If you’re looking for a complete packing guide for moving to Malaysia, this is not it. And there is a reason for that. You can pretty much find (almost) everything you want here, and certainly everything you need.
Unlike what a lot of people believe, Malaysia is a first-worldish country. Not in the real definition of it, but in its amenities. We aren’t living in huts in the jungle and fishing and foraging for our dinners.
Okok, there are no window screens and a few holes in the ground for toilets, but who cares when I’m living a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget? Screens-schmeens. Good news, though, my thigh muscles are stronger than ever now. I’m a master hoverer.
But seriously, we have a very modern and international lifestyle here.
And that means we can get pretty much everything our little heart desires. However, it might come at a cost. Or the quality might be below your standard. Or it’s available, but not your favorite brand.
In the beginning, going without these things might bother you, but after a while, you’ll forget all about them.
Unless its onion soup. Which we’ll get to in a moment. It’s the little things, my friends.
Before moving to Malaysia, we sold everything. We arrived in Penang with two suitcases each, mostly the wrong stuff. But at the time, who knew?
Well, now I know. And I’m sharing it with you.
Keep reading for your moving to Malaysia what to (and not to) pack list.
Really, it’s All Here… Mostly
There are a lot of pros and cons of living in Malaysia. But once you’ve decided to take the leap, packing should be the easy part.
Honestly, I don’t want to bore you with the details.
You already know the main stuff to bring: shorts, flip flops, sandals, clothes, your fave stuffed animal, things that make your house a home, some pictures, the sentimental stuff.
It’s the more obscure things people don’t necessarily think about that you miss. These are the things that every time we go back to the United States, we purchase.
Vitamins, the selection sucks here and it’s pretty expensive comparatively. When we go back, or people come for a visit, we stock up. If the Malaysian customs people ever checked our bags, they’d think we are selling vitamins. Now there’s a thought….
We do have GNC, health food stores, and regular pharmacies, but we just don’t get the selection we are used to. If you are a vitamin popper, like Mark, it could jack up your cost of living in Penang. However, if you want snail slime or deer placenta to slather on your face, Malaysia has you covered. A regular ol’ multi-vitamin, not so much.
Good Knives and Cookware
Finding knives here is easy. Finding GOOD knives is not. We had a gorgeous set of Wusthof knives in Chicago. When you cook a lot, good knives make a difference. But here, no one cooks a lot. We eat out because we can; it’s affordable, delicious, and easier.
It is also not easy to find great cookware here, and if you do, it’s super expensive. What’s $50 in the USA, is at least twice that here. So, we brought back a couple of pans and a few knives in our suitcase on one of our first trips back from the US.
Do I miss those things when I do cook? A little, but not having the fanciest kitchen gear hasn’t made a damn bit of difference in my life.
You can def get towels here. Everyone does. But we didn’t have great luck. We bought a bunch the first year we were here. And they are still shedding today, almost 7 years later. I kid you not.
We had to demote them from bath to pool towels because I was tired of finding turquoise fuzz all over the place. Do you know how difficult it is to put lotion on after a shower when covered in towel fur? All it does is pill up, and then you have little lotiony-lint balls stuck to your skin for the rest of the day.
It’s hot enough here, I don’t need an extra layer of fur to keep me insulated, thanks. Now I know why Mark is always hot.
Sheets if You are Finicky
There is no Bed, Bath & Beyond here where you can find good quality but affordable sheets. If your bed is your sanctuary, bring your sheets. But know this – your king-size American sheets will be too large for your Malaysian mattresses but better too large than too small, right?
There are some gorgeous sheet sets here, but you’ll pay more for them.
Oh, and there is no such thing as a flat sheet here. EVERY set comes with a duvet cover, but no top sheet. And a bolster pillowcase. I’m sorry, but who the F needs a bolster pillow on their bed? I want a damned flat sheet. But alas, it’s not happening. So that is another reason to bring a set with you. Or a top sheet or two.
If you have sensitive skin, check to see if your brand of skincare is here. We do have Sephora, thank god, and other skincare stores like Sasa, but if you are a die-hard fan of a product, do some research before you come.
However, let me preface this whole skincare section by saying: your skin will change here. Between the 98% humidity and 90-degree weather, your skin might go bonkers. Mine did, and still does every time I come back to Penang after an extended holiday.
Your diet changes pretty drastically, and so does your skin. Not to mention all the different pollens, pollutants, and irritants. Weird things grow here, and sometimes on your skin, hello dermatitis, you bitch.
Also, what worked for your skin and hair back home probably won’t work for you here. You may not want to layer a thick mess of moisturizer on your face every day before you go out. Your make-up will slide right off.
When I was moving to Malaysia, I was expecting these glorious curly locks like the girl in Brave! But nope. Not a chance.
Even my hair freaks out when I return back to Penang. The water, the humidity, the who knows what, but it makes my hair a limp mess. It takes a good month for it to get used to the humidity and act “normal” again.
So, I buy products here and in the US. That’s right, I stockpile like a Covid-19 panic shopper. And I DON’T CARE.
Under my sink is an arsenal of products that don’t work. And a few that do, this month. There aren’t a lot of curly hair products here because you know… it’s Asia. Have you ever seen a Chinese woman with natural curls? Nope, I didn’t think so.
My curly girls, I know you feel me!
Another thing to bring is hair dye. If you do it yourself, bring a little stash of color. We have American brands like Loreal and Garnier, but not all the colors. If you are a natural redhead like me (*spits water through nose), you won’t have to worry about it. But just in case you are DIY-dyer, bring a few.
All that to say, bring a little stash of products but don’t bring a 5 year supply. Eventually, after some trial and error, you will find all the things that work for you.
Lipton Onion Soup Mix
This is the one thing that you really can’t get here. At any place, at any price.
It used to be sold here but no longer. Had I known they weren’t going to restock the shelves, I would have hoarded it and never told anyone.
I’ve tried other brands; they aren’t the same. Thankfully, my sweet friend Amy sent her husband with 47 boxes of it for me. Not sure he had room for clothes, but who cares? I got my Lipton.
And real talk: I never cared so much about onion soup before. It was always in the drawer when you needed it to make a quick dip or hamburgers. It was always there, like a reliable friend. But now that I can’t get my hands on it, I’m obsessed with it.
I crave onion dip. I don’t know why? I rarely eat potato chips, but what I wouldn’t do for a bag of Lays Thick Wavy chips and an onion dip right now.
So, now you know what to bring when moving to Malaysia. Let’s flip the coin…
What NOT to Bring When Moving to Malaysia
You can find all that here. The choices may be limited, but we have a Mikasa factory about an hour from the island. IKEA moved in last year, and there are a few other options around the island.
I also bought another set from an expat who left the island (thank you, Linda). So now, we can have dinner parties for 16 and do for Thanksgiving.
Before I moved to Malaysia, I was in the fashion business. I couldn’t fathom not wearing heels out of the house. So, I packed six pairs of heels and two pairs of flat sandals.
Don’t do that.
If you go for a fancy night out, yes, it is nice to wear a pair of heels. As long as you aren’t walking far, because this isn’t a heel friendly kind of place. There are hidden ankle-breakers everywhere, so keep that in mind.
Bring one or two pairs, and that should suffice. Plus, the heat here deteriorates EVERYTHING. Unless you wear them often and keep them in a bag in an air-conditioned room, they won’t last long.
All of those expensive leather shoes you brought to Malaysia have an evil plan for you. A trick up their
sleeves footbeds if you will.
Picture this, you get all dolled up to go out on the town. You put on your fave heels. You strut yourself right out of the house, feeling good. Until you get to the bar where their evil plan takes foothold (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).
At the fancy bar, the entire bottom of your shoe falls off. I’m not talking the heel tap; I mean the whole outsole. You literally walk right out of your heels. Leaving you barefoot on our fancy night out.
Or if you’re Mark, the top separates from the rest of the bottom. You spend the night walking around with a shoe that is slapping together with every step. It’s quite the sight.
So, there are two morals to this story: don’t only pack heels (you’ll rarely wear them) and keep a spare pair of slippers in your car when you go out, just in case.
Something to note: if you are moving to Kuala Lumpur, you’ll have a lot more opportunities to wear heels. But the sidewalks still kinda suck – keep that in mind.
Fancy Ball Gowns and Tuxes
You can bring them, but why would you when you can get them custom made? You will only need them a couple times a year, so you might as well get the Hollywood star treatment and get something new made for the occasion.
This goes for men too. You can get a bespoke tux or suit made. Best part? It will cost you less than buying it off a sale rack in the US.
Bespoke clothing doesn’t end at fancy gowns and tuxes. You can have a full wardrobe made if you wish, shoes too. So if you forget something, just get it made. A lot of people do that in Penang, especially since there aren’t a lot of stores on the island that have real-people sized clothes.
Most computers will work anywhere, so bring that those.
But small appliances, like printers and Kitchen Aid’s, aren’t worth the trouble. To use them, you will have to buy a heavy-duty-transformer-converter-thinga-mabob to convert the voltage. They are a pain in the ass and not great for the life of your electronics.
A Kitchen Aid is a big one, but you can buy them here. The real ones are more expensive here, but you can find a knock off.
Here’s the thing, if you can’t live without it, and you need it right away, bring it. Otherwise, buy it here. Michelle Grimsley’s site, Spiral Synergy, has loads of things for sale from expats leaving.
If you can wait, keep an eye on her newsletters for the sale items. Act fast when you see something you like, hot commodities sell sight unseen within seconds.
The Bottom Line
There are a lot of things to consider before moving to Malaysia. But my best tip for packing is – if you can live without it, don’t bring it. Knowing you can buy so much here, should make your packing a little easier (and so will packing cubes.)
Would I do it differently if I started all over?
Probably a little. But we never even discussed shipping stuff, nor should we have. We had no idea what the future would hold. Not that anyone does, but we spent a whopping total of three weeks in Malaysia before we moved.
We could have hated it. It could have sucked. Then what would we have done with our crate load of pots and pans?
It would have been a burden.
There is something so freeing about being able to pack up your life in a suitcase and not even care if it makes it to the destination. Because at the end of the day, it’s just stuff. You realize how little you need when you aren’t surrounded by all the crap you have.
For all the things you need to buy, there is a website called Lazada, which is our Amazon. It’s not nearly as extensive, but it has a lot of the brands you might be familiar with.
When you first get here, you’ll miss the things that you used every day, but after some time, you change. You realize that searching for your favorite knife is futile, and you just move on. And eventually, you forget how much you loved that knife because it’s not important. It may stretch you in certain ways, but pull up your big-girl panties or manties.
You just moved across the world, a good knife is the least of your worries.
Expats, leave a comment below…did I miss anything? Do you agree with my list?
PS: Another tip? Read these Malaysia books to give you a feel for the culture and life here. And also, because they are friggin amazing books!
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