What would be considered a good salary in Malaysia?
I am thinking of relocating to KL, and need an idea of what would be considered a good salary to maintain a heathly living standard i.e what salary would comfortably cover all my expenses such as rent, food, social events, clothing etc.
This is a question asked a lot, and it’s complicated because, in my experience, KL is a strange city with regard to cost of living. You can, with equal ease, spend RM1,500 a month here or RM15,000 a month. It’s like there are two separate cost-of-living structures present in KL. If you live fully in the upper tier, RM10,000 will allow you to get by nicely. If you live fully in the lower economic tier, you can do just fine on RM2,000. Your salary needs are determined by how much time you spend in each tier.
I moved here from the US and after living here a few months, have started compiling a spreadsheet of costs of things here relative to income, using US$3,500 a month as a good (but not exceptional) income in the US city and RM5,000 a month here in KL (also good, but it’s not like you’re WEALTHY at that income level). In almost every instance, KL is more expensive relative to income, usually by a vast margin. But paradoxically, you CAN have a pretty comfortable life here for not a lot of money. To do that, though, you have to eschew a lot of foreign comforts. Imports are expensive, whether it’s cheese from Australia (dairy products are 4 times more expensive relative to income than the US) or cars from Japan (up to 5 times more).
In a nutshell, here’s my opinion (and just that — my opinion; other expats’ experiences are doubtlessly very different). You can get by and have a reasonably comfortable life here for RM2,500 a month. You will not live in a fancy place, you certainly won’t be driving an imported car, and you won’t be eating in Western chain restaurants three times a week. But you can live in a decent place with air-conditioning, have satellite TV, eat local foods most of the time, and not have to worry at all about money.
Earning even a little more can make a big difference, though, and if you’re paid in the RM3,500 to 4,000 range, you can enjoy a relatively comfortable lifestyle and not have to worry a lot about your spending at all. Again, you won’t be able to indulge in designer imports and fancy meals every day, but you can easily afford to treat yourself somewhat regularly. RM5,000-6,000 a month will allow you a broad swath of housing options and a comfortable lifestyle. At that income level, you can easily afford a RM2,000-a-month place, which goes a long way in many parts of the city (but not all).
Some people write in, wondering if they’ll possibly be able to make ends meet on their RM12,000-a-month package they’ve been offered. With that salary, you can live very well in KL unless you have a bunch of kids or a designer clothing fetish or something.
There is, frankly, a lot of economic disparity in KL, and it’s reflected in the costs of living. For almost all goods, the range of prices can be extreme. Rents go from RM400 to RM20,000 per month. You can spend RM120 a head for a meal with wine at a nice restaurant, or you can get a meal at a local food stall for RM4. A trip to the local grocery store can cost RM50 or RM300. For my part, life in KL was amusingly cheap only when I converted prices into US dollars, which I stopped doing once my income started being paid in ringgits.
Cars are breathtakingly expensive in Malaysia relative to income, but after the initial acquistion, driving them is fairly cheap (maintenance, road tax, etc.). Another expensive indulgence here is drinking. A bottle of imported vodka is about 3 times more expensive here relative to income than in the US.
So to give you a roundabout answer, if your income is below RM2,500 a month, you’ll have to live pretty frugally (and many people here subsist on considerably less). RM2,500 to RM4,000 will get you further, and anything above RM5,000 will afford you a pretty comfortable life in KL.