Malaysia has so much to offer digital nomads who are looking for an interesting, multi-cultural and dynamic country to be based. while they work. Nature lovers will be thrilled by the rain forests (even within the heart of Kuala Lumpur), coastline, mountains, and island life whereas people who love a bustling city have plenty of options to be based.
Wherever you base yourself, you can enjoy a street food culture that’s revered across Asia offering everything from Malay, to Chinese, and Indian dishes. You can also enjoy many exciting public holidays and cultural events due to the many peoples that call Malaysia home.
An affordable country to live in with economic and political stability whilst also being one of the least densely populated countries in Asia, it’s no wonder digital nomads and retirees have been flocking to Malaysia in recent years.
Reasons Why Malaysia is Perfect for Digital Nomads
There are many reasons why Malaysia has been getting a lot of attention from digital nomads and remote workers in recent years. If you’re considering making Malaysia your base for a while, here are a few reasons to illustrate why this is a great idea.
- Cost of living: We touch on this more below but Malaysia offers a quality lifestyle for a fraction of what you would pay in the US and Europe. So, if you’re on a budget or just want your money to go further and potentially save then Malaysia is ideal.
- Fast WIFI and strong cafe culture: WIFI is an area that has really improved in Malaysia in recent years, especially in Kulaur Lumpar where fibre optic is common. Wherever you decide to live in Malaysia, you can enjoy strong cafe culture (make sure to try some milo!), leaving you plenty of places to work outside of the home and coworking spaces. Phone plans are also affordable and offer good backup WIFI.
- Language: While it’s always polite to learn some of the local languages, as Malaysia is such a multicultural country and was colonized by the British for over 100 years, the majority of people speak English and you will certainly have no trouble in the major cities.
- Excellent healthcare: Healthcare is as good as you will be used to in the US and Europe, while also being highly affordable. (Make sure to take out global health insurance specifically for remote workers and digital nomads at Saftey Wing).
Malaysia is also considered a safe country for visitors. Violent crimes are very low in Malaysia and the main risk is of petty crime so keep your belongings secure and safe. Women travelling alone generally feel comfortable but should practice standard safety and may be subject to stares. LBTQ+ travellers may not feel comfortable due to the unfriendly laws of the country, see more on this below.
In this article, we’re going to share the best places to base yourself in Malaysia, interesting coworking spaces and cafes for working in, and everything you need to know regarding visas and accommodation options.
Best Cities for Digital Nomads: Deciding Where to Live in Malaysia
There are many interesting cities to choose as your base while living in Malaysia but if you’re looking for a location with great facilities for remote workers and a network of people to connect with then we recommend the following cities:
Well connected with two international airports and regular coaches to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur provides an exciting capital city to live in and ample opportunities as a base. Kuala Lumpur is where you’ll find the biggest digital nomad and remote worker community as well as the most facilities such as co-working spaces and networking events.
Despite being a major metropolis, with all of the western chains and conveniences that you may be used to, Kuala Lumpur also boasts ample green spaces and a diverse food culture where you can enjoy Malay, Chinese, and Indian cuisines. If you love having access to malls, familiar brands, and the latest conveniences then you will love Kuala Lumpur.
Listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Georgetown is a colourful and vibrant city on the island of Penang, known for its heritage architecture, exciting street art culture, and a street food culture that’s famous across Asia.
You’ll find no shortage of cafes to work at here, with a real love of coffee and cafe culture permeating the city. Living in Georgetown means you can indulge in entire meals such as Assam Laksa or Nasi Kandar for around $1.50 and enjoy the great atmosphere that always comes with a lively food stall scene — the island was even named the best foodie destination in the world by Lonely Planet.
You’re also just ninety minutes away from Penang National Park and can enjoy hiking trails and the gorgeous coastline. A multicultural island, English is widely spoken making it great for remote workers and digital nomads.
The laidback capital of Sabah, East Malaysia and the gateway to Borneo, Kota Kinabalu (known as KK locally) offers laidback vibes and plenty of opportunities for nature, hiking, and watersport lovers with its rainforest, nearby mountains, and gorgeous beaches.
It’s been named as one of the most pleasant places to live in Asia, being a walkable city with great facilities and vibrant food and cafe culture. The city is renowned for its gorgeous sunsets and many people who come to live here never leave. If you love a tropical lifestyle with the benefits of city living, KK could be for you!
Cost of Living in Malaysia
Living costs in Malaysia are incredibly low by Western standards. The average salary in Kuala Lumpur is under $1000. This means you can absolutely pay for rent, living costs, and have money left for enjoying Malaysia’s exciting (and also highly affordable) food scene while still potentially saving if you’re earning over $1000.
Many who live there choose to predominantly eat out as it’s cheaper than buying and cooking at home.
WIFI speed is very good and for $15 you can enjoy speeds faster than you had at home. This, of course, also applies to local cafes and coworking spaces. This is particularly true for populated areas like Kualaur Lumpar and Georgetown but you will find the wifi is significantly slower outside of major cities.
In Kuala Lumpur, you can buy a monthly transport pass for $23 but you can spend much less than if you’re not riding every day. Lyft is also available and most rides around the city will cost less than $3 with the most expensive rides being to and from the airport at around $7-$12.
Transport and other living costs, as you might expect, are cheaper outside of the capital.
Visa Options for Digital Nomads in Malaysia
Malaysia doesn’t currently have any visas specifically for remote workers but there are some valid options for staying longer in Malaysia.
Many digital nomads opt to work on the Malaysia tourist visa which allows stays of anything between 30-90 days depending on your nationality. Of course, legally speaking, you shouldn’t be performing any kind of work on this type of visa.
Malaysia also offers a Multiple Entry Visa which you can apply for and stay three- twelve months depending on the visa you select. You will need to prove you have enough money to support yourself (at least $1000) and a flight out of the country, you will still need to leave regularly so this is most ideal for people who travel a lot.
How to Find Long Term Accommodation in Malaysia?
If you’re staying a few months then Airbnb or Booking.com both offer a selection of apartments to rent across the country. If you’re looking for something a bit longer then Property Guru also has options available.
Komune Living also offer long and short term coliving spaces for remote workers and digital nomads. Different rooms and boarding packages are available depending on how much support you’d like when you first arrive in Malaysia. This is a great way to make friends with others in your community.
You can also check out groups for people who have moved to Malaysia like Expats in Malaysia and Kuala Lumpur Expats where people often post listings and other relevant information about life in Malaysia for digital nomads.
Recommended Cafes and Coworking Spaces in Malaysia
Malaysia already has an incredibly strong and welcoming foreigner community so you’ll have no trouble making friends and connections if you’re interested. There are also some great spaces you can work in other than your home including:
Common Ground (Kuala Lumpur & Penang): Voted ASEAN’s best coworking space in 2019 (also having branches in Thailand and Philippines and growing), these spaces are focused on fostering an engaged community apart from offering a bright and comfortable place to work with a series of perks. Monthly hot desk, fixed desk, and office space plans are available.
Union Space (Kuala Lumpur): With space across Southeast Asia, these award-winning co-working spaces are geared towards millennial remote workers and digital nomads with bright yet tucked away intimate spaces and flexible working plans. Free refreshments and regular events mean you’ll truly feel part of the community.
@CAT Penang Co-Working Space (George Town): In the historic centre of George Town, this coworking space is committed to bringing together entrepreneurial mindsets and promoting community and collaboration with interesting events and learning sessions. Free coffee is provided ample desk space, and flexible plans of one day, ten-day, or monthly.
The Hyphen CO+ café (KK): Offering a cafe, food menu, and office space this cafe/coworking space hybrid is a perfect choice for anyone looking to work in a buzzing cafe environment.
VCR Cafe (Kular Lumpar): With two locations in the city, this convenient cafe space, beautifully decked out with wood and plants, is ideal if you want a nice place to work with good wifi and plenty of tables to sit at. The food and drinks served here are of fantastic quality and the atmosphere is conducive to working.
Black Kettle (George Town): Offering an artisan bakery, award-winning coffee, and. a french-inspired kitchen as well as ample seating, high-speed wifi, and power outlets, Black Kettle ticks all of the boxes. It’s on Beach Street, the UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the first roads ever built in Penang.
Read More: 10 Best Digital Nomad Backpacks
What are the Downsides of Remote Working in Malaysia?
Many of these are issues you will find across Southeast Asia rather than Malaysia specific but it’s good to be aware of them.
- Congestion is a problem in all major cities so being stuck in gridlock can become a common occurrence if you’re moving around at peak times.
- Driving can be scary if you’re not used to navigating the roads in Southeast Asia and scooters regularly hop up onto the pavement. Make sure to be extra careful when crossing the road.
- Air pollution can be a problem: This comes from a combination of heavy traffic, manufacturing, and smoke from illegal fires in Indonesia during the dry season. On particularly bad days, it’s advised to stay inside and it’s worth having an air pollution monitor on your phone. While living in China and Korea, I found having a vog mask very helpful for pollution days.
- Unfortunately, single use plastic and littering are common and this will be particulalry evident on the beaches in Penang.
- This is an incredibly humid country, so if you’re not a fan of hot and humid weather then you may struggle. Many people opt to live in a complex with a pool for this reason.
- Public displays of affection are frowned upon, anything above holding hands could get you in trouble. This leads to the point below because this is even more of an issue for same-sex couples.
Is Malaysia Safe for LGBTQ+ People?
Due to a complex and messy mix of British colonial-era law banning homosexuality and a traditional, conservative Muslim government, Malaysia is not a welcoming country to LGBTQ+ people, and homosexuality is currently still criminalized.
Trans people also face violence and no legal support to speak of. There’s also little support from within the government and the general public to exact change.
While there are active gay communities, particularly in Penang and Kulaur Lumpar, and many LGBTQ travellers do travel to Malaysia, it’s very much up to the individual whether they’re comfortable in this situation.
Do I Need to Learn the Language?
No. While it’s nice to learn some helpful phrases, it isn’t unusual for people to speak four languages or more in this multinational country, including English. You can absolutely get by without learning anything but having a phrasebook handy will help you out if you do run into any issues.
Thank you for reading this guide to Malaysia for digital nomads and remote workers. If you’re interested in working in Europe, here are some visa options for remote workers in Europe.