Malaysia is one of the best countries for digital nomads in Southeast Asia. With first-rate levels of development, high English proficiency, and flexible visa options, the country has a lot going for it. On this basis, here is a complete digital nomad Malaysia guide.
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Welcome to Malaysia: One of the Most Diverse Countries in Asia
After gaining independence from the UK in 1963, Malaysia steadily evolved into a modern society with a highly diverse population.
The diversity of the Malaysian population is, in fact, one of its most fascinating aspects. Give or take, 67% of the country are Muslim Bumiputera, but there are sizable minorities of Chinese Malaysians (bout 25%) and Indians (about 7%).
The cultural mix is visible in the country’s linguistic landscape, architecture, and culture. Most people are fluent in English, adding to the convenience.
Apart from cultural diversity, Malaysia is one of the most developed countries in Southeast Asia, especially the Western part. You’ll find high-speed internet almost anywhere – as well as efficient train connections between the major cities.
In other words, Malaysia is well-suited for digital nomads thanks to its high levels of development, relatively low cost of living, stunning nature, and rich culture.
Here is a comprehensive digital nomad Malaysia guide covering the bases.
The Best Places to Live in Malaysia as a Digital Nomad
Malaysia has a lot of large and mid-sized cities that work well as nomad bases. If you’ve never been to the country, start in KL and make your way up to Penang.
Kuala Lumpur: the Fascinating Capital
KL is a modern and well-run city. In one sentence, I’d describe it as a more affordable, less affluent version of Singapore.
KL doesn’t have the buzzing nightlife of Bangkok or the “lost in translation” vibes of Tokyo, but it’s a very solid nomad base.
You’ll find enough cultural places to visit as well as stunning architecture. The food scene doesn’t rival some of Asia’s culinary capitals, but it’s by no means lacking. For digital nomads, there are enough coffee shops and coworking spaces – and all the amenities you could desire.
And finally, KL’s cost of living is much lower than Singapore or any major Western city.
To summarize, Kuala Lumpur is an excellent nomad base but arguably not as exciting as Bangkok, Hanoi, or Tokyo. It always depends on what you are looking for.
George Town: The Food Capital
George Town on the island of Penang is undoubtedly my favorite city in Malaysia.
The city is a UNESCO World Heritage site thanks to its historical shophouses and offers plenty of culture, nature-related activities, beaches, and of course, culinary delights.
Better still, George Town showcases Malaysia’s diversity. You’ll find an Indian neighborhood, Chinese-looking areas, and a lot in between.
Finally, George Town is full of stylish coffee shops with high-speed Wifi, making it an excellent Malaysia digital nomad hub.
Langkawi: the Tropical Island
If you’re looking for a tourist-friendly tropical getaway that also works as a digital nomad base, Langkawi is a worthwhile option.
Brimming with white sand beaches and thrilling activities, Langkawi is Malaysia’s answer to the Thai islands.
The primary drawback of Langkawi is that it’s far away from other places in Western Malaysia. Furthermore, it’s much more suitable for short-term tourism than remote working.
Malacca, Ipoh, and Putrajaya: the Underdogs
If you are looking for off-the-beaten-path places in Western Malaysia, consider the following three cities.
Malacca has beautiful colonial architecture and enough infrastructure to work as a nomad base. It’s a popular day-trip option from KL, but not many tourists stay here for more than 1-2 days.
Located between Penang and KL, Ipoh is one of the most underrated cities in Malaysia. It has similar architecture to George Town and a great food scene. I enjoyed visiting Ipoh and its stunning limestone cliffs. Nevertheless, it’s too small to work as a nomad base in my book.
Putrajaya is the administrative and judicial capital and home to many government institutions. The best thing about Putrajaya is that it’s a planned city. It’s clean, modern, and highly developed. Better still, KL isn’t far away, and there are almost no tourists.
As such, Putrajaya is worth considering if you want to be in a small, untouristy city – but close to the hustle and bustle of KL.
Kuching: the Lesser-Known City on Borneo
Finally, Kuching is the best city to base yourself on the island of Borneo.
Borneo is a different world from Western Malaysia. Less developed and more rural, the state of Sarawak is a place for adventurers with its lush jungles and critically-endangered orangutans.
Cost of Living in Malaysia
Here is a rough budget for a Malaysia digital nomad. The country isn’t as cheap as Vietnam, Cambodia, or Indonesia, but way more affordable than Western countries.
The following is a breakdown of the expenses during my first month in Malaysia.
- Airbnbs in KL and George Town: 900 USD;
- Food and Drinks: 400 USD;
- Transport: 50 USD;
- Tourist activities and excursions: 100 USD;
- Miscellaneous like SIM Cards, coworking, and barbershops: 100 USD.
Total digital nomad Malaysia budget: 1,550 USD per month.
You could get that budget down significantly by going through a local rental agency and avoiding upscale restaurants as well as alcohol.
Infrastructure and Connectivity
Accommodation for digital nomads in Malaysia
In general, renting apartments is the best option when it comes to remote working in Malaysia.
In this context, Airbnb and Booking.com are my top choices. Both are similarly priced in the cities.
The larger cities in Western Malaysia (KL, Ipoh, Malacca, Johor and Butterworth, Penang) have excellent train connections. For around 30-40 USD, you can take a business class train with comfortable seats, free food, and Wifi. The economy train will cost half.
Alternatively, buses are also a good option. From the BTS bus terminal in KL, you can travel anywhere in Western Malaysia. The buses will be a bit cheaper
If speed is your priority, you can also fly between the larger cities and islands (KL-Penang-Langkawi-Sarawak). Air Asia is a recommendable choice in this regard and sometimes cheaper than the trains.
According to Speedtest, Malaysia ranks 38th in terms of Wifi Speed. In coworking spaces and high-end Airbnbs, you can expect 50MB-plus. In cheaper accommodations, that figure goes down to around 20MB.
As in any country, it’s best to ask your hotel or Airbnb in advance to avoid unpleasant surprises.
The best SIM Cards in Malaysia are Hotlink, Digi, and Celcom. All three offer unlimited data for 10-12 USD per month. Get one at the airport when you arrive, and you won’t have to worry for the first 30 days.
Digital Nomad Malaysia Guide: Remote Working Locations
- The CO KL Coworking Space: Located a bit outside of the KL’s core in Bangsar, The Co offers affordable rates and excellent facilities;
- Colony Coworking Space Kuala Lumpur City Center: one of the best coworking spaces in KLCC with competitive day pass rates and near-perfect amenities;
- DOJO Kuala Lumpur Coworking: another excellent coworking space in central KL;
- VCR: one of the best coffee shops for digital nomads in the glittering district of Bukit Bintang, KL;
- Settlements Coworking Space Penang: modern and well-equipped coworking space in the center of George Town;
- Masco Penang Coworking: beautiful coworking space in a mall in downtown George Town;
- Picco Polo Penang: one of the coolest coffee shops to work at in George Town;
- Aud’s Café Ipoh: one of my favorite coffee shops in Ipoh.
- Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf: a chain with top-notch nomad-friendly coffee shops all over Malaysia.
Culture and People
As mentioned before, Malaysia is a highly diverse society. Generally, the communities live together well, and there isn’t much tension.
Every community has its own culture, food, language, and traditions. Personally, one of the primary reasons to travel to Malaysia is this cultural mix.
In that same vein, Malaysians are highly welcoming of foreigners and want to show the best parts of their country.
The only caveat is that Malaysians are not as fun-loving or outgoing as people in Thailand, for example. They are a bit more reserved and take time to open up, but that isn’t a negative.
Digital Nomad Malaysia: FAQ
To complete our Malaysia digital nomad guide, here are some things to know before traveling to Malaysia.
Is There a Malaysia Digital Nomad Visa?
Yes. The recently-introduced Digital Nomad Malaysia Visa (De Rantau Visa) allows foreigners who are self-employed or employed abroad with an annual income of at least 24k USD to stay in the country for one year (renewable for an additional year).
Find more information here.
Is Malaysia Safe?
Yes. Overall, Malaysia is a safe country. The only thing to worry about is petty crime, which isn’t more or less prevalent than in other Southeast Asian countries. Use common sense, and you will have zero issues here.
How Are English Levels in Malaysia?
In general, people speak English well. In the larger cities, you’ll have no problems communicating in English. In rural parts, you might need a bit of Malay to speak to older generations.
Are There Many Digital Nomads in Malaysia?
Malaysia is becoming more and more popular among remote workers. The hottest locations are KL and Penang.
As a nomad hotspot, Thailand is a lot more established, but Malaysia is quickly catching up thanks to its brand-new Malaysia digital nomad visa.
Digital Nomad Malaysia Guide: the Bottom Line
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Malaysia. It’s an excellent country for remote workers.
The people are friendly – albeit a bit reserved, and the cultural diversity is fantastic. The high English levels and top-notch development add to the convenience.
It isn’t the cheapest country in Asia, and other countries offer a bit more thrill, but all in all, Malaysia is a great all-around destination for digital nomads.