Malaysia for Digital Nomads – An Underrated Country in South East Asia
Malaysia for digital nomads? I’ve been to Kuala Lumpur twice this year and I’m planning to return to Malaysia to get to know other parts soon – most of all Penang with the old town Georgetown, which I hear is beautiful and awesome for expats and digital nomads. I really liked that it’s a melting pot and therefor an open-minded country.
Facts About Malaysia
The climate in Malaysia is tropical, warm and sunny, but with abundant rainfall. The most rain falls during the northeast monsoon between October and March.
Malaysia is a bit of a mix between the two countries it’s nestled between: Singapore and Thailand. The capital, Kuala Lumpur, with its famous twin towers, which are the highest in the world, and impressive malls, has many modern aspects similar to Singapore.
But Malaysia isn’t as expensive as Singapore. The prices are more comparable to Thailand. Additionally, Malaysia has a range of beautiful islands that are worth a visit.
Because the country is so multi-cultural, people are very open-minded and welcoming. There is no racism, no discrimination, no prejudice against other lifestyles. This is one of the reasons why it is a perfect place for digital nomads. Even if you’re not surrounded by other nomads the whole time, you will not feel like an alien because of your “strange idea of working while traveling.”
The majority of the country is Muslim. You should get informed about local traditions, customs, laws and religions and always respect them. This is especially important during the holy month of Ramadan, other religious festivals or if you want to visit a religious site.
Another advantage is the (almost) lack of a language barrier. Although not the official language (which is Bahasa Melayu), English is spoken by almost everybody. When I asked an UBER driver in Kuala Lumpur why, he was surprised and just said, “Well, we just speak English all the time! We have to speak it well.”
For me, all this makes Malaysia a destination worth a closer look and a longer stay than just a one-day visa run to Kuala Lumpur.
Information About Entry and Departure
Most nationalities can enter Malaysia without a visa. Depending on where you’re from, you will be allowed to stay for 15 days, 30 days or three months without visa-free. Most European countries and the USA are exempt from visa requirements when visiting for vacation or social reasons.
If your nationality is not exempt and you are required to apply for a visa, you’ll have to do it from your home country before hitting the road.
Regardless of visa requirements, remember that your passport needs to be valid for six months after your departure date. If it’s not, the airline may not allow you to board the plane or immigration authorities may not allow you to enter Malaysia.
There are no arrival cards to complete, but you will have to give your fingerprint.
Government pages warn tourists about an ongoing risk in different areas. They write about a high risk in coastal areas of eastern Sabah (from Kudat to Tawau, including Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kunak and Semporna, including the offshore islands and dive sites) of being kidnapped and advise against all non-essential travels to these areas. Also, they write about a heightened threat of terrorism in the major cities. Last but not least, I read that it’s advised not to cross the border between Thailand and Malaysia by land although I was talking to locals myself and they told me that it’s safe!
The currency in Malaysia is the Ringgit (MYR), which is divided into 100 Sen. The exchange rate fluctuates constantly, but at the moment (July 2017) 4 Ringgit are worth about 1 US Dollar.
Almost every ATM accepts withdrawal by credit card, and ATMs are everywhere, but there may be fees.
Beware of scammers trying to clone your card and empty your bank account. The only solution is to be prepared with several credit cards ready – just in case!
If you want to exchange cash, you also have to be careful not to get ripped off!
Wi-Fi in Malaysia is not the best. You will probably have ok Wi-Fi at your Airbnb, hotel or hostel. If you choose to try one, your coworking space will definitely have good Wi-Fi. But in general, I was pretty disappointed by Wi-Fi in KL and had much better connections in Bali, Thailand, and Singapore.
My conclusion: If you rely on stable and fast internet, I recommend you not use WI-FI.
There are four main operators in Malaysia: Celcom (Xpax), Maxis (Hotlink), DiGi and U Mobile. There are also a few more carriers that only operate on their own 4G/LTE networks, but they only work in parts of the country, which is why I strongly recommend you stick to one of these four providers. I personally chose a Hotlink SIM Card when I arrived at the airport.
Coverage can be pretty good in most areas of the peninsula, but it’s very patchy, even on 2G, on remote islands or Borneo.
If you don’t get your prepaid card right at the airport, you should be able to get one at a Maxis retailer or a convenience store such as 7-Eleven. You can get the starter pack labeled FAST for 10 Ringgit with 5 Ringgit of credit valid for 5 days and 300 MB data valid for 3 days. I got a tourist package at the airport for about 50 Ringgit with 5 GB valid for two weeks.
Another possibility for mobile internet access is a MiFi device, which creates a WiFi network for you. I have tested the GlocalMe device and think it’s a really useful addition of my travel equipment. You can either use it as an ordinary wireless router with up to two SIM cards (very useful if you work with mobile TANs, you want to be available on your local number or if you want to use the social networks with a 2-factor authentication) but you can also use it without a physical SIM card but with the built in cloudSIM technology (which is of course more expensive) in over 100 countries worldwide. Apart from that it’s also a 6000 mAh powerbank, which is never bad to have with you.
Living in Malaysia as a Digital Nomad
Airbnb*, hostels*, and hotels* are all great options for short term stays. Prices vary based on amenities and location. Dorm beds typically start from 15 Ringgit per night, while an Airbnb apartment rental in or around Kuala Lumpur will start from 30 Ringgit per night, although you can get better deals for longer stays. If you want to try House Sitting*: Go for it! I saw many opportunities for a month in KL or Penang in the past and will definitely try to get a house sitting gig myself next time I’ll be there.
For intercity travel, the bus is the best option. In the metropolitan areas of the country, you can use Uber* without a problem. For a 30 minute ride, it would come to about 15 Ringgit. In places where they don’t have Uber your best bet would be a scooter. You can rent one for little money.
Blog Posts About Malaysia
I have been to Kuala Lumpur twice and definitely want to go back to see more of this beautiful country! I think Malaysia should be more in the center of attention of digital nomads. It’s a beautiful country, where you can live a perfect work-life-balance!
I have seen one of the most beautiful sunsets in Kuala Lumpur! I completely crazy for sunsets over the sea, but I love sunsets over skylines as well... I can’t get enough of seeing sunsets and watching photos of them! And probably one of the reasons to become a...
In the beginning of my stay, I searched for Nomad Cafés in Kuala Lumpur. The internet was in general not the best of South East Asia. That's why I worked a lot with my local SIM Card and created a hotspot. I did this either directly with my iPhone* or with...
20 Word/Phrases, That Will be Useful for Digital Nomads in Malaysia
|Thank you!||Terima Kasih!|
|Excuse me…||Maafkan saya… (also means forgive me)|
|Where is …?||Di mana….?|
|My name is …?||Name saya ….?|
|I don’t speak Malaysian||Saya tidak faham..bahasa Melayu. (don’t understand)|
|Do you speak English?||Kamu faham bahasa English? (understand)|
|I’m German.||Saya orang German. (people)|
|Could you help me?||Bolehkah kamu tolong saya?|
|I need …||Saya perlu ….|
|Water||Air (pronounced as Ayeh)|
|How much is this?||Ini harga berapa?|
|Mall||Pusat Membeli-belah (or just say Shopping Mall)|
The Numbers in Bahasa Melayu
The Kuala Lumpur Guide for Digital Nomads
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