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Moving to Malaysia

Your guide to expat life in Malaysia. A cultural metropolis where the city meets the rainforest

Want to move 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. A combination of picturesque beaches and lively cities are convincing expats to put down long-term roots and settle in Malaysia.

Although international workers in Malaysia get relatively low wages compared to the global average, the lower cost of living makes up for it. As a result, expats have the opportunity to explore Malaysia's impressive sites. For some, the appeal lies in the cityscapes such as the world-famous Kuala Lumpur skyline. Others are enticed by the promise of adventure in some of the world's oldest tropical rainforests. Malaysia’s location also makes it an excellent base to explore the rest of Southeast Asia.

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 enjoy a warm welcome.

Basic info about Malaysia

  • Population: About 33 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: 240V, 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

Weather in Malaysia

Malaysia has a tropical climate with extreme heat and humidity. The average annual temperature is 27°C (80°F) with little seasonal variation. There’s heavy rainfall during the 2 monsoon seasons from April to October and November to February. The monsoon can also bring strong, gusty winds.

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

Shipping to 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. Some employers include a shipping allowance in their benefits package to help cover the cost.

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.

Banned items

Items banned from import include illicit drugs, daggers, explosives and any media containing indecent imagery.


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

Top tips for Malaysia

See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

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 September 2021. HSBC accepts no responsibility for the accuracy of this information.

This information is purely for orientation and to inspire further research, it does not constitute advice and no liability is accepted to recipients acting independently on its contents. The views expressed are subject to change.

Always remember to ensure you're aware of and comply with any laws in your host country or country of origin that apply to gift giving and bribery.

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