Want to work in Malaysia?
There are plenty of opportunities for expats in Malaysia, particularly in its burgeoning IT, engineering, teaching and banking sectors. The local business culture has Western influences, which help expats to settle into their new work environment.
Business in Malaysia
Respect and deference to authority are defining characteristics of Malaysian business culture. That said, teamwork and collaboration are paramount and every member of a company is valued. You’ll find Malaysia is an easier place to do business as a woman than many other Asian countries. Women are ostensibly viewed as equals in the workplace and often rise to senior positions.
The country has a largely unified workforce that tends to follow Western codes of conduct. But you’ll do business with people from a range of ethnic backgrounds – mainly Malay, Chinese and Indian – so it’s worth familiarising yourself with the cultural nuances. Maintaining harmony is important, and you should always be diplomatic, polite and respectful towards everyone you work with. It’s often good to use ice-breaking pleasantries before getting down to business.
If you work for a company where most employees are Malay, prayer sessions may take place throughout the day. Some businesses in the provinces close on Fridays, and there’s an overall slowdown during Ramadan.
Although there’s a strict hierarchy in Malaysian businesses, the management style balances the need for success with cooperation. Managers do their jobs with subtlety and aim to save face – both their own and that of their employees. As in many Asian countries, the concept of saving face is key. You should always try to contain your emotions and avoid confronting or embarrassing business associates in public. If you disagree with someone, take it up with them in private.
Meetings usually start on time, but there can be a lot of small talk and personal digressions. Be patient and don’t try to hurry anyone.
Malay is the official language, but English is widely spoken in business circles. Office hours are usually 09:00 to 17:00, Monday to Friday.
Malaysian businesspeople dress formally and conservatively. Men tend to wear dark suits, while women choose trouser suits or smart dresses and skirts. In a predominantly Muslim country, modesty is key.
The standard business greeting is a handshake, but some local women may prefer a slight nod of the head. It’s usually best to wait for the other person to initiate the greeting and then follow suit. Gifts are occasionally exchanged when you meet someone for the first time. To avoid embarrassing a new acquaintance, it’s best to receive a gift from them first and reciprocate later. Always accept a gift with both hands, and don’t open it in front of the person who’s given it to you.
Expat salaries in Malaysia
While your earning potential in Malaysia may not be as good as in other popular expat destinations, salaries are still well above the global average.
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Top tips for working in Malaysia
See what people responding to our Expat Explorer Survey think about living in Malaysia.
Ask questions about the company culture and how your job duties will change. Negotiate for commensurate salary.
All Expat Explorer survey data and all tips (in quotation marks) are provided by HSBC.
All other content is provided by expatarrivals.com, 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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