According to the International Monetary Fund in 2017 Malaysia ranked 3rd out of 10 in terms of per capita income across the countries of ASEAN, above Thailand, but below Singapore and Brunei. Malaysia is not the cheapest country to visit in South East Asia, and its people far from the poorest, however, by the same token Malaysia is an affordable place to stay in relation to the cost of living in Western Europe and North America particularly when the price of accommodation is taken out of the equation; food, electric and fossil fuels are comparatively cheap in Malaysia.
Incomes in Malaysia
The average monthly salary in Malaysia is in the region of 3,400 MYR, which at current exchange rates is $869 USD. As point of comparison the average monthly salary in Thailand is around 17,500 THB ($558 USD) and in Myanmar, the country with the lowest average income in the ASEAN group, the average monthly salary is around 360,000 MMK ($268 USD). By South East Asian standards people in Malaysia are relatively wealthy.
The average income statistics, however, are most likely slightly misleading as Malaysia is believed to have the highest levels of income inequality in South East Asia. According a 2004 report by the United Nations the richest 10% of the country controlled 38.4% of the country’s income whilst the poorest 10% received only 1.7% of the Malaysia overall income. In rural communities, particularly in East Malaysia people get by on very little and the cost of living in places which are less economically vibrant is very low.
Cost of Accommodation in Malaysia
A three bedroom apartment in Kuala Lumpur city centre will cost you between 2,700 and 4,500 MYR ($689 to $1,149 USD). A room in a 3 star hotel in Kuala Lumpur will cost you between 38 MYR and 150 MYR per night ($9.5 to $38 USD). Prices are cheaper outside Kuala Lumpur. For example you can expect to pay 1,700 MYR per month to rent a 3 bedroom apartment in Melaka and 1,450 MYR per month for a 3 bedroom apartment in Ipoh.
Cost of Food In Malaysia
Food is cheap in Malaysia. If you eat at an inexpensive small restaurant or in a food court expect to pay between 4 and 10 MYR for meal ($1 to $2.5 USD). In a mid-range restaurant expect to pay around 25 MYR ($6 USD) per person for meal with starters and a soft drink. Basic foodstuffs are also cheap purchased at a market or a supermarket. 1 kilo of onions will cost around 4.5 MYR ($1.15 USD), a kilo of rice 4 MYR ($1 USD) and a kilo of chicken 12.5 MYR ($3.2 USD). Alcohol though is relatively expensive and a 0.5 litre bottle of local beer bought at a shop will cost you around 11.5 MYR ($2.95 USD). 750 MYR ($190 USD) should be more than enough to feed 2 people for month in Malaysia if you avoid expensive restaurants and expensive imported foodstuffs.
Cost of Transport In Malaysia
Train travel and bus travel in Malaysia is also excellent value for money. A 4 hour train journey from Butterworth near Penang to Kuala Lumpur with cost you around 50 MYR ($13) and the same journey by bus will cost you around 40 MYR ($10). A single journey on Kuala Lumpur’s integrated rapid transport railway system will cost you between 2 and 3 MYR ($0.5 to $0.75 USD) depending your destination.