KL’s Cost of Living: Is Your Income Making the Cut?

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Kuala Lumpur clocks in with the lowest cost of living among its ASEAN peers, but do salaries in the city manage to keep pace?

The current cost of living for an individual (not a family) in Kuala Lumpur is estimated at RM3,262 per month, which remains the cheapest among its counterparts in other Southeast Asian countries, according to data collected and reported by iPrice Group Sdn Bhd.

However, even this low cost of living is almost three times higher than Malaysia’s minimum wage of RM1,200 in cities and major towns.

Chow Kit is one of Kuala Lumpur’s emerging neighbourhoods | Image Credit: Nomadic Notes

That said, iPrice Group noted in a statement that the average monthly salary is quite a bit higher than the legal minimum: “According to Numbeo’s database, KL ranked second-highest in monthly average net salary of RM4,259, right behind Singaporeans, who are estimated to earn RM10,195 a month.”

(We would gently note here than RM4,200 isn’t exactly “right behind” a salary of over RM10,000 – that’s actually a fairly massive difference, though iPrice does go on to note the significant disparity in costs of living between Singapore and KL.)

Kuala Lumpur offers plenty of high-end options along with its cheap cost of living, too | Image Credit: TheSmartLocal

“The quality of life in KL is relatively better, especially after comparing it to other Southeast Asian cities, such as Manila where its residents are estimated to earn only RM1,609 monthly. The cost of living in Manila even tops other Southeast Asian cities such as KL by 33%, Vietnam (28%) and Jakarta (24%),” iPrice said in its statement.

This statement, we feel, can be taken with a pinch of salt, as it’s relying solely on average salary vs average cost of living to determine ‘quality of life.’ The reality, however, is far more comprehensive and complex. When most people consider quality of life, they think of other things, as well, such as infrastructure, culture, education, healthcare, dining and shopping, cleanliness, parks and gardens, and entertainment options. Distilling a city’s ‘quality of life’ down to nothing more than a financial equation is terribly incomplete.

Other studies’ findings compare living costs in KL’s centre and those in the city’s outskirts, such as this one, which shows the biggest cost difference to be in housing – no surprise there.

In the city or out? | Chart and data courtesy of SpeedHome


iPrice gathered the estimated monthly cost of living in six popular ASEAN cities on Numbeo, one of the world’s largest cost of living databases.

Based on the database, the price of a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre of Singapore is RM6,200, far higher than in KL. Indeed, the cost of a single bedroom apartment in the heart of KL is reported at approximately RM1,200, and about RM700 outside the city centre. (We suspect that these figures are more likely to be realised for renting a single room in a larger dwelling, as an entire studio or one-bedroom apartment, even outside of KL, will generally go for more than RM700 a month.)

“The cost of living in Singapore is at least 132% higher than its Southeast Asian peers. Shockingly, however, Bangkok and Manila are placed at the top three as well,” iPrice reported. “Bangkok has an estimated monthly cost of living of RM4,387 for a single person. This takes into account every necessity (rent, food, transportation, utilities).”

Singapore has some of Asia’s highest costs, but also some of its highest standards | Image Credit: MKPL

Comparing average cost of living to average income paints a reasonable portrait of how ‘comfortable’ a city’s residents are likely to be – at least financially.

With an estimated monthly cost of living of RM4,325 for an individual, Manila is only 1% lower in cost of living compared to Bangkok. Without rent, the total cost of living still reaches about RM2,448 per month in Manila.

The iPrice report noted that the data show “…how comfortable people residing in KL really are compared to residents from other cities with lower salaries like Bangkok (RM3,449), Ho Chi Minh (RM1,990), and Jakarta (RM1,955).

Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River and the urban landscape | Image Credit: TTR Weekly

“Residents in these countries have to pay higher monthly costs with lower salaries. That said, KL residents must have a better quality of life compared to most of [their] Southeast Asian neighbours since they pay for the cheapest cost of living with a higher estimated monthly salary,” said iPrice.

We’re not in agreement about gauging quality of life entirely based on these figures, but KL truly does offer its residents a lot, and the fact that the Malaysian capital is an affordable city is certainly hard to dispute. And let’s face it, having a little more disposable income each month is something nobody will complain about!

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