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by The Expatriate Lifestyle Editorial Team 2 Jun 2013


Education, of course, is a major consideration for expatriate families. If a child is to be taken out of their settled environment at home, parents want to be sure that the new system can cater both academically and socially. Whether it be a playschool, nursery or kindergarten for the latest arrival or a primary school, university or college for the first-born, Malaysia’s range of educational institutions will provide plenty of quality and choice.

However, beyond the realm of a school curriculum, residents here enjoy extra tuition catering to potential musicians, budding dramatists and artists for example. Such specialist teaching is popular among expatriates as a way to broaden a child’s education while having fun at the same time.
On top of that, this section also explores Malaysia’s best libraries, learning support services and, of course, a simple guide to learning the basics of Bahasa Malaysia, the country’s national language.


Those new to the international school system will be pleased to learn that the level of all-round education provided by these institutions is superb. Your choice of school here will also open up a world of social networking, allowing parents to make as new, interesting friends as the children do.

Families already familiar with international schools, however, will be glad that the standard of education in Malaysia is amongst the best in the region and schools here are both incredibly popular and reputable. The best schools all attract the top teachers and boast modern facilities far superior to anything you are able to find for your children at home.

They also follow either British, American or Australian (or in the cases of country-specific institutions such as the Deutsche School or Lycée Francais, their own country’s) curricula, so if your family does return home, your children will fit straight back into the school system there.

Most of these schools are within close proximity to popular expatriate residential areas and, in addition, many operate private buses for students living further away. Tuition fees vary depending on the school, and there are often discounts provided for families with more than one child attending the same school.

Many companies also provide international school fees as part of your expatriate package, but even if not, the value of this education cannot be overstated.



Whether at an international school or local educational institution, all students studying in Malaysia need a Student Pass. Costing RM 60 for the year, passes can usually be obtained through the school, college or university at which you will be studying.

Individual institutions will provide exact details of what is required but generally the authorities will need at least two copies of your passport, two passport photos, current education certificates and an official letter from the educational institution.


Higher education in Malaysia is growing admirably with many local institutions and an increasing number of international campuses established across the country. In Selangor, for example, the University of Nottingham have a campus catering mainly to Malaysian students looking for a British higher education while remaining in their home country.

And Sarawak also hosts similar international campuses with the Australian Curtin University of Technology and Swinburne University of Technology occupying spots in Miri and Kuching respectively.

However, the local universities and colleges are garnering an increasing level of respect both within Malaysia and internationally. Conducting courses almost universally in English, Malaysian universities such as Universiti Malaya and Universiti Sains Negara are the preferred choice for law, literature or arts courses while institutions such as Universiti Putra Malaysia are favoured across the region for science, technology and, more specifically, agriculture courses.


What better way to gain a greater understanding of a country and its culture than by learning its language? At least the basics, anyway, so you won’t starve to death if you decide to try out the local hawker stalls or need a taxi from the middle of nowhere. It’s also a safer bet when you’re bargaining for a lower price because chances are you’ll win their hearts with simple phrases.

Being a relatively new language in comparison to Chinese or English, most Malay words are pronounced phonetically (in other words, the way they are spelt). Although English is widely spoken here, there’s no harm in learning a new language, especially when it’s so easy to pick up. Besides, you’ll earn brownie points from the locals too.

General Phrases

How are you? - Apa Khabar?
My name is… - Nama saya…
Please / Help! - Tolong!
Thank you - Terima kasih
You’re welcome - Sama-sama
How much is it? - Berapa?
I want to pay - Saya mahu bayar
Can you speak English? - Boleh kamu bercakap Bahasa Inggeris?
I’m sorry, I don’t understand - Minta maaf, saya tidak faham
Male - Lelaki
Female - Perempuan
Where are the toilets? - Di mana tandas?
A little - Sedikit
Big - Besar
Small - Kecil
Left - Kiri
Right - Kanan
Please stop - Tolong berhenti
Floor (Level) - Tingkat
Do you have small change? – Adakah kamu ada duit kecil?
How much is the fare? – Berapakah tambangnya?


Good Morning - Selamat Pagi
Good Afternoon - Selamat Tengahari
Good Evening - Selamat Petang
Goodbye - Selamat Tinggal

Traffic Phrases

Turn Left - Belok Kiri
Turn Right - Belok Kanan
Straight Ahead - Berjalan Terus
Intersection - Simpang
Bus - Bas
Car - Kereta
Taxi - Teksi
Enter / Entry - Masuk
Exit - Keluar
Road - Jalan
Lane - Lorong
Highway - Lebuhraya
North - Utara
South - Selatan
East - Timur
West - Barat
Stop - Berhenti
Slow Down - Kurangkan Laju


One - Satu
Two - Dua
Three - Tiga
Four - Empat
Five - Lima
Six - Enam
Seven - Tujuh
Eight - Lapan
Nine - Sembilan
Ten - Sepuluh

Days of the Week

Monday - Isnin
Tuesday - Selasa
Wednesday - Rabu
Thursday - Khamis
Friday - Jumaat
Saturday - Sabtu
Sunday - Ahad


You may get confused when someone speaks to you in what you think is Malay, but peppers their speech with a few English words and even some Cantonese. This is perfectly common, and if you can learn how to campur (mix) your English with Malay, you’ll be well-regarded, whatever purist linguists might say.


For parents wishing to encourage and children keen to learn, Malaysia offers much in the way of extra-curricular tuition. Though schools offer their own courses in popular subject areas, some of the best tuition can be found at specialist centres, providing comprehensive programmes for subjects such as music and performing arts.

Most families find out about the best centres through word of mouth, however learning about these can be difficult if you don’t know other families with the same age. Therefore, while further child-friendly events and activities (such as sports centres, theme parks and playgrounds) can be found in The Expatriate Lifestyle section of this guide, here we list some of the music, dance and drama schools that are popular with expatriate families in Malaysia.

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