- Purchase the complete Expat Arrivals Malaysia Guide (PDF)
With a vast mix of cultures and nationalities, Malaysia offers expats a lifestyle replete with first-world comforts and conveniences, while its easily accessible jungles and island getaways still allow a sense of adventure. Traditionally a country reliant on resource exports, Malaysia has expanded its economy in areas such as science, tourism, commerce and medical tourism, resulting in an increase in expat employment opportunities.
The country consists of two different geographical regions separated by the South China Sea. To the west is Peninsular Malaysia, while the sparser territory of East Malaysia includes Sabah and Sarawak regions of Borneo Island.
Kuala Lumpur, the capital and largest city in Malaysia, is the financial, cultural and economic centre of the country, and a major hub for international air travel. Among the skyscrapers and Dutch architecture, KL, as it is commonly known, is packed with luxury shopping malls, quality restaurants and colourful markets. It is a melting pot of cultures and offers expats an energetic lifestyle.
Travel within Malaysia is generally cheap and easy, particularly within Peninsular Malaysia. The country has an extensive road and rail network and taxis are easy to come by in the larger cities. East Malaysia, however, is slightly less developed when compared to the mainland.
Malaysia has an affordable public healthcare system with a high standard of medical care. There are also a number of top-quality private facilities available. Additionally, Kuala Lumpur offers a range of great international schools that hold their own against neighbouring Singapore’s renowned institutions.
Another key benefit to the expat lifestyle in Malaysia is the exceptional cuisine, which reflects the variety of ethnic groups present in the country, as well as its colonial past. The biggest influences come from Chinese and Indian immigrants.
Although separated into two distinct parts, Malaysia’s landscape and climate are fairly similar. The country has an equatorial climate, with the southwest monsoon from April to October and the northeast monsoon from October to February. There is a dry season from June to October, when burning is conducted in many parts of the country, which can lead to heavy pollution. Expats with respiratory problems may wish to consider this.
Malaysia is an exciting expat destination, but not without its challenges and differences. The myriad of cultures and immigrants make it a place both foreign and yet easy to adjust to. With wonderful beaches, nature hideaways and serene tea plantations, expats can always take a break from the city bustle over weekends.
The country is stable and eager to attract foreign businesses and investors, ensuring a warm reception for expats choosing it as their new home.
Population: 32.7 million
Capital city: Kuala Lumpur (also largest city)
Other major cities: Johor Bahru, Ipoh, George Town
Neighbouring countries: Malaysia is bordered by Thailand to the north, Indonesia to the south and southeast (which it shares the island of Borneo with), the Philippines to the east across the South China Sea, and Singapore to the south.
Geography: Malaysia has a diverse landscape of coastal plains and mountainous terrain. The two major regions of Malaysia, Peninsular Malaysia and Malaysian Borneo, are separated by the South China Sea. There are also a number of outlying islands that form part of Malaysian territory. Mount Kinabalu, on the island of Borneo, is the highest mountain in Malaysia. The country’s diverse mountains and rain forests are home to some of the most unique creatures on Earth.
Political system: Federal parliamentary constitutional elective monarchy
Major religions: The majority of the population is Muslim. Buddhism and Christianity are the other main religions.
Main languages: Malay is the official language, while English is widely spoken in business. The Chinese population in Malaysia usually speaks Cantonese, while the majority of Indian population in Malaysia speaks Tamil.
Money: The Malaysian Ringgit (MYR), divided into 100 sen.
Electricity: 240Vz. Malaysia uses three-pin, UK-style plugs.
Internet domain: .my
International dialing code: +60
Emergency contacts: Dial 999 for a police ambulance emergency or 994 for fire emergencies.
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the left side of the road. The country has an extensive public transport system consisting of trains, buses and ferries, though this is less developed outside of Kuala Lumpur.
►Learn more about Culture Shock in Malaysia
"Malaysia, in general, is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s not on a lot of people’s radar, but once you are here there is so much to explore." Read more about Emily's expat experience in Malaysia.
"I love the year-round hot weather and sunshine, the relaxed pace of life despite living in a capital city, the food and the incredible travel destinations right on our doorstep!" Learn more about Anna's experiences of life in KL.
Are you an expat living in Malaysia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Malaysia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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