Expats in Kuala Lumpur
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 Tips for Expats in Kuala Lumpur (*Updated)
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, Qra 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.
Unfortunately, the majority of fresh produce in supermarkets in Malaysia is pre-wrapped in plastic so if you’re trying to live a 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. If you’re adventurous, you might even try the Chow Kit market located in the city centre. Prices are unbelievably low but it can get crowded so beware of pickpockets.
Those attempting to do their bit for the earth (and us ultimately) will find The Hive (Bangsar & Ampang), BYOB – Bring Your Own Bottle (various outlets) and Nude (Petaling Jaya) great resources for buying food in bulk, earth-friendly products and BYOB is excellent for getting refills of all your cleaning products. You can find support and resources for your journey on the Zero Waste Malaysia Facebook group. The Beli Nothing Project is another group where you can swap, donate or look for donations at no cost. It’s all about getting “stuff” in the hands of people who will use it and avoiding waste.
2. Delivery for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
You can get just about anything delivered to your home through online services in KL, and over the pandemic this list has grown 100-fold. Just about anything imaginable is available through aggregator sites such as Lazada or Shopee within a few clicks.
For food, the most-used apps here are GrabFood and FoodPanda. Their listings are large but they do take quite a cut from restaurants. BeepIt seems to offer businesses a better deal, but they don’t offer quite the range (yet) as the first two. Restaurants have really upped their delivery game, though, so find something you love and consider ordering directly from the outlets themselves. Here I’ve highlighted a few personal favourites:
Signature Market – a comprehensive range of healthy, organic products such as nuts, grains, muesli, spreads, snacks, dried fruits, drinks and more. I get all of my nuts from here as they bake them fresh to order (slow cooked at a low temperature to maximise retension of nutrient).
Smith Breads – my favourite sourdough in town – crunchy crust, spongey middle, so good (love their coffee too)
The Picha Project – a social enterprise helping refugees while feeding you delicious meals
Platters & Grazing Boards – a handy list of places curating pretty charcuterie and cheese platters – great for parties. More here.
Keto Meals – a collection of kitchens delivering keto recipes
Kefir & Kombucha – as the name suggests, a list of some of our favourite ferments
Sausage KL – homemade sausages free of nasty chemicals
Healthy Meals – a compilation of tasty, healthy meal deliveries
Batik Boutique – ethical gifts or something special for yourself here
BoomGrow Greens – tastiest kale, rocket and a whole assortment of beautiful greens grown in urban stations about the city.
Locally Roasted Coffee Beans – excellent range
Miss Ellie Tea House – my go-to chef (Justin Wong) for the most scrumptious carrot cake, cheesecakes, and any baked goodies for celebrations.
Booze Delivery – wine, beer, spirits and cocktails delivered to your door needs a whole paragraph on its own. We are blessed with choices: Albert Wines 2 U (same day delivery!), Wine Kaki (over 400 products), Drinkies (same day delivery), #nicpicks (boutique wine subscription service), Sustainable Wine (personal recommendations from a pro somm), The Strine Wine Co (boutique range of wines hand-picked by a chef), Well Craft (craft beer delivery), and even Cocktail Delivery (local bars delivering craft cocktails). Oh, and Bar United is a platform where you can order from several bars in one go – you can go on a virtual barhop with cocktails from different bars delivered all in one shot.
3. Random Settling In Useful Contacts
One of the luxuries of living in Malaysia is the affordability of help in your home. The best place to look for personal recommendations is Facebook expat groups where families who are leaving will often try to find a home for their current helper to go to. It might take some time to find a good personal recommendation, so in the meantime apps such as Maid Easy where you can book some help as little as a day in advance come in handy. The best cleaning service we have used though is Cantika Cleaning Service. They are a little more expensive than others but the staff are well trained and thorough.
For steam cleaning of lounges and mattresses, I’ve had excellent experiences with the young and energetic team at Wonder Boys. If you’re taking an apartment that is furnished, you might want the peace of mind that having everything deep-cleaned brings before moving in.
Karen from Acacia Fabrics has made us curtains, blinds, reupholstered chairs and recovered our bed frame. The list of materials they work with is extensive.
If you know what you’re doing, you can get a lot of your handyperson and DIY items online at places such as Lazada. For general needs, MR DIY has outlets around the city but with varying levels of assistance. For expert advice, I find the locally run independent hardware stores the best bet for getting advice on what you need. Most neighbourhoods have them, but for those living around the city centre, there are a couple on Jalan Alor, a few around the buildings surrounding Ampang Point, and Jalan Ipoh in Sentul and Ampang Jaya are packed with small shops selling DIY and professional home reno supplies.
It’s surprising how few homes come with mosquito netting considering the huge number of mosquito-borne illnesses here. I’ve had dengue and chikungunya, and let me tell you, both are horrifyingly miserable. I highly recommend not getting bitten. We recently installed screens on our windows (I don’t know what took us so long to do so). We’re so happy now to be able to leave the windows open for cross ventilation while keeping the mossies out. I approached several companies and these are the three I was most impressed with in terms of thorough quotations and efficiency of response: Alpha Mosquito Netting, E Chan Screens, and Zaki (+60 13-675 3182). We ended up using E Chan Screens and they put magnetic covers over our windows – the cheapest option.
Buy a water filter. We purchased a Panasonic from Harvey Norman but there are lots of brands out there. Don’t waste time with having drinking water delivered. Unless, of course, your pipes are rusty – something that is more common than you would hope for here. (Something to check for when searching for a place to live – the quality of the water. Run the taps and check the colour of the water before you sign any contracts.)
Also, if you’ve arrived in the past two years you’ve been fortunate to miss the haze. However, with things opening up again, murky skies are returning. In 2021 the average PM2.5 concentration in Malaysia was 3.9 times the WHO annual air quality guideline value. Just as you should consider the quality of the food you eat and water you drink, the air you breathe should be top priority. (My dad died of a respiratory illness caused by breathing in particles in the air that stuck to his lungs, so clean air is a matter close to the heart.) I do recommend filling your house with plants but you might also consider a professional air filter. You can get them from stores such as Harvey Norman but we ordered a Cosmo Pro online and are quite happy with it. You can track the air quality through several apps or online.
4. Beauty for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
Dermatology and aesthetic medicine are less expensive here than at home but you have to sift through to find someone reputable. Trusted clinics I’ve had successful experiences at are Lyfe Clinic and Dr Jane Clinic in Tropicana, MAC Clinic and Ozhean in Bangsar, PHI Clinic in Damansara and Kaiteki in SS2. The doctors at all clinics are warm, informative and I never feel pressured into a purchase. From injectables, hair removal, micro-needling, red carpet facials, the latest in laser treatments and more intense fractional lasers, these clinics have you covered.
There are several hair salons I frequent around the city. Eka Roots in Bangsar is great for organic hair colouring and formaldehyde-free hair straightening. Set in a bungalow, they have private rooms, no salon smell because there’s no ammonia used in their products, and, in general, an exclusive, private experience. Show this article to get a 10% discount if you choose to visit. I also love Jerry at Groom Artistry in The Intermark (you can also mention The Yum List to get a 10% discount on select services). They also source products using minimal chemicals and really listen to what I want in a haircut. If you’re staying closer to the Bukit Jalil area of the city, Hair Bar Estudio is a nice experience, with the use of Spanish products from Montibello. And, for those of you in Mont Kiara, you must visit the beautiful Walking On Sunshine Salon. It’s a huge space divided by plants and natural wood furnishings. The stylists are experts at their craft and you can get a darn good latte while you’re being pampered.
For gel nails, I absolutely love Maniqure in Sri Petaling. It’s a little out of the city centre but the technicians are expert and priced far less than KLCC. Latelle Facial Bar offers a comprehensive list of facials and is conveniently located in Hartamas. I’ve had positive experiences with Effortless (an app that matches beauticians to clients) for eyelash extensions done in my home and you can use my code, MONICA, to get 5% discount on any service. Here I had life-changing micro-bladed brows, eyeliner tattoo, and lash-lifts and tints. I constantly update this list; you can find the latest our Spa & Beauty section here.
Finally, and part of the rise of everything being delivered, I am a big fan of this Malaysian home teeth whitening kit. It is fast, easy-to-use, cheap and effective. I’ve done the old school method in the dentist’s chair and this home kit is 10 times cheaper, not one little bit uncomfortable and gets equal if not better results. The White Republic’s Teeth Whitening Kit is currently on sale, reduced from RM 339 to RM 269. They also offer free shipping for all destinations within Malaysia. Additionally, get a 10% discount by using the code TheYumList here.
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. I’m also a regular at Chow Yang Foot Reflexology in Jalan Telawi 5, Bangsar. They charge RM50 for an hour reflexology and the therapists are strong and thorough.
SoSPA at Sofitel Kuala Lumpur Damansara is a good hotel spa with its very own Hammam, and the newly opened UR Spa at RuMa has a menu founded in Malaysian healing practices and wellness. 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 Fuego (Latin American, beautiful views, wonderful patio dining, hip, cool, fun!), Osteria Gamberoni (hand-made dry and fresh pasta) Joloko (Afro-Caribbean with awesome drinks and fab setting), Wurst (cosy setting, comfort food, value for money), The Hungry Tapir (plant-based food in an attractive setting), Kenny Hills Bakers (fantastic baked goods, various outlets) Beta KL (contemporary Malaysian also in a hip environment), Skillet at 163 (modern European), Brasserie Fritz, Chez Gaston and Delia Wines (French bistros), Gai (by renowned chef Darren Chin), Jama (fantastic brunch menu), Lissette’s Cafe and Bakery (loads of veggie options and Insta-worthy scene), Vantador, Maria’s Signature and Don Julio (for premium steak) passionate Italian at Nero Nero and the most fun brunch in town at W. For fresh and delicious Malay food, and excellent locations to take out-of-town guests, you can’t go past OpenHouse (fancy), Dusun (semi-alfresco, Insta-heaven) and Adu Sugar (funky). If you’re looking for al fresco dining, check out some great spots here. Furthermore, it is fantastic to see the number of plant-base options growing in the city. Check out our favourites restaurants with meat-free menus here.
Good food often comes in clusters. There are several areas around the city where you can restaurant hop. Some of our go-to locations are Chinatown (Jalan Sultan – in and around REX KL, and also the end of Petaling street close to Four Points hotel), The Row, Old Malaya, Lorong Kurau, APW (Art Printing Works) and Jalan Mesui.
Additionally, there has been a rise of food court/halls in Kuala Lumpur offering a hip, contemporary scene. Tiffin at The Yard, in a renovated old train yard, is the most lively. Here you’ll find loads of our favourite kitchens all under one roof. Artisan’s Playground by Cookhouse, APW and REX KL are all worth checking out too.
Of course, Malaysia has a wonderful variety of local food at very affordable prices, and there are a whole bunch of Malaysian bloggers (and friends and colleagues) who will recommend their favourites. I suggest 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 Andy’s Instagram account here. 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 who 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 the cooking technique and recognise passion in execution. My personal favourites are:
KL City Centre – Nadodi, Nobu, Sushi Hibiki, FLOUR, Cantaloupe, OpenHouse
TTDI – DC by Darren Chin
DC Mall – Kikubari
Damansara – Chateau Dionne
Find more restaurants for special occasions here.
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 but a couple of our regular haunts are RGB, VCR, RaFt, Feeka, Fox Paradox, Superfine and Brew n Bread (love their Driver Blend).
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 those. You’ll find some of the best panoramas at the Grand Hyatt, Blackbyrd, Traders Hotel, Cielo KL, Fuego, Banyan Tree, Sabayon, Envi SkyDining, Blue at EQ 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. We’ve start with brunch or lunch or Small Shifting Space and then go 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 glass of natural wine at Cheong Somm or and a look around REXKL. Dinner is either at Chocha Foodstore for a contemporary take on Malaysian cuisine, Wildflowers KL for something out of the ordinary, Da Bao for delicious buns, or Old China Café for a step back in time with friendly service and Baba Nonya dishes. To end the evening you could embark on a fantastic barhop around the area with close to two handfuls of hidden bars all within walking distance of one another.
For a more elegant experience, I’d begin at Blue at the EQ 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 or take in spectacular views from WET Deck. (All are a few minutes’ walk from each other.) Or, find a fancy itinerary for one night in KL here.
For those who like a bit of nightlife, I might begin with The Che Lounge in Havana Bar in Changkat Bukit Bintang, head across the road for a drink and Pinchos, and then see the evening out at Pisco Bar.
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 (touristy but a thing to do once), a fantastic Malay meal in ADU Sugar, 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.
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. Here are more ideas for things to do in KL with visitors from overseas.
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 have 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. (*This might change following the pandemic.)
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 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. You can get them from many LRT stations, Petronas petrol stations, Watsons and many other places. 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.
If you have school-aged children, choosing the right school is one of the most important decisions you’ll make. I highly recommend looking for one near your place of employment, as ideally, you will locate your home close to both. Traffic can be dreadful and you don’t want hours of your little ones’ days being spent on a bus.
Do take time to visit the school in person. Do chat with the teachers and other parents. Do check to see if it is internationally accredited. In the past few years, an abundance of “international schools” have hit the “market.” From a teacher with over two decades of international experience, I strongly support seeking a school that is non-profit. That way there is no question of where your school fees go – directly back into improving the educative experience or into a shareholders pocket?
If your work is in the city centre, the International School of Kuala Lumpur is, yes, expensive, but you clearly see the benefits in terms of class size, facilities, the calibre of teachers and programs offered.
12. Health Care
Health care in Kuala Lumpur ranges from inexpensive community doctors to five-star hospital facilities. Most people will seek out the local doctor for small issues such as relief of symptoms of a cold, and visit larger medical facilities for specialist issues. In the city centre, both Gleneagles and Prince Court are popular hospitals amongst expats. In the city centre, for cheap medical advice and General Practicioners I go to Klinik Segara in The Intermark. We see Dr Ong at KL Dental Clinic for our dental needs.
Additionally over the pandemic, more home care services, online consultations and doctors visiting your home have become available. I’ve had a few online consultations (one with a specialist and two with general practitioners). It meant when I was too ill to leave the house I could still receive care. And, it also saved me time, transport and parking. The doctors couriered medication to my door within an hour of the appointment. Homage is another example. Support is provided by professional caregivers to seniors or individuals who require assistance in their everyday lives. This can involve help with activities of daily living including eating, toileting, bathing, and companionship, as well as nursing care at home.
Finding your home in KL can be daunting. If you remember though, that supply far outnumbers demand, you will have the comfort of knowing that you hold the upper hand. Over the 18 years I have lived here, there has been a significant trend moving away from free-standing bungalows towards gated communities and apartments. The lock-up-and-leave desirability of condo living means there are countless rooms available with all range of facilities – gym, tennis courts, pool, number of car parks, and so on.
Preferences, of course, are individual, but my number one piece of advice is to negotiate, negotiate, negotiate. Everything, including price, length of the contract, and who is responsible for repairs and bills is negotiable. Take your time. Stay in a serviced residence such as 8 Kia Peng Suites, an Air BnB or a hotel designed for longer stays such as Element KL, and hold off until you get what you want. Don’t believe anyone who says they will do the repairs when you move in; if anything is out of place, wait until they fix it before handing over your dough.
I Property is a decent place to begin your search and see what is out there. If you like the location of a condo and its facilities, do ask to see multiple apartments in the complex. Places can range from old, run-down cesspools to beautifully renovated abodes in the same building. Once you’ve narrowed your search, talk to the property manager as they often have other apartments listed, and you could also ask for leads on some of the KL Expat Facebook groups. Do look out for construction sites around the area as these can cause traffic, dust and noise.
Most condos have their own gyms so I’m not up-to-date on what the latest gym packages around KL are like. I have found a fantastic yoga studio, though. Damai Studio runs a vegan cafe but also has a space offering classes (online when necessary) with over 20 classes a week. It’s in a quiet location surrounded by greenery. Very pretty.
Getting outdoors, our favourite park for a light hike is Taman Tugu. They have clearly marked, well-maintained trails of 1km and 3km, and the facilities are superbly clean. KLCC park is pretty, as too are Lake Gardens, Titiwangsa , TTDI Park and Desa Park City. For more rustic hiking, there are several apps and more coming out frequently. Google your favourite or start off with Komoot, kind of like the WAZE to trails.
Expats in Kuala Lumpur – Top Tips To Settle In
Hopefully, this list of Top 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.