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Cost of Living in Shanghai vs Kuala Lumpur

Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur are very distinct. However, in some ways, they also have similarities. This means that choosing between two cities to settle down is quite a tough decision to make.

If you’re aiming to understand which city suits your expected life best, specifically in terms of the cost of living in Shanghai vs Kuala Lumpur, this guide will help you.

If you want to invest as an expat or high-net-worth individual, which is what i specialize in, you can email me (advice@adamfayed.com) or use WhatsApp (+44-7393-450-837).

Which has more to offer: Shanghai or Kuala Lumpur?

As a more free-spirited and elevated advancement of Kuala Lumpur, it really contrasts with the beautifully designed and planted efficiency of Shanghai. However, there’s more interesting about Kuala Lumpur. Behind the gradual progress, there’s also a highly functioning metropolis that is starting to take shape.

Kuala Lumpur always gives the impression of being a friendly city. Additionally, it’s also composed of both modern and historic aspects that make the city interesting. It’s a big city with plenty of things to do. There are activities to keep tourists busy. One of the biggest draws for tourists to this location is its beauty, plus the marvelous dining, shopping, and nightlife experiences you could get here too.

Shanghai is always known for being contemporary and stylish. It also has the feature of being a busy port city. There are a ton of things you can do in this enormous yet attractive city, which is why it has become another stunning location that draws a lot of tourists who want to settle down.

Cost of Living in Shanghai vs Kuala Lumpur
Photo by Umar Mukhtar

What’s the cost of living in Shanghai vs Kuala Lumpur?

Below is a detailed comparison of the cost of living in Kuala Lumpur and Shanghai, particularly for basic necessities.

Do note that the actual costs may vary due to many factors, but the figures here should give you an idea about around how much you should expect to pay should you opt to move to Kuala Lumpur or Shanghai for the short or long haul.

Cost of Meals

Shanghai typically seems to be more costly than Kuala Lumpur. Primarily, it’s more expensive when it comes to eating out. An affordable restaurant lunch costs 17.00 RM (26.10 ¥) in Kuala Lumpur. While in Shanghai, it costs around 26.06 RM (40.00 ¥) for an average meal. This shows a tangible difference of +53.3%.

Comparably, the cost of a mid-range restaurant lunch in Kuala Lumpur that’s good for two people is 120.00 RM (184.20 ¥). In Shanghai, the same meal costs 166.12 RM (255.00 ¥). This suggests a discrepancy of +38.4%.

When it comes to drinks, Kuala Lumpur’s domestic beer is far less expensive when compared to Shanghai’s, which has a draft costing 18.00 RM (27.63 ¥) with a 0.5-liter. This is expensive compared to the 6.51 RM (10.00 ¥) cost in Kuala Lumpur, hinting at a 63.8% difference between the two cities.

But when it comes to imported beer, Shanghai has an edge in price. For its 0.33-liter bottle, it costs around 3.00 RM (4.58 ¥) in Kl, while in Shanghai, it’s 2.62 RM (4.00 ¥). 

Costs of Groceries

The price of groceries palpably varies as well.

  • A regular milk that’s around 1 liter is 47.3% more costly in Shanghai. This means it costs around 7.96 RM (12.16 ¥) in KL, while it is quite costly in Shanghai for 7.96 RM (12.16 ¥).
  • For fresh white bread that’s 500 grams, it is 134.0% more expensive. In KL, it’s only around 4.09 RM (6.24 ¥). Moreover, in Shanghai, it’s around 9.57 RM (14.62 ¥).
  • One of the staple foods of any Asian country is white rice. One kilogram in KL is only around 6.16 RM (9.41 ¥). However, Shanghai offers a more affordable price that’s only around 5.45 RM (8.32 ¥).
  • A one-dozen egg in both cities poses a 5.7% difference when it comes to its price. It means it doesn’t have much significant discrepancy as it’s only 8.48 RM (12.95 ¥)in KL, while in Shanghai, it’s also only around 8.96 RM (13.69 ¥).
  • For 1 kg of local cheese, it is 50.5% more expensive in Shanghai, which charges 89.76 RM (137.09 ¥). It’s only for 59.63 RM (91.08 ¥) at KL.
  • One kilogram of chicken fillet in KL is only 20.03 RM (30.59 ¥). It’s much cheaper in Shanghai, as it’s only around 18.54 RM (28.32 ¥).
  • When it comes to a beef round that weighs one kilogram, KL is more affordable than it is in Shanghai. It’s only around 50.07 RM (76.47 ¥) in KL, while it’s 59.20 RM (90.41 ¥) in Shanghai.

Cost of Transportation

  • Real-time transportation costs should be included in your budget first. Also, Shanghai’s transportation costs differ from Kuala Lumpur’s since it has more costly public transportation.
  • For a one-way ticket (local transport), it costs 3.00 RM (4.58 ¥) in KL, while in Shanghai, it costs 2.62 RM (4.00 ¥). It then poses a -18.2% difference.
  • For the Monthly Pass, which ranged only at its regular price, it’s just about 50.00 RM (76.36 ¥) in KL. In Shanghai, it is approximately 163.69 RM (250.00 ¥). This shows a +227.4% difference.
  • For the taxi start, which is on a normal tariff, it collects 5.00 RM (7.64 ¥) in KL, while it’s nearly around 10.48 RM (16.00 ¥) in Shanghai.
  • For the taxi at a normal tariff, a one-kilometer run is 5.00 RM (7.64 ¥) in KL. In Shanghai, it charges 1.96 RM (3.00 ¥). For a normal taxi that offers a 1-hour wait, KL incurs 15.00 RM (22.91 ¥), whereas in Shanghai, it’s 39.29 RM (60.00 ¥). It then imposes a +161.9% difference.
  • For the gasoline per 1 liter, it’s roughly at 2.06 RM (3.14 ¥) in KL. However, in Shanghai, it’s a bit costlier, for it costs 5.68 RM (8.68 ¥).
  • Furthermore, if you want to purchase a car for a better transportation run, a Volkswagen Golf 1.4 90 KW Trendline or an equivalent new car is around 160,000.00 RM (244,367.39 ¥) in KL. On the other hand, it’s cheaper in Shanghai since it’s only around 98,212.78 RM (150,000.00¥).
  • If you’re looking for a Toyota Corolla Sedan 1.6L 97kW Comfort, which is also an equivalent new car, it goes for 132,431.32 RM (202,261.85 ¥) in KL, while it’s 87,736.75 RM (134,000.00 ¥) in Shanghai.
Transportation cost in shanghai vs kuala lumpur
Photo by Phearak Chamrien

Monthly Resources

Monthly expenses have always taken up a significant portion of your budget. Hence, you need to know that utilities are more expensive in Shanghai.

For an 85-m2 flat, the base package that includes trash, water, heating, and cooling costs 23.9% more. You need to prepare not less than 254.89 RM (389.29 ¥) if you’re in Kuala Lumpur. If you’re residing in Shanghai, then you need to acquire 317.38 RM (484.73 ¥) to enable you to accommodate your monthly bills.

Since we live in a modern era, mobile plans and the internet are highly needed for constant communication and virtual connections. A mobile phone monthly plan with calls and 10GB+ data charges a minimum of 51.65 RM (78.88 ¥) in KL. However, it’s around 65.56 RM (100.12 ¥) in Shanghai. This shows a +26.9% difference between the two cities.

When it comes to the cost of internet that goes to 60 Mbps or more, or unlimited data via cable or ADSL, Kuala Lumpur charges 121.41 RM (185.43 ¥). In Shanghai, it costs 79.10 RM (120.80 ¥). 

Recreation and Sports

Sports and leisure activities are often more expensive in Shanghai. If you want to sign up for a fitness club, a monthly fee for one adult is 205.55 RM (313.93 ¥) in KL. In Shanghai, it’s 366.84 RM (560.27 ¥).

A one-hour weekend rent for a tennis court is 33.67 RM (51.42 ¥) in KL. However, it’s 71.24 RM (108.81 ¥) in Shanghai. For a one-seat cinema and an international release, KL charges 20.00 RM (30.55 ¥), while it’s 45.83 RM (70.00 ¥) in Shanghai. 


Shanghai has much higher daycare costs. A single child’s full-day private preschool costs 1,050.00 RM (1,603.66 ¥) in KL. However, if you’re in Shanghai, you need to prepare 5,931.87 RM (9,059.72 ¥).

The annual cost of attendance at an international primary school is 32,904.76 RM (50,255.32 ¥) in KL, while it’s 133,654.78 RM (204,130.43 ¥) in Shanghai.  

Clothing and Shoes Cost

It’s a given that shoes and clothes are often more costly in Shanghai. Shanghai has higher prices for things such as mid-range Nike running shoes, which are 313.73 RM (479.16 ¥) compared to KL’s 345.81 RM (528.15 ¥). A summer outfit from a chain retailer is 41.46 RM (216.05 ¥) in KL, whereas it’s 168.86 RM (257.90 ¥) in Shanghai.

clothing cost in shanghai vs kuala lumpur
Photo by Lum3n

Housing Cost

  • For a one-bedroom apartment, prices in the city center in KL are 2,313.33 RM (3,533.15 ¥). In Shanghai, it starts at 4,368.13 RM (6,671.43 ¥).
  • More so, an apartment outside the center for one bedroom is 1,438.46 RM (2,196.96 ¥) in KL and 2,551.61 RM (3,897.06 ¥) in Shanghai.
  • The cost difference is even more pronounced for a three-bedroom flat, where the outside of the center is 2,608.33 RM (3,983.70 ¥) in KL. However, Shanghai is at 6,762.01 RM (10,327.59 ¥).
  • For the city center expenses for an apartment with 3 bedrooms, it goes by 4,224.14 RM (6,451.51 ¥) in Kl, and in Shanghai, it’s at 13,885.25 RM (21,206.90 ¥).
  • However, if you want to buy an apartment, then the price per square meter to buy an apartment in the city center is 11,389.38 RM (17,394.96 ¥) in KL. However, in Shanghai, it’s at 89,361.50 RM (136,481.48 ¥).
  • Furthermore, the cost per square meter to buy an apartment outside of the center is 5,539.43 RM (8,460.34 ¥) in KL and 43,851.59 RM (66,974.36 ¥) in Shanghai.

Healthcare Cost

China’s average premiums for individual international private medical insurance (IPMI) plans increased by 10% to $5,274. Chinese citizens and permanent residents get free healthcare. Noncitizens with permanent residence may qualify for public health insurance. However, it’s highly necessary that you acquire private health insurance if not.

According to estimates, foreign residents in Shanghai will need to pay an average of US $4,382 annually. This is for your international insurance. Premium-level coverage might cost $1,000 to $10,200 or more annually. Hence, prices depend on numerous factors. Cost depends mainly on age, benefits package, plan type, and deductible.

However, Kuala Lumpur’s general tax money funds healthcare. Patients pay little for doctor appointments. Medical visits for sinus infections and colds might cost as little as $10. A specialist consultation typically costs $40, and follow-up visits typically cost $15. 

However, foreigners must purchase health insurance while residing in Malaysia. This is because public healthcare is only accessible to citizens. The cost of insurance and private clinic appointments is very inexpensive. This is compared to other nations, where even private insurance may be more costly than what residents pay. A private clinic’s doctor visits cost an average of $5. For consultations with medical specialists, it costs an average of $30.

Bottom Line

The choice to relocate between Shanghai and Kuala Lumpur is complex and requires careful consideration of both the financial costs and the advantages of each place. People may make an educated choice that supports their ambitions and financial well-being. This is done by considering their own priorities, future income, and long-term objectives.

In the end, your decision between these two places should take into account your particular situation and how capable it is to support your desired happy and sustainable way of life.

Pained by financial indecision? Want to invest with Adam?

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Adam is an internationally recognised author on financial matters, with over 760.2 million answer views on Quora.com, a widely sold book on Amazon, and a contributor on Forbes.

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