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Kuala Lumpur 4th Best City For Expats

The Expat City Ranking 2017 reveals that Kuala Lumpur is a haven for expats for its easygoing attitude, friendliness towards foreign residents and more.

by / Published: 17 Nov 2017

Kuala Lumpur 4th Best City For Expats
Photo: iStock

We made it! The Expat City Ranking 2017, which is based on data collected in the Expat Insider survey by InterNations, recently placed Kuala Lumpur fourth out of 51 best cities in the world for living an expat life.

Over 13,000 expats representing 166 nationalities and living in 188 countries or territories were surveyed, and they were asked to rate over 25 different aspects of urban life on a scale of one to 10.

These aspects were then grouped into four topical indices: Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, and Finance and Housing.

Photo: iStock

Quality of Urban Living

Kuala Lumpur comes in at 34th overall in this index, but does well in the subcategory of Leisure and Climate, ranking 12 out of 51 cities.

Its ranking drops in the Transportation and the Safety & Politics subcategories to 34 and 43 respectively, but fares better in the Health & Environment subcategory at 27th. It’s no secret that KL’s transportation system still has a fair way to go – but hey, at least driving isn’t as bad as we think! – and safety and politics remain contentious issues here.

On the other hand, Malaysia’s healthcare sector is seeing increasing growth as expats come here for affordable yet quality healthcare, and our constantly developing environment means that expats enjoy the prevalence of both glossy malls and state-of-the-art facilities alongside natural treasures like rainforests and islands.

Overall, the top five cities in this index are Basel, Zurich, Vienna, Barcelona and Tokyo.

Photo: iStock

Getting Settled

Wow! Kuala Lumpur comes in as number one overall in this index and scores within the top ten for all four subcategories: Local Friendliness (8th), Feeling Welcome (5th), Friends & Socialising (4th) and Local Language (1st again!)

The general sentiment from respondents is that KL is easy to navigate even without speaking Bahasa Malaysia – only three in five of the expat respondents speak it at all – and even if they do try to learn it, they don’t think it’s very hard to pick up.

People overwhelmingly agree that KLites are friendly and find it easy to make friends (65 per cent compared to a 45 per cent worldwide average). Three-quarters of the respondents say they feel at home in the city and 85 per cent say the local culture is easy to get used to. Malaysia Boleh!

 Other cities in the top five include Manama, Muscat, Auckland and Mexico City.

Photo: iStock

Urban Work Life

Kuala Lumpur’s performance in this index is middling at best, coming in at 32nd overall. The subcategories in this index are Job & Career, Job Security and Work-Life Balance; it ranks fairly dismally at 41st for the first two, but shoots up to 12th for Work-Life Balance.

The low scores for Job & Career and Job Security are no doubt influenced by the fact that oil and gas jobs comprise a large section of expatriate jobs in Malaysia; the downturn in oil and gas fortunes have resulted in the slashing of many jobs in that sector, including expatriates – we’ve seen many leave this year alone.

However, the survey shows that expats still enjoy a good work-life balance in Malaysia with enough time for friends, family and leisure beyond the regular nine-to-five. So if you want a laidback day-to-day life, then KL is for you.

Cities in the top five are Amsterdam, Prague, Frankfurt, Munich and Auckland.

Photo: iStock

Finance and Housing

Again, Kuala Lumpur scores extremely well in this index, coming in at second overall and placing high in all three subcategories: Finance (9th), Housing (1st)! and Local Cost of Living (6th).

It seems that it’s easy for expats to find housing in Malaysia, with nearly half (46 per cent) reporting that they face ‘no difficulties whatsoever’ and nearly seven in ten rate housing as affordable.

Cost of living is also highly affordable here according to them with 61 per cent feeling generally satisfied with their financial situation. One quote even expresses that “it’s possible to afford a far better lifestyle than back home”. This despite the fact that one in five respondents earns up to USD$12,000 or less annually – the lowest income category.

Other cities in the top five are Bangkok, Johannesburg, Manama and Mexico City.

Note: For a city to be featured in the ranking, at least 45 survey participants per city was required and so the total responses used for the city rankings represent 7,985 expats living in 40 countries.

What are your thoughts on this? How does KL rank in your eyes? Leave a comment below!


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