At Home In Kuala Lumpur
“When I decided to move to Kuala Lumpur,” writes Correspondent Wendy Justice, “I used a property website to get a sense of what was available for rent and at what cost. Then I contacted one of the agents and arranged to meet her when I arrived in the country.
“I spent three days with the agent visiting complexes and apartment units that suited my budget and my interests. I found a nice one-bedroom apartment in the Golden Triangle area of KL populated almost entirely by expats, with excellent 24-hour security, a swimming pool, a jogging track, and an unbeatable view of the Petronas Towers. This furnished apartment cost 2,450 RM/US$697 per month with a six-month lease.
“When my lease expired, I moved into a 1,500-square-foot, furnished, three-bedroom, air-conditioned condominium with a full Western-style kitchen in Brickfields, with a pool, a racquetball court, and 24-hour security, for 2,000 RM/US$569 per month with a 12-month lease. I would have been very satisfied with a similar apartment in my home country, and the rent was perhaps a third what it would have been back home.
“If all you need is a one-bedroom condominium, you could find something perfectly adequate, with air-conditioning and a kitchen, for US$250 to US$300 a month. On the other hand, Kuala Lumpur is one place where even luxury living can be very affordable.
“My agent, who I used for both rentals, was wonderfully helpful and negotiated rents and terms on my behalf. She made sure that the lease was in order, the stamp fees were paid, and so forth. She was not tied to any developer, which, of course, was the way I wanted it.
“I’d say that, if you’re considering a move to KL, you should focus on the city itself for several reasons. It is easy to get around using public transportation, so you don’t have to worry about trying to drive yourself (the rules of the road in Malaysia are very different from those in most Western countries). Plus, living in KL proper, you’ve got the convenience of being close to all services you might need.
“Kuala Lumpur is an attractive city. It’s also home to a sizeable expat community, which is another reason I recommend it over a location such as Shah Alam or Klang, which are far from KL and home to but very small expat populations.
“I have seen many condominiums in Petaling Jaya for rent for prices comparable to those I quote for Kuala Lumpur and even a bit less, but, again, this is not a spot I would recommend. It would be difficult to live in Petaling Jaya without having a vehicle, as most of the city is distant from train and bus lines.
“On the other hand, I know expats who love the Ipoh area, for its friendly people, ambiance, proximity to the cool central highlands, and location halfway between Penang and KL. As it’s also less than an hour’s drive to the beach, living in Ipoh, you could have the best of all worlds within an easy traveling distance.
“My rule of thumb is to eat where the locals eat. The quality of the food will be better, and the prices will be lower. At the hawker centers (these are collections of independently owned and operated stalls offering a wide variety of food), a simple noodle dish, such as char kuay teow, costs about US$1.50 and makes a perfect lunch or dinner, and an order of chicken rice, a popular local dish, is generally about US$2.50. I have never spent over US$4 for a full dinner-sized meal at a hawker center, and that would include a main dish with meat, a vegetable, a small bowl of broth, and a non-alcoholic beverage.
“Although it is possible to spend Western prices (at restaurants catering to Westerners), it is by no means necessary. The only times I have ever spent more than US$10 for a meal in Malaysia were at the international-style buffets in the high-end hotels in the city (figure US$20 and up for this, per person). Yes, there are restaurants charging US$20 or more for a meal, but there are many others charging a quarter that amount.
“My point is this: If you are a budget-conscious person, and you are judicious about how you choose to live and where you spend your money, Malaysia is a very inexpensive country. I never lived ‘rich’ in Malaysia, but I did live a comfortably mid-range lifestyle, eating out several times per week, taking trips around the area, going to movies, and so on, and my total cost of living averaged less than US$2,000 per month (for two people).
“A note about shopping in this country: As with almost everything in Malaysia, there are two types of markets. At the markets listed in the guidebooks, the ones that attract Western tourists, you bargain. It’s expected and
“I prefer the other type of market, though, the small neighborhood markets that do not aim for the tourist dollars, the places where the local people buy their eggs, fruit, and produce, where no souvenirs are sold. These markets offer a vast choice of practical items, frequently with fixed prices that are very inexpensive.
“It’s easy to tell if you’re being overcharged. Simply visit the grocery store a few times to get a sense of prices, then see what the markets are charging. If the market price is considerably less, you know that you are not being overcharged. If a vendor is trying to sell me a US$1 item for US$2, then I know I’m getting the ‘special foreigner price,’ and I simply avoid that vendor in the future!”