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Living in Kuala Lumpur for digital nomads: The MEGA Guide (2022)

Living in Kuala Lumpur for digital nomads: The MEGA Guide (2022)

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This guest post was written by Brodi Cole, a digital nomad living in Kuala Lumpur for over a year (see bio below).

From fast and cheap internet to affordable living, entertainment, and dining options, Kuala Lumpur (KL) has all the essentials for a digital nomad to enjoy a high standard of living in Southeast Asia.

Plus, its international airport is a major hub for flights through Asia as well as Europe, Africa, and the Americas.

I lived in Kuala Lumpur for a little over a year and spent a lot of time exploring both the city and surrounding areas. 

Whether you want to base in the city center or live in one of the fascinating neighborhoods, there’s something to do for everyone in Kuala Lumpur.

My Kuala Lumpur digital nomad experience

I first moved to Kuala Lumpur after hearing good things from friends about the city’s livability, food scene, and general friendliness towards foreigners. 

I was not disappointed.

Kuala Lumpur is a melting pot of cultures, with people from all over Malaysia as well as other parts of Asia, Europe, and the Americas living and working in the city. 

This diversity is one of the things I love most about KL – you can find great food from all over the world, and there’s always something new to explore.

The city center is modern and bustling, with plenty of coworking spaces, cafes, and restaurants to work from. 

And when you need a break from the hustle and bustle, there are plenty of green spaces to relax in, like the iconic Petronas Towers park.

Kuala Lumpur is also very affordable, especially for digital nomads who are used to paying Western prices. 

I was able to find a nice, 2-bedroom condo just outside the city center with a beautiful swimming pool and other amenities for under $700/month.

TL;DR Living in Kuala Lumpur Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Affordable
  • Major International Airport
  • Great Food
  • Diverse
  • English is Widely Spoken

Cons
No city is perfect, and I’m not about to sugarcoat things here…

  • Traffic
  • Big City Noise
  • Trash (Litter happens but it’s not much worse in KL than in other major Asian cities)

What type of nomads will like Kuala Lumpur: Digital nomads who want action and an affordable place to live with good food and diverse culture will enjoy Kuala Lumpur. The city has all the necessary amenities for working online, plus there are plenty of things to do in your free time.

What type of nomads should avoid Kuala Lumpur: If you’re seeking nature immersion, KL may not be for you. LGBTQ+ individuals may struggle as well due to some antiquated federal laws.

Living in Kuala Lumpur for a month: How much does it cost?

First, let’s cover the “official” cost of living data from Numbeo. This data can be hit and miss depending on your lifestyle, so I’ll also share my own numbers. 

Prices are in Malaysian Ringgit (RM), and since exchange rates are constantly changing, it’s best to use Google to convert into your currency using today’s rates. 

Monthly Kuala Lumpur cost of living (Numbeo)

Rent for 1-bedroom apartment in city center:1,977.15 RM
Basic monthly utilities (heating, cooling, etc.): 228.17 RM
Internet:111.81 RM
Meal at inexpensive restaurant:15 RM
Domestic beer (0.5 L): 16 RM
Public transport ticket:3 RM
Gym membership:173.76 RM

How much our life in Kuala Lumpur costed

kuala lumpur malaysia city view

Rent: We rented a furnished 2 bedroom, 2 bathroom condo in a complex with many beautiful amenities that was a 10-minute subway ride from the city center. Our rent included all utilities and internet, for 3,000RM monthly.

Our apartment was across the street from the Setiawangsa Red Line train station, so I could either pay 5 RM to take the subway into the city center or I could take a rideshare car for (usually) less than 20 RM.

Internet/data: In addition to the high-speed internet that was included with our rent, we also bought SIM cards for our phone. I got 10 GB of data each month for 25RM. It’s always good to have a good Plan B when it comes to an internet connection while traveling

Food: While living in KL, I cooked a lot of meals at home. However, the food was so tasty and cheap that we did eat out at least three times a week. If we were out exploring or running errands, I never stressed out about the cost of eating in restaurants.

Most of the time, we ate at more inexpensive spots. Our family of three could often eat in a restaurant for less than 80 RM.

Transportation: Kuala Lumpur is not a very walkable city outside the city center. While I did pay to take public transit or rideshare services, the costs were very reasonable. I usually spent less than 100 RM on transit in a month. 

Health: I didn’t join a gym in Kuala Lumpur because the condominium complex where I lived had a gym on-site. I used it regularly.

Many gyms in KL are open-air, which can make working out a bit more sweaty than you’re used to in a western gym that’s fully air-conditioned.

KL offers a variety of stand-alone gym options, from cross fit and tae kwon do to general workout equipment. Many apartments and condo complexes also have their own facilities.

If you do need a gym membership, prices range by quality and offerings, but there are several options around 100 RM per month. 

It’s always a good idea to have travel insurance to cover more serious health emergencies, which you can get for $42 per month.

That said, if you plan to do any extreme sports or have any special medical conditions, you may want to check out this travel insurance comparison for long-term travelers first.

Entertainment: From dining entertainment, like Dinner in the Sky and Le Petit Chef, to performing arts like opera and the symphony, it’s hard to run out of things to do in Malaysia’s capital city.

We enjoyed the amusement parks, like Sunway Lagoon and indoor trampoline parks, as well as the extensive museums. The National Museum is pretty cool but the Textile Museum is really unique.

ice skating in kuala lumpur

Even basic entertainment, like going to the movies, is extra enjoyable in Kuala Lumpur. Some movie theaters offer bean bag seating or recliner seats with freshly washed comforters!

You can even have evening cocktails at swank restaurants like the KL Tower revolving restaurant that offer 3D views of the city. Heli Lounge is a rooftop bar on a converted helicopter pad that also offers really beautiful views, especially at sunset.

Since everyone has different tastes when it comes to entertainment, it’s hard to give a set budget. But one thing’s for sure — it’ll be a fraction of what you pay for similar activities in more developed countries!

For more tips on planning your digital nomad budget, grab the free guide below.

Best time for nomads to visit Kuala Lumpur

The best time to visit Kuala Lumpur is during the shoulder seasons, which are between February and April, and September to November. The weather is a bit cooler and there are fewer tourists.

Plus, many of the city’s festivals take place during these months, like the Chinese New Year, the Islamic New Year, and the Kuala Lumpur International Jazz Festival.

I actually love Christmas season in Kuala Lumpur because the malls go all out, competing for the best over-the-top decorations. 

One year, Pavillion Mall in the Bukit Bintang neighborhood decorated its entire central plaza in a Star Wars theme!

As soon as Christmas ends, the Chinese New Year displays go up. Those are also pretty amazing to see. 

Plus, there are free lion dances to go see as well. My favorite are the acrobatic lion dances, where the dancers perform atop tall metal poles!

We lived in Kuala Lumpur for all the ‘seasons,’ and didn’t really notice too many changes. 

Cooler is relative because it’s still usually well over 25C even in the rainy season. I wouldn’t hesitate to visit there at any time of the year.

Best places to live in Kuala Lumpur for digital nomads

condo kuala lumpur malaysia

We lived in the Setiawangsa neighborhood of Kuala Lumpur as well as the edge of Bukit Bintang, near Royal Selangor Golf Club. Of the two, I liked Setiawangsa better because it was quieter.

Bukit Bintang is more of a party area, with lots of nightlife options, while Setiawangsa is a little more residential.

Both Bukit Bintang and Setiawangsa are easily accessible by public transit. They are both fairly close to good malls, which is where people buy everything from groceries to clothes in Malaysia. 

I also felt safe walking around both neighborhoods, even at night. Just take proper precautions whenever you’re walking alone and/or at night. Opportunists are everywhere in the world, including KL.

Other neighborhoods in Kuala Lumpur that are popular with digital nomads are KLCC (the city center) Bangsar, Damansara Heights, Hartamas, and Mont Kiara.

They are popular because each is easily accessible by public transit or Grab and each one has a good selection of places to eat, drink, and even work remotely.

How to find digital nomad accommodation in Kuala Lumpur

Every digital nomad has different needs and preferences. 

If you’re searching for hotels or hostels during a quick stay in KL, then Agoda and Hostelworld are your best bet for finding accommodation. 

Hotels.com and Booking are less popular there than in the west, so there are typically fewer accommodation options. 

For those looking for something more long-term, like an apartment or house, then I would recommend searching on Mudah.my. You can also find apartments and houses for rent on Facebook groups like Kuala Lumpur Expats.

Another option is to look at a vacation rental site, like Airbnb. There are many affordable and good quality options on there.

We found our first rental through Airbnb. The second time, we found it through Facebook. 

Keep in mind that most leases in Malaysia are for two years, so if you’re looking for something more short-term, you may have to pay a premium.

If you want apartment-style living with a more social component, then consider one of the many coliving spaces that abound in KL.

One of the most popular is Utopia Coliving, which provides free cleaning, laundry, and repair services for all members and high-speed 500mbps wifi. You’re even billed individually for your electricity consumption, which is fairly pricey in Malaysia.

For even more tips on finding places to live as a digital nomad, check out this quick video:

Best places to work remotely from Kuala Lumpur

Personally, I worked from my apartment throughout the time we lived in Kuala Lumpur. Since high-speed wifi is abundant and cell phone data is both fast and affordable, I never found a reason to go out.

Pretty much all coffee shops in KL have free wi-fi, and as long as you’re buying food or coffee they don’t mind you staying for a while to get some work done.

A good friend used to work remotely from the restaurant inside BIG (Ben’s Independent Grocer). 

It was rarely busy, had fast wifi, and offered a unique selection of food and drinks. After work, he’d do his grocery shopping before heading home again. It was so efficient!

Best Kuala Lumpur coworking spaces

KL is an excellent place to work remotely, with plenty of coworking spaces, cafes, and restaurants to choose from. I didn’t personally work in any during my time in KL, but had these three recommended to me regularly by other digital nomads I met there.

Colony Coworking Space KLCC

If you’re looking for a coworking space with an amazing view, then Colony Coworking Space KLCC is the place for you. This space is located in a penthouse suite with a rooftop garden, so you can enjoy a bird’s eye view of KLCC Park and the city skyline while you work.

In addition to the incredible views, Colony KLCC also offers fast wifi, plenty of desk space, private meeting rooms, and a cafe.

However, this space is on the pricier side, so it’s best for those who can bill their clients at a premium rate. The cost to work at Colony starts at 930 RM monthly.

WeWork Equatorial Plaza

The global coworking space, WeWork, has a location in Kuala Lumpur. It’s in the Equatorial Plaza building on Jalan Sultan Ismail. This is one of the most popular coworking spaces in Kuala Lumpur, and it’s not hard to see why.

Not only is the space itself beautiful, but it also comes with all the amenities you could ever want or need, including a gym, showers, and plenty of meeting rooms.

To top it all off, WeWork Equatorial Plaza is located in the heart of Kuala Lumpur’s business district, making it an ideal location for digital nomads who need to be close to clients or other professionals.

The WeWork Equatorial Plaza cost is included in the monthly WeWork All-Access membership. Starting costs are $300 USD for a single month, but there are special rates for longer-term commitments.

Common Ground Jalan Tun Razak

Another popular coworking space in Kuala Lumpur is Common Ground. It has several locations around the city, but the one on Jalan Tun Razak is most convenient for those working in the central business district.

This space is a little more laid-back than WeWork, but it still has all the amenities you need to get work done, including fast wifi, plenty of desk space, and private meeting rooms.

There’s also a cafe on-site, so you can get your caffeine fix without having to leave the building. Common Ground has a variety of membership plans starting at 399 RM monthly.

Best Kuala Lumpur cafes for work

Lokl Coffee Co.

Located in LINC mall, in the Ampang Park neighborhood, LOKL is a coffee shop that offers free wifi and a tasty selection of pastries and desserts.

You get the wifi password given to you after you place your order at the counter. It doesn’t explicitly cater to digital nomads, but I always saw a few in there working every time I passed by.

Secret Recipe

This tasty, casual eatery offers a full complement of meals in addition to coffee and desserts. Their cakes are top-notch!

They also have very good wifi for remote workers to enjoy before and after a meal or snack there. 

Make sure you plan to order some type of food, as the wifi password may only be given out if they see you plan to eat a meal.

This was one of my favorite budget-friendly places to eat in KL. You can go here a few times a week for a month, order something different each time, and never be disappointed. 

Plus, the full meal cost could be less than a hot beverage at Starbucks!

Coffee Bean & Tea

This local coffee shop chain has a few locations around Kuala Lumpur. Each one offers refreshing ice-blended drinks, unique teas, and quality coffees as well as stable and fast wifi.

I’ve only been to the one in KLCC at Suria Mall but there are also cafes at Lot 10, KL East, NU Sentral, and Mid-Valley to name a few.

Kuala Lumpur digital nomad community

There is a large, thriving expat community in Kuala Lumpur. While many tend to live in expat-oriented neighborhoods like Mont Kiara or Ampang Park, many live in other areas throughout the city as well.

There are often meetups planned through the KL expat groups on Facebook. However, other sites like Meetup.com, ExpatBuddy, and InterNations also regularly schedule events.

It’s easy to join these groups or sites and either post your own meetup opportunity or plan to join an existing one.

Do note that there are usually so many expat and digital nomad meetup opportunities in Kuala Lumpur that you may actually struggle to break out of your foreigner bubble and meet locals.

kuala lumpur national mosque

Kuala Lumpur nightlife

This is one aspect of Kuala Lumpur that is a bit lacking since the pandemic began. 

Several nightlife spots have not reopened after the borders reopened. Other new ones have taken their place but aren’t as big, popular, or good for dancing.

TREC Kuala Lumpur is one of the biggest and most famous nightclubs in KL. Located next to the Royal Selangor Golf Club, it’s open from noon to 5 AM daily.

There are several other nightclubs within walking distance to TREC, so you can hop around between them until you find the vibe you want.

Dragonfly KL is in the Platinum Park building of KLCC, less than a block from KLCC Park. Its central location attracts a diverse assortment of visitors on the weekends. The nightclub is open 8:30 PM – 3 AM Thursday, Friday, and Saturday.

Because of its location, the drinks are on the pricier side. However, the DJs are usually really good so it’s a great spot for dancing.

Located in Bangsar, Intrigue KL is open from 5 PM to 3 AM every day except Monday. It’s a smaller venue, but it gets crowded on the weekends. The drinks are a bit cheaper than at Dragonfly, making it a good option for those on a budget.

There are other nightclubs in Kuala Lumpur, but these are some of the most well-known and popular.

Things to do in Kuala Lumpur

batu caves malaysia

There are plenty of things to do in Kuala Lumpur, whether you’re looking for outdoor activities, cultural experiences, or nightlife.

1. VisKLCC Park. KL is home to several large parks, perfect for a picnic, a jog, or just relaxing in the shade. The most well-known park is VisKLCC Park, located in the shadow of the Petronas Towers. If you’re looking for something more low-key, try the Lake Gardens.

2. Batu Caves. For a taste of local culture, visit the Batu Caves. They’re a bit out of the way, but definitely worth the trip. The temples inside the caves are some of the most popular in Malaysia. 

3. National Museum. If you’re interested in Malaysian history, the National Museum is a good option. It’s located in the former Selangor Club building, right next to the Lake Gardens.

4. Visit a Mall. Kuala Lumpur is also home to several large shopping malls, perfect for a day of window-shopping or people-watching. The most popular ones are Suria KLCC, Pavilion Kuala Lumpur, and MyTown Mall. Or head south to Sunway Pyramid mall to go ice skating!

5. Walk through Chinatown. Chinatown is located in the Petaling Street area. It’s a great place to find cheap souvenirs, try local food, and people-watch. I love going to Chinatown for hot pot! It has some of the best hot pot restaurants in the city.

6. Go to the top of the Petronas Twin Towers. For a bird’s eye view of Kuala Lumpur, go to the top of the Petronas Towers. The Skybridge connecting the two towers is open to the public, and offers spectacular views of the city.

7. Aquaria KLCC. Aquaria is an indoor aquarium located in the basement of the convention center next to the Petronas Towers. It’s a great place to escape the heat and see some amazing sea creatures.

8. Kuala Lumpur Bird Park. The bird park is located in the Lake Gardens. It’s a great place to see a wide variety of birds, including some that are native to Malaysia.

9. KL Tower. The KL Tower is located in the Bukit Nanas Forest Reserve. For a fee, you can take the elevator to the top for views of the city.

10. Take a day trip out of KL. Both Melaka and Genting Highlands are close enough to visit for one day, or overnight. Melaka is a UNESCO World Heritage Site with a rich colonial history. Genting Highlands is a mountain town with cooler temperatures and a casino.

How to get to Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is easily accessible by both plane and bus. The main airport, KLIA, is located about 45 minutes from the city center. From the airport to the city, you can either take a taxi, the express train (KLIA Ekspres), or the airport bus (Aerobus).

KLIA Ekspres tickets can be purchased either in advance or on-site when you arrive. It rarely sells out but it is possible, so I’d recommend buying ahead of time if possible.

It’s also very easy to get a Grab from the airport to KLCC or its surrounding neighborhoods. This is what I usually do, and with tolls, it usually costs less than 80 RM.

Here is a tutorial on how you can find cheap flights using Google Flights.

If you’re coming from Singapore or Thailand and don’t want to fly, you can take a bus. 

First-class buses in Malaysia are very affordable and comfortable. They typically include AC, wifi, and charging ports. So you can work or watch Netflix while you travel.

Getting around Kuala Lumpur

The most popular ways to get around Kuala Lumpur are public transit and ridesharing. Most of the time, I took public transit which is called the MRT. Transit in KL is clean and efficient as well as affordable.

Although technically the MRT system accepts credit cards, the machines for those at the train stations always seem to be broken. If you plan to use public transit, have some cash on hand.

The cost to ride differs depending on how far you’re going. This helps keep fares reasonable. There is also a monthly pass for people who ride it regularly.

If I was in a hurry or the place I was going was far away, I didn’t hesitate to use Grab. 

Grab is the most popular rideshare company in SE Asia. It’s just like Uber in the Americas. People can use it to hire drivers, order restaurant food, or get groceries delivered.

Even going to the opposite end of the city, or even out into Genting Highlands, rarely cost more than 50 RM. 

You can link your Grab account to Paypal or to a foreign credit card, or pay by cash. Just don’t expect the drivers to give change.

Other handy tips for Kuala Lumpur digital nomads

Essential words

Hello: hai
How are you?: apa khabar
Thank you: terima kasih
Goodbye: selamat tinggal
Bathroom: bilik mandi
How much?: berapa banyak
Yes: ya
No: tidak

Yummy foods

Nasi lemak is Malaysia’s national dish. It’s rice that’s been steamed in coconut milk and served with a variety of toppings like peanuts, fried anchovies, and curry.

Cendol is a popular dessert made with shaved ice, green jelly noodles, palm sugar, and coconut milk. Some people like to eat it for breakfast, not just after a meal.

Laksa is a noodle soup that’s popular in both Malaysia and Singapore. It’s made with rice noodles, a spicy curry-coconut milk broth,

Staying safe

Kuala Lumpur is a fairly safe city overall. Once when I lived there, a rash of drive-by purse thefts broke out by opportunistic motorcyclists. This was such a big deal that it actually made the news!

That said, KL is still a big city. You need to take some common sense precautions, just like you would in any major city around the world. 

These travel safety tips are a good place to start:

Also, don’t leave your belongings unattended in public places. Keep your bag close to you, ideally in front of you with the straps around your arm or leg.

Be aware of your surroundings, especially at night. Don’t walk down dark alleys or quiet streets alone. If possible, take a rideshare instead.

The biggest scam is taxis overcharging by claiming that their meters are broken. The best way to avoid this is not to hail taxis on the street. Use Grab instead. With Grab, you know the fare ahead of time and it’s automatically charged to your credit card or Paypal.

If you must take a street taxi, agree on the fare before you get in. Don’t expect the driver to give you change, so keep smaller bills on hand to minimize the overcharge.

Helpful apps

  • Grab. This is the rideshare app I mentioned earlier. You can use it to get around the city, order food, or get groceries delivered. You can also add money to your Grab account and pay for items in shops with GrabPay.
  • Klook. This app is great for finding activities and tours in KL. I used it to find a cooking class, as well as tickets to the Batu Caves. When we took a Grab down to Melaka, I couldn’t get one back so I used Klook to hire a driver to pick us up at a great price!
  • Whatsapp. This messaging app is useful for communicating with locals. Many businesses, like restaurants and shops, will have a Whatsapp number. You can use it to make reservations or ask questions.
  • Wise. This app is similar to Paypal, but with lower fees. I used it to send money to my Malaysian friends and pay my rent. It’s common to pay for things via bank-to-bank transfer in Malaysia. This is the most cost-effective way to do it.
  • XE Currency. This free app is a lifesaver for converting prices from Malaysian Ringgit (RM) to your home currency. I used it constantly when I lived in KL.

Other Kuala Lumpur tips

One of the things to know before going to Malaysia is that it’s a Muslim country. Despite officially being secular, Islam permeates daily life here. Women and girls often wear headscarves and even burkas.

People generally dress fairly conservatively, even at waterparks. Burkinis are common, and bikinis are rarely seen. 

You won’t see tank tops or shorts among Malaysians, even if they don’t wear headscarves.

Pants and capris as well as shirts with sleeves are worn by most Malaysians regardless of the temperature. If you want to blend in a bit, leave revealing clothing at home. 

That said, Kuala Lumpur is fairly cosmopolitan and international. You’ll see people from all over the world, and a variety of styles.

Living in Kuala Lumpur as an expat

Residents of many countries can enter Malaysia for 90 days (NOT three months) without applying for a visitor visa. 

People from those countries will often come for 75-80 days, leave for a week or a month, and then return to get a new 90 days without issue.

Although you can leave and return the same day, Malaysian immigration does not like that. It’s best to stay out of Malaysia for 3-5 days minimum for a “visa run.”

Keep a very close eye on that 90-day window because the overstay penalties, even for a day, can be very strict. Even a first offense could result in jail time, large fines, or a 10-year ban from Malaysia.

In October 2022, Malaysia launched a Digital Nomad Visa for people earning at least $2,000 USD monthly from non-Malaysian companies. It costs 1,000 RM to apply and is granted for one year and renewable for one more year.

For a full list of countries that offer these special visas, check out this guide on freelancer visas for remote workers

Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
Travel Planning Resources - Everything you need to plan your trip on one convenient page.
Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).

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