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A Quick Guide to... Living and Working in Kuala Lumpur

Posted by: Kathie Higginson

Malaysia is an amazing mix of national heritage and modern, cosmopolitan cities. It’s a truly multicultural society, with 3 main Malay races and 3 main religions – the indigenous Malay are Muslim, Indian Malays are Hindu and the Chinese Malay are Buddhists. Several oil and gas projects have come online in Malaysia in recent years, so there are a lot of expats from all around the world living and working in Malaysia.

Currency: Ringgit (RM), divided into 100 cents.
Police / Ambulance: 999

The heat
Malaysia is hot and humid throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from about 27C/80F in the morning to 32C/90F at midday, and you can expect thunderstorms quite often in the afternoon. Like many hot but developed cities, most offices and shopping malls, apartments and expat houses have air conditioning so you may actually find that you’re cold indoors.

Learn the customs
When you meet someone for the first time in Malaysia, you will often find that they extend both hands but just lightly touch yours, then bring their hands back to their chest to mean “I greet you from my heart.” This salam should be reciprocated. Don’t be put off if you’re a man and a female doesn’t shake your hand – she is most likely Muslim and would prefer to nod and smile.

Malays like to be addressed as Mr Firstname rather than Mr Lastname, which would be their father’s name. Chinese people’s surnames precede their given names, so they should be Mr Surname.

Don’t kiss in public! And take your shoes off when you enter someone’s home.

The Traffic and the Holidays
Kuala Lumpur is quite a congested city, which is made even worse on the numerous public holidays and religious festivals, when you’ll find many roads closed. Don’t be put off by public transport, however – the expanding light rail is excellent and even taxis are very cheap.

Petrol is very cheap! But anything made outside of Malaysia is expensive…
Kuala Lumpur is undoubtedly more expensive than other places in Malaysia, but with that being said it’s a city with a lot of modern conveniences so you would expect to be paying a little more – and if you’ve lived in other Asian hubs such as Singapore or Jakarta it will probably seem quite reasonable!

Try the local food, it’s amazing
There’s a huge range of foods from all over Asia and the “hawker stalls” on the streets dish up amazing meals at a fraction of the price of a restaurant. If, however, you are hoping for a taste of home you may be disappointed, as many of the Western style restaurants get it wrong. Great local options include roti canai (flatbread with dhal) and char kwey teow (rice noodles with egg, beansprouts, cockles and prawns).

Nights out
You won’t struggle to find lively bars in Kuala Lumpur, and there really is something for everyone. You’ll find the entertainment district Bukit Bintang is very busy, and there are a wide range of events and festivals throughout the year.

Western style malls are everywhere, and you’ll find that they contain pubs, theatres, art galleries… Basically, retail therapy is big business in KL and you will find a very diverse shopping experience.

Stay Safe
Petty crime is fairly common in KL as in any major city, with purse snatchings and muggings happening quite regularly – but like anywhere, if you keep your valuables inside pockets and be aware your surroundings, you should get along just fine.


It’s not uncommon in Kuala Lumpur for an expat family to employ a maid – it certainly isn’t frowned upon, and the maids are typically Filipino or Indonesian. It depends where you’ve lived in the past how you view this, but taking on a maid could be giving someone a source of income and will almost certainly make your life a lot easier.

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