Every year a new batch of expats make KL their home. This list is designed to help get you settled and quickly make the most of some of what this vibrant city has to offer. Below I highlight my:
Top Ten Tips for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
1. Groceries for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
There is no shortage of supermarkets for expats in Kuala Lumpur and you can pretty much find just about anything you need (although sometimes not all in the one place). Bigger supermarkets such as Tesco give the hyper-mart feel, Giant is a more local experience, Cold Storage and Jaya Grocers are in between, and then there are the fancier ones such as BIG, Village Grocer and Jason’s Food Hall giving a premium shopping experience. Smaller “corner stores” such as Hock Choon and Ampang Mini Mart have a surprising number of items geared towards expats looking for a taste of home. Jaya Grocers has an online delivery service and you can also visit Happy Fresh where someone will handpick your groceries from a multitude of supermarkets and deliver them to your door on the same day.
Unfortunately, the majority of fresh produce in supermarkets in Malaysia is pre-wrapped in plastic so if you’re trying to live the zero waste lifestyle you are better off (for the earth and for your pocket) visiting some local markets. There is a good one in Melawati Saturday mornings, Bangsar has a great Sunday afternoon market and you can find butchers, cooking supplies and fresh produce all under one roof at the TTDI market.
2. Delivery for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
You can get just about anything delivered to your home through online services in KL. Don’t stress yourself with traffic or parking, place your order on the net and someone will bring it to your door. Some of our favourite delivery services in KL are:
The Strine Wine Co – you guessed it booze to your doorstep
GrabFood – a whole bunch of restaurants in your area searchable by type of cuisine
Bottega Mediterranea – great for charcuterie and cheese platters for parties
Der Backmeister – hearty European style bread
Amrita Kefir – kefir and kombucha and you can return and reuse your bottles too
Kefir & Kombucha – as the name suggests, some serious ferments (free delivery with a minimum spend)
Sausage KL – homemade sausages free of nasty chemicals
Freaking Wholesome – beautiful vegan, raw, dairy-free, gluten-free cakes
Little Collins Cakery – the cake specialist with both ready-made and custom made cakes – really, they can design just about anything you dream up
While I’m on the cake theme, you should also get to know Justin Wong from Miss Ellie Tea House. He makes the most scrumptious carrot cake (seriously, I challenge you to find a better carrot cake in KL) and cheesecakes.
3. Healthy Living
Although not quite as easy to find as, at home, you can find businesses that focus on natural ingredients and source products with no chemicals. Our current favourite hair salon for a chemical-free experience is Eka Roots in Bangsar. Organic hair colouring and formaldehyde-free hair straightening are two of my favourite treatments. They have private rooms, quality stylists and best of all – no salon smell because there’s no ammonia. Great for me, but especially appreciated by pregnant mums and those with small children. The Yum List readers also get a 10% discount here.
The healthy food scene is growing too and you can now find kitchens that cater to gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, organic, Paleo, Keto and a whole bunch of other dietary preferences. Here’s our list of healthy restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and here too is our list of restaurants with good vegetarian menus in KL.
4. Beauty for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
Dermatology here is less expensive than at home but you have to sift through to find someone reputable. The two trusted clinics I visit are Lyfe Clinic in Tropicana and MAC Clinic in Bangsar. The doctors at both clinics are warm, informative and I never feel pressured into a purchase. From pain-free teeth whitening and hair removal to red carpet facials and the latest in laser treatments, these clinics have you covered.
As mentioned earlier, the hair salon I rely on is Eka Roots in Bangsar. For gel nails and waxing Annie (+6 016 309 3638) does house calls and I’ve recently had positive experiences with Miles from Effortless (an app that matches beauticians to clients) for eyelash extensions done in my home.
5. Spas for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
South East Asia is a hotspot for spa services and you can get the whole range from cheap and good, to mid-range and affordable, to full blow-out luxury. Our go-to spa for quality services in a hygienic and pleasant environment that won’t break the bank is Energy Spa & Wellness in Great Eastern Mall (they have a special deal if you mention The Yum List too!). My favourite treatments here are massage (they’re one of the leaders in training therapists), facials and their paraffin foot treatment.
SoSPA at Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara is an excellent hotel spa with its very own Hammam and a 20% discount for The Yum List readers (valid until March 2019). For a special treat, any of the Spa Villages in KL or around Malaysia are the epitome of relaxation. Check out the Spa Villages at The Ritz Carlton and The Majestic Kuala Lumpur to get started. For the ultimate luxury experience, Banyan Tree Kuala Lumpur with its sky-high views is magic. You can find other luxury spas in Malaysia and the region here.
6. Food for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
I often get asked what my favourite restaurants are in Kuala Lumpur and, honestly, there are too many to list. The ones that are currently on my mind are Joloko (Afro-Caribbean with awesome drinks and fab setting), Chocha Foodstore (contemporary Malaysian also in a hip environment), Fuego (Latin American with beautiful views), OpenHouse (beautiful Malaysian cuisine), Bref (renowned chef Darren Chin’s casual restaurant), Lissette’s Cafe and Bakery (loads of veggie options and Insta-worthy scene) and Beard Brothers (for barbecue).
Of course, Malaysia has a wonderful variety of local food at very affordable prices, and there are a whole lot of Malaysian bloggers (and friends and colleagues) who will recommend their favourites. I highly recommend following some of them if you want a truly local experience. For things to drool over in KL, check out KY’s blog here, and for Penang, the foodie capital of Malaysia, check out Ken’s blog here.
To impress a date, client or just a special treat for yourself, Kuala Lumpur has no shortage of elegant eateries. The following list differs very much in appearance – some with white linen-clothed tables while others appear more casual – but their common thread is chefs that are serious about providing the best food experience possible; no compromises. These restaurants are not for your average diner but for those who like a story behind their meal, appreciate technique and recognise passion in execution. My personal favourites are:
KL City Centre – Nadodi, OpenHouse, Beta KL, Skillet
TTDI – DC by Darren Chin
DC Mall – Kikubari, Soleil
Publika – Nathalie’s
Damansara – Sitka Studio, Babe
Café hopping is a “thing” in KL and there’s an endless compilation of places to try, all with excellent coffee to boost. Find some of the best cafes in Kuala Lumpur via this link.
We’re also fortunate to be living in a city with endless options for international cuisine. Click here to find some of our most loved European restaurants, brunches, buffets and afternoon teas. And, for our top picks around the city every month, click on Best of the Month from the Eat drop-down menu or follow this lead to see them all.
If you want views with your food and drinks, KL has no shortage of them. You’ll find some of the best at the Grand Hyatt, Heli Lounge Bar, Traders Hotel, Cielo KL, Fuego, Marini’s, Banyan Tree, and the Wet Deck (W Kuala Lumpur).
The bar scene is on the rise in Malaysia and now, more than ever, you can find a quality list of places to get a great drink, with friendly service, crafted cocktails and premium booze selections in some very cool locations. Find our list of hot Kuala Lumpur bars here.
8. Visitors to KL
If I have friends or family visiting from out of town my favourite itinerary for an afternoon and evening out in KL begins by catching the train to Pasar Seni for a wander through Central Market (arts and crafts market) and Jalan Petaling (Chinatown – do remember to bargain politely don’t pay more than 60% of the asking price) with a break at Merchants Lane for a caffeine pick-me-up. Shopped out, it’s then time for a refreshing cocktail in Botak: Liquor Bar and dinner is either at Chocha Foodstore for a contemporary take on Malaysian cuisine or Old China Café for a step back in time with friendly service and Baba Nonya dishes. I end the evening at two of my favourite bars: the first PS150 (right next to Chocha Foodstore and a few minutes’ walk from Old China Café) and lastly end up at Omakase + Appreciate (a 5-minute taxi ride away) where I ask Shawn or Karl (multi-award winning bartenders and also Asia’s Top 10 Bars!) to make us a drink. If my guests are bar hoppers though I’d extend the evening to Bar Zhen, The Deceased and Pahit.
For a more elegant experience I’d begin at Marini’s on 57 for a sunset drink, followed up by dinner at OpenHouse for an exquisite Malay meal in a beautiful setting (you can also see the evening water and light show in KLCC park from here), continue with a show at the Malaysian Philharmonic and end the night in beautiful Bar Trigona. (All are a few minutes’ walk from each other.)
For my foodie visitors, who don’t have time to get acclimatised to local bacteria and need something that’s not going to give them a tummy upset yet still feels authentic, I like to take them to have roti canai at Valentine Roti, Indian at MTR in Brickfields and The Ganga Café in Bangsar, banana leaf at Nirwana in Bangsar, Chinese street food in Jalan Alor, a relatively cheap steak in a stalls environment in Susie’s Corner, a jungle dining experience at the Veg Fish Farm Thai Restaurant and the food court at Lot 10 Hutong. Lastly, for a not local but super fun experience, I like to take guests to Wurst KL. The entrance is an adult-speed slide – great for Insta stories – and the food is good too.
Keeping guests occupied while I’m at work during the day, I find the KL Hop On Hop Off bus to be fantastic and also recommend getting a Grab to Batu Caves – go early morning or later afternoon to avoid the heat (and beware of the monkeys!). With a little more time, a day trip to the Kuala Gandah Elephant Conservation Centre is fun and if weather is fine and there is no moon (a dark night is best to see the lights), an evening spent seeing the fireflies in Kuala Selangor is interesting too.
9. Staycations for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
Malaysia is officially one of the least expensive countries in the world when it comes to luxury travel, and 5-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur offer excellent weekend deals to residents. A few days lounging by the pool and being treated like royalty, with additional savings of time and money by staying in the city sounds nice, doesn’t it? Check out some of KL’s best hotels for staycations here.
10. Travel for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
One of the things that has kept us in KL so long is the wonderful opportunities for travel both within the country itself and easy access to the wider region. An hour or two’s drive can have you in places such as Port Dickson, Melaka, Ipoh and the highlands making day trips quite doable. Four to five hours on the road can have you in Penang, Cameron Highlands, Kuantan, Johor or Pangkor. Langkawi is only an hour’s flight away and you can reach the Bornean states of Sabah and Sarawak, and the small island of Labuan within two.
For international travel, you can use the E-Gate at the airport and avoid long queues at immigration! Once you have your work permits you can sign up for the E-gate. You’ll have to go through immigration on your way out of KL to get it for the first time (just ask for directions at the desk), but once you have your passport registered you can then pass through the E-gates at both KLIA and KLIA II. Just remember to keep the print out tickets – you need these in place of the stamps in your passport for tax purposes.
You can drive to Singapore. Sure the flight is relatively quick, but by the time you take into account your transport to the airport, an hour or so wait for the plane, the flight down there, immigration on the other side and transport to your hotel, driving works out to be just about the same time and gifts you the flexibility of leaving on your own schedule. Follow this link to find more details about the road trip.
Sign up for Grab Car now. It’s cheap and safe. In fact, it costs me less to take a Grab Car to and from the city centre than it does to pay for parking. They’ve just updated their app to include an “Emergency” button that puts you in direct contact with 999 services and you can “share your ride” with a friend so they can track your journey too.
Get a Touch n’ Go card. This will save you time on the tollways, in parking lots and you can use it on the LRT (Light Rail Transit). Skip the parking ticket queues by simply waving your card at the entry and exit of parking lots and head to the Touch n’ Go lanes on the highways as well. Notice that queue that goes halfway up the highway? That’s the lane of cars with no Touch n’ Go!
Personal recommendations for travel around Malaysia, South East Asia and further afield can all be found in the Travel section of The Yum List. We’ve personally stayed at, eaten in or spa-ed at every single place on the list. Just choose your destination from the drop-down menu and find recommended hotels, spas, restaurants and bars in each location.
Hopefully, this list of Top Ten Tips for Expats in Kuala Lumpur will get you started on making the most of your time in KL. If you have any additional tips for newbies or questions you’d like to see posts on, kindly leave a comment below.