Is Malaysia a Good Destination for Digital Nomads
As a Malaysian, I’ve gotten pretty used to the blank stares and confused looks I get when I tell people which country I’m from. Outside of Asia, Malaysia is not a very well-known name. Many people, if they set foot here at all, only do so because their flights happen to transit in Kuala Lumpur International Airport.
However, it would be a shame to be in Southeast Asia and not explore this undiscovered gem. With places like Thailand and Indonesia getting too touristy in recent years (before Covid), Malaysia offers a respite from the well-trodden paths.
Here are 10 reasons why you should consider Malaysia as your next destination, whether as a short-term vacationer or a long-term digital nomad:
One of the biggest draws of traveling in Malaysia is how cheap it is. While it can’t beat Indonesia, Vietnam, or the Philippines, it’s still very cheap by Western standard. It’s at least three times cheaper than Singapore.
If you go to local food stalls, you can get a decent meal for under USD 4. Dinner at a fancier restaurant with a glass of wine will only set you back around USD 20.
On Airbnb, you can easily rent a luxury apartment (with an infinity pool!) for about USD 30 per night. For long-term housing, check out the great offers on Expat.com, Mudah.my, and Longtermlettings. The average monthly rate for a studio apartment with a swimming pool, gym, WiFi, and access to public transports is around USD 300.
2. Easy Access to Internet
All hotels, hostels, and most houses have WiFi. The majority of cafes and restaurants also offer free internet connection, with the average internet speed of 106.54 Mbps for fixed broadband.
SIM cards and data are cheap and available everywhere. On top of that, Malaysia welcomes tech, innovation, and startups. There are new co-working spaces sprouting up everywhere, with well-equipped lounges and boardrooms. Some of them also organize networking events and workshops for their members.
Malaysia ranks the 5th safest country for women in the Asia Pacific.
Violent crimes are rare in this country. The most frequent crimes against foreigners are petty thefts, such as purse-snatching and pickpocketing. Just like in most other countries, there are some areas that should be avoided late at night. As long as you use common sense and keep your wits about you, you should be fine.
When it comes to natural disasters, Malaysia is very lucky because it is located just outside the “Pacific Rim of Fire”. There are no volcanoes, tornadoes, or hurricanes. Earthquakes are extremely rare. Malaysia is also shielded from the typhoon that hits the Philippines and Hong Kong every year.
However, it should be noted that the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia is affected by the monsoon season (October to February), where some areas may be flooded. Travel to the islands in the east coast is not advisable during this time. In Kuala Lumpur, the weather is the same all year round, with no distinct dry or wet seasons.
There is no war or political unrest.
4. Visa Requirement
Malaysia grants visa-free entry for:
- 90 days for citizens of 63 countries
- 30 days for citizens of 97 countries
- 14 days for citizens of Iran, Libya, and Macao
5. The Diverse Cultures
Malaysia is made up of approximately 60% Malay, 20% Chinese, 7% Indian, and 3% indigenous tribes. It’s not often that you get to see a country like Malaysia, where people of different cultures and religions live together in peace and harmony without any racial tension (okay, that’s a lie — but we kiss and make up).
You can find a mosque, a church, a Buddhist temple, and a Hindu temple within just a few hundred meters of each other. And each festival is pretty much celebrated by everyone in the country.
Malaysia also receives a high number of immigrant workers from Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar, Indonesia, Vietnam, and the Philippines. Therefore, visiting Malaysia can sometimes feel like visiting multiple Asian countries at once, which is why the country prides itself on being ‘Truly Asian’.
What this means is that as a long-term visitor in Malaysia, you will find it easier to integrate with the local people. You will be welcomed by a heterogenous group of people who are eager to add you into the mix.
6. Good Food
Because of the diverse cultures, Malaysian food is a unique fusion of Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. In the bigger cities, you can also find international food, from Italian to Japanese to Middle Eastern. But ask any Malaysian what they like the most about their country — they’re probably going to say the local food.
The best part is, dining outside is so cheap and convenient that most locals prefer that to cooking at home. Street food and night markets are popular options, but dining in shopping malls is also a huge part of the local culture.
Every shopping mall has an array of high-end restaurants, fast food chains, as well as a ‘food court’ for those on a budget. So, if street food sounds too ‘wild’ for you, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options.
For a unique experience, check out Dinner in the Sky and Dining in the Dark. Or if you’re too lazy to go out, there are always Grab Food, Food Panda, and a slew of other food delivery services.
7. Good Public Transportation
Speaking of Grab, you won’t have any problem getting around in the country even if you’re staying far from any bus/subway stations. Thanks to e-hailing apps such as Grab and MyCar, it is very easy to travel around in the country. A Grab ride can start from as low as MYR 6 (USD 1.50) for a 5-to-10-minute journey.
To get to the city from the airport, you have several options:
- By bus (MYR 12 – 15, duration: 1 hour, bus frequency: every 30 minutes)
- By express train (MYR 55, duration: 28 minutes, train frequency: every 15 minutes)
- By Grab (MYR 65 – 75, duration: 1 hour, depending on traffic)
8. Air Asia Hub
There’s a good reason why many people transit in Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) — it is Air Asia’s main hub. In 2019, it was voted the third best low-cost terminal in the world, beating Melbourne Terminal 4, London Stansted, East Midlands, Brussels Charleroi, Berlin Schonefeld, and Frankfurt-Hahn.
Now, if — for some reason — you’re not in on it already, Air Asia is like the Ryan Air of Europe. It gets you from one country to another for as low as MYR 50. But unlike Ryan Air (sorry, Ryan Air), Air Asia is the world’s top low-cost airline for the 11th year running!
Living in Kuala Lumpur means you have an easy and cheap access to any country in the Asia Pacific. This makes your visa runs a whole lot easier. You can stay for 3 months, fly somewhere for a day or two, or longer if you wish, then come straight back for another 3 months.
9. English Proficiency
If you were worried about language barrier, you shouldn’t be. First of all, the Malay language is written in English alphabets, and it is pronounced the way it is spelled, so even if you can’t find a translation, at least you won’t have any problem reading the street signs, etc.
Secondly, English is widely spoken (or understood), especially in major cities and tourist spots. It is compulsory for everyone to learn English in school, from when they’re 7 years old till they enter uni. In the big cities, you’ll find that many of the locals speak English even among themselves.
10. The Attractions
If you like modern skyscrapers and Western-style shopping malls, you won’t be disappointed in Kuala Lumpur. The ones here are massive and world-class, filled with western brand names that you’re familiar with.
However, that’s not all there is to Malaysia. The country is also rich with other attractions. Just a-few-hours drive away from Kuala Lumpur are Penang and Malacca — a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Borneo and the east coast of Peninsula Malaysia are some of the best diving spots in the world.
For all its development, Malaysia is still a very green country. Borneo, for example, is home to one of the world’s oldest tropical rainforests, in which you can find wild elephants, orangutans, and proboscis monkeys. Even right smack in the city center of Kuala Lumpur, you can find an eco-forest with a canopy walk (see picture).
Have you visited Malaysia? What did you think about it? Comment below.
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Wow this details Malaysia well. Interesting points of affordable living. I always thought it was quite expensive since I have seen Singapore prices. Also the public transport sounds like it is progressing.
Thank you, Taylor. Yes, the public transportation system here has improved significantly in the past two decades and we are expecting to have new metro lines in the near future. 🙂
Lots of great reasons here to seriously consider Malaysia as a digital nomad destination. Next time I’m in Asia I will seriously consider an extended stay in Malaysia.
Thank you, Sharyn. I wish you an enjoyable stay in Malaysia. Feel free to browse for more tips and travel ideas to help you plan ahead. 🙂
Your article is really helpful, yes. But I am blown away by how beautiful your site looks and feels to read.
Aw, thank you so much for your feedback, Sayali. You made my day! 😃
I have wanted to visit Malaysia for the longest time… and then Covid happened, so I still can’t go!! But one day I would love to, and I will absolutely be following these point!!!
I’m so sorry to hear about your cancelled trip, Amy. I’ve had to cancel a few too, so I can totally relate! Hope you’ll be able to visit once the borders open. In the meantime, feel free to read my other tips for visiting Malaysia 😀
I’d love to visit Malaysia: to start wth Georgetown and Borneo for the Orang-Utangs. But with those prices for longer term accommodation, maybe I could stay longer!
You definitely could, Tracy! Borneo and Georgetown are good places to start, but do also make time for the islands, Kuala Lumpur, Malacca, the highlands, and the culturally rich east coast. 🙂
Interesting! Making me rethink how long we will spend in Malaysia when we get there next year! Are we making a mistake going from Singapore up (and through SE Asia), and skipping Borneo?
It depends on what you personally like, Cynthia. Borneo has amazing nature — virgin rainforests, mountains, caves, the orangutans, proboscis monkeys, hornbills — as well as some world-class diving sites. It certainly has a more rugged feel than West Malaysia. And not all of the places are well-connected. Some areas are so remote that the only way to get there is by a light aircraft.
This brings back fond memories of traveling to Malaysia and completely agree about it being the perfect digital nomad hub
Thank you, Gloria! Great to know you had a good time in Malaysia. 😀
Hell yes – I have the ability to work remotely and doing so in Malaysia wouldbe an absolute dream. I visited for a couple of months a few years ago and it is probably my favourite South East Asian country. I was also meant to go again before the pandemic hit. I can totally see myself chilling in Georgetown or KL!!
Aw Tam, that’s so nice to hear! Georgetown is one of my favorite places too. KL is not too bad either but since this is where I’ve been living for over a decade, perhaps I’ve become a bit blase about it. Still plenty to love though. I hope your dream will come true one day. 😀
I go to Singapore quite a lot but have yet to hop over to Malaysia. I should take some time to visit on my next trip to SE Asia. I would love to take time and slow travel through the country taking advantage of a longer visa. I would love to use the good internet to work from cafes. It’s so great that it is safe and there’s reliable transportation. I agree Malaysia should be the next digital hub for digital nomads!
Thank you, Susanna! That sounds like a good plan. I hope you’ll get to do it soon when it’s safe to travel. I really think Malaysia deserves more international recognition. 🙂
Interesting read. Traveling abroad can be intimidating. Your post can really help someone feel more comfortable.
Thank you, Monica! I hope these tips will be useful for you in the future. 🙂
I learned so many new things about Malaysia!! I hope to be a digital nomad one day so I can work all over the world
I hope you will, Jori! That’s one of my dreams too. 😀
Are visa runs okay if i want to extend my 90 days limit?
Hi, Charles! From what I’ve been told, visa runs are okay, but it ultimately depends on the immigration officer that attends to you. There’s no hard and fast rule, therefore no 100% guarantee that they’ll let you in. Some of the people I know do their visa runs in Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia with no problem, as long as they stay out of Malaysia for a minimum of 7 days. It also helps if you dress smartly and have a proof of funds/employment, etc, to show that you’re not going to work illegally in the country. Obviously, this may have changed since the pandemic, or may change when the borders open again, so we’ll just have to wait for an update, I guess.