Living in Malaysia is far cheaper than most Western countries and some other Asian countries such as Japan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Housing, communications, transport (including taxis), local food, holiday accommodation, airfares, clothing, medical expenses, entertainment and recreation are cheaper than most expats have experienced.
Cars, international schools, alcohol and imported foods are more expensive. However, expats on a foreign salary should find it fairly easy to save money during their assignment and still enjoy a good lifestyle. Even those working on a good local salary should do well. Prices for groceries are also fairly reasonable, depending on where you shop. Malaysia has many supermarkets and hypermarkets and you can also buy food at the various outdoor markets at very attractive prices. As an example the current estimate on basic items are about RM3 for a loaf of bread, RM3 to RM6 for a litre of milk, and about RM50 to RM95 for a kilogram of premium imported steak.
A maid will cost you somewhere between RM650 (for an Indonesian maid) and RM1,000 for a Filipina. If you pay for your own electricity you will need to keep a watch on the air-conditioning costs. Fuel costs about RM1.80 a litre which makes Malaysia one of the cheapest countries in the world. Cigarettes are cheaper than most western countries costing around RM8.00 a packet.
Food in restaurants is relatively cheap and if you are happy to experiment by eating in one of the many food stalls and local non air-conditioned restaurants you can eat your fill for under RM10 a head.The most expensive items in Malaysia compared to many western countries are motor vehicles and alcoholic beverages because of the heavy import duties on both these items. A locally produced car starts about RM30,000 and imported cars start at around RM70,000. As an indication of luxury car prices a Volvo S80 costs around RM240,000.
Alcohol is heavily taxed but is widely available. It is hard to find any wines priced under RM20 and for that price it will be pretty basic. A mid-range wine will cost around RM35 to RM40. Australian wines are very popular and probably the best value. In an air-conditioned restaurant the price is usually doubled – many hotels will triple the price. A can of locally produced beer such as Anchor or Carlsberg will cost around RM8 in a supermarket and a glass of beer in a restaurant will run around RM16. Cocktails in restaurants and night clubs are around RM20 each.
It is worth noting that the popular holiday resort island, Langkawi, is duty free and many goods can be acquired cheaply there but there are restrictions on bringing them back to the mainland.