Cost of Living in Malaysia for International Students

May 29, 2024


cost of living in malaysia

In today's globalized world, the idea of studying or living in another country has become more appealing, offering valuable experiences, and opportunities for personal and professional growth. However, for international students, financial considerations are crucial. 

The prospect of studying abroad raises financial concerns, such as "How much will it cost me to study abroad?" or "Will it fit within my budget?". 

However, among all these considerations, there's one destination that stands out as a great option for international students- Malaysia. 

This Southeast Asian country has become increasingly popular among students from around the world because of its affordable living expenses and growing number of educational opportunities. 

With its reasonable cost of living, strong academic facilities, and vibrant cultural tapestry, Malaysia offers an appealing choice for anyone looking for a meaningful educational journey abroad. 

So, if you're considering studying abroad, why not think about making Malaysia your next academic destination?

What is the cost of living in Malaysia?

The average cost of living for a student in Malaysia can vary depending on several factors, such as the city of residence, lifestyle choices, and personal preferences. 

However, in general, Malaysia is considered to be an affordable destination for international students compared to many other countries.

Here are some factors to consider when assessing the cost of living in Malaysia:

1. University/ college tuition fees

living cost in malaysia

As an international student planning to study in Malaysia, one of your main concerns will likely be the tuition fees. This is because tuition fees have a significant impact on your lifestyle while studying in Malaysia. 

Therefore, when comparing tuition fees in Malaysia to those in other countries, there are several factors to consider.

Generally, tuition fees for international students are slightly higher than those for local Malaysian students. This is due to factors such as visa fees and the choice of academic program. 

For example, if you choose an engineering-related field, your tuition fees will range from USD 4000-7000 per year, compared to other programs like Business Management, which range from USD 3000-6000 per year. 

However, despite this difference, the estimated tuition fees for international students in Malaysia are still considered reasonable.

Moreover, universities in Malaysia also offer various scholarships and financial aids to international students, which can help alleviate the financial burden of education. These scholarships typically cover a portion of the tuition fees, ranging from a 10% to 50% discount on the standard tuition fees. 

The availability of scholarships depends on the scholarship provider, their requirements, the student's contribution to the institution, as well as their academic performance.

In addition to scholarships offered by universities, there are also external scholarship programs available to international students in Malaysia. 

These scholarships may be offered by government agencies, non-profit organizations, or private companies. Some scholarships are country-specific, while others are open to students from any country.

Furthermore, Malaysia has government initiatives such as the Malaysian International Scholarship (MIS) and the Malaysia Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), which aim to attract top international students to study in Malaysia. These scholarships typically cover tuition fees, living expenses, and other allowances.

2. Accommodation

living cost in malaysia

Finding accommodation is an important decision that affects your monthly budget, especially if you choose to live off-campus. 

As an international student in Malaysia, it's important to weigh the pros and cons of both on-campus and off-campus living. 

Living on-campus means staying in university dormitories close to your classes and campus facilities. 

You can freely access campus amenities and facilities, like the library, research rooms, or gym. Living on-campus also gives you a sense of community and makes it easier to get involved in campus activities, allowing you to meet and connect with students from different backgrounds. 

However, living on-campus may have rules about personal space and lifestyle. 

The cost of living on-campus usually ranges from RM400 to RM1000 (USD 85 to USD 212), depending on the university and the type of room you choose, whether shared or single. The cost often includes Wi-Fi and other facilities, covered in your tuition fees. 

On the other hand, living off-campus provides independence and more housing options. You can choose to live in shared apartments or have your own individual room, giving you more privacy and flexibility. 

However, living off-campus means you'll have to travel to campus using public transportation and be responsible for managing utilities and maintenance. 

The cost of living off-campus can range from RM600 to RM1200 (USD 127 to USD 225) per month, depending on factors like location, utilities, amenities, room type, and number of occupants. 

While living off-campus comes with more responsibilities, it also gives you more choices to customize your living experience according to your lifestyle and preferences.

3. Food and dining

While studying in Malaysia, you have the opportunity to experience different cultures and enjoy a variety of delicious Malaysian foods. 

As an international student, managing your finances wisely is essential. One way to do this is by buying meals on campus

Malaysian universities have affordable places to eat, such as cafeterias and dining halls, with the cost of a meal on campus usually between RM5 and RM15 (USD 1 - USD 3), offering a wide range of food choices. 

If you want to explore food options outside of campus, local night markets (pasar malam) are a good option. You can try popular local dishes like murtabak, satay, apam balik, and char kuetiau for prices ranging from RM5 to RM20 (USD 1 to USD 4). 

Additionally, budget-friendly eateries near the university offer convenient and enjoyable dining experiences. 

Some serve breakfast and lunch, while others focus on dinner, providing a variety of food options such as fried rice or noodles and refreshing drinks like ABC (a sweet shaved-ice beverage) at prices ranging from RM5 to RM10 (USD 1 to USD 2). 

If you're looking for a more upscale dining experience, mid-tier restaurants typically charge between RM30 and RM100 (USD 6 to USD 21) per person. 

In addition to eating on or off campus, you may consider buying groceries for cooking. 

While cooking may not be allowed in most Malaysian universities, this information is valuable for students living off campus. 

You can choose between local vendors and supermarkets for grocery shopping. Wet markets offer fresh ingredients at reasonable prices, while supermarkets are convenient with a larger selection, albeit slightly higher prices. 

Monthly grocery expenses can range from RM200 to RM500 (USD 42 to USD 106), depending on your food preferences and the amount you purchase.

4. Transportation

living cost in malaysia

Getting around Malaysia during your educational journey is made easy by the country's efficient public transport system. 

Major cities, including Kuala Lumpur, boast well-developed networks of public buses and trains, such as the Light Rail Transit (LRT) and Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) services. This creates a seamless and interconnected transportation system upon which students can rely.

Public transportation in Malaysia is cost-effective. For instance, buses, like Rapid buses, usually have fares ranging from RM1 to RM5 (around USD 1).

Moreover, Kuala Lumpur offers a free bus service known as the Go KL City Bus, accessible to both visitors and residents. This service encompasses four routes: Green, Purple, Red, and Blue, covering a total of 89 stops.

Utilizing the Go KL City Bus allows you to conveniently tour around Kuala Lumpur and explore main attractions such as KLCC, Pasar Seni, Telekom Museum, KL Tower, National Museum, and the National Mosque.

For a smooth journey, you must check the bus routes and arrival times in advance. This proactive approach aids in effective tour planning and prevents inconvenience.

In addition to buses, trains, including the MRT, LRT, and commuter services, offer convenient connectivity within and between cities. Train service fares vary depending on your destination.

To further enhance your travel experience, consider applying for a Concession Card applicable to Rapid KL Bus, LRT, MRT, Monorail, and BRT services. This card provides a 50% fare discount on every myRapid transportation.

The Concession Card costs RM15.00, inclusive of a RM5.00 card price and an initial stored value of RM10.00. You can easily reload your card at any RapidKL station, petrol station, convenient stores like 7 Eleven, or Touch 'n Go kiosk machine.

In addition to buses and train services, metered taxis are available. Opting for metered taxis ensures fair fares, with typical costs ranging from RM8 to RM10 for short-distance travel in Malaysia

5. Telecommunication

In Malaysia, you have various options to select mobile plans and internet subscriptions that align with your needs and budget.

Major telecommunications providers in the country offer diverse plans for both prepaid and postpaid users.

If you value flexibility and control over your mobile usage, prepaid plans are a popular choice. 

These plans allow you to top up your credits as needed and often include high-speed internet data, call minutes, and text messages. Prices for prepaid plans start as low as RM10 (USD 2).

However, if you prefer a more structured approach to your mobile services, postpaid plans might be a better fit. With postpaid plans, you pay a fixed monthly fee and enjoy a set amount of data, call minutes, and text messages. 

This can be advantageous if you have predictable usage patterns and prefer the convenience of a monthly bill.

Postpaid plans often offer additional perks such as device subsidies or access to exclusive services. The cost of postpaid plans can vary depending on the features and data included, with plans ranging from RM30 to RM100 (USD 6 to USD 21) or more.

6. Medical

Health insurance is a mandatory requirement for international students in Malaysia. Most universities necessitate enrollment in a specific health insurance plan covering medical emergencies, illnesses, and treatments. 

The cost of these insurance plans varies, ranging from RM500 to RM1,500 (USD 106 to USD 318) per year. Although it adds to your expenses, it provides crucial financial protection and peace of mind during your stay.

Regular health check-ups contribute to your well-being. Many Malaysian universities offer on-campus health services or clinics, providing convenient access to basic medical care and consultations. 

These are generally more affordable than private healthcare providers, making them a budget-friendly option for general check-ups. 

Consultation fees at university health clinics typically range from RM20 to RM50 (USD 4 to USD 10), depending on the reason for the visit.

Medication costs are also part of your considerations. Whether for common illnesses or more complex conditions, understanding the prices of prescription medications is important. 

Prices can vary, so it's beneficial to inquire about generic alternatives or student discounts at local pharmacies. 

Some universities may have partnerships with pharmacies offering students more affordable access to necessary medications. 

The cost of common medications can range from RM10 to RM50, depending on the type and amount required.

Also read: International Students Healthcare Guide in Malaysia 

7. Entertainment

Engaging in leisure activities and exploring the amazing attractions in Malaysia is vital for your well-being and social life during your educational journey in Malaysia. Your leisure activities can include going to the movies, hanging out with friends, or engaging in various pastimes.

But you need to plan and budget for these activities so that you can enjoy your free time without overspending. For instance, movie ticket costs can vary, usually ranging between RM12 and RM20 per ticket.

However, expenses for eating out or attending social events may vary based on the restaurant's tier and location. Setting a specific budget for these activities allows you to have fun without worrying about overspending.

In addition, exploring Malaysia's cultural and natural sights adds to your overall cost of living. Planning trips to popular places like Penang, Langkawi, or visiting cultural sites like Malacca can be enjoyable and educational.

Your travel costs depend on factors such as transportation, accommodation, and activities. Budgeting around RM300 to RM500 (USD 63 to USD 106) for a short trip within Malaysia is a reasonable estimate.

8. Miscellaneous expenses

These miscellaneous expenses encompass various aspects, including preparing for academic requirements and taking care of yourself. Below is the following details: 

a) Academic Requirements

In addition to tuition fees, allocating a budget for essential academic needs ensures a smooth learning experience.

While tuition fees cover the cost of instruction, additional expenses such as textbooks and supplementary materials may be required for your courses.

Textbooks are valuable resources that provide in-depth knowledge and support your understanding of the subjects. Depending on your field of study, textbook costs can vary. 

Planning and setting aside an approximate budget of RM100 to RM300 (USD 21 to USD 63) per semester for books ensures access to necessary materials to excel in your coursework and make the most of your educational experience.

Moreover, technological resources are increasingly vital in modern education. Some courses may require specialized software, online tools, or subscriptions to access relevant online resources. 

These tools facilitate interactive learning experiences and enable you to engage with course material effectively. 

b) Self-Care

Taking care of yourself is not only crucial for your overall well-being but also enhances your satisfaction and ability to thrive as a student.

Allocating funds for self-care allows you to maintain a comfortable and hygienic lifestyle. Self-care expenses can include grooming, toiletries, and personal upkeep.

Routine expenses like haircuts, grooming products, and toiletries should be factored into your monthly budget. 

Setting aside an average of RM50 to RM100 per month ensures you can manage these regular expenses without compromising your financial stability.

What financial benefits can international students gain by choosing to study in Malaysia over other countries?

Studying abroad often comes with various financial considerations, and choosing Malaysia as a study destination can offer numerous financial benefits for you. 

Here are some key advantages:

1. High-quality education at reasonable tuition fees

Unlike other countries where tuition fees can be exorbitant, Malaysia offers competitive tuition fees that are often significantly lower. 

This affordability makes pursuing higher education in Malaysia more accessible to students from around the world.

The Malaysian education system is renowned for its high standards and commitment to academic excellence. 

Many universities in Malaysia are globally recognized and accredited, offering a wide range of programs and disciplines to suit diverse interests and career aspirations. 

Despite the high quality of education provided, the tuition fees remain reasonable, allowing students to receive top-notch education without the burden of overwhelming financial costs.

2. Cost-effective living expenses

Malaysia boasts a relatively low cost of living compared to many other study destinations. 

Expenses such as accommodation, food, transportation, and entertainment are generally more affordable, allowing international students like you to manage your budgets more effectively and enjoy a comfortable lifestyle without breaking the bank.

3. Manage financial planning effectively

Choosing Malaysia as a destination for studying enables you, as an international student in the country, to efficiently manage their finances

This is primarily due to the significantly lower tuition fees and cost of living compared to other countries. 

By leveraging these cost advantages, students can adopt a more structured approach to budgeting for their educational, entertainment, and daily needs. 

Since tuition fees represent a substantial financial commitment, settling them upfront alleviates a significant portion of the financial burden. 

Consequently, students can allocate their resources towards monthly expenses, such as food, telco or utility bills, with greater ease. 

Moreover, any surplus funds can be earmarked for essential purchases like academic materials or participation in extracurricular activities. 

This prudent financial management not only fosters effective budgeting skills but also ensures a seamless and enjoyable academic and leisure experience at Malaysian universities.

4. Reduce reliance on student loans

Choosing to study in Malaysia can help lessen your dependence on student loans, allowing you to finance a larger portion of your educational expenses without resorting to high loan amounts. 

With lower tuition fees and a more affordable cost of living compared to many countries, Malaysia offers a financially advantageous option. 

By covering more of your educational costs through savings, scholarships, part-time work, or other means, you can reduce the need for significant student loans. 

This decreased reliance on loans not only relieves financial pressure during your studies but also reduces the long-term impact of debt repayment after graduation. 

Money-saving tips for international university students

1. Do your budgeting wisely

living cost in malaysia

Budgeting is an important part of managing your money, especially as an international student in Malaysia. You can do budgeting by creating a detailed financial plan each month. 

This will help you understand how much money you have coming in and going out, so you can make smart decisions about how you spend.

Start by dividing your expenses into different categories, such as accommodation, food, transportation, and academic resources. 

This will help you see where your money needs to go and make sure you're taking care of your basic needs.

For instance, if you opt for off-campus living, think about how much you need to pay for rent and utility bills for each month. You can do the same method to food, groceries, transportation, and academic resources. 

Once you have made your budget, you must keep track of how much you're spending. This will help you see if you're staying within your budget and if there are any areas where you need to cut back. 

By keeping an eye on your expenses, you can make sure you're making the most of your money and staying on track financially.

2. Check student discounts on social media 

Another money-saving tip for you is to find and take advantage of student discounts. By using these discounts, you have more flexibility with your budget.

These discounts can apply to various goods and services, including clothing, electronic appliances, transportation, food and beverages, entertainment, and more.

You can find discount information on the Internet or the business's social media. They often share limited-time offers and exclusive products that qualify for the discounts.

All you need to enjoy these discount benefits is to bring your student ID card and show it at the counter before you make a purchase.

By utilizing student discounts, you can enjoy savings and potentially afford more with your available funds.

3. Buy second hand options

Buying second-hand items can save you a lot of money, as they are generally priced lower than new items. 

Moreover, some second-hand items are in good condition because they have been well cared for by their previous owner.

Whether you are looking to buy textbooks, clothing, or electronic appliances such as a mini fridge, you can search for these items on online platforms, thrift stores, or student forums. 

Before finalizing a purchase, you can ask the owner to provide a video showcasing the item's condition and functionality, allowing you to assess its suitability. 

Once you are satisfied with both the condition and functionality, you can proceed with the purchase from the owner. 

4. Explore free or low-cost activities

Throughout your academic journey in Malaysia, you will discover amazing experiences that won't break your bank. Malaysia has a lot of affordable activities and attractions for you to enjoy. 

For instance, you can enjoy the serenity and beauty of public parks like Perdana Botanical Garden in Kuala Lumpur, where lush greenery provides relaxation. 

You can also experience the lively atmosphere of local markets, such as Chinatown or Central Market Pasar Seni, where you can meet both locals and tourists. 

You can do fun activities too such as batik painting at Central Market Pasar Seni which costs only RM20. 

Besides, you can also visit museums like the Telekom Museum or the National Museum of Malaysia to explore the rich cultural heritage. 

And you can commute to both museums via public transportation - LRT or MRT - which are convenient and cost-effective. 

5. Minimize unnecessary subscriptions

The final important money-saving tip is to avoid spending unnecessarily. This means you need to be aware of how you spend your money and find areas where you can cut back.

Start by examining your subscriptions, such as streaming devices. You need to ask yourself if these subscriptions are necessary for your daily life and well-being. 

If you find that these subscriptions are not providing significant benefits, it may be worthwhile to cancel temporarily to reduce your monthly expenses. 

However, you must exercise caution when it comes to impulse buying. Before making any purchase, you need to consider whether it is a necessity or just a desire. 

You also can create a budget and adhering to it will help you make informed choices about your spending. This way, you can ensure that your money is allocated to essential needs.  

In conclusion, navigating the cost of living in Malaysia as an international student involves thoughtful consideration of various factors, from your tuition fees to your day-to-day expenses. 

Malaysia's affordable education system and diverse cultural experiences make it an attractive destination for you and students worldwide. 

Understanding the breakdown of your expenses, including accommodation, food, transportation, and miscellaneous costs, allows you to plan and manage your budget effectively.

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