Living in Kuala Lumpur is relatively easy, moving there, on the other hand, can be trying (that is putting it nicely). Why? Well, check out 15 things you should know before living in Kuala Lumpur which will make your life a little easier before moving abroad.
Malaysia itself has a population of approximately 28.5 million, with 1.6 million living in Kuala Lumpur and is considered to be the most densely populated district in Malaysia. KL population is made up of 50% Malay, 23.7% Chinese, 7.1% Indian, plus 11% indigenous tribes – with all considered to be Malaysian nationals.
KUALA LUMPUR LIVING GUIDE
You may also like to read – 10 of my favourite things to do in Kuala Lumpur on the weekend.
15 Things you should know before living in Kuala Lumpur
The National Languages of Malaysia
Although Malaysia is a melting pot of cultures, Bahasa Malaysia (also known as Bahasa or Malay) is the official National Language. You will, however, hear other languages such as Tamil, Mandarin and English.
So getting around is relatively easy for anyone who speaks English, as most people speak English.
Currency of Malaysia
Malaysians use Ringgit Malaysia(RM), which is approximately RM3-$1 Aussie dollar or RM4-$1 for US dollar.
Living in Kuala Lumpur area guide
Living in Kuala Lumpur (and surrounding areas) is spread out for expats. Most expats originally lived in and around Bangsar and Damansara Heights. Expats like this area because of its proximity to the city. With the luxury of being able to live in a freestanding home or gated community.
Bangsar is full of great restaurants and bars that cater to international residents.
However, more recently, Mont Kiara (that has two well known international schools) has been a favourite place for expats. Most live in high rise apartments here and are within walking distance to both international schools, shopping centres, international supermarkets and restaurants. Most housing here is high rise apartment living.
City living (near KLCC) is convenient for those wanting a location that is easily accessible and would prefer an apartment lifestyle. With Kuala Lumpur having unbearable traffic jams during rush hour, KLCC is a convenient location for those who love living in the city. Close to bars, restaurants and nightlife.
Ampang is popular for those who have children at The International School of Kuala Lumpur (ISKL), and those who work at one of the embassies in this area. Ampang is only 11km to KLCC area, so the commute into the city isn’t very far.
Desa Park City is an area full of many gated communities all situated around one huge (dog) park. Desa Park City area has excellent amenities, including a resident clubhouse. An excellent location for those with families (especially little children) and pets.
Gita Bayu, Country Heights and Bluconstellation, all these areas are close to the Australian International School Malaysia (AISM). Here you will find gated residences that are all landed properties with a community of their own. These places are great for those that area is also working around this area or Putrajaya and Cyberjaya.
AISM is 20 km to KLCC, and although this doesn’t sound far away and in fact during off-peak hours it is fine, but come rush hour, Friday afternoon, or during a thunderstorm, this commute can take hours.
Living in Kuala Lumpur housing style
Apartment living – Condo’s are the preferred style of expat living; most condos are spacious, have excellent facilities such as a gym and swimming pool and is cost-effective. Most apartments (especially in the KLCC area) do not allow pets, so this might not be the best solution for those with fur babies.
Landed property – Most landed properties are in gated communities, with a security guard at the front gate. These properties also come with shared amenities (although some come with pools), and most homes have a similar look and feel.
There are large gated communities such as Gita Bayu and smaller Gated communities like those found in Mont Kiara so that it will depend on your location and your budget.
Landed houses – There are many landed houses in and around Kuala Lumpur, and these can be a more affordable option. However, for most expats, keeping safe is a priority (some areas are more prone to burglaries than others). There are also some large more expensive landed houses and if you do rent these then hiring security is highly recommended.
International Schools In Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia is full of international schools, and although I could mention many more, I have only listed the ones that I have come into contact with over the years.
AUSTRALIAN SCHOOL IN MALAYSIA – ASIM
AISM is the only Australian curriculum run school in this area, with every student on one campus 20kms from KL. With a school bus available to almost all locations within KL for all year groups. The school offers junior, middle and high school as well as an early learning centre.
GARDEN INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL – GIS
GIS is a British Curriculum run school located right in the heart of Mont Kiara. The school offers nursery, reception, primary and secondary. GIS also provides a bus service that services most of KL areas.
MONT KIARA INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL – MKIS
Mont Kiara International School is a North American run school that offers IB Diploma program for Primary, middle and secondary school students. MKIS is in the middle of Mont Kiara walking distance to amenities and most condos in the area.
THE INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL OF KUALA LUMPUR – ISKL
ISKL is an American Curriculum run school that offers elementary, middle and high school campuses—situated in Ampang, which is why this area is a highly sort after residential area for expats.
THE ALICE SMITH SCHOOL
The Alice Smith School is a British Curriculum run school located. 22kms from KLCC also in Selangor. There is a bus service that allows students to live in around Kuala Lumpur and Selangor areas.
Living in Kuala Lumpur Supermarkets and grocery stores guide
Food is always the first thing I scope out when moving to a new country because trying to create meals that your family is familiar with, with ingredients you’ve never seen before can be frustrating.
Cold Storage – you can find most international brands in Cold Storage, and you can see this supermarket spotted all over Malaysia.
Bens Independent Grocers (BENS) – There aren’t as many BEN’S grocery stores in KL, but they do have a broader range of international items. You will find the imported groceries are a little more expensive (especially the meat and cheese, but it is worth it).
Jaya Grocer – Jayer Grocer is a smaller variety of international groceries found here, but you can undoubtedly find the basics.
Village Grocer – Village Grocer is an excellent international range of groceries here, one of the places you could buy almost everything in one store.
Giant Supermarket – Although Giant supermarkets are more prominent than others usually sell more than just groceries, but also clothes, toys and homeware. I always come out feeling disappointed by the lack of international items. The one plus is that this store is much more affordable than all the others.
Moving is never fun, and can be stressful! You can read some of my tips on moving abroad. Just remember – when moving into a new home that has a security guard, you will need to fill in a form before the moving crew can enter. They will typically have to fill in (and sometimes pay a deposit) as well.
Ensure you check the guidelines because most condos or gated communities will have a time limit of how long the removalists will be able to be parked inside the complex.
There will also be a time limit on how long the removalists will be allowed to set up in your home. This information is essential because a two-day move can blow out to three days or even four, so make sure this is communicated to the supervisor in charge before the move.
Want more tips on moving? Then check out Things to do before moving to another country.
Living in Kuala Lumpur furniture store guide
You can find lots of furniture shops in KL, however, if you want western style furniture (and western sizes – this includes beds), then there are a few stores I recommend in South East Asia.
IKEA – IKEA is always the trusty shop to go to for European sizing at affordable prices. A lot of expats flocked to IKEA because moving around can damage expensive pieces so buying furniture that won’t break the budget and you won’t mind leaving behind on your next move, then this is the place to shop.
I would pay the extra of having things installed; it will save you hours of frustration having to unpack a flat pack.
Harvey Norman– For those Aussies who know this furniture store well, this is the one-stop-shop for all your furniture and electrical items. You will not find IKEA prices, but the furniture at Harvey Norman is more durable and will last you longer.
Facebook pages, including Marketplace – This is the best way to find pre-loved items (usually from expats moving house or to another location). You can buy almost anything from these sites for a fraction of what you would buy them from a retail store.
Living in Kuala Lumpur – Hospitals
I always scope the closest (English speaking) hospital doctors and hospitals when I move abroad. I find this very important (especially when you have little children).
Pantai Hospital – Pantai Hospital has excellent facilities as the buildings in Bangsar are newly built. Most doctors recommend specialists at this hospital as it in a convenient location with many English speaking specialists.
Gleneagles Hospital – Gleneagles hospital has many specialists and is the most well-known hospital for expats. You do have to take a ticket at reception before being able to be seen and directed to the right area (the wait can be long, so bring a good book).
Situated in Jalan Ampang, which means it is convenient for anyone living in and around the city centre of Kuala Lumpur.
Dental care in Kuala Lumpur
V Care Dental Centre, Sdn. Bhd. – Although this dental clinic is hard to find at first and can be difficult to park (where isn’t in KL?) Dr Ong is worth the visit, she is reassuring (for those who are afraid of the dentist). I highly recommend her for dental implants.
Smile Shop Dental Clinic – For regular check-ups and orthodontist (my son got his braces here), this place is excellent. Smile Shop is in Plaza Damas in Sri Hartamas, it is easy to identify, with easy access to parking. The staff have always been friendly and will fit you in whenever they can.
Damansara Orthodontic Clinic – Damansara orthodontic clinic also comes highly recommended, you can find the clinic in Bukit Damansara. The staff are friendly, and the cost is reasonable. There is no website, but you can call them on 03 – 2093 6160 and they are at 3rd Floor Blok C Plaza Damansara, Medan Setia 1, Bukit Damansara, 50490 KL.
Finding a hair salon that understands caucasian hair can be challenging in Kuala Lumpur, so we found two places (one for the men in the family and one for the women) in KL, that was worth paying extra.
Ish – Ish Salon is the salon every expat recommends; it is in a convenient location in Bangsar, but bookings are essential as they do get busy, especially on occasions like the MANZA ball. It is a little pricey for Malaysia, but if you are happy with the colour and cut, you are willing to pay for the service.
Truefitt and Hill – Once you have tried Truefitt and Hill, you will end up a loyal customer! It is by far, one of my husband and sons favourite barber. It doesn’t matter where we live; we source out Truefitt and Hill now. There are a few in KL, one in KLCC, one at the Majestic Hotel but our favourite was always Bangsar Shopping Centre.
Living in Kuala Lumpur – Pampering
Whether you love a massage or a facial KL has something for everyone at an affordable price. Pampering doesn’t stop there; nail salons are plentiful as are spas, waxing salons, and there is also Beverly Wilshire medical centre.
Living in Kuala Lumpur Activities
There is a range of activities to enjoy as an expat, a little something for everyone at an affordable price. You can join a golf club like TPC Kuala Lumpur or play Mahjong each week at MANZA. The best place to find this information is on the expat Facebook pages.
Living in Kuala Lumpur expat apps
Do not drink the water when living in Kuala Lumpur
Tap water in Kuala Lumpur is not safe to drink, so you have a couple of options.
- You can buy bottled water from any store, or have it delivered from your local redmart store.
- Buying filter jugs is also an option, or you can boil your water before using it.
- Installing Coway for a monthly fee, which is a filter that comes from your tap and provides you with hot and cold water instantly.
- Water bottling machines are also handy because you only need to buy one big bottle from the supermarket and place it onto the machine (like a water cooler in a doctors office).
Most expats in Malaysia will hire a live-in domestic helper. To ensure you hire the right person for your family can be tricky, so recommendations from others are always helpful. You need to go through an agency if you wish to employ a domestic helper (this too should be recommended because the cost with vary from agency to agency).
Drivers can also be helpful for many reasons, firstly driving in Kuala Lumpur is chaotic, scary and lengthy. Traffic jams are a nightmare in rush hour, so being able to work on your laptop while stuck in traffic is a bonus. Parking in KL is also a nightmare, so having someone drop you off and then pick you up is a luxury worth spending. Some couples share one car, so having a driver makes sense in this respect.
You may also like to read Things you should know about moving your pet abroad.
Don’t forget your travel insurance as unforeseen circumstances can pop up when you least expect it when you are travelling. These include natural disasters, lost luggage, cancelled and delayed flights and emergencies.