You are here:


by The Expatriate Lifestyle Editorial Team 1 Jun 2013



Despite being a small and relatively open economy, Malaysia has come a long way economically since achieving its independence. Malaysia’s economy was, in 2005, the 34th largest economy in the world in terms of purchasing power parity. Additionally its gross domestic product that year was estimated at $290 billion.

Malaysia has a stable and fast-growing economy with a Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of a 4.1 per cent growth since last year. Manufacturing constitutes the largest single component, while tourism and primary commodities such as petroleum, palm oil, natural rubber and timber are other major contributors.

Over the years, Malaysia’s poverty rate has fallen dramatically as the country has established itself as a successful manufacturing hub. Malaysia has also been successful in attracting foreign investment, with its wealth of natural resources, and also achieved rapid growth through privatization of inefficient state-owned enterprises.

Malaysia also embarked on a number of mega-projects, such as Putrajaya, the Multimedia Super Corridor, a hydroelectric dam (Bakun dam), the Kuala Lumpur International Airport and the renowned Petronas Towers, all of which have helped gain Malaysia international attention.

Business hours

Generally, business days start between 8.30-9 am pausing for a one hour lunch at 12.30, 1 or 1.30pm depending on the firm with the business day concluding at 5 or 6pm. But be warned: Asians are notorious hard workers; it’s not uncommon (especially in Chinese firms) to work ten hours a day and managers to put in 12 hours a day.

Saturday, until a few years ago, was a compulsory work day and now it’s discretionary depending on the firm. Don’t be too shocked when you’re asked to work on the weekend. After work functions aren’t nearly as common as in the West but if you’re lucky you’ll be invited to them when they happen.

Malay companies allow workers to take a few hours off on Fridays for prayers; factor this in when trying to contact government agencies or companies with Malay workers.


Employment safeguards and standards in Malaysia are good, ensuring that labour contracts and the like are respected. Most expatriates coming to Malaysia have sourced their jobs abroad and have the company that’s employing them applying for work permits.

The work permit process can be painstaking, taking up to six months (but most times only a few) with university degrees and other supporting documents to be submitted. The employer needs to demonstrate that the candidate fulfills a managerial or strategic need for the Malaysian economy and that local candidates are not available.

Once this work permit is gotten, based on the time of the contract, expats will be able to travel in and out of the country when they like. In fact you can have a gold card issued to you so when you’re coming and going through customs and immigration you won’t even need to show your passport, what could be easier than that!

Upon completing your contract you’ll have to submit your passport for an exit stamp, you’ll need to submit a tax statement (no matter how little you worked that year) and register your entry and exit stamps at the tax authority. The officials you’ll deal with are friendly but like any bureaucracy it’s a pain.

Should you, however, not choose to find a job abroad first and decide to hunt on the local market be warned: it’s a pretty tough slog. Firstly there’s the matter of wages: Malaysians make around RM 3,000 for good jobs and while you may bring something unique to your prospective local employer, he may be reluctant to pay high wages.

Secondly, there’s the hassle of getting the work permit, something that companies other than multinationals are loathe to do because of the time and cost involved. But you never know; there are a few expats around who work for local companies and have made their homes here, having a good network is important.

Tweet this