Moving to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and looking for your new home base?
Renting an apartment or house in this concrete jungle can be a surprisingly fast process. There are many more units available in KL than people looking to rent, and always more being built! In the meantime, you can stay in a relatively cheap AirBnb in a building like Regalia or Robertson, which are both great for short-term stays.
When I first moved to KL, I was nervous about committing to a place for a year in a city I was new to, so I looked at a lot of units. In fact, by now I’m sure I’ve viewed more than 30 units in five areas (Bukit Bintang, KLCC, Ampang, Bangsar & Bangsar South) with several different agents. While that was a bit extreme, let’s learn from my experience to help you get settled in this crazy city.
Learn even more about expat life in Kuala Lumpur in part one of this series about living in KL.
Here are 8 questions to ask yourself when looking for an apartment in KL.
Where do I start?
To rent an apartment, you’ll need to work with a rental agent. Rental agents don’t cost you anything, they are paid by landlords when they match you to a unit. To find an agent, ask for recommendations from friends or colleagues, or reach out to agents through listings on iProperty or Property Guru.
Do be weary with website listings - if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Some agents will post photos of impossibly beautiful units at low prices, and when you reach out, they’ll tell you that unit is no longer available and offer to show you other (not-so-nice) ones. These are not the agents you want to be working with.
Like everyone in Malaysia, agents will prefer to communicate via WhatsApp.
Start by reaching out to a few agents and tell them exactly what you are looking for in a unit:
- Number of bedrooms
- Parking or nearness to public transit
- Quality, etc.
They will reply with photos and info for a variety of options that meet your criteria. If you’re looking to negotiate (more on this later), I suggest asking for starting prices before sharing your max.
In most cases, you will never have direct contact with your landlord, so your agent is your only recourse and advocate. You want to trust and like them.
How do I choose the neighbourhood?
When choosing where to live in KL, you have to consider that the city is notorious for heavy traffic - and this is no exaggeration! If you plan to use public transportation, you should also keep in mind that weather is often extremely hot or very rainy, so try to stay within a few minutes walk to a station.
I’ll discuss a few areas of the city you might consider.
If you want to live in the thick of the action, you can join many expats living in condos in Bukit Bintang.
It’s an expensive area, but attractive due to the convenience of being near restaurants, nightlife, public transit and, in my case, nearby my colleagues and workplace.
I lived in Bukit Bintang (near Pudu) for my first year in KL and it was a great starting point to get familiar with the city, even if it is quite chaotic with traffic and construction. I loved being near Chinatown, Jalan Alor (food street), Changkat (bar street), Pavilion mall, KLCC (mall and park), the LRT and monorail.
After getting comfortable with the city centre for a year, I moved away from the action to Bangsar South, which is a quiet neighbourhood with its own set of restaurants, cafes and bars in The Sphere and Nexus complexes.
Bukit Gasing hiking trails are also in this neighbourhood, and it’s a short drive to the Midvalley Megamall, with 400+ stores.
Nearby, Bangsar is also a popular area for expats to settle in, with a few buildings located right on the LRT line, with loads of restaurants and stores in Bangsar Village mall, and near to the stunning botanical gardens. Bangsar is also a great place to rent a house, if you’re looking for something bigger.
KLCC and Brickfields
In my experience, KLCC and Brickfields (Little India) are lovely to visit during the day, but not my preference for living in because at night there isn’t much going on in terms of restaurants or bars, and the streets are not well lit.
Be aware that KLCC is among the worst for traffic jams, so you shouldn’t rely on driving if you’ll live there. It’s also home to the magnificent Petronas Twin Towers (with a mall at its base) in KLCC Park, which is ideal for walks or runs. If you want to be near KLCC, but away from the chaos of Bukit Bintang, check out options in Ampang.
The last neighbourhood I’ll mention is Mont Kiara, which is popular with expat teachers because a number of international schools are around there. For me, it’s too far of a commute from the city centre, but if you’ll be working there and prefer living in a more residential area, you might consider it or check the nearby neighbourhood of TTDI.
What’s it going to cost?
Prices will vary depending on what you’re looking for and where, but let me give you an idea based on my search for a 1 bedroom or 1+1 (what they call a 1-bedroom with a small 2nd room).
On average, I found that a very nice unit in Bukit Bintang costs about 3000RM (Malaysian Ringgit), or ~$725USD/month at the time of writing. At that price, you can find a well-furnished unit (without balcony) with a view in a secured building with facilities like a pool, terraces and a gym. It’s a luxurious lifestyle at a fraction of the cost I could get in any major Canadian city!
An older unit in KLCC could be found for 3000-5000RM+ (tends to be more expensive), and a similar new unit in Bangsar near the LRT costs around 3000-3500RM/month.
For my second year, I moved to Bangsar South and have loved living in a quieter area. I’m near an LRT station, can still find plenty of restaurants and cafes within walking distance, and I enjoy resort-like facilities and a beautiful 33rd floor balcony view from my condo for 2300RM/month (~$545USD). I got a good deal on this unit, perhaps because there are few renters in 2021.
These prices are considered very high for Malaysians, but reasonable for foreigners. You can certainly find older and low-rise units for cheaper, but I personally feel most comfortable and safe living in a newer high-rise.
Can I negotiate?
When you sign for an apartment, the agent will usually receive payment worth one month of the rent you agree on (from the landlord), so they do benefit from higher prices. You can negotiate, but you’ll find that rental prices are relatively standard in each neighbourhood.
Landlords are incredibly stubborn considering how many units are sitting empty.
Other ways to get a better deal are to negotiate on things like furniture or appliances you want, including/excluding parking, and including wifi. If having a stove is important to you, request a countertop one, as most units don’t have them built-in. All-in-one washers/dryers are common in most new units. While you’re at it, check if there is a smoke detector in your unit, as they are not always included, and ask for one if it isn’t.
Lastly, ask the agent to ensure an “expat clause” is in your rental agreement. This will help protect you if you are forced to leave the country.
If you don’t know how long you’ll stay in Malaysia, I recommend trying to get an apartment with wifi included, because all wifi contracts are a minimum of 2 years, and different buildings can be serviced by different providers, making it a challenge if you move.
Rentals don’t normally include electricity or water. These will be mailed to you every 1-2 months, and you’ll pay water (usually less than 10RM/month) at your management office, and take your electricity bill (amount varies, but inexpensive) to any 7/11 to pay it in cash.
How do payments work?
Rental agreements are generally for 1 or 2 years. Six month leases are very uncommon, but sometimes possible for higher monthly rent.
Be prepared to hand over a large advance deposit to secure your unit: first month’s rent + 3 months rent deposit + a utilities deposit.
The preferred payment method is usually by bank transfer directly to the landlord or property agent. When I first rented, I didn’t have a local bank account, and the agent accepted cash payment for the deposits.
In Malaysia, the landlord should refund your deposits when you move out. However, quite a few expats struggle to get their deposits back. Check your agreement carefully to make sure it is clear that your deposit should be remitted at the end. Avoid issues by making sure you do everything you agree to at the end of your stay, which usually includes a thorough cleaning and A/C maintenance (you can find services for both through this website).
Is discrimination a concern for renters?
Unfortunately, racial discrimination is prevalent in Malaysia, and this is especially noticeable when renting an apartment. I am a Caucasian Canadian and I did not experience these issues first-hand, however I have spoken with a few Black friends who had difficulty finding a landlord who would rent to them. When looking for a unit, agents will immediately ask you to provide a “profile,” which includes your name, age, country/nationality, occupation, company/workplace, and often gender and ethnicity.
There is no way around providing this if you want to rent an apartment.
While there are seemingly no laws that protect renters from this type of discrimination, I do want people to be aware that it exists. Anyone can find a place to live, but sadly some may be provided with fewer options.
Look for an agent you feel comfortable with as your advocate.
Are there drawbacks to living in a high-rise?
Personally, I love living in a high-rise because they feel safe and offer amazing views and amenities. That said, there are a couple of minor considerations specific to high-rises.
When viewing, pay attention to how well the elevators work. They can sometimes be very slow or break down a lot, which can be inconvenient when you’re coming and going. Every high-rise I have viewed is secured, meaning you need a key card to get in and out. This means you’ll need to go down to the guardhouse anytime you have guests or deliveries.
Finally, I don’t recommend moving into a building where Airbnbs are allowed. I did this for my first year, and found everything crowded on weekends with out-of-town visitors, from the parking lot to the pools and elevators.
As an expat, you’ll discover a very comfortable and often luxurious lifestyle in KL for a reasonable price.
Working with good rental agents will make your experience that much smoother, so don’t settle for the first agent you meet if you don’t get a good vibe. It should be a good mutual arrangement between you and your agent, ending with you finding a new home abroad that feels cozy, safe and homey.
Happy apartment hunting!