Kuala Lumpur at a Glance
Positioned at the intersection of the Gombak and Klang rivers in Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (often called “KL”) is literally translated as “muddy estuary.” KL started out as a sleepy, sludgy river town in its tin mining days. Today, rather than mud, you’ll find sleek skyscrapers, manicured parks, and busy expressways rising up around its rivers. KL, the capital and the most populous city in Malaysia, is often called Southeast Asia’s hidden gem, in part for its affordability, as well as for its beautiful landscape, warm weather, and delicious food scene.
Kuala Lumpur is a diverse city with a blend of Chinese, Indian, and Malay cultures along with a large expat community from all over the world. That said, there is a substantial Western influence in Malaysia—and in Kuala Lumpur in particular. Many Western expats who move to KL say they had surprisingly little culture shock. In almost any place, you can find someone who speaks English. A good portion of Malaysian students study abroad in the United Kingdom, Australia, or the United States, so Western TV shows and movies are commonly watched in Malaysia. KL offers a large number of Western amenities, especially in its numerous shopping malls.
How do Christian expats see people living out their faith in KL?
A manager at a large civil engineering corporation told us, “Malaysia is proud of its multifaith culture. The same festive lights will be put up in the offices and condos for Ramadan, Deepavali, and Christmas.”
“Malaysia is proud of its multifaith culture. The same festive lights will be put up in the offices and condos for Ramadan, Deepavali, and Christmas.”
An executive at a large HR corporation said he meets with a small group to study the Bible each week. “There are people from Germany, US, Taiwan, and Korea, as well as Malaysian Indian and Malaysian Chinese who attend—very mature believers and brand new believers who are just learning their way through the Bible,” he said. “There’s a high level of turnover/transition as people move into KL and leave, in time, which leads to its own dynamics as well. Overall though, we just love the diversity and the way we see God working in all our lives as we grow together.”
A teacher at a small learning center told us about a friend she met at a clothing store in the mall where he works. She said: “Through . . . the Sermon on the Mount, he came to faith in Jesus. He said the reason he wanted to follow Jesus is because he read and believed that Jesus rose from the dead, and Muhammad did not rise from the dead, so he has to follow Jesus. He is, to my knowledge, the only believer out of his people group [from] his city of over four hundred thousand. It has been incredible to see how, despite the persecution he knows he could face, he is loving the Bible and sharing with his friends what he believes.”
Can you work or retire in KL?
KL has a fast-growing economy with lots of local talent. However, in the energy, education, and IT/technology industries, there’s still a high demand for all experience levels, from college grads to senior executives.
KL does have a long-hours work culture—and chaotic commutes—but you might find that Kuala Lumpur has a more laidback and easygoing ambiance than most major American cities. During Ramadan, about 70 percent of the population goes on vacation, so very little work gets done during that time. And because many businesses are run by Chinese Malaysians, the Chinese New Year also effectively shuts down the city for about a week.
Malaysia offers a special retirement visa for expatriates. According to U.S. News & World Report, Malaysia ranks in the top eighteen places to retire abroad, with an opportunity to cut living expenses by up to one-third of those in the United States.
“According to U.S. News & World Report, Malaysia ranks in the top eighteen places to retire abroad, with an opportunity to cut living expenses by up to one-third of those in the United States.”
Can you engage KL with the gospel?
Professionals, pastors, and church leaders in KL told us six ways you can make disciples in KL.
- Share good news with colleagues
Because there are many people groups working in Malaysia, Christian professionals have abundant opportunities to build relationships and share the good news with colleagues who have limited or no access to it.
- Befriend your neighbors
In KL, you’ll be surrounded by people who have little to no access to the gospel. You’ll find abundant occasions to connect with them.
- Disciple young believers in your local church
There are numerous opportunities for cross-cultural discipleship in several of the English-speaking congregations in KL. These churches are comprised of many young Christians who are hungry for discipleship from mature believers.
- Join the youth ministry team in your local church
Many gospel-preaching churches in KL need more mature believers to join their youth ministries. Regardless of whether you have experience with youth ministry in the US, this would be a great opportunity to invest spiritually in the future of the church in KL by discipling young believers.
- Serve the migrant workers
Many of the construction and service workers who come from India, Pakistan, and the Philippines are afforded little in the way of respect and dignity. Join others in ministering to these men by caring for their physical, emotional, and spiritual needs.
- Teach English as a Second Language (ESL)
Some of the church leaders in KL recommend getting involved with ESL courses that churches and other organizations offer as a way to bless to the community and share God’s good news with people who might not otherwise come to church.
DOWNLOAD our Kuala Lumpur City Guide
This article is adapted from our Kuala Lumpur City Guide, a resource for IMB’s Global Cities Initiative. Download the guide to find advice for getting a job in KL and see what Christian Americans think about living there as a student, a retiree, a professional, and a single woman.