Updated 2 years ago

Finding accommodation in Malaysia is relatively straightforward as there's no real shortage of housing options for foreigners. Many people who come to work in Malaysia on their own are happy to share accommodation with other expatriates. However, if you are moving with your family, it's well worth taking some time to consider where you want to live and in what type of accommodation, as tenancy agreements tend to be for two years so are a relatively long-term commitment.

If you have a reasonable budget, you can find some of the most modern and comfortable accommodation in the world at a relatively affordable price, compared to other big cities. As a rapidly developing nation, there is no shortage of infrastructure, and new buildings are designed with every amenity in mind. Many expatriates are highly impressed with the standard of living in Malaysia and, whether you're on your own or have your family in tow, you'll be sure to find something that suits your needs.

Buying a property in Malaysia

Malaysia is one of only three countries in Asia, along with Singapore and Hong Kong, where foreigners can buy property freehold. Consequently, some expatriates in Malaysia pounce on this opportunity, as it can be a lot more affordable than in your home country and make for a good investment opportunity.

Anyone can own a property in Malaysia so long as they have the financial means. However, if you are part of the MM2H programme (link to visa page) or have set up a Labuan company (link to 'setting up a business' page), you may be eligible for a mortgage. If this is the case, you can expect to be audited and the bank will also do an appraisal to determine the value of the house you wish to buy. Banks are usually willing to offer expats a mortgage based on this appraisal, but they will often only loan you between 75% and 90% of the total value of the house.

Prices of houses in popular areas of Malaysia, such as Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Johor Bahru, range from between RM300,000 to well over RM2 million. For about RM600,000 you can probably buy a beautiful condo just outside of Kuala Lumpur city centre, whereas a two-storey bungalow on the outskirts of the city centre will cost around RM1 million. Prices are noticeably lower if you are happy to settle further from the popular areas.

Renting a property in Malaysia

If you do not have the means or desire to buy your own property in Malaysia, the best solution is to rent a (serviced) apartment, condominium, or landed property ' be that a bungalow, villa, townhouse, cluster house, or a detached, semi-detached or terrace house. Most expats choose to rent a condominimum, which is essentially a large apartment with various extra facilities, such as a swimming pool, garden, barbecue area, gym, sports court, and a nice lobby with security guards. Some of the newer condominimiums are even going as far as to offer facilities such as an adventure trail, a moon deck, a sky lounge, a water maze, treehouses, and a banquet hall.

Most condominiums start at around 600sq ft in size (often referred to as a studio condo). However, condos can be larger than 2,000sq ft and come with a jacuzzi, sauna and a very large shared swimming pool. So it all depends on your needs and your budget.

It is quite normal in Malaysia to be required to pay at least two months' rent in advance, as well as an additional half a month's rent to cover the utilities bill. Contracts tend to start at a mininum of one year, but it is often the case that tenants are expected to sign a two-year contract. However, don't be afraid to negotiate the terms of your agreement with the owners, as many proprietors are willing to adapt to various requirements, durations and budgets. Tenancy agreements are usually quite standard and follow a general template but it's a big commitment so you may wish to adjust some of the terms. Beyond rental costs, you may want to address the following: parking options, alterations to the property, pets, guests, and general maintenance.

It is not easy to find short-term rental options in Malaysia, and many condominiums and apartment buildings are becoming strict about AirBnB and other short-term lettings. Some condominiums are even refusing access to short-term guests or sublettors, and access cards are often required at entry points or communal areas to prove you are an actual tenant. Consequently, you may find it easier to find short-term accommodation in a private, freestanding residence, or look into an extended stay at a hotel.

Lease agreements

Sometimes rent is included in an expatriate employment package, and this is something worth negotiating if you can. However, if you are responsible for renting your accommodation on your own, you will need to show proof of your employment contract, Employment Pass and visa to your prospective landlord. If any of these are set to expire before the end of your lease, you may be denied approval. You may also be asked to provide a referee's contact details or a former landlord's testimonial.

All lease agreements have exit clauses, and it's important to thoroughly read and understand the terms before signing any documents. If you do break any aspects of the contract, the owner may claim compensation and it is likely that your deposit will not be refunded.

If the landlord and you wish to go ahead with the lease, an inventory card will be drawn up to detail the condition of the property and any relevant furnishings. It is important to list every little detail so that you won't be blamed for any problems when the lease expires.

Rental prices

Rental prices vary according to the type of accommodation, city and neighbourhood. Accommodation in central Kuala Lumpur will cost a lot more than in the suburbs, but even accommodation on the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur can cost more than in the centre of towns like Ipoh.

If comparing in similar areas, a villa or big bungalow will likely be more expensive than an average condominium, and a condominium will be more expensive than an apartment. However, location has the biggest influence on rental costs across Malaysia. You will probably not be able to find a standard condo in Kuala Lumpur for less than RM2,000 a month, and a more luxurious condo will cost you about RM5,000 per month. Luxury condos near the Petronas Twin Towers can easily cost over RM15,000 per month.

If you are looking for something on a short-term basis, be prepared to pay a considerably higher rent per month than if you were to sign a long-term contract.

Many expatriates opt for furnished accommodation if they aren't committing to a long period in Malaysia. However, the rent for unfurnished accommodation can be considerably cheaper. So, if you're staying for over a year, it's potentially worth purchasing your own furniture and renting your accommodation unfurnished. Some unfurnished properties will still provide 'white goods', such as a washing machine and fridge.

Utilities are usually paid by the tenant and are billed separately from the rent, but they tend to remain in the landlord's name. However, the landlord is responsible for paying all estate fees related to the property.

When you sign the lease, expect to pay a notary fee, which is based on a percentage of the annual rent.

Looking for accommodation in Malaysia

Room or apartment sharing is common for young foreigners relocating to Malaysia on their own, as it's a great way to cut costs and meet new people. If you wish to share your accommodation, you can start your search on various websites.

However, if you are moving with your family or have a big budget, it's best to contact a real estate agency, which will help to find you accommodation that meets all your requirements.

Home insurance

As a tenant, you may wish to insure your belongings against theft, fire and other damages, and as a homeowner, you'll probably want to rest assured that you're covered in the event of a disaster.

There are three main types of insurance policies that you can buy to protect your home if you own it and your possessions ' a basic fire policy, a home owner policy, or a householder policy. A basic fire policy covers against loss or damage caused by fire, explosion or lightning. A houseowner policy provides additional coverage to a basic fire policy, including loss or damage due to flooding. A householder policy covers your household contents and fatal injury, but does not cover damage to the house itself.

If you own a strata-titled property, such as an apartment, the company managing the building is required to take up insurance under a master policy, so be sure to check this has been done by requesting a copy of the individual insurance certificate for your property.

Useful links:

Roommates in Malaysia
Star Property

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