Nowhere is the rapid pace of Malaysia’s development as obvious as in Kuala Lumpur. The booming city on the western coast of Peninsular Malaysia belies its origins as a humble mining town. Today, nobody would believe that in the 1850s, the city’s only inhabitants were some Chinese laborers.
Due to the success of the mining enterprise, Kuala Lumpur became the capital of the Malay States in 1896. A new addition to the British Empire, the administrative and economic hub attracted Malays, Chinese and Indians as well as British colonials, all living in Kuala Lumpur together. Malaysia has been an independent nation since 1963, and its population is still marked by ethnic diversity, especially in Kuala Lumpur.
Kuala Lumpur is defined by the young nation’s history and its tradition as a multicultural, religiously diverse society. While living in Kuala Lumpur, foreign residents may wonder at its diverse cityscape: Highlights of post-modernist architecture such as the famous Petronas Twin Towers dominate Kuala Lumpur’s skyline, together with other iconic buildings influenced by Malay heritage as well as Islamic art.
Hidden between the modern buildings, there are still many vestiges from the colonial past, like the pseudo-Tudor houses of the Royal Selangor Club or the neo-gothic St Mary’s Cathedral. The latter – Malaysia’s oldest Anglican church – is one of the many places testifying to the different faiths of people living in Kuala Lumpur.
Contemporary life in Kuala Lumpur is strongly influenced by the local brand of Islam. However, there are also large groups of Hindus, Christians, Buddhists, and followers of Chinese religions in the city.
Among the multiethnic population, you will find numerous foreign residents as well. In recent years, employment opportunities in Kuala Lumpur and the Klang Valley have proven attractive for low-skilled laborers from Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, and the Philippines. At the other end of the spectrum, foreign investors and highly qualified employees enjoy expatriate life in Kuala Lumpur.
While Kuala Lumpur only rates 84th out of 230 cities in the Mercer quality of living survey 2015, there is a well-developed infrastructure for expats living in Kuala Lumpur. Due to Malaysia’s colonial past, English remains an important language in the business world and in secondary education. Moreover, there are plenty of social associations, international clinics and schools for foreigners in Kuala Lumpur.
As far as safety and crime are concerned, expats living in Kuala Lumpur should particularly beware of the following: snatch theft, pickpocketing, motor vehicle theft, and scams. Apart from that, Kuala Lumpur is comparatively safe. However, it is important to keep in mind that Malaysia is, in some respects, a socially conservative country.
Human rights organizations like Amnesty International routinely criticize Malaysia for its political censorship and the existence of corporal punishment. Whereas the former should not affect expatriates in Kuala Lumpur, the latter might: Not only does Malaysia pursue an extremely strict anti-drug policy, but its penal code actively discriminates against its LGBT population. Homosexual people can be criminalized and may incur fines, whippings, or incarceration.
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