In 2016, the US State Department estimated that 9 million of its citizens live abroad, a significant increase since 1999. Many of those citizens live in the expat communities of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and Bangkok, Thailand. While both are beautiful cityscapes with deep histories and plenty to do, aspects of daily life must be considered for those moving abroad.
Kuala Lumpur is the better place to live in if you want to avoid environmental hazards and live under a similar government as the US. If you are more concerned with low COVID-19 numbers and less terrorist threats, Bangkok would be the better option for you. LGBTQ+ people should take extra precautions.
|Category||Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia||Bangkok, Thailand|
|Housing Cost||Simple Apt: $230-$345USD/RM1,000–RM1,500 per month||Simple Apt: $300-$450 USD/9,000-13,500 baht per month|
|Utilities||Electricity:~$30.23-$78.60USD/RM125-RM325Water: Water not suitable for drinking. Filtration system/water delivery is ~ $6.05-$12.09USD/RM25-RM50 per monthInternet:$48.37USD/RM200 per monthPhone:<$24.18USD/RM100 per monthTV: $9.67-$37.48USD/RM40-RM155 per month||Electricity: $50-$167 USD/1500-5,000 baht per month Water:$3.33USD/100 baht per month (Bottled Water recommended over tap)Internet:$20USD/600 baht per monthPhone:$16.67-$36.63USD/500-1099 baht per monthTV:$16.63USD/499 baht per month|
|Healthcare||Private Overseas Insurance Recommended Public Option AvailableAvg Doctor Appt: $15USD/RM 61.84CDC Covid Level 2-Alert||Private Overseas Insurance RecommendedUniversal Healthcare SystemAvg Doctor Appt:$15USD/450 bahtCDC Covid Level 1-Watch|
|Transportation||KLIA Ekspres Train, KL Light Rail Transit, KL Monorail||Skytrain (BTS), Subway (MRT)|
|Food & Groceries||$115-$230USD/RM500-RM1,000 per month||$200-$333.33USD/6,000-10,000 baht per month|
|Recreational Attractions||Eco Park (Jalan Bukit Nanas), Batu Caves, Petronas Towers, Perdana Botanical Gardens, Jalan Alor, Bukit Bintang, Sunway Lagoon Theme Park||Lumpini Park, The Grand Palace, Erawan Shrine, Train Night Market Ratchada, Siam Amazing Park, Calypso Cabaret|
|Weather||Average Temp: 73-91℉/22.8-32.8℃Flood Season (November-March)||Average Temp: 71-95℉/21.7-35℃Occasional EarthquakesHigh Air PollutionFlood Season (June-October)|
|Crime & Safety||Mostly petty crimeHigher possibility of terrorism towards US interests.||Mostly petty crimeHigh rate of traffic fatalities and DUIs.|
|Government||Representative Democracy||Military Dictatorship|
Kuala Lumpur is a budding cityscape and the capital of Malaysia, housing some amazing architectural achievements, such as the Petronas Towers, and beautiful historical landmarks, like Batu Caves. Bangkok, while notorious for its red-light district, is the culturally rich capital of Thailand. With a tempo similar to New York City, it houses landmarks such as The Grand Palace and Erawan Shrine.
This article will explore these two Southeast Asian retreats in more detail to help you decide which place you will call home.
Cost of Living
Housing costs in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are fairly similar. If you are looking for a simple apartment in Kuala Lumpur, expect to pay around $230-$345 USD or RM1,000-RM1,500 per month. The average price seems to be around $100 USD higher at $300-$450 USD or 9,000-13,500 baht per month in Bangkok.
Utilities cost lower in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok than they do in the US. However, neither city has a reliable source of drinking water. Therefore, bottled or filtered water is recommended.
Food expenses are cheaper in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok, as well. A food budget for a single person tops out at around $230USD or RM1,000 and $333.33USD or 10,000 baht per month, respectively. This includes money for dining out and groceries.
Fortunately, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok both achieve high marks when it comes to healthcare. Their hospitals are known for being well equipped for western medicine. Additionally, Bangkok is known as a hotspot of medical tourism due to its advanced and affordable cosmetic surgery.
English speaking expats should seek care closer to the city, where there is a better chance to be seen by a bilingual doctor or a doctor with a translator. While both cities offer public healthcare, it is recommended that expats enroll in private overseas health insurance.
Regarding the novel coronavirus, the CDC has ranked Thailand Level 1 for its handling of the virus. Malaysia has some progress to make, ranking Level 2.
Public transportation is the best option to get around in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. This is partly due to them both being cityscapes. Additionally, drivers exhibit dangerous habits in each city. Luckily, there are plenty of options. Kuala Lumpur has the KLIA Ekspres Train, KL Light Rail Transit, and KL Monorail. Bangkok utilizes the BTS Skytrain and the MRT Subway.
Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok offer many recreational activities. If you’re into history and beautiful architecture, check out The Grand Palace in Bangkok. Nature nerds will love Kuala Lumpur’s Eco Park, which houses a beautiful rainforest. Fan of drag? Check out the famous Calypso Cabaret ladyboy show in Bangkok. There is something for everyone.
Both cities host an abundance of markets and shopping districts, like Bukit Bintang in Kuala Lumpur and the Train Night Market Ratchada in Bangkok. You can find anything from local wares to name brand imports.
Additionally, the culinary options in both cities are virtually limitless! Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are both famous for their street food, including the notoriously sweet and stinky fruit, dorian. Bijan Bar & Restaurant, Kuala Lumpur’s lauded whole in the wall, offers spectacular Malay Cuisine. Conversely, Baan Yai Phad Thai in Bangkok has been awarded Michelin’s Bib Gourmand.
If you prefer warm weather, the climate in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok will suit you. Neither city’s temperature falls below 70℉ or 21.1℃.
Each city has a flood season, but Bangkok experiences more environmental hazards, including occasional earthquakes and high air pollution caused by agricultural burning.
Crime and Safety
The areas of crime in which Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok overlap are petty thefts aimed at tourists. I recommend exercising caution when travelling at night or under the influence.
Nonetheless, both cities fly their red flags. Bangkok is one of the worst traffic offenders in the world. It has a major methamphetamine problem, and many people drive under the influence. Kuala Lumpur has a higher threat of terrorism towards US interests. It has experienced a couple of targeted attacks by ISIS in the last decade.
The governments in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are very different. Malaysia experienced its first democratic transition of government in 61 years in 2018. Conversely, political unrest has caused Thailand to embrace authoritarianism and declare martial law in 2014.
LGBTQ+ individuals have additional points to consider. Homosexuality is criminalized in Kuala Lumpur, and police discrimination towards trans people is very high. According to the Oversees Security Advisory Council, Bangkok, while hosting a thriving gay community, does not investigate sexual violence towards queer people well.
It’s no secret that Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok are vibrant cities that are great for expats to live in. Both offer low-cost necessities and high recreational abundance.
Even so, you need to decide what you can tolerate among their major differences. There are stark contrasts in weather hazards, crime, government, and COVID-19 status that add more weight to this decision instead of visiting as a tourist.