Find a complete guide to expat life in Malaysia; from schools, visas and more
Malaysia is a unique combination of ethnic groups, and is largely multi-cultural; there are Chinese, Indian, Persian, Arabic and British norms apparent across the country. It boasts one of South-East Asia's most vibrant economies, and is considered the fruit of decades of industrial growth and political stability.
The country is one of the region's key tourist destinations, as it offers excellent beaches and brilliant scenery. Plus, dense rainforests in the eastern states are a refuge for wildlife and tribal traditions, which are great to explore!
Malaysia is also among the world's biggest producers of computer disk drives, palm oil, rubber and timber, leaving opportunity and careers for any expatriate.
As an expat in a foreign country it can sometimes be hard to locate your nearest embassy, we've put together a list of the embassies in Malaysia for you.
Searching for an international school in a new country can be a daunting task, we've made things a little easier with our list of schools in Malaysia.
There's no better way to get involved in the community than to volunteer with local charties in your area. You'll get to meet new friends too!
Are you looking to meet like-minded expats in Malaysia? Our guide will help you locate expat meet ups and clubs in your area.
Malaysia News & Features
Malaysia has been a stomping ground for expatriates for many years. As a result, there's a wide range of cultures living here and languages used. We take a look at the different languages spoken, what's taught here and what phrases would be useful for you to memorise to make life that little bit easier while living here.
When you decide to move to a new country, there are a million and one things you need to think about and plan for, before you've even boarded your flight to your new host country. So to help you get organised and prepare for take-off, we've come up with a useful checklist of tasks to be completed, and what you should pack to take with you.
Kuala Lumpur is the capital of Malaysia, and it is a country rich in history, tradition and culture. Due to its diverse nature, food is embedded in all life here, and you'll come across all flavours to suit your taste-buds. This place is a blend of new and old, and so to help you explore here's 6 of our recommended spots!
Below you'll find even more information about living in Malaysia...
- Expat Clubs
- Local News Sources
- Country Information
- Religion in Malaysia
- Resident and Work visa information
- How to get a driving license
- Where to live and about the accommodation types
- Healthcare information including Hospitals and Insurance
- Bloggers in Malaysia
- The New Straits Times: www.nst.com.my
- The Sun: www.sun2surf.com
- The Star: www.thestar.com.my
- The Malaysian Insider: www.themalaysianinsider.com
- Free Malaysia Today: www.freemalaysiatoday.com
Full name: Federation of Malaysia
Capital City: Kuala Lumpur
Other Important Cities: Johor Bahru, Malacca City, Ipoh
Language(s): Malay, English, Chinese, Tamil, Telugu, Malayalam
Religion(s): Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity
Calling Code: +60
Internet TLD: .my
Electricity: 240V 50Hz
Police and Ambulance: 999
Civil Defense: 991
Malaysia is a federal constitutional monarchy located in Southeast Asia. The federation consists of thirteen states and three federal territories. Malaysia is the 67th largest country by total land area and its neighbouring countries are include, but not limited to, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines. The country’s capital is Kuala Lumpur, while Putrajaya is the seat of the federal government. Plus, it is one of 17 mega diverse countries on earth; no surprise there’s plenty of expatriates!
The country is a relatively open state-oriented and newly industrialised market economy, and has one of the best economic records in Asia. It’s also developed into a centre for Islamic banking, and is the country with the highest numbers of female workers in the industry.
Malaysia has a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society. The Malaysian constitution guarantees freedom of religion while making Islam the state religion. The official language of the country is Malaysian, a standardised form of the Malay language.
While Malaysia is often identified as a primarily Islamic country, one of the country's unique characteristics is the intriguing mixture of religions that live side by side! It's most definitely a country that is distinctly multicultural, and each of the different cultures stems from equally diverse religious traditions.
In fact, whie the country is officially an Islamic nation, and Islam is the state religion of Malaysia, the country guarantees freedom of religion and Hinduism, Buddhism, Daoism, Confucianism, Christianity, Sikhism and other indigenous religious are all practiced freely. Nonetheless, there are a number of ways in which Islam is privileged and there is some discrimination practiced.
For the most part, religious affiliation follows ethnic lines.
The Islamic faith is the predominant religion of the country, and is recognised as the state's official religion. In fact, over 60 per cent of Malaysians practice this faith. The country embraces many Muslim holy days and national holidays, including the end of Ramadan, Eid, the end of Hajj and the Prophet's birthday.
The Malaysia government promotes a moderate version of Sunni Islam, called Islam Hadhari. Introduced by former Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, the faith encourages a balanced approach to life, and encourages inclusivity, tolerance and looking outwards. As a result, the qualities most valued are knowledge, hard work, honesty, good administration and efficiency.
Per the Constitution of Malaysia, an individual must be Muslim to be considered Malay. Thus, Muslims cannot convert to another religion as they risk losing their conversion claim and their Malay status. Almost all Malays, the dominant ethnic group in the country are Muslims.
Public schools are required to offer Islamic religious instruction, although alternative ethics classes are provided for non-Muslims.
Many of the Chinese population, which is the second largest ethnic group after Muslim Malays, living in Malaysia practice various faiths, including Buddhism and other forms of traditional Chinese faiths. In fact, Buddhism is the second largest religion in the country.
The faith was introduced to the Malays as early as 200 BC, but today, without a supreme head to direct its development, Buddhism is practiced in various forms, and is rarely in open conflict.
This is the fourth largest religion in Malaysia, and most Malaysia Hindus are settled in western parts of Peninsular Malaysia. Malaysian Hinduism is diverse, with large urban temples dedicated to specific deities, and smaller temples located on estates.
The Christian faith in Malaysia is a minority religion, and comes with restriction laws and boundaries when practiced. Churches are allowed to be built, but come with restrictions on construction through discriminatory zoning laws. Ultimately, it's difficult to build new churches.
Set just north of the equator, Malaysia enjoys a tropical monsoon climate. Although seasonal, expats in Malaysia can expect it to be hot and humid with downpours of rain throughout the year.
In fact, Malaysia sees a fair amount of rain year round, and so it's not unusual to see a heavy downpour in the middle of what would be considered "dry season".
The southwest monsoon in Malaysia runs from around May to October, whereas the northeast one runs from November to March. To throw into the mix, typhoon season occurs in the Western Pacific from April to November, which can see unpleasant, cold and wet weather hitting areas of the country at random intervals.
Foreign citizens who wish to remain in Malaysia for an unlimited period of time can apply for permanent resident status, which invests them with the same rights and duties as Malaysian citizens. Permanent resident status can be granted to the following individuals:
- High net worth individuals, i.e.. investors with a minimum of $2 million fixed deposit in Malaysia
- Experts, i.e.. highly talented or skilled individuals with a recommendation by a relevant agency
- Professionals with outstanding skills; must have worked in Malaysia for at least 3 years
- Spouses of Malaysian citizens who have been married and lived in Malaysia for at least 5 years
- Everyone else who qualifies under the point-based system
The point-based system is determined on the number of points an individual gains. Points are given according to criteria such as age, academic/professional qualifications, language proficiency, the period of stay, kinship ties, investment and previous employment. To pass, you must gain 65 out of 120.
Malaysia offers a large range of property types and locations for expats for all requirements, whether it’s short term rental or long term investment. And following the economic turnaround as a result of the Government Transformation Programme, the outlook for the Malaysian property market is good. But like any country, it is best to research properly as it is key to making the right choice.
Unlike in any other major city across the world, there are no huge expatriate areas in Kuala Lumpur, and expats tend to settle in a diverse number of areas, although some are of course more popular than others.
When deciding on where to live, consider the distance of travelling to work, traffic, public transportation, taxis, schools in the area and local shops and entertainment.
Ampang is somewhat close to Kuala Lumpur. Most of the foreign embassies are towards the Kuala Lumpur end of Jalan Ampang, thus many diplomats choose to settle here. There are several bars and malls in the area, and as it’s so close to Kuala Lumpur, there’s always something to do.
Kuala Lumpur City Centre
For those who wish to live in proximity to all the shopping, nightlife and entertainment the city has to offer, the centre is a good choice. While it may mean paying more, there are some cheaper condos available, and lots of flats and apartments to rent.
This is the capital of Selangor, and only suited for those who are working in the area. Properties are significantly cheaper here.
This is one of the most exclusive areas of Kuala Lumpur, and is near to the city centre. There is plenty of greenery; trees, and even a jungle! Expect to see monkeys in the garden and by the side of the road. This area is great for nature lovers.
After Kenny Hills, this is an exclusive area with plenty of large detached houses and luxury condos.
The development of Bangsar Baru as an entertainment hub has attracted a lot of expatriates to the area. The area around Bangsar has mostly terraced houses, although there are some detached properties. There are also two shopping complexes in the area. Both cater to the expatriate market, and you can find familiar products and services.
Mont Kiara/Sri Hartamas
This is a newer area, as it has emerged in the last fifteen years. It is now home to many high-rise apartment buildings, some of which are quite luxurious with excellent facilities.
While driving in Malaysia, you can reap the benefits of the best road system in Southeast Asia. The country is also well-linked with its neighbouring countries of Thailand and Singapore.
The popularity of cars in the country is high, as many Malaysian families have more than one car. Therefore, it’s no surprise to see a lot of congested road and traffic, especially in the larger cities.
It is said that the driving style is somewhat erratic, and leads many drivers to engage in road rage. It’s best to avoid this as an expat – penalties may be high as a foreigner, and may also lead to conflict with the police.
Driving in Malaysia is not always free of charge, as there is a network of toll roads alongside state or federal roads. You can use ‘touch-n-go’ cards that is available to purchase at toll kiosks along the highway or in petrol stations.
You can drive with an International Driving Permit (IDP) in Malaysia for up to 90 days, after which you must apply for a Malaysian license. There are three types of licensees available in Malaysia; if you are a first-time driver, you need to go to driving school and apply for a Learner’s Driving License (LDL). Once you have passed, you will gain a Probationary Driving License (PDL), which after two years – of no offenses – can be updated to a Competent Driving License (CDL). Foreigners driving in Malaysia receive the CDL when they exchange the driver’s license from their home country for a Malaysian one after taking the required written test.
Healthcare in Malaysia is mainly under the responsibility of the government’s Ministry of Health. The country generally has an efficient and widespread system of health care, operating a two-tier health care system consisting of both a government-run universal healthcare system and a co-existing private healthcare system. The healthcare overall has undergone radical transformations over the decades.
The healthcare system requires that doctors perform a compulsory three years’ service with public hospitals to ensure that the manpower is maintained in hospitals. Doctors are also required to perform 4 years, including 2 years of housemanship and 2 years government service with public hospitals throughout the nation, ensuring adequate coverage of medical needs for the general population. However, there is still a significant shortage in the medical workforce, especially in highly trained specialists.
In terms of common viruses or illnesses, the Malaysian government developed a National Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Plan (NIPPP) which serves as a time bound guide for preparedness and response plan for influenza pandemic. The country also launched the Medicine via Post scheme in 2011, allowing prescriptions to be renewed via mail.
Great Eastern Life: www.greateasternlife.com/my
Zurich Insurance Malaysia: www.zurich.com.my
Manulife Malaysia: www.manulife.com.my
Uni. Asia General Insurance: www.uniasiageneral.com.my
Address: Jalan Semenyih, Bandar Kajang, 43000 Kajang, Selangor, Malaysia
Tel: 603 38736 3333
Malacca General Hospital
Address: Jalan Mufti Haji Khalil, 75400 Melaka, Malaysia
Tel: 606 282 2344
Sarawak General Hospital
Address: Jalan Tun Ahmad Zaidi Adruce, 93586 Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia
Tel: 6082 257 555
Mount Miriam Cancer Hospital
Address: 23 Jalan Bulan, Fettes Park, 11200 Tanjong Bungah, Pulau Pinang, Malaysia
Tel: 604 890 7044
Hospital Duchess of Kent
Address: 90000 Sandakan, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: 6089 212 111
Address: Peti Surat 10, Tambunan, 89657, Sabah, Malaysia
Tel: 608 7774 333
Address: Jalan Pasir Puteh, 18500 Machang, Kelantan, Malaysia
As much as we try to give you all the information, sometimes you just need ears on the ground. So here's our top bloggers about living in Malaysia!
Our selection of interesting blogs cover everything from food, to lifestyle, to architecture and photography, all offering you a different view of Malaysia's magic.
If you are an #ExpatWoman living in Malaysia and you have a blog you'd like to share, don't hesitate to get in touch and we'll consider including your own website. There's one rule: we don't accept blogs of a commercial nature, and only pick those that suit our website.
We hope you enjoy them just as much as we do!
Happy Go KL
Behind Happy Go KL there is a group of spirited ladies who have lived in Kuala Lumpur for a while. Behind us there are 4 nationalities, 10 tiny humans and a long list of countries we used to call home. They teach us what fun things there are to do in Kuala Lumpur with kids.
Dish With Vivien
Vivien was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She has a passion about food and blogs regularly about dishes and recipes to try. Our mouths are always watering. So head over to her blog for all things foodie! You might learn a new Malaysia recipe or two to serve to your friends or family!
The Yum List
The Yum Listonly includes spots that are worth a visit. If it's not good, it doesn't get posted. It's a quick resource where you can find the best places to stay, eat and spa around Malaysia and the world. The Yum List saves you time and money as all of the groundwork has already been done for you.