Cost of Living in Cameron Highlands Malaysia

In this report, I share the Best Places to Retire Early in Paradise for Pennies in 2024.

In this report, I will share the Cost of Living in a Cool Mountain Gem in SE Asia including rents, utilities, groceries, restaurants, transportation, and other expenses for low to middle-range living costs.

Last month, we put our feet on the ground in the cooler mountain area of Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. I was last here 8 years ago in 2016 and it is still just as beautiful.

In this report, I show you the food we ate, the things we did for fun, the costs of living here, and where it is in SE Asia. Malaysians go to Cameron Highlands when they need a break from the heat at sea level.

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Cameron Highland is roughly 200 kilometers (120 mi) north of Kuala Lumpur and 50 miles east of Ipoh Malaysia. The passenger trains run north and south through Malaysia and you can jump off in Ipoh Malaysia and take the bus east up to Cameron Highlands.

The various small towns of Cameron Highlands range from a low of about 800 meters (2,600 ft) to a high of 1,603 meters (5,259 ft) above sea level. It is the higher elevation that gives you the cooler temperatures.

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No matter where you decide to live or retire in SE Asia, or the World, you will want a break from normal life and to experience other places. And when you need a break from the heat, just head to one of the colonial-era hill stations.

Throughout the World, in the former colonies of Europe, the colonialists established summer residences in the mountains to stay cool in the warmest months. There was no air conditioning back then so they headed for the hills.

So, the Highlands or Hill Stations is where you go cooler temperatures. In Malaysia that is Cameron Highlands. In Vietnam, there is Dalat, in Thailand there is Pai, and in the Philippines, go to Baguio. There are others.

We provide reports on many of these hill stations so ex-pats know where to go when they want to cool off overseas. But some expats prefer cooler weather year round so they decide to just stay in a hill station.

You can use to find and book the bus or train to Cameron Highlands.

There is something magical about Cameron Highlands, whether it is the tea plantations, the beautiful green surrounding landscape, or the laid-back way of life. The locals are very sweet and accommodating and there is a great selection of restaurants especially given how small these communities are.

One of the great things about Malaysia in general is that there are three different ethnic food types available at local prices, Malay, Chinese, and Indian. The are also pricier international foods to choose in case you feel like something from home.

Also, make sure to tour the tea plantations, the mossy forest, and the strawberry gardens. They have a day tour that visits all three for about $12 USD per person. This is not an affiliate link.

I have over 1000 videos showing you the best places to retire cheap in paradise overseas. My videos are organized by country at my Vagabond Awake YouTube Playlists. You can browse through my videos by country and find your favorite places overseas.

I have reports all over Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Malacca, Ipoh, Langkawi, Perhentian Islands, and Borneo Malaysia including Sabah, Sibu, and Sarawak.

But today I am talking about Cameron Highlands.

I will now share my Cameron Highlands desirability factors such as Walkability, Internet, Food, Weather, Things to Do, Social Considerations, Visas, Real Estate, Expat Community, and Health Care.

But first, I will share living cost estimates ranging from low to middle for Cameron Highlands.

Estimated Cost of Living in Cameron Highlands Malaysia

Here are my estimated costs of living converted into US dollars if the two of us moved to Cameron Highlands year-round on a tight budget. We will also include more typical expenses we have heard from other expats to give you another data point.

Rents: I found the above unfurnished 3-bedroom 2-bath condo for rent for 2000 RM per month, which is $422 USD per month on a 12-month rental rate for 824 Square Feet. If you rent for a shorter period of time on Airbnb it would be more expensive.

If you rented a single-family home or townhouse the rent would be higher, about $600 USD per month.

Here is the process we use to find great apartments. So, we will show you a table of all expenses in a moment. We will use $422 per month for our lower rent estimate and $600 per month for the middle cost of living estimate for expats who want more space.

Utilities: We estimate that the year-round average for our utilities would be about $40 USD per month at this elevation. The utilities would be more for expats that rent the larger space, about $70 USD per month.

Groceries: We normally shop for fresh fruits and vegetables in wet markets to save money rather than the more expensive grocery stores, but also shop in grocery stores for things like shampoo and detergents. We estimate about $300 per month for groceries. Other expats are likely to shop more often in expensive grocery stores often spending more than $400 per month on groceries.

Restaurants: We would go out to eat two or three times per week mostly in more local-style restaurants averaging about $3 to $5 USD per meal but also in tourist or expat-style restaurants for about $8 USD per meal per person. If you add that up, we would spend around $40 per week or $160 per month in restaurants for the two of us.

Other expats are likely to eat more Western-style foods in expensive expat-style restaurants and less in local-style restaurants, so they would likely spend around $300 per month for 2 people in restaurants.

Cell Phone Data: The cost to recharge our prepaid smartphone service was about $12 per month. My Android phone will act as a hotspot so we can both be on the internet at the same time when we are out of the house together.

Other expat couples are likely to buy two prepaid SIM cards so they would send $24 per month.

Laundry: Apartments in Malaysia almost always have clothes washing machines and people hang their clothes in SE Asia. Since the laundry detergent is included in our grocery bill, there is no additional expense for laundry.

Drinking Water: Many apartments in Malaysia now have water dispensers. So we often pay nothing for drinking water here.

Internet: 100 MBPS up and down is about 130 RM per month or $27 USD for in-home wifi.

Transportation: We would take local Taxis about twice per week for about $4 USD each way, or $8 USD round trip each time. But we would walk whenever possible in our neighborhood to stay healthy. We estimate about $80 USD per month for the two of us for transportation. Other expats might walk less and spend more on transportation, so $120 per month.

Alcohol (Optional): Local beer in local bars and restaurants $4 USD, about $2.00 USD in convenience stores, and $1.67 USD in grocery stores. So, we would spend about $160 per month on alcohol for the two of us.

Many other expats would spend a higher amount for imported foreign or craft beers in expat bars, so about $240 USD per month for 2 people assuming they are not into imported whiskey or wine.

Entertainment (Optional): We would budget about $200 per month for entertainment for the two of us. We generally enjoy doing more do-it-yourself kinds of entertainment so expats would spend a little more, maybe $300 per month, for 2 of them?

Estimated Costs of Living in Cameron Highlands

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The above lower estimated cost of living would be if the two of us lived in Cameron Highlands on a tight budget. The middle estimate is just an example of what other expats might spend if they moved.

To understand what it would cost you to live here, you must put your feet on the ground, see how you would choose to live, eat, and entertain yourself, and add it all up. It doesn’t matter what anyone else spends because we are all different.

Cameron Highlands Malaysia Livability Factors

Before you move anywhere outside your home country, make sure to create a list of things that you must have for your happy retirement. Here are my livability factors and I will rank each as high, medium or low before assigning an overall retirement desirability score to Cameron Highlands.

Walkability: Medium. This one needs an explanation. Our favorite two neighborhoods in Cameron Highlands are Tanah Rata and Brinchang. No matter which one we decided to live we would need to go to the other from time to time for restaurants or shopping. Since they are 5 KM apart, we would use local taxis, bicycles, a scooter, or a small used car. So either neighborhood alone is walkable, but you would probably need more than just your feet to go between them.

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Internet: High. Malaysia has great Internet speeds for very little money. In Cameron Highlands and in many other parts of Malaysia we averaged around 40 to 100 Mbps up and down.

Food: High. We stayed in the Tanah Rata area of Cameron Highlands. You will find smaller grocery stores there and a fruit and vegetables market, but the larger expat-style grocery store is in the Centrum Mall in Brinchang, 5 kilometers away. There are also larger wet markets in Brinchang. So if we stayed here long term, we probably would live in Binchang. Also, the available restaurants and pricing seemed slightly lower in Binchang.  Alcohol, beer, and wine are heavily taxed in Malaysia.

Weather: High. The temperature is fairly consistent and perfect in Cameron Highlands, year-round. Daily highs range very little from 78 F (26 C) in December to 82 F (28 C) in May. There are two rainy seasons, April through May, when it rains more than 10 inches (270 mm), and September through November when it rains about 112 inches (300 mm) per month. The rest of the year it rains about 4 to 8 inches a month (109 to 203 mm).

Things to Do: High. If you are interested in outdoor life like hiking, biking, fishing, and camping, Cameron Highlands will be your cup of tea. You can expect beautiful rolling hills and a dense forest of lush green trails. You can also hang out at the Centrum Mall for some great people-watching, visit the temples, take a Yoga or martial arts class, learn how to cook local foods, or head to Georgetown Penang or Kuala Lumpur for a long weekend.

Social Considerations: It seems that everywhere you go here people speak English. It was a former English colony and they continue to teach English in school. The main local language is called Malay. There are three major ethnic groups here, Malay, Chinese, and Indian. All three groups speak their ethnic languages and most also speak at least some English if they are not fluent. The people are very friendly and nice. I don’t believe you will face any additional challenges because you are a foreigner.

Expat Community: You will see expats from all over the world here. However, it is still relatively undiscovered by Westerners as compared to Thailand or the Philippines. Here are no Facebook pages that cater explicitly to Cameron Highlands expats from overseas, but here are a few from other parts of Malaysia: 1, 2, 3. These online expat communities are great for learning all about things that expats want to learn when they first move overseas.

Medical: Malaysia is one of the better medical tourism countries in the world in my opinion, possibly even as good as Thailand, but with more reasonable prices. They have both great healthcare here and at reasonable prices. There is a Hospital in Cameron Highlands that offers very generalized services. So, you may need to travel to Ipoh, Georgetown Penang, or Kuala Lumpur for specialized services. The staff at the hospital in Cameron Highlands will likely stabilize you and then direct you to the proper specialists if they are not available locally.

Tourist Visa: Foreigners from many Western countries are given 3 months of Visa exemption when they enter Malaysia. In many parts of SE Asia, you can just do a visa run to get additional time. But Malaysia has started to crack down on visa runs. The best I can tell, after talking to several people who have done it recently, if you decide to do a visa run after your first 90-day exemption, you should stay out of Malaysia at least 90 days before attempting a re-entry.

Retirement Visa: Malaysia has 13 states and 3 Federal territories. Two of those states, Sabah and Sarawak, have reserved the right to set their own terms for retirement visas. That means that there are three different retirement visas you can apply for in the country of Malaysia which you can read in detail here.

Sabah State Retirement Visa: You have to complete and submit the required application and documents. You have to deposit 200k RM ($42k USD) in a Malaysian Bank. You have to spend at least 30 days per year in Sabah. It is initially issued with a 5-year term renewable for 5 years. This visa is on hold waiting for final government approval.

Sarawak State Retirement Visa: You have to complete and submit the required application and documents. You have to deposit 150k RM ($32k USD) in a Malaysian Bank and proof of 7000 RM ($1500 USD) income per month. You have to spend at least 30 days per year in Sarawak. You would also need a certificate of good standing from your home country and a clean bill of health.

Peninsular Malaysia Retirement Visa: You have to complete and submit the required application and documents. You have to deposit 1 million RM ($210k USD) in a Malaysian Bank but no proof of monthly income. You have to spend at least 90 days per year in Peninsular Malaysia. You would also need a certificate of good standing from your home country and a clean bill of health. There are also some VIP retirement visas for Peninsular Malaysia which we will not cover here. This visa is on hold now for parliamentary review.

Since you are not required to live in any of these states for the entire year, you may wonder if you are allowed to live in other parts of Malaysia during the other parts of the year. I have not found a direct answer to that question, but I can tell you that when we flew from Sabah or Sarawak to Peninsular Malaysia, since that is not an international flight, immigration in Peninsular Malaysia did not ask to see our passport at all. It seemed to be just like when you fly between states in the USA or fly between countries in the Schengen zone. Hopefully one day they will clear this question up. So, I would probably get the Sarawak visa and spend 30 days a year there as required, and then just spend most of my time in Kuala Lumpur or Penang until I was told otherwise.

Real Estate: Foreigners can own 100% of a residence in Malaysia so long as the purchase price is over 1 million RM ($210K USD). The weird thing is that the rents are so low here that it might be smarter to rent than buy. The place we are renting for about $700 per month, sells for about $250,000 USD. If you keep the $250k in the market instead and average a 6% return, you will make twice as much in the market as the rent you would save by buying. Plus, I do not recommend buying until you have lived in any foreign country for at least 2 years.

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Cameron Highlands Overall Desirability Score: High. I could see myself living in Cameron Highlands if I were into cooler mountain life in a smaller town. But I like living more in a city with more things to do, so I would pick Kuala Lumpur or Georgetown Penang over Cameron Highlands.

What would it cost you to live in Cameron Highlands

To get a better understanding of things you should add to our estimated cost of living watch this video: 9 Reasons You Can’t Retire on $1000 Month Overseas.

Most people will likely be unable to retire the lower range estimate above. I give example reasons why in this report. Plus, this other report explains how to avoid coming home early with your tail between your legs.

Also, if you are going to try to retire cheap offshore, make sure to read my report, the Two Biggest Risks of Retiring Early for Cheap Offshore, which explains why you should have emergency funds available for unexpectedly large expenses.

You should also add anything to the above table that you spend money on in your home country that is not listed in the above table. Presumably, you find those things necessary in life. To do that, visit the Numbeo Cameron Highlands and add anything not mentioned in the above table.

Never move anywhere until you have visited first personally to verify the living costs for your lifestyle and needs. I am not guaranteeing these prices. These are just my notes and estimates from the time of my visit and this post. Your costs will likely be drastically different depending on your lifestyle and the time since this post.

Many of the expats we meet living overseas are self-insured for medical care. That means that not everyone buys health insurance when they move overseas. That probably sounds crazy to many of you.

I didn’t carry medical insurance for most of my first 17 years living overseas. But last year I bought medical insurance. If you are wondering what it costs and what it covers, watch my medical insurance video at this link. This is not an affiliate link.

More typical expat living costs in Malaysia range from about $1500 to $4000 per month. But people spending that much often have higher savings, incomes, or pensions. They often report spending more on accommodations, entertainment, eating out more, traveling, and alcohol. Many also have more expensive cars, houses, or apartments.

Where we stayed in Cameron Highlands

We stayed at the Rovers Inn Guest House. It was about $30 USD per night.

Cameron Highlands Bars and Restaurants

Antique Cafe Cameron: Pork noodle RM 12.90, half-boiled egg RM 4, Scone RM 2.50

Boss Taste 波士号: Good food, good wifi, and decent prices.

Restoran Sri Brinchang: Banana leaf thali rice.

Yash Banana Leaf Restoran: Banana leaf thali rice.

Travelers Kitchen & Bar: Beers (fun people-watching)

Cameron Highlands Other

Tanah Rata Bus Terminal: Back to Ipoh or Kual Lumpur

Sam Poh Temple: Walkable in Brinchang.

Centrum Mall: Supermarket, coffee bean, llaollao Frozen Yogurt, Subway Sandwiches, Pizza, Expat Grocery Store,

Brinchang Morning Wet Market: Fruits, Vegetables, meats, rice with local pricing.

Cameron Highlands Tour

Tour company: Cameron RS Venture Travels & Tours Sdn.Bhd, RM 50 ($12 USD). The roads are not generally drivable by 2-wheel drive vehicles. Our guide was intelligent and informative and was a Cameron Highlands resident for life.

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