Every year a new batch of expats make KL their home. This list is designed to help get you settled and quickly make the most of some of what this vibrant city has to offer. Below I highlight my:
Top Ten Tips for Expats in Kuala Lumpur
You can use the E-Gate at the airport! Once you have your work permits you can sign up for the E-gate. You’ll have to go through immigration on your way out of KL to get it for the first time (just ask for directions at the desk), but once you have your passport registered you can then pass through the E-gates at both KLIA and KLIA II. Just remember to keep the print out tickets – you need these in place of the stamps in your passport for tax purposes.
You can drive to Singapore! Sure the flight is relatively quick, but by the time you take into account your transport to the airport, an hour or so wait for the plane, the flight down there, immigration on the other side and transport to your hotel, driving works out to be just about the same time and gifts you the flexibility of leaving on your own schedule. Follow this link to find more details for your road trip.
For travel overseas get a pocket Wi-Fi for travel to avoid expensive roaming costs. When I travel I often use Travel Recommends pocket Wi-Fi. It can either be delivered to your home or you can conveniently pick it up or drop it off at either KLIA or KLIA 2. I’ve travelled to Australia and Europe with unlimited plans for a special rate. The deals do change though so be sure to check the website for current promotions. I find 500MB is enough if you just want to use a navigation app and do some light browsing. If you want to share photos and so on, you’ll need a promotion that is at least 1GB or unlimited so be sure to note the details.
Sign up for Grab Car now. It’s cheap and safe. In fact, it costs me less to take a Grab Car to and from the city than it does to pay for parking. They’ve just updated their app to include an “Emergency” button that puts you in direct contact with 999 services and you can “share your ride” with a friend so they can track your journey too.
Get a Touch n’ Go card. This will save you time on the tollways and also in parking lots. Skip the parking ticket queues by simply waving your card at the entry and exit of parking lots and head to the Touch n’ Go lanes on the highways as well. Notice that queue that goes halfway up the highway? That’s the lane of cars with no Touch n’ Go!
Personal recommendations for travel around Malaysia, South East Asia and further afield can all be found in the Travel section of The Yum List. We’ve personally stayed at, eaten in or spa-ed at every single place on the list. Just choose your destination from the drop-down menu and find recommended hotels, spas, restaurants and bars in each location.
You can get just about anything delivered to your home through online services. Don’t stress yourself with traffic or parking, place your order on the net and someone will bring it to your door. Our favourite delivery services in KL are WineTalk (you guessed it booze to your doorstep), Blue Cow Butchers, Bottega Mediterranea (great for charcuterie and cheese platters for parties). Check out other convenient KL deliverers here.
3. Healthy Living
Although not quite as easy to find as at home, you can find businesses that focus on natural ingredients and source products with no chemicals. Our current favourite hair salon for a chemical-free experience is Eka Roots Wellness. They have private rooms, quality stylists and best of all – no salon smell because there’s no ammonia. Great for me, but especially appreciated by pregnant mums and those with small children.
The healthy food scene is growing too and you can now find kitchens that cater to gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, organic, Paleo, Keto and a whole bunch of other dietary preferences. Here’s our list of healthy restaurants in Kuala Lumpur and here too is our list of vegetarian restaurants in KL.
Dermatology here is less expensive than at home but make sure you find someone you can trust. My personal dermatologist, the man I trust with my delicate skin for advice and where I go to have painless permanent hair removal is Dr. Siddique at Lyfe Clinic. He’s warm, informative and I never feel pressured into a purchase.
My go-to hair salon is Groom Artistry in The Intermark. It’s a convenient location for those living in the KL city centre, a little private as it’s upstairs away from the crowd and Jerry Thoong, co-founder and stylist, really listens to what I want. He’s more than capable of dealing with my thin, wispy and dry Caucasian hair and I like the Italian low-chemical products they use.
If you find the humidity and city living here effects your skin by way of increased blemishes and clogged pores, I’ve found the best facial to tackle this issue at One Doc Medical. Find details of the 4-Step Signature Medical Facial here.
5. Visitors to KL
If I have friends or family visiting from out of town my favourite itinerary for a night out in KL begins at Marini’s on 57 or Nobu KL (excellent happy hour deals) for a sunset drink. I follow this up by catching the train from KLCC to Pasar Seni for a wander through Central Market (arts and crafts market) and Jalan Petaling (Chinatown – do remember to bargain politely don’t pay more than 60% of the asking price). A refreshing cocktail in Botak: Liquor Bar quenches thirst and dinner is either at Chocha Foodstore for a contemporary take on Malaysian cuisine or Old China Café for a step back in time with friendly service and Baba Nonya dishes. I end the evening at two of my favourite bars: the first PS150 (right next to Chocha Foodstore and a few minutes’ walk from Old China Café) and lastly end up at Omakase + Appreciate (a 5-minute taxi ride away) where I ask my friend Shawn Chong and multi-award winning bartender (also Asia’s Top 10 Bars!) to make us a drink.
Our most-loved day trip out of Kuala Lumpur is a visit to A Little Farm on the Hill where they grow all of their own organic produce and cook it for you in a magnificent spread for lunch.
I often get asked about who to turn to for quality cakes for birthdays and celebrations. My go-to cake guy is Justin Wong from Miss Ellie Tea House. He makes the most scrumptious carrot (seriously, I challenge you to find a better carrot cake in KL) and cheesecakes we’ve ever tried. If we want something over-the-top design wise, Little Collins Cakery can design just about anything you dream up. And, last but not least, if you’re wanting healthy, vegan, gluten-free treats, I love the raw cakes from Freaking Wholesome.
South East Asia is a hotspot for spa services and you can get the whole range from cheap and good, to mid-range and affordable, to full blow-out luxury. Our go-to spa for quality services in a hygienic and pleasant environment that won’t break the bank is Energy Spa & Wellness in Great Eastern Mall (they have a special deal if you mention The Yum List too!). My favourite treatments here are massage (they’re one of the leaders in training therapists too), facial and their paraffin foot treatment. For a special treat, any of the Spa Villages in KL or around Malaysia are the absolute epitome of relaxation. Check out the Spa Villages at The Ritz Carlton and The Majestic Kuala Lumpur to get started.
The bar scene is on the rise in Malaysia and now, more than ever, you can find a quality list of places to get a great drink, with friendly service in some very cool locations. Find our list of favourite Kuala Lumpur bars here.
Of course, Malaysia has a wonderful variety of local food at very affordable prices, and there are a whole lot of Malaysian bloggers (and friends and colleagues) who will recommend their favourites. I highly recommend following some of them if you want a truly local experience. For things to drool over in KL, check out KY’s blog here, and for Penang, the foodie capital of Malaysia, check out Ken’s blog here. Our personal local favourites in KL though are Valentine Roti, Li Restaurant (contemporary kopitiam), Agak Agak (modern Malaysian), Lot 10 Hutong (food court) and Bijan (Malay food with a good drinks list and great event space).
Café hopping is a “thing” in KL and there’s an endless compilation of places to try, all with excellent coffee to boost. Find some of the best cafes in Kuala Lumpur via this link. We’re also fortunate to be living in a city with endless options for international cuisine. Click here to find some of our most loved European, Latin American, Western restaurants and Afternoon Teas. And, for our top picks around the city every month, click on Best of the Month from the Eat drop-down menu or follow this lead for the month of September.
Malaysia is officially one of the least expensive countries in the world when it comes to luxury travel, and 5-star hotels in Kuala Lumpur offer excellent weekend deals to residents. A few days lounging by the pool and being treated like royalty, with additional savings of time and money by staying in the city, sounds nice, doesn’t it? Check out some of KL’s best hotels for staycations here.
Hopefully, this list of Top Ten Tips for Expats in Kuala Lumpur will get you started on making the most of your time in KL. If you have any added tips for newbies or questions you’d like to see posts on, please leave a comment below.