The complete guide to moving to Malaysia

Updated: Aug 21, 2018

Relocating from Australia to Malaysia is a desirable choice. Fantastic job opportunities, a thriving economy and high quality of life are just a few reasons why. But when you add social diversity and Kuala Lumpur’s reputation for being a travel and business hub into the mix, you have one irresistible destination.

Setting up home

In addition to being a thriving centre of both travel and business, Malaysia’s Capital is considered one of the most expat-friendly cities. But whilst it’s generally a safe and appealing place to live, it’s important to be aware that petty crime does still exist, with vehicle break-ins and purse-snatching being the most common crimes. However, this isn’t to say that it happens often, and it’s easy to feel safe in Kuala Lumpur - especially as most apartment buildings come with guarded options.

When setting up home it’s important to choose somewhere where you will feel both safe and secure. The economy in Kuala Lumpur is thriving, so there are plenty of property options, but as with any developing city, it does mean that there is a lot of construction around. As a result, building sites are a common sight and so, when you are house hunting you’ll want to visit your accommodation options in person to get an idea of how much construction noise, traffic and pollution you will be facing in each area.

Malaysia’s warm climates and expat communities mean that accommodation options are available for all tastes. Private/shared pools, in-house fitness facilities, playgrounds and convenience stores can often be found in apartment buildings, and if you’re looking at houses rather than apartments - you won’t be too far from a local shop. Each neighbourhood in Kuala Lumpur has its own personality, and so it’s important to consider what type of lifestyle you’ll want to lead when living there. The suburbs can typically be broken down into the following:


If you’re looking for a township which exudes luxury, then Mont Kiara is the place for you. Located to the North-west of the city centre it mainly consists of office complexes and residential condominiums but dotted in between those buildings are an increasing number of international schools. The area isn’t well connected to the rest of the city, so having a car (or the number to your favourite taxi driver!) is highly recommended.


The combination of restaurants and shopping centres can sometimes make Bangsar feel a bit like a western bubble, but when it comes to keeping things interesting, it’s a great suburb to be based in. The area has an abundance of expats and middle-class locals and as a result can be a great place to live and build an active social life.

Family Friendly

A range of housing options and a close proximity to stores and facilities, make the suburbs of Damansara and Taman Tun Dr Ismail attractive options to those with families. The areas are slightly removed from city life, but the balance of expats and locals make it an interesting place to live.

Up and Coming

Whilst technically not a part of Kuala Lumpur, Petaling Jaya is that accessible with its commuting links, it may as well be. The city offers a water park and historic temples in addition to an abundance of restaurants and shopping malls, and as a result, it’s firmly on the radar as the next best place to live!

Whether you are able to rent or buy, will largely depend upon your residency and permit situation, which you can read more about below. If you’re looking to base yourself in Kuala Lumpur, a two-bedroom apartment in an upmarket area will typically set you back between $235,000 - $500,000 to purchase, whereas if you move outside of the city centre, it can cost half as much.

Property Guru is a good guide for searching for properties, but local real estate agents will have a better foot on the ground knowing which buildings are a profitable purchase. Therefore, if you’re looking to buy, it’s worth taking the time to get to know the area and the local realtors.

When looking to rent property in Kuala Lumpur, you’ll have an abundance of options instantly available to you, with houses and apartments available to rent from a variety of landlords. Your best bet when looking to set up a home is to spend a little time in each of the areas which appeal to you, to get an idea of what life would be like in each.

Tips: Where possible, avoid paying for your property deposit in cash. A cheque should be suitable, and you should ensure that it is addressed to a licenced real estate company. This will help protect you from the chance of a rogue-trader making off with your hard earned cash!


Whilst Kuala Lumpur can be considered the most expensive city in Malaysia, when you compare it to the price points of nearby counterparts such as Singapore or Hong Kong, your money tends to stretch a lot further. This is especially true for household utilities. Oil and Gas are very large markets in Malaysia, with the majority of which being locally sourced. Because of this, elements such as petrol or gas for stove tops tend to be cheaper. The electric bill however, will be higher due to Malaysia’s consistently warm weather and the need for air-conditioning!

The warm weather does have its perks though, and not just because of the vitamin D that the sun makes so readily available. Instead, thanks to the desirable climates, there is an abundance of local food options available. In addition to your standard meats, tropical fruits and vegetables are readily available at an affordable price. But if you’re looking to import those creature comforts, things can get a little bit less-affordable thanks to strict taxes. Wine, beer and liquor all face higher taxes, so if you’re looking to bring these over, it’s best to purchase them from duty-free.

Getting around

As a city that’s constantly growing, Kuala Lumpur is very much a place with a need for public transport. The downfall of the growth of the city is the expanding traffic that comes with it. Every day during rush hour (7am-9am and 4pm-7pm) Kuala Lumpur’s roads become congested, but if you’re happy to sit in the traffic then taxis, and apps such as MyTeksi or Uber, are very reasonably priced. Alternatively, there is a bus service available.

Tips: Make sure your taxi driver turns on the meter in their vehicle. Taxis are legally required to run the meters, however, when in tourist-laden areas they’ll often try their luck with a more expensive fixed price fee instead.

If sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic during peak times doesn’t take your fancy, then Kuala Lumpur’s public transportation system offers a viable alternative. The Light Rail Line is used by locals, expats and tourists alike and covers various places within the city. It does, however, need to be expanded to include neighbouring suburbs more regularly, as at present it doesn’t offer comprehensive coverage of the city. This is in the works, however, as with all things it takes time to develop and implement.

The government has also built a non-stop line to and from the international airport which operates at high-speed and has managed to alleviate some of the road traffic.

Getting a driving licence

Getting a driving licence as a foreign national in Malaysia can be difficult. There are a multitude of requirements that must be in place to convert a foreign driving licence to a local one, permanently. For example; in addition to having a driving licence which was issued in your home country, you must also have the correct visa in place—or be married to a Malaysian citizen. The bad news is that if you’re in Malaysia on a work permit or a dependant pass, you will be unable to convert your licence as you will be viewed as a temporary resident.

The good news is that if you’re just looking to drive for a short period of time, then the process gets a whole lot simpler! Australian driver’s licence holders are able to obtain a Malaysian driving licence without sitting a written or practical driving exam, by obtaining an International Driving Permit (IDP). This can be done by writing to the Motor Vehicle Authorities and having your details confirmed as valid by the High Commission. The fee for this is usually around $70 AUD.

Importing your car

If you’re planning on shipping your vehicle from Australia to Malaysia, it’s worth noting that anything which isn't made in Malaysia is subject to import taxes, of which cars can have the highest cost. To find out more about how the process works and what fees you’ll be looking at, we suggest you call one of our specialist advisors who will be able to compile a custom quote for you.

School Options

When it comes to choosing education facilities for families who have relocated, the choices tend to be between private or international school. This is mainly because children tend to experience culture shock the most vividly, and a public Malaysian school would amplify this with a language barrier.

Schools, however, are in no short supply. Most of the schools tend to work from the British National Curriculum and prices start around 10,000 MYR ($3,300 AUD) with an additional enrollment and admin fee applicable beforehand.



If you’re visiting Malaysia from Australia, you will be able to stay in the country for 3 months without needing to submit paperwork prior to your visit. This is because, upon entry into the country, you will be granted a tourist visa, known as a Short Term Social Pass (STSP). However, the STSP visa is only valid for 90 days which, whilst suitable for a holiday or a trip to house hunt, isn’t valid for work. Because of this, you’ll need to apply for a different type of visa if you’re looking to stay in Malaysia long term.

There are multiple visa types available depending on the amount of time you’re looking to stay in Malaysia. The aforementioned STSP visa is ideal for short-term visits, whereas the Multiple-Entry visa is perfect if you'd like to stay in Malaysia for up to 12 months with the ability to fly back and forth for business meetings. If you’re looking to relocate from Australia to Malaysia for a longer period however, these visas will not be suitable and instead, you’ll need one of the following:

Employment Pass (Work Permit)

If you’re not a Malaysian national and you’re looking to work and reside in Malaysia, you’ll need to obtain an employment pass. These aren’t typically difficult to acquire, so long as the company hiring you is doing so because you’re a specialist, and is not hiring you for a job which could be fulfilled by a Malaysian national. This is because companies in Malaysia cannot hire a foreigner if there is a Malaysian who is able, and willing, to do the job.

Because of this, your chances of securing a work permit will be higher if you have a higher education together with years of work experience as you be able to prove your expert status. Typically, it's easier to obtain a work permit if you have been sent abroad by an international company, as they will already have the required paperwork set up. But regardless of whether you have secured a job prior to relocating or not, there are several elements which you must meet in order to be eligible for a work permit. For example; the company must meet business capital requirements, and you, the employee, must be contracted to earn a minimum of 5,000 Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) per month ($1,671 AUD).

If you’re contracted to earn over 8,000 MYR per month (around $2,674 AUD) however, the process gets easier and there’s a higher chance that you will receive an instant approval for your work permit application.

Work permits are typically requested by a company for the duration of 2-5 years. Once this time period has lapsed the visa will need to be renewed. Once your work permit is in place, however, you will be able to live and work in Malaysia with access to your standard amenities. For example; your own bank, and the ability to apply for a mortgage.

Tips: It's important to remember that when you obtain a work permit, the permit is only valid under that specific company’s employment. Unless you are considered a highly skilled expatriate. If you reach the highly-skilled status, you will be eligible to apply for a 10-year visa which is tied to you as an individual, instead of a company. This would enable you to work with many different companies, without needing to change the terms of your permit.

Malaysia My Second home Programme (MM2H) visa.

Bought in by the Malaysian government, this particular type of visa was introduced as a way to enable foreign nationals to live (or retire) in Malaysia on a long-term basis.

People who reside in Malaysia under this visa programme are not legally able to work unless they have sought specific approval. Instead, the visa grants applicants a ten-year (multiple entry) visit pass which is renewable every ten years. The programme enables foreigners, as well as their family and dependants, to gain resident status in Malaysia if they can provide a fixed deposit into a Malaysia bank which remains there for the duration of the visa validity. The amount needed will depend upon the age of the applicant, but after the first year, funds can be withdrawn for housing, medical expenses or education as long as the bank account maintains its set minimum balance.

Everyday Life

Recreational activities

When you go to a place as vibrant as Malaysia, you can’t not mention the food. Made up of three main ethnic groups, Malaysia has a unique blend of Malay, Chinese, and Indian influences which mean that foodies will be spoilt for choice.

But when you’re not busy exploring the flavours of Malaysia, there are plenty of options for your eyes to feast on. Historic temples, parks and gorgeous scenery mean there is always something new to explore, and with a consistent year-round temperature between 22’c and 32’c, you’ll be able to do so with warmth!


When it comes to employment opportunities in Malaysia, there are certain restrictions placed upon hiring foreigners. These restrictions are in place as a way to protect local jobs, and as a result, only highly-skilled and experienced professionals are considered an exception to this.

These restrictions are further solidified with visa restrictions, and foreigners must fulfil set criteria in order to be eligible to work in Malaysia.

The same rules apply to local companies, who must prove that a specific job role cannot be completed by a Malaysian, in order for them to hire a foreigner. This company must also fulfil a quota of local labour to ensure that they are providing adequate job opportunities.

LinkedIn is one of the best places to seek out job opportunities in Malaysia, as it's an incredible resource to network with relevant companies.