If you’ve been following our story you know that we spent one year in Malaysia. We weren’t planning to spend that much time in Malaysia. But due to Covid our travel choices were limited and we thought it would be safer to stay put in a country with great health care for awhile. We spent 3 months living in Cameron Highlands, 1 month in George Town, 5 months living in Batu Ferringhi, 2 months in Ipoh, and then 1 month in a combination of other places. In this article you’ll read all about our cost of living in Malaysia.
(Click the link below if you would prefer to watch a video with the same information: Our Cost of Living in Malaysia)
Housing – US$586 Per Month
Housing was the biggest contributor to our cost of living in Malaysia, as to be expected. All of the apartments we rented included utilities and internet, and all were three-bedroom apartments. (With just the two of use we didn’t need three bedrooms, but 3-bedroom apartments were the easiest to find in the places we were living). We rented our apartments mostly through Airbnb. That makes the cost a little higher because you are paying the extra fees, but it is also a good way to find short-term rentals. We did get some discounted rates. Some of the owners dropped their prices due to covid.
But the best way to save on housing is to get a one year lease instead of renting through Airbnb. We couldn’t do that because we didn’t know how long we would be staying in Malaysia.
We talked to a couple who signed a 3-year lease on an apartment identical to ours in the same building in Penang. They signed their lease before Covid, so no discounts. They are paying RM1400 per month (that’s about US$340). That is for a 3-bedroom, fully-furnished apartment, in a complex with a pool, security, and a gym. But that doesn’t include the utilities. So on top of rent they said they pay about RM30 for electricity, which is less than US$10. They don’t run the air-conditioner which lowers their electricity bill quite a bit. They pay RM10 per month for water, and RM90 for TV and internet.
So back to our cost of living in Malaysia, our average was $586 through Airbnb. But we think we could have lived comfortably for $450 per month with a one-year lease, including utilities and internet. I also wanted to mention a website called iProperty.com that has listings of apartments for rent, a great way to get an idea of long-term rental prices.
Food – US$351 Per Month
This $351 per month is both for eating out and also for groceries. There are plenty of full-size grocery stores in Malaysia. But there are also many outdoor local markets that sell fruits, vegetables, and even meats. One thing that really influences the price of food items is whether or not the food is local or whether or not it is imported from another country, with imported food of course being more expensive. Alcohol is also quite expensive because it is heavily taxed. (That wasn’t an issue for us since we don’t generally drink alcohol).
The cost for eating out is going to depend on whether you are eating local Malaysian street food or if you’re eating in more restaurant types of places. The local food is delicious and also super inexpensive. Here’s just an example: Roti canai is a common food for breakfast. It’s a cross between a flat bread and pancake, and it comes with curry sauces for dipping. The cost for this is usually RM1 and RM2. That’s about 25 or 50 US cents! And it’s surprisingly filling. I’m not still hungry after eating roti canai. And if I were still hungry I’d just get another one, at that price.
For lunch a popular local dish is nasi lemak. It’s a rice dish with an anchovy sauce, sometimes wrapped in a banana leaf, and sometimes served with fried chicken. This dish (with chicken) typically costs under RM4 or under US$1.
And then a typical lunch or dinner might be nasi kandar. This is a curry based dish with rice, vegetables, and fried chicken. Its usually RM10 or less (US$2-3)
If you’re going to eat western food in a more mid-range type restaurant you’ll pay a little more. Many of these restaurants will have lunch specials. For example our favorite Italian restaurant in Penang would have a lunch set of pasta or a pizza with a juice for around RM25 (US$6) including tax and tip.
Health Insurance – US$198 Per Month
We have an international policy with IMGlobal. We have never actually filed a claim or used this insurance, but we feel it is necessary to have it. It covers us everywhere in the world, including in US whenever we go home for a visit.
Miscellaneous – US$101 Per Month
Next is our miscellaneous category, everything not in other categories. We averaged $101 for this category. This would include our cell phone sim card (we just got a card for one of our phones). It also includes things like clothes that we bought in Malaysia, toothpaste, our masks for covid, and all the other little things that add up.
Medical Appointments – US$76 Per Month
Our insurance has a $5000 deductible, and we have never come close to spending that much. So we pay for our medical appointments with our own money.
The medical care in Malaysia is amazing! Some of the best in the world! In some cases the cost is 10% of what we are used to in the United States. We had several doctors appointments here in Malaysia, blood tests, multiple dentist appointments, medication, eye exams. (The eye exam was $12, that would have been over $100 in the US). We wanted to get all our check-ups done in Malaysia while we had the chance, and we are glad we did.
Entertainment – US$59 Per Month
Entertainment for us is mostly outdoor activities and sightseeing type activities. Here is a list of some of the activities during our year that are included in the $59 toward our cost of living in Malaysia:
- An afternoon paddle boarding trip in Gopeng.
- A snorkeling tour on the Perhentian Islands.
- Touring the tea plantations in Cameron Highlands.
- A boat tour through the mangroves on the beautiful island of Langkawi.
- Riding a funicular to the top of Penang Hill.
- Taking a Malaysian cooking class so we could learn how to make our own delicious Malaysian food.
- Taking a batik class where we learned the art of dying and coloring fabric.
And there were many more activities, I can’t list them all. Throw in a few museums, a couple of movies at the movie theater, and a concert, and that’s the $59 per month on entertainment.
Transportation – US$39 Per Month
Try surviving in the US spending only $39 per month on transportation for two people. That’s not going to happen! The public transportation system in Malaysia, both within cities and also between cities, is efficient, inexpensive, and very convenient. It’s very easy to live in Malaysia without owning a car. This $39 was mostly for buses and trains, although we did occasionally take a Grab taxi. Grab is Malaysia’s ride sharing company and it’s super cheap, about $1 for a short ride.
TOTAL – US$1410 Per Month
So, when you add it all up and put it all together, it comes out to be $1410 US dollars per month for our cost of living in Malaysia for one year. We are spending about half of what we spent living in the United States. Remember everybody lives a different lifestyle, and your spending will not be the same as ours.