Starting a Life in Malaysia



With its rich wealth of natural resources and cultural heritage, Malaysia has become a favourite among tourists and expats seeking a quiet yet progressive life in the Southeast Asian frontier.

With a land area of 329,834-square kilometers, Malaysia is a Southeast Asian nation with two major geographical divisions, the Peninsular Malaysia, which spreads from the Thai border to Singapore, and East Malaysia, which runs alongside Southern Indonesia's Kalimantan State. It is a unification of thirteen states and three Federal Territories where Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, and Putrajaya is the seat of government. 

Kuala Lumpur is also regarded as a thriving cosmopolitan that is home to the tallest twin towers in the world known as the Petronas Twin Towers. It is an iconic architectural landmark. Aside from its significant influence as one of the founders of the Association of South East Asian Nations and East Asia Summit, Malaysia is also popular for picturesque beaches, forests and mountain ranges.

Just north of the equator, the country boasts several tropical islands. Its wildlife is as exotic as it is varied, including giant snakes, geckos, skinks and endangered species such as the Black shrew, Sumatran Rhinoceros, Malayan tapir, the clouded leopard and Malaysian tiger, the sun bear, the monitor lizard, and the orangutan. Its landscape of thick jungles, towering peaks, and profuse rainforests is a source of pride for most residents and a delight for tourists and expats.

About the community

Malaysia houses over 30.8 million people making it the 44th most populous nation in the world. Diversity perfectly summarizes the nation's peoples who are composed mainly of Malays (50%), Chinese (25%) and Indians (25%). In the hinterlands, indigenous ethnic groups manage to preserve their unique heritage and culture.

Islam remains the dominant religion and advocates the strict adherence to its customs and beliefs, especially during Ramadan. However, freedom of religion remains well protected by the Malaysian law. The diverse population is enjoying this freedom, with the Chinese being mainly Buddhist, Taoist or Confucian. On the other hand, Indians are mostly Hindus or Sikhs with a sprinkling of Christianity being practiced across the Chinese, Indian and Eurasian communities.  

"We moved from Venezuela to Malaysia. The experience on the Venezuelan side was not the most positive. We were, however, well taken care of on arrival to Malaysia and items that were broken in the shipping due to poor packing were replaced."- Monica Tindall, Expat in Malaysia

The official language in Malaysia is Baha Malaysia, which is of Austronesian descent, and mainly used by Malay settlers in the Malay Peninsula, southern Thailand, Philippines, and Singapore. Use of the language is required in all federal and state offices while English remains for judicial or legal communications. Due to their peoples' diversity, different dialects and regional ethnic languages have sprung up and continue to be used across all regions in the country. Expats working in Malaysian companies, however, need not worry as measures are normally taken by employers to bridge the language gap. Besides, due to the high number of expats, most employees communicate in English.  

What you should know summarised in 6 parts



1. No bacon but you’ll survive

Getting a taste of pork is a real challenge. In most international buffets, we’re afraid bacon is made from turkey meat. Halal certification for food is very stringent. In fact, Malaysia has recently called for a renaming of all “hotdogs” on sale due to the reference to dogs, an animal that is considered unclean in Islam.

However, with its mixture of influences from the Europeans, Chinese and Indians, the food culture in Malaysia is far from boring. Traditional Malay cooking often make use of spices, lemon grass, lime, chilli, peanut butter, ginger and coconut milk.

Though many restaurants in Malaysia serve different types of cuisine, its world-renowned food streets remain the unbeatable choice for tourists and expats who are in the country. Penang is one of the most famous food streets in Malaysia where expats can experience the local food culture at its finest. There are rolling stalls, hot woks and various types of foods served in sticks or bowls. One tip, it's always best to buy bottled water in Malaysia as a precautionary measure against diarrhoea. 

The country’s national dish is Nasi lemak which is steamed rice cooked in coconut milk garnished with peanuts, anchovies, sambal and eggs.

Other authentic local foods are Rendang daging, beef cooked in lemongrass with coconut and Laksa, which is a hot and sour seafood soup. 

The Nasi goreng, a Malay-style fried rice seen at most stalls, is a must-try.

2. Your children will thank you

It is practically a paradise for the kids. Families can check out numerous attractive theme parks such as Legoland, Sunway Lagoon, Genting Theme Park, The Carnival, The Lost World of Tambun, A'Famosa Resort, Melaka, Mines Wonderland and Desa Water Park. 

There's also the indoor park, Cosmo's World, one of the biggest indoor theme parks located in a shopping mall, Berjaya Times Square, in Kuala Lumpur. While the kids enjoy a grand time in the theme park, parents can have the time to go shopping.  

Another excellent indoor activity for kids is a trip to Lara's Place, a large activity centre where kids can enroll in clay sculpting, music, gymnastic or hip-hop dancing classes. For children who like science, the go to places are the planetarium and the science centre. Kids who love animals would surely enjoy a weekend at the zoo.  

Swimming and snorkeling are great summer activities for the whole family. The islands of Langkawi and Tioman have a number activities designed for kids such as mini-golf, swimming lessons, fishing and boat making. Among the activities of kid clubs in resorts and hotels are children yoga, games, music, painting, pool games, t-shirt painting, and storytelling.

3. Fall in love with Milo and Guinness all over again

Did you know, Malaysia has the largest factory that produces the famous cocoa beverage, Milo? Head to almost any food courts or fast food joint, you will see Milo on the menu, sometimes with more than one variety. Try Milo Dinosaur and Milo Godzilla when you get the chance. They are as magnificent as they sound.

Booze lovers, meanwhile, will be delighted to know that Malaysia has clinched the Guinness League of Excellence Award for five consecutive years. The country has been touted to have the best-brewed Guinness stout, other than Ireland itself!

4. Your stay is not complete without visiting Mt. Kinabalu

Climb up the tallest mountain in Malaysia, Mt. Kinabalu and cross the world’s highest suspension bridge at 3,600 meters above sea level while at it. The view will be rewarding. Alternatively, Mt. Kinabalu National Park is also a great place to take a leisure stroll and take in Malaysia’s natural beauty.

5. Beware of taxi scams, and all crimes, really

Unfortunately, Malaysia has a bad track record in the safety and honesty departments. There are high incidence of crimes such as rape, corruption and robbery. There are rumours that the government manipulated the numbers to deflate its crime rate.

One of the most common small crimes are taxi scams. To avoid unfair charges, expats must be sure to haggle and agree on a price with the driver BEFORE hopping on. In the event of doubt, tell the driver that you would like to go by metered fare and make sure he turns it on. Taxi booking mobile applications have also proved to be helpful.

6. Respect their Islamic culture

The Malaysian society dictates conservative standards in terms of dressing and behavior. One must dress modestly around town and when visiting places of worship such as mosques and temples. Remove shoes prior to entering and ask permission prior to taking pictures of the mosques.  

Every year, Muslims around the world abstain from food, alcoholic drinks, smoking and other sensual pleasures from dusk to dawn. Expats are also expected to respect the traditions during Ramadan.  

In a predominantly Islamic country, excessive display of affections is considered inappropriate. Furthermore, Malaysia has stringent rules on public morality. Homosexuality is prohibited, and homosexual acts between males are punishable by law, which can lead to imprisonment. 

Malaysians are hospitable, warm people. Usually, food and drinks are offered to visitors. Accept drinks and food by using the right hand. The right hand is also used when giving or receiving gifts.



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Additional resources


Keep in mind that the voltage in most central cities in Malaysia runs at 240v and 220v to 240v in rural areas. Expats must bring three-pin plugs like the ones used in the United Kingdom


Malaysia has a tropical rainforest climate. The average temperature during the day is 30⁰ and 20⁰ during the night. Areas such as Kuala Lumpur and Malacca experience a warm and humid climate with almost daily rain shower throughout the year. Light-weight clothing are recommended. Expats who are going to live in Kuala Lumpur should expect the wet season to start in April and last until October. Always bring an umbrella with you just in case.

List of Foreign Embassies

When living overseas, expats must always have a knowledge of the important offices such as their home country's embassy which will serve as one of their support systems as an expat living in Malaysia. Most foreign embassies are headquartered in the capital which is Kuala Lumpur and here are some of them: 

376, Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2168 5000 

185, Jalan Ampang, Taman U Thant, 55000 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2170 2200 

17th Floor Menara Tan & Tan 50400 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2718 3333 

6, Jalan Yap Kwan Seng, Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2146 5555 

Ireland House, The AmpWalk, No 218, Jalan Ampang, Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2161 2963 

1, Changkat Kia Peng, 50450 Kuala Lumpur

Tel. No.: +60 3-2148 4233

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