Major earthquake events may cause severe fatalities and injuries, resulting in catastrophic damage to structures. However, less emphasis is given regarding earthquake hazard in low seismic regions. Malaysia and Singapore are in a region with low seismic risks; therefore, earthquake resistance designs are not yet included in most of the buildings. Located a few hundred kilometres away from the major earthquake sources, both countries are prone to distant earthquakes, as well as local earthquakes due to the slight change in seismological condition (seismically active period and movement of tectonic plates). This review paper provides some insights into the seismic activity in different places. Research regarding the seismic vulnerability of reinforced concrete (RC) structures is reviewed, with emphasis on non-seismically designed RC buildings. Existing seismic retrofitting methods are also presented through the perspective of level of intervention. © 2021, The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s), under exclusive license to Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd.