Is Kuala Lumpur Expensive? How much money to bring in 2020

The twin towers are KL's most iconic tourist attraction.

You can have a great standard of living in Kuala Lumpur for not a lot of money.

As a tourist visiting the city, you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised by how far your Dollars / Euros / Pounds or Yen go here.

If you’re on a tight budget, Kuala Lumpur is one of the best-value options in Asia. Even if you’re not on a tight budget, with a bit of care and planning you can stretch your cash to live it up a little and have a great time during your visit to Malaysia.

Is Kuala Lumpur expensive for tourists?

A lot of this depends on what kind of experience you want- KL is a very affordable city if you stick to local food and skip the 5-star hotels. But, like any other city, if you choose to live it up, there are costs involved and you can spend as much cash as you want to if you’re not careful. 

Compared to places like Singapore, KL is definitely a lot cheaper. In general, food, travel and everyday expenses don’t typically cost as much.

I’ll break down some of the day-to-day expenses for you below. 

How much money should you bring to KL? 

You should bring about RM150 per person for each day that you are staying as a ballpark figure. 

This amount is based on the premise that you will be mostly spending this on food (not high-end restaurants) and travel, but if you’re considering going to exhibits, museums or theme parks, remember to factor in the cost of entry fees in addition to this.  

If you didn’t already know, the official currency of Malaysia is Malaysian Ringgit (MYR or RM as you’ll often see it written).

Depending on where you’re coming from, the exchange rates will vary, but it’s probably a good idea to arrive with enough cash to survive at least the first day or so rather than arriving without any local currency.

If you are going to be exchanging any of the world’s most common currencies, for example, US dollars, Euros, GBP, Aussie dollars or the like, you’ll be able to find some money changers in KL that will change those currencies for a good rate (they won’t rob you too much).

However, if you’re changing from lesser-known currenciesOpens in a new tab. to Malaysian Ringgit you might find that it costs you 3% or more to change to MYR when you arrive.

How much money are you allowed to bring to Malaysia?

According to government regulationsOpens in a new tab., anyone entering or leaving the country with more than $10,000 USD of any currency must declare it at Customs. 

This is pretty standard for most countries, as they probably want to make sure that you aren’t doing anything shady or illegal with the money.

Bringing loads of cash has its pros and cons. On the one hand, you’ll be covered in the event of an emergency. On the other, it’s so much more risky in the event that you somehow become separated from your money.

I recommend that you try to bring only as much cash as you need, with some spare for emergencies. It’s great to have access to more money if you need it, but that money doesn’t need to be in the form of cash.

Having a bank card that you can use will give you plenty of peace of mind without having to carry ridiculous amounts of moolah around in your pockets or bag.

If you’re starting to worry about what else you should be bringing besides money, take a look at my guide that covers everything you need to bring to Kuala Lumpur to have a great trip.

Is MYR a restricted currency? 

Yes, MYR is a restricted currency.

A restricted currency is one that is subject to currency controlsOpens in a new tab. by the government in order to guarantee stability of the currency’s value. 

As a tourist, visitor or potential resident, this means that fund transfers in this currency are not allowed outside of Malaysia. 

There’s a whole range of reasons for this, but if you need to transfer the currency outside of Malaysia, take a look hereOpens in a new tab. for some additional guidelines. 

Where to change money in Kuala Lumpur

If you’re stuck and really need some extra cash, there are a lot of places to change money- but beware, because some places won’t give you the best prices. 

Some of the ones we recommend are: 

  • Merchantrade in Pavilion– This is on the lower ground floor, near the Teppanyaki place at the food court. Their rates seem to be quite reasonable, especially for major currencies, and it’s located in the heart of the city.
  • Max Money in Midvalley– You’ll know it when you see it, because this shop has lines that stretch out so far that they sometimes block people trying to pass through. One of the best rates in the city. 
  • NS Cashpoint in Suria KLCC– this offers currency exchange and money transfer services, and has a Western Union partnership which allows you to send money out as well if you need to. 

Cost of eating out in Kuala Lumpur

A basic meal of local food in KL will usually cost you anywhere from around RM5 – 20, depending on your location.

When multiplied by 3 (3 meals per day), you end up spending around RM15-60 per day on food alone if you’re keeping it pretty local. 

Considering that something like nasi lemakOpens in a new tab., a traditional rice and chicken dish costs between RM5 and RM9, you can still eat very well for that amount of money. 

If you’re looking for something a bit fancier, you can easily spend upwards of 100RM per person for dinner in the city center, this includes an appetiser, main, wine, and dessert.

Indian food price in Kuala Lumpur

There is a great variety of Indian food available in KL. You might be familiar with naan or roti canai, but in Malaysia, they come in a variety of styles and tastes, so don’t be afraid to try some of the more interesting sounding dishes like roti banjir (literally ‘flooded bread’), roti bom (bread explosion) or roti tisu (tissue paper bread, which often comes in a tall pyramid the size of a small child). 

Personally, when it comes to roti, my personal favorite is roti telur (egg bread). It’s really nice served with some curry sauce to dip it in.

All of these don’t cost very much either, with prices ranging from RM3 to RM10, depending on location.

For less than RM20, you can enjoy several delicious dishes while also downing a traditional drink like “teh tarik” (pulled tea), rose syrup, or iced lemon tea. 

Chinese food prices in Kuala Lumpur

Chinese restaurant styles are a bit different from Indian, Malay, or Western food, as it’s usually expected that you will order 2 to 3 dishes (or more) for the table to share, on top of a bowl of rice for each person. 

This means that prices will fluctuate depending on what you order- fish is more expensive, and rare delicacies like abalone or imitation sharkfin soup can really drive the prices up. 

If you’re at an average Chinese restaurant that isn’t directly in the city center, you can expect to pay about RM35 – 45 per person, but a higher-end Chinese restaurant in a good location or in an air conditioned shopping mall can cost up to RM 50 – 100 per person. 

Malay food prices in KL

Some great and cheap traditional Malay food, like nasi lemak (banana leaf rice) or mee goreng (fried noodles) can be found for under 10RM almost everywhere.

A couple of really good nasi lemak restaurants that I recommend checking out are Wanjo and Antarabangsa, both of which are in the Kampung Baru area.

Great Malay food like nasi kukus, grilled squid, satay and nasi campur can all be found for the low price of RM10 – 20 nearly everywhere. 

Kuala Lumpur Airbnb cost

Like any other area, things you have to consider when picking an Airbnb are your budget and how many people will be staying with you- the costs below are for 2 people traveling together, but if you’re a family of four, you can reasonably expect to pay double these prices for a bigger place. 

Budget – RM 45 – 48 per night

If your budget is tight and you can’t really afford to splurge, you can often rent a single room in a house- but expect to share with other travellers! These places usually come with a single double bed, so you won’t have free rein of the place, but you’ll have a comfy place to stay. 

Mid-range – RM 74 – 140 per night 

This can get you quite a lot of options, from a one-bedroom suite in KLCC in a service apartment style, to free run of an apartment in the heart of the city center. 

Luxury – RM 150 – 200 per night 

For this, you can get some really nice views and luxury accommodation, and some even come with Sky/Infinity pools so you can enjoy the beautiful city skyline. 

Cost of flights to Kuala Lumpur

Since Kuala Lumpur is the base of Air Asia, it’s very easy to get direct, cheap flights to and from almost anywhere in Asia. AirAsia is a really neat budget airline that often holds discounts and deals, so keep an eye out for those too. Costs can be as low as RM 250 from China to KL or RM 115 from Bangkok to KL. 

In addition to that, most major airlines also fly to Kuala Lumpur, and taking a transit flight from countries further away (like the US or UK), are also options to reduce costs, although the time spent in the air and travelling may be much longer. 

Don’t forget to consider the cost of getting a tourist visa for KL too. Many countries don’t have to pay, but some do. This other article that I wrote covers everything in detail for you.

Kuala Lumpur taxi fares

The taxi industry in Kuala Lumpur is a dying breed, thanks to the volume of Grab and Uber drivers that have popped up over the last few years. 

My advice…

Don’t bother with the local taxis, as more often than not their prices are ridiculously exorbitant. You can get a cheap disposable sim card that comes with data from the airport, and just call a Grab or Uber if you want to get around. 

How much does a taxi from the airport to the city cost?

There are a couple of things you have to take into account when considering taxi fare- the time of day, the length of journey, tolls, available routes, and traffic jams. 

KLIA 1 is located around 55km from the city center, so if you take into account that 1km is around RM 1.90, this means that a single taxi can cost around RM 120, which might be ideal for bigger families who want to save on train fare, or a pair of travellers. If you’re a single traveller, it will be more worth it to take the train.

An alternative option is to take a Grab or Uber, which you can order using KLIA’s free wifi.

Before planning your method of transport from the airport to the city you have to read my other article that covers all of the options with my recommendations for various cases.

How much is the train from the airport to the city?

Once you get to the airport, you’ll be able to take the KLIA Express, which is a train that stops at both KLIA 1 (aka KLIA M) and KLIA 2, before bringing you directly into the city to KL Sentral. 

single trip with the KLIA Express costs RM49.50 for adults and RM22.50 for children, while a return trip costs RM90.00 for adults and RM40.50 for children. Please note that the return trip is only valid for 1 month after the selected travel date for the first trip. 

You can also take the KLIA Transit, but this train stops at all stations along the line, so the journey will be longer than the KLIA Express, and it’s the same price- RM55 for adults, and RM25 for children. 

What to buy in Kuala Lumpur

Kuala Lumpur is full of new and interesting things to bring back as a keepsake. Costs and items vary from place to place, so be sure to check out and compare prices before you settle! 

Some unique souvenirs to consider include: 

  • Royal Selangor pewter items (pewter is a metal that Malaysia is particularly rich in) 
  • Handwoven crafts (come in the form of bags, hats and placemats) 
  • Batik (a special kind of cloth that is very light and airy) 
  • Wau (a traditional kite shaped like a crescent moon) 
  • Durian products (while you may not be able to actually transport fresh durian, you can get durian chocolates!) 
  • Chinese herbs and medicine 
  • Traditional snacks (kuih lapis, dodol, pineapple tarts, love letters) 

Kuala Lumpur daily budget

The factors that you would have to consider are hotel stay, food, travel and any extra expenses.

I highly recommend you check out my awesome recommendations for interesting and unique things to do in KL because it will give you some great ideas for your trip and it will also help you with planning your budget. 

For a day’s stay in KL where you mostly ate local food, travelled by local transport and didn’t spend much on anything else, you should spend about RM60 – 120. 

But if you plan to visit a lot of attractions, dine at nice restaurants and drink a lot, be prepared to pay about RM 200 or more. 

Alcohol prices in Kuala Lumpur

A pint of beer can range from RM12 and above, and be prepared to pay around RM30 for a glass of wine and cocktails. All this also depends on where you’re drinking in the city as well. 

In general, alcohol prices are not cheap if you’re drinking outside, so keep an eye out for happy hours to save some money there, or buy drinks from a supermarket. 

If you’re thinking of buying from a supermarket, wines can range between RM25 – RM500, and spirits from about RM100 and above. 

Is Malaysia cheaper than Thailand?

Malaysia is generally more expensiveOpens in a new tab. than Thailand. 

In terms of average hotel stay, food, entertainment and alcohol, Malaysia is way more expensive, and that’s before factoring GST (General Service Tax) as well. 

Is Indonesia cheaper than Malaysia?

In this case, Indonesia Opens in a new tab.is generally more expensive than Malaysia.

In terms of food and transport, Indonesia is more expensive, and overall you have a lower purchasing power with the currency. 

How much spending money do I need for a week in Kuala Lumpur?

Around RM120 to 240. 

If you scroll up to look at our daily budget, you see that we’ve carved out spaces for mostly food, transport, and if you’re planning on going to any attractions. 

The minimum you can spend in KL in a certain day is RM60 because taking into account the fact that food and drink costs around RM5-10, transport is also around RM10, and extra expenses, you should be able to travel comfortably on that. 

The maximum is around RM700, because food and drink would cost around RM100-200 per meal, and you have to take into account any attractions you’re planning on visiting. 

Things to consider when travelling to Kuala Lumpur: 

A final round up of things to consider when travelling to Kuala Lumpur: 

  • Costs of transportation

    Consider your flight tickets to and from KL, as well as how you are going to get around in the city- bus, train, taxi or rental car.

    If you are considering renting a car you should also check out my other article that covers everything you need to know about using your driver’s license in Malaysia (the one from your own country). You might be surprised to find that you can drive a car here using your own license in some situations.
  • Hotel costs

    Will you be staying in a hotel in the heart of the city or an Airbnb a bit further away?
  • Living costs

    Are you going to be experiencing Malaysia as its authentic self or taking advantage of all the shopping deals in the city center?

Once you’ve sorted out flights and hotel costs, you should be able to get a rough estimate of how much you’re willing to spend and how much money you should bring to KL! 

Marty Spargo

I first visited Malaysia as a tourist in 2004 and frequently returned for short visits over the next decade or more before moving to Kuala Lumpur to live in 2018. I live and work in KL, but remember what it's like to see the city for the first time as a tourist, so I try to create helpful articles with that in mind. You can read my full bio here.

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