Financial Tips for Expats in Malaysia

Malaysia is among the top destinations in Asia for expats, and not without reason. While the country’s economy depended on exports for long, it has now expanded to cover spheres such as tourism, medical tourism, science, and commerce. This, in turn, has opened up a sea of employment opportunities for locals and expats alike. If you are moving to Malaysia, exercising some financial prudence may take your money a long way.

Watch How Much You Spend on Rent

Rents are high in the center of cities and get affordable as you move outward. For instance, a one bedroom apartment in the heart of Kuala Lumpur may set you back by around $650, whereas you might find something similar outside the central district for less than $200.

If you have a choice in the city you can move to, you may want to consider places other than Kuala Lumpur and Penang, as this can lead to savings. If you move to a good neighborhood in Kota Kinabalu, you can find a one bedroom apartment for around $200. In Malacca, you’ll spend around $275 for a similar living space.

Day to Day Costs

Unless you’re on a tight budget, you don’t have to worry about everyday expenses. If you plan to do a majority of your eating at home, you’ll do rather well in less than $200 per month. Eating out is fairly affordable. If you eat at a local restaurant or a street hawker, you can get by with as little as $2. A three course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant will cost around $12, and if you want to order a bottle of mid-range red wine, add another $12 to the tab.

If you plan to use your car to get to work, consider getting a monthly parking permit from your local council. Make sure you use designated parking areas, failing which you may need to pay a fine. If your car is clamped you will need to pay a fine of around $13, and the costs begin escalating if your car is towed away and impounded.

Education Costs

If you are moving to Malaysia because of work, you may consider asking your employer to pay for your children’s education. While expats get to choose from a number of private schools in Malaysia, enrolling your child in one requires that you spend a considerable sum. If budget is not a constraint, you may even look at international schools, most of which are in Kuala Lumpur. Public schools are the least expensive way to go, but language can serve as a barrier and you may have to deal with a prolonged bureaucratic registration process.

Moving Money

Moving money in and out of Malaysia is no longer as costly as it was until a couple of decades ago. Now, you no longer have to deal with the steep fees and unfavorable exchange rates associated with banks, and you get to choose from a number of specialist money transfer companies. While companies such as InstaReM and Payoneer give you easy means to receive funds from other countries, there are several alternatives when it comes to sending money out of Malaysia.


There’s a good chance your employer will decide where you hold your salary account. When given the choice, some expats choose to open offshore bank accounts. This way, you can keep all your money in a central location even if you keep moving between countries. Besides, these accounts may offer potential tax benefits. If you open an offshore account, it is your responsibility to keep tax authorities in your home country and Malaysia informed.

Health Matters

You do not know when you are going to catch that cold or flu, so it is good to be prepared. Many people use their savings account when they get healthy emergencies, in many cases which leads to bankruptcy and debts. Instead, invest a great medical card for such occasions.


Living is Malaysia does not require that you spend too much money, especially when compared to the U.S., the UK, Europe, Australia, or even Hong Kong and Singapore. A great thing about this country is you can make do with just about any budget.

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