Your guide to expat life in Malaysia

Moving to Malaysia

When you move to Malaysia, you’ll likely be fascinated by the sheer diversity of the country – from its geography to the mix of cultures and ethnicities that call it home.

Most expats, especially those from the West, experience some sort of culture shock, in particular because of its conservative Islamic customs. Fortunately with such a vivid and multicultural populace, locals are generally accepting of people from outside of their country and you’ll receive a warm welcome. That said, if you’re travelling from a cooler country, you may find the constant heat and humidity incredibly stifling.

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Basic info

  • Population: About 32 million
  • Capital city: Kuala Lumpur (also the largest city)
  • Main language: Malay is the official language, but English is widely spoken in business. The Chinese population in Malaysia speaks Cantonese, Hokkien or Hakka, while the Indian population speaks Tamil, Hindi or Malayalam.
  • Main religion: Islam. Other religions include Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Confucianism and Taoism.
  • Political system: Federal parliamentary elective constitutional monarchy
  • Time: GMT+8
  • Electricity: 240 volts, 50Hz. British-style plugs with three flat blades are used.
  • Currency: Malaysian ringgit (MYR)
  • International dialling code: +60
  • Internet domain: .my
  • Emergency numbers: 112 (from a mobile phone) 999 (police/ambulance), 994 (fire)
  • Road Traffic: Drives on the left

Next holiday



Feast of the Sacrifice*

*Some religious holidays are based on sightings of the moon and are subject to change.

Public Holidays

1 January New Year's Day
16–17 January Chinese New Year
1 February Federal Territory Day
1 May Labour Day
29 May Wesak Day*
14 June End of Ramadan*
21 August Feast of the Sacrifice*
31 August Independence Day
9 September Agong's Birthday
11 September Islamic New Year*
16 September Malaysia Day
6 November Deepavali
21 November Birth of Prophet Muhammad*
25 December Christmas Day
1 January New Year's Day
1 February Federal Territory Day
5–6 February Chinese New Year
1 May Labour Day
19 May Wesak Day*
4 June End of Ramadan*
11 August Feast of the Sacrifice*
31 August Independence Day
1 September Islamic New Year*
9 September Agong's Birthday
16 September Malaysia Day
26 October Deepavali
9 November Birth of Prophet Muhammad*
25 December Christmas Day
1 January New Year's Day
25–26 January Chinese New Year
1 February Federal Territory Day
1 May Labour Day
7 May Wesak Day*
23 May End of Ramadan*
30 July Feast of the Sacrifice*
19 August Islamic New Year*
31 August Independence Day
9 September Agong's Birthday
16 September Malaysia Day
29 October Birth of Prophet Muhammad*
13 November Deepavali
25 December Christmas Day

Your relocation checklist

Moving to a new country takes a lot of planning. To help you get started, here are some of the things you need to do before you leave home – or just after you arrive.

Key phrases in Malay

  • Hello Hello
  • Good evening Selamat malam
  • Goodbye Selamat tinggal
  • How are you? Apa khabar?
  • Thank you Terima kasih
  • Yes ya
  • No tidak
  • Do you speak English Adakah anda fasih berbahasa Inggeris
  • Can you help me Bolehkah anda membantu saya?
  • Sorry Maaf

Top tips

View a selection of tips sourced from expats about Malaysia:

“If you're moving with school-aged children, ensure the package covers the total fees for international schools and check that you have transport and accommodation close to the school organised before relocating.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Learn about local customs to avoid social faux pas -- what name to use when referring to local people, NOT shaking hands with Muslim women, dos & don'ts during fasting month, what gifts NOT to give to Chinese clients, etc.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Make sure you arrange schooling well in advance. The waiting list in the international schools is long and it is very difficult to get your children into a school midway through the academic year.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Visit Langkawi, Penang, Pankor Laut, Singapore, Twin towers bridge - and so much more. Go to the annual Balloon / Kite Flying Festivals in Putrajaya, Cameron Highlands, Fraser Hills, Genting Highlands for a wee flutter. Go to see the Orangutans (Kota Kinabalu) and bats (Mulu) on Sabah. Prepare for a 2 day hike up the 4K mountain of Kinabalu - it's fantastic. Snorkelling on the islands is also a joy” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

“Malaysia is a wonderful country to live in and visit, it is so diverse with excellent activities. Diving, beaches, golf, movies, tea plantations, jungle, animals etc. The people are so open and friendly and the cost of living is very reasonable. Overall - highly highly recommended.” Added by Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for Malaysia

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Research for items that are costly in the new country and make provisions to bring it from your current country to save finances.

Expat Explorer Survey respondent

View more hints and tips for Malaysia


Shipping goods to Malaysia involves a lot of bureaucracy – and you’ll have to pay import duties on some items. Most expats use an international removals company to simplify the process. And some employers include a shipping allowance in their benefits package to help cover the cost.

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Household goods

You can import household goods into Malaysia duty free as long as you’ve owned them for a certain period of time. Some electrical items need a special permit.

Import duties

To encourage immigration, the government exempts some items from duty through the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) scheme. Items below a certain value are also duty free – you’ll have to declare anything that exceeds the limit.


Malaysia restricts the amount of currency, tobacco and alcohol you can take into the country. You’ll need permission to import meat products – and everything must be clearly labelled, stating whether the product contains pork.


If you want to take a pet to Malaysia, they must be microchipped and have up-to-date vaccination records along with a health certificate from a vet in your home country. A short quarantine period is required for pets from certain countries as well as those who don’t have all the documents required by immigration and veterinary authorities. Some dog breeds with a reputation for aggressiveness are banned, including pit bull terriers.

All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.

All other content is provided by, Globe Media Ltd and was last updated in June 2018. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.