Think you know what it’s really like to live in Malaysia?

The media and the internet tell you a one-sided story, but I’m here to tell you the reality.

Most people think about the scandals and assume Malaysia is some kind of backassward hillbilly country.

But it couldn’t be further from the truth.

Let’s play a game of expectations vs. reality. This is what it’s really like to live in Malaysia.

Everything is Halal = No Pork and No Booze

mans hand picking up salami with a glass of wine in the background

Most people assume that bacon and booze are on the absolutely-not list because it’s a Muslim country.

According to the 2010 census (the 2020 census results aren’t out yet), about 61% of all Malaysians are Muslim. This means 39% are possibly pork-eating booze-drinking Malaysians.

In reality, everyone is free to eat pork and wash it down with a glass of whiskey, except Muslims.

It’s pretty simple, go to a Malay restaurant, and it will be halal. You won’t find pork or alcohol. Indian restaurants don’t serve beef or pork, but many have beer. Dine at a Chinese or Western restaurant, and you’ll find it all. Well, you may not find booze, but then you can usually bring your own.

If you’re hankering for some bacon, choose your cuisine, and you won’t go into withdrawals.

Expats in Malaysia have no problem finding what they need here, let alone pork and booze. You can even find a pork and alcohol section at most, if not all, Malaysian supermarkets.

All Women Who Live in Malaysia Must Cover Their Hair and Dress Modestly

black and white picture of a man measuring the length of a swim suit in the 1930s

Yes, Malaysia is a majority Muslim country. And yes, again, Muslim women must cover their hair and dress modestly.

That’s all true, but unlike some other Muslim nations, Malaysia is pretty relaxed. The women here don’t have to wear niqabs, let alone burkas. And that headscarf/modest apparel rule, just like the no booze and pork rules, only applies to Muslims.

The Chinese Malaysian females here wear the shortest short-shorts I’ve seen in all of Southeast Asia. I’m talking about the ones that barely keep their lil cheeks from escaping!

The Indian Malaysians are free to wear their colorful midriff-baring sarees if they so choose.

The point is, only Muslims are required to cover their hair and dress modestly.

Other women can wear their cultural outfits or whatever their little heart’s desire. You can even look like a real tart if you want to; you won’t be the only one 🤣.

Now. That I’ve said written that, let me take that one step further…

You cannot and should not wear whatever you want into any house of holy. Respect the religion no matter what it is.

If you plan to go into a mosque, cover your head and legs. Many of them will provide a robe of sorts for you to don before you enter. But if not, bring along a couple of sarongs. They’ll do the trick.

My guess is you prob wouldn’t go into a church or synagogue in the US wearing short-shorts. So don’t do it here. You’ll look like an asshole.  

Malaysia is a Horrible Place for Women

girl sitting outside under red lights

Sadly, in the western world, people think that all Muslim nations treat their women like dog shit.

I agree that women aren’t given top billing in a lot of Muslim countries. But let’s be real. The same can be said about the US and loads of other countries. Women aren’t treated as equals the world over. It’s def not a Malaysian thing.

In the 7 years we’ve been living in Malaysia, we have never seen nor heard about the unfair treatment of women.

In a million years, I would never tell a woman not to live in Malaysia because she’ll be mistreated.

Ok, let move on from unfair treatment to safety.

Is it Safe to Live in Malaysia as a Woman?

On another related but separate note, I get asked all the time, “is Malaysia safe to live, especially for women?”

The answer is a resounding yes! As an expat in Malaysia, I can say that it is a good place for solo female travelers and single women wanting to be expatriates in Malaysia.

I’m not saying you should wander the streets of Kuala Lumpur alone in the middle of the night. Would you do that in Chicago? Doubt it.

The whole country of Malaysia (30 million people) has a lower crime rate than some US states.

I’d say that’s pretty safe.

In general, I feel incredibly safe here. Even my friends living in Kuala Lumpur feel safer here than in their home countries.

People aren’t walking around with guns or machetes, but I’m not going to sugar coat it. Bad things do happen because no place is perfect.

Apart from the occasional what’s a white girl with a mop-full of curly red hair doing here stare, I’ve never felt unsafe, not for a second. Ogled at? Yes. Unsafe? No.

Living in Malaysia Means Living in a Wooden Hut Without A/C

you don't have to live in Malaysia in a wooden hut with red paint on the beach.

People who have never traveled to Southeast Asia believe that everyone lives in these beachfront huts with a swinging hammock for a bed and some outhouse as a toilet.

Nope. Not even close.

I suppose it’s possible to find such accommodations. But why would you when you can live in a modern high-rise with a swimming pool, a gym, and sometimes a convenience store?

If you want to live in a wooden hut, there are def places in Malaysia where that’s possible. You can even build yourself one on any beach you wish. Feel free to live off the grid here. You do you.

But if you are looking for the same kind of apartment you live in currently, one with all your creature comforts, you can find that here easily.

In fact, for the same amount of money you spend for your 1 bedroom condo in the US, you can rent a 3-bedroom beachfront condo with a private pool and top-of-the-line gym.

So, in reality, it’s probably nicer than your home in the US. Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you’re here for the truth.

Being an expatriate in Malaysia has a lot of benefits.

If You Live in Malaysia, You Must Sacrifice Quality for Affordability

Woman in an infinity pool overlooking the ocean. You can have this if you live in Malaysia.

The cost of living in Malaysia is about ¼ of what we used to spend in the US. That’s all-in, including health insurance.

What does it cost to live in Malaysia?

Well, that depends on your lifestyle, but for us, it’s $2000-2500 (USD). The living costs in Kuala Lumpur aren’t any higher because there is so much to choose from. But that low number doesn’t mean Malaysia is some crappy place to live. Quite the contrary.

By no means do we sacrifice our lifestyle because the Malaysian cost of living is so low.

Life in Malaysia for foreigners, especially those coming from western countries, is pretty luxurious. If you’re a retiree, daily life in Malaysia is full of social events, gatherings, and good times. If you are here working on an expat contract, you’ll probably be earning a top wage and spending ringgit, so your life could be pretty lavish.  

And truthfully, we have a very luxurious lifestyle by American standards.

We could live a lot larger than we do. If we wanted, we could have a live-in maid for $625 a month and weekly massages for $25.

Hourly maids cost $5 per hour, and we eat out more often in a week than we did in a month in Chicago. We never want for anything.  

Even traveling around here is cheap and incredible. Within a few hours, we can be in Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia.

They Hate Jews

Ok, so hear me out…

I am not standing on a soapbox saying that the Malaysians in power have a love for Jews and Israelis. They don’t.

But those sentiments are changing by some of the younger generations who aren’t just following along. They are asking questions, doing their own research, and becoming more worldly.

It’s true that if you have an Israeli passport or a stamp from Israel, you will not be permitted to enter the country. However, outside of that, no one asks you your religion when you enter this country.

In reality, 99% of Malaysians have NEVER met a Jew.

When I tell them I am Jewish, they are shocked, not because I dared to enter their country. Because, despite there being a Jewish cemetery in Penang, they’ve never met a real live Jew.

As one Malay man said to me, “You’re the first Jew-ess I’ve ever met. Tell me everything!” At which point, I had to enlist Mark because, sadly, he is a better Jew than I am (and he’s a Catholic).

The Beaches are Better in Thailand

couple who live in Malaysia on a long deserted beach in Tioman.

Well, in all honestly, some of them are. The beaches in Penang suck. They are the kind of beaches that are good from far, but far from good.

But people who think that the beaches are better in Thailand have never been to Tioman or Kota Kinabalu. Those beaches are what dreams are made of. Where postcards are created. And where paradise is found.

Don’t get it twisted. Some of my fave beaches are in Thailand. I’m looking at you, Koh Lipe. But they rival the Malaysia beaches any day!

The Full Story

As with any country, there are a lot of living in Malaysia pros and cons. As an American, it means having all the creature comforts of home, minus the cost of living, plus a lot of luxury.

So, is Malaysia a good place to live?

I’d say hell yes.

Hundreds of thousands of expats live in Malaysia from all over the world. We can’t all be wrong.

Now that we’ve cleared all that up, would you live in Malaysia? Tell me in the comments below.

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