Expat Cost of Living Comparison: Vietnam vs Malaysia

At Jobinvietnam.net, we know that choosing where to live as an expat comes down to more than just job opportunities – cost of living is a huge factor. Today, we’re putting two popular Southeast Asian expat destinations head-to-head: Vietnam and Malaysia.

Both offer tropical climates, fascinating cultures, friendly locals and a relatively low cost of living. But when you dig into the details, which country comes out on top for affordability? Let’s find out.

Housing Costs

Research housing costs: Malaysia offers options for all budgets
Find your perfect fit: Explore housing options at various price points
in Malaysia

Housing will likely be your biggest expense as an expat. Here’s how Vietnam and Malaysia compare:

Housing TypeVietnam (USD/month)Malaysia (USD/month)
1BR Apartment$400 – $800$300 – $500
3BR Apartment$800 – $1500$500 – $1000
Utilities$50 – $100$50 – $100

Vietnam comes in a bit higher, especially in the big cities like Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. You can find cheaper rent in Malaysia, even in popular expat areas like Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

Food & Dining Out

Nasi lemak – Malaysian coconut rice with egg, anchovies, and sambal

One of the joys of living in Asia is the incredible food at affordable prices. A meal at a local restaurant will run you:

  • Vietnam: $2 – $5
  • Malaysia: $3 – $6

Not a huge difference, but those extra dollars can add up over many meals out. Both countries also have amazing street food scenes where you can dine well for just a couple bucks.

Groceries are affordable in both nations if you shop at local wet markets. Imported foods from home will cost you a premium though. Overall, we’d say Vietnam has a slight edge on food costs.


Grab motorbike taxi stand in Malaysia – Affordable and fast
transportation option

Getting around in Vietnam is a bit cheaper than in Malaysia:

  • Grab ride in Vietnam: $1-2
  • Grab ride in Malaysia: $3-5
  • Monthly public transit pass in Vietnam: $10-15
  • Monthly public transit pass in Malaysia: $25-35

Traffic can be chaotic in both countries’ major cities, but Malaysia has better roads and infrastructure overall. However, many expats in Vietnam get by with just motorbikes which are very affordable.


Healthcare is one area where Malaysia outperforms Vietnam for expats. Malaysia has world-class private hospitals and medical care at prices lower than in the West, but still higher than Vietnam.

However, many expats don’t feel comfortable with the level of care at most Vietnamese hospitals and wind up traveling to Thailand or Singapore for major medical needs. So you may save on minor costs in Vietnam but spend more on trips abroad for healthcare.


International School of Kuala Lumpur INTI – Quality education for $15,000/year

If you’ll be enrolling kids in school, Malaysia is the clear winner. Malaysia has a number of excellent international schools with reasonable tuition, such as:

  • International School of Kuala Lumpur: $15,000/year
  • Fairview International School: $9,000/year

In Vietnam, international schools are more limited and pricier, like:

  • United Nations International School of Hanoi: $30,000/year
  • American International School: $25,000/year

Of course, homeschooling or local schools are always an option in both countries if you want to save on education costs. But for traditional expat schooling, Malaysia comes out ahead.

Entertainment & Leisure

What’s the point of being an expat if you don’t get out and enjoy your new home? Both Vietnam and Malaysia provide a range of fun, from jungle and beach adventures to shopping and nightlife.

Some typical entertainment costs:

ActivityVietnam (USD)Malaysia (USD)
Movie ticket$4-7$4-8
Gym membership$20-50/month$30-100/month
Beach resort$40-100/night$50-200/night
Beer at a bar$1-3$3-8

As you can see, Vietnam tends to come in a bit lower for discretionary fun, while Malaysia has more high-end options if that’s your style. But both deliver tons of memorable experiences for your money.

The Verdict

Consider all factors: Vietnam often cheaper, but Malaysia excels in healthcare and education
Cost vs. benefits: Vietnam may be cheaper, but Malaysia offers better healthcare and education

So, which country wins the cost of living battle? It’s close, but overall we’d have to give the edge to Vietnam. While Malaysia has advantages in healthcare, education, and infrastructure, Vietnam comes out cheaper in most categories, especially food and housing which make up a big part of the expat budget.

Of course, the best choice for you depends on your individual priorities and lifestyle. Malaysia may be worth the extra expense if you have kids in school or health concerns. Vietnam may be the better bet if you’re a foodie who wants to live in the heart of the city for less.

Wherever you choose, you’re bound to have an exciting, affordable adventure in these dynamic Southeast Asian countries!

Bonus: Cost of Living in Vietnam for a Family of 4

As an example, here are some typical costs for a family of four living in Vietnam:

Living in Vietnam as a family of four can be an affordable and exciting experience. When it comes to housing, you can expect to pay around $800 to $1500 per month for a comfortable 3-bedroom apartment in the heart of the city. Feeding your family will cost approximately $400 to $600 each month, with fresh produce and local specialties available at vibrant markets and modern supermarkets. Utilities, including electricity, water, gas, and internet, will add another $100 to $200 to your monthly budget. Getting around is easy and inexpensive, with motorbikes and the occasional taxi ride costing between $50 and $150 per month for the whole family.

Education is a significant consideration for families, and in Vietnam, you can provide your children with a quality international education at mid-range schools for $1000 to $2000 per month. All in all, a family of four can enjoy a comfortable life in Vietnam for around $2350 to $4450 per month, depending on your specific needs and preferences. If you opt for local schools or housing in less central areas, you may be able to reduce your expenses even further.

Of course, every family is different. For a more personalized cost of living calculation for your unique situation, click here for our detailed guide on the: Cost of living in Vietnam for a family of four.

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