuala Lumpur.

Penang Island is the second largest city in Malaysia and has the highest population density. It’s a charming island that offers a laid-back lifestyle amidst historic streets, vibrant street art, delectable cuisine and beautiful beaches. 

Penang’s slower pace of life and rich cultural offerings make it an attractive choice for those seeking a relaxed yet culturally enriching environment. But perhaps the true essence of Penang lies in the warmth and hospitality of its people.

Penang is multicultural, with a melting pot of Chinese, Indian and Malay cultures that coexist harmoniously. With a strong sense of community, Penang is not just a destination but a place where expats, particularly retirees, will feel at home. 

If you like a more traditional Southeast Asian vibe and want to be near the water, we suggest Penang. You could live in George Town, the island’s capital which is a colourful, multicultural place known for its British colonial buildings, Chinese markets and impressive mosques. 

In addition to modern apartment complexes and shopping malls, the island has many beaches dotted around its coast. There’s Batu Ferringhi, where you can actually live near the beach in a villa or sea-view apartment. 

Port Dickson is another popular coastal retreat, particularly for those who want to be near the sea.   

3. Langkawi

Pantai Cenang Beach Langkawi Malaysia
Langkawi offers a unique experience for most expats seeking a home in a place with a rich cultural heritage.

If you want to stay in a resort area with all it entails, look no further than the paradise island of Langkawi: a duty-free island located in the Andaman Sea close to the Thai border. 

The island is beautiful, has amazingly diverse wildlife and has fantastic local food that blends Malay, Thai and Indian cuisine. Then there’s the beaches: Langkawi has miles of beaches and, despite the island being quite large (478.5 km²), you’ll never be far from one. Chenang, one of the biggest, is lined with bars and a perfect place to watch the sun go down on another perfect Malaysian day.

With lush mountains, rainforests and tropical palms, Langkawi is more remote and has more of a rural feel, with a much more laid-back, slow pace of life. 

In Kuala Lumpur, you’re spoiled for choice in terms of cultural attractions, restaurants, markets and nightlife. In Langkawi, there are fewer options, but if island life appeals, then Langkawi could be a perfect fit.

Recently, there has been an increase in the number of freehold projects in this area. Previously, Langkawi mostly had leasehold projects, where individuals did not own the actual land but instead just held a lease on it. Now, there are more freehold properties. 

At the same time, in both Penang and Langkawi, we’re beginning to see the development of more infrastructure, housing and amenities. For example, you can catch direct flights with Qatar Airways and don’t have to travel to Kuala Lumpur for international connections. 

4. Malacca

Malacca river town live in Malaysia
Malacca offers a different lifestyle than Kuala Lumpur.

Further south lies Malacca, a city steeped in history and cultural significance. Its UNESCO World Heritage status reflects its colonial past and diverse influences. 

Residents here experience a blend of tradition and modernity, coupled with a strong sense of community. Malacca’s charm, historical allure and proximity to nature make it a captivating place to call home.

Malacca is a city where history comes alive, cultures converge and the past intertwines seamlessly with the present. It’s an extraordinary destination where where you feel you could lose yourself in the captivating tales and timeless beauty of the place.

Located on the coast of the Strait of Malacca, which divides Malaysia and Indonesia, it’s about two hours south of Kuala Lumpur. As with Langkawi, Malacca will suit those who desire a slower pace of life. It’s a little more disconnected and slower, but the city is just as mesmerising as the other places we’ve explored.

Do You Want to Live in Malaysia?

Do You Want to Live in Malaysia
Should Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia be your second home in Southeast Asia?

There are many beautiful places in Malaysia. For most people, the choice will be between Kuala Lumpur and Penang, with some of the smaller coastal outposts offering a possible alternative. 

But there are many options to choose from.

Perhaps the best aspect of life in Malaysia is that you can own property there as a foreigner – something that’s not allowed in most Asian countries such as Vietnam, Singapore and Cambodia. 

Malaysia can be a great place to live full or part-time as part of your Trifecta strategy or just to visit. 

If you want to establish a personal or corporate base in Malaysia, set up a call with us today. We’ll explain how Malaysia could fit into your holistic offshore strategy.


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