When I visited Kuala Lumpur this year, I stayed in luxury condos downtown for ~$40 USD per night. With those kinds of deals, it’s easy to feel rich in Malaysia. And truly, it’s one of the big perks of living or traveling there.
But today, let’s explore: How much money is needed to truly be “rich” in Malaysia, when you look at the stats? And would you be considered rich in Malaysia?
A monthly income of ~$3,000 USD in Malaysia would generally be considered “rich.” At that level, you’re in the top 5% of earners, alongside attorneys, doctors, and CEOs. In terms of wealth, you’d need 2.2 million ringgit in assets (~$485,000 USD) to be in the top 1% in Malaysia.
I’ll explain those numbers more below—and I’ll share more reference points to help you understand what is truly rich in Malaysia. We’ll look at average salaries, cost of living, and much more!
What is Wealthy in Malaysia?
When discussing what’s “rich” in Malaysia, we need to discuss both wealth and income. Let’s cover wealth first.
To be in the top 1% of wealth in Malaysia, you need 2.2 million ringgit, or about $485,000 USD worth of assets. (source)
How does that compare to other countries in the region? Well, in Singapore, you need a lot more to get in the 1%—about $3.5 million USD. But in the Philippines, the 1% starts at around only $57,000 USD. (source)
Another reference point on wealth: Malaysian blogger Aaron Tang asked his wife what counts as “rich,” and after some thinking, her answer was “net liquid assets of >RM 10 million.”
So, that’d be at least 10 million ringgit (~$2.2 million USD) that can be quickly turned into cash. As noted above, that’s actually far above the 1% mark in Malaysia, but it’s what she perceives as rich.
What Is a Good Salary in Malaysia?
Now let’s talk about monthly income. I’ve got a bunch of stats to share with you. But first, let’s look at the lower end of things—minimum wage and lower-income jobs.
- Mechanic: 2,550 MYR (~$560 USD)
- Cashier: 2,550 MYR (~$560 USD)
- Secretary: 2,850 MYR (~$625 USD)
So, the lower end of Malaysian earners are making around ~$350-600 USD per month. But what about the higher-income jobs? How much do the richer folks make?
“High Income” in Malaysia
Here are some reported monthly income figures for specific better-paying careers in Malaysia:
- Attorney: 13,500 MYR (~$2,960 USD)
- CEO: 15,300 MYR (~$3,360 USD)
- Dentist: 15,400 MYR (~$3,380 USD)
Aside from these specific jobs, we can also look at broader salary percentiles. For example, what do the top 50% of earners make? What about the top 5%?
As of 2023, Salary Explorer reports the following about Malaysian salaries:
- The top 50% earn 5,790 MYR or more per month (~$1,270 USD).
- The top 25% earn 8,780 MYR or more per month (~$1,930 USD).
- The top 15% earn 9,890 MYR or more per month (~$2,170 USD).
- The top 5% earn 12,600 MYR or more per month (~$2,770 USD).
- “Almost everyone” earns 29,400 or less per month (~$6,450 USD).
So, let’s recap: When it comes to monthly income, the low end in Malaysia is around ~$330 USD per month, while the median is ~$1,270 USD, and most of the top earners are in the range of ~$3k to $6k USD per month.
Cost of Living in Malaysia
Along with lower incomes, Malaysia also has a lower cost of living compared to many countries. For many aspiring expats, this is one of the big appeals of living in Malaysia.
For a quick overview, let’s look at the estimated cost of living in various Malaysian cities, according to Nomad List:
|City||Expat Cost of Living||Nomad Cost of Living|
|Kuala Lumpur||$948 USD||$1,316 USD|
|Penang||$718 USD||$1,000 USD|
|Kota Kinabalu||$814 USD||$1,297 USD|
|Kuching||$674 USD||$977 USD|
|Langkawi||$866 USD||$1,382 USD|
Obviously, your individual costs will vary. But we can also compare the average cost of living in Malaysia to other countries, using Numbeo. This should give us an overall sense of the scale of prices.
The following table shows the “cost of living with rent” in Malaysia compared to other countries:
|Country||How Malaysia Compares|
|United States||Malaysia is ~186% cheaper.|
|Australia||Malaysia is ~172% cheaper.|
|Canada||Malaysia is ~143% cheaper.|
|United Kingdom||Malaysia is ~126% cheaper.|
|South Korea||Malaysia is ~109% cheaper.|
|Japan||Malaysia is ~73% cheaper.|
|China||Malaysia is ~25% cheaper.|
|Thailand||Malaysia is ~23% cheaper.|
|Vietnam||Malaysia is ~9% cheaper.|
|Philippines||Malaysia is ~8% cheaper.|
|Indonesia||Malaysia is ~%4 more expensive.|
|Colombia||Malaysia is ~%14 more expensive.|
|India||Malaysia is ~%31 more expensive.|
Again, remember that the specific city will impact your costs a lot. Rent costs can be as much as 42% cheaper in Johor Bahru than Kuala Lumpur, for example. (source)
Expat Budget for Malaysia
Assuming you’re accustomed to life in America or another highly developed country, you’d probably want at least $1,500 per month to “live well” in Malaysia. Of course, you can live on less, but you may not enjoy it.
How much to “live like a king” in Malaysia? I’d say at least $3,000+ USD per month, maybe ~$5,000 USD. As covered above, that’d put you in the top 5% of Malaysian incomes, so you could afford most of the best Malaysia has to offer.
What It Takes to Be “Rich” in Different Asian Countries
Read my other guides to what counts as “rich” in Asia—complete with salary data, net worth statistics and more: