Malaysia has a multicultural and multiracial population consisting of Malays, Chinese, Indians, and indigenous peoples. Although Malaysia’s ethnic mix is generally harmonious, the various communities remain primarily separate, and ethnic/religious tensions exist. With such a varied ethnic composition, there is a diversity of religions. The official religion is Islam, but it is common to see temples, mosques, and churches within the same area.
Business customs in Malaysia do not differ fundamentally from those of the United States. Unlike in other Asian countries, frankness, openness, and punctuality are valued relatively more in business negotiations and dealings. Ongoing personal contact is essential.
Visitors should be aware of differing religious and cultural traditions for each ethnic group. For example, Malay Muslims may feel uncomfortable in business or social functions where alcohol or pork is served. Visitors should note that items (such as business cards) should always be presented and received using the right hand.
Review the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory for Malaysia to see the current travel advisory level, including the COVID-19 risk level and other precautions.
Information from credible sources suggests a continued risk of armed terrorist and criminal groups operating and planning attacks against foreigners, including U.S. citizens, in the East Asian and Pacific region. U.S. citizens are advised against travel to specific coastal areas and outlying islands in Eastern Sabah because of the threat of kidnappings-for-random and violence.
U.S. companies requiring foreign businesspersons to travel to the United States are advised that security evaluations are handled via an interagency process. Visa applicants should visit the State Department Visa website for additional information.
Effective August 1, 2022, non-Malaysians, including U.S. citizens, may enter Malaysia without advance permission. Downloading and updating the MySejahtera app is not required before arrival. Still, travelers should plan to download and use the app to indicate their risk status while in Malaysia, as it may be checked when entering businesses or other premises. Travelers should check the websites of the U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur and the Malaysian Ministry of Health for updates on COVID requirements.
Travel to Sabah and Sarawak
The eastern states of Sabah and Sarawak (on the island of Borneo) have special entry requirements. You must have your passport to enter or exit Sabah or Sarawak, even when arriving from peninsular Malaysia on domestic flights.
Malaysia’s national currency is the Malaysian Ringgit (RM). Currency exchange and Western Union money transfers are readily available. Credit cards are accepted throughout the country, but you should be aware of the risk of fraud. ATMs can be a safer means of obtaining Malaysian Ringgit. PINs in Malaysia are six digits long, and some travelers have reported having difficulty retrieving cash from ATMs using four-digit PINs. Most of the banking institutions in Malaysia own proprietary ATM networks.
The usage of debit cards is gaining popularity in Malaysia, with banking institutions issuing domestic debit cards and international brand debit cards, such as Visa Electron and MasterCard Maestro. Banking institutions in Malaysia provide electronic banking. Desktop banking and telephone banking are commonly used in electronic distribution channels.
International telephone service from Malaysia is good and more investment is being undertaken to keep up with a rapid increase in demand. Global System for Mobile communication (GSM) is the Malaysian standard for digital cellular communications. One of its mobile providers is General Packet Radio Service (GPRS enabled, while the other two are 4G spectrum holders.
Broadband Internet access is widely available in most major hotels.
The voltage used in Malaysia is 230/240 volts and 50 HZ. If the electrical appliance uses 110/120 volts, you need to use a transformer/converter to step down the 230/240 volts Malaysian voltage to your 110/120-volt appliances. Failing to do so will damage your electrical appliances. Malaysia uses the British Standard BS 1363 domestic AC power plugs and sockets.
Malaysia’s central location in the Asia Pacific region makes it an ideal gateway to Asia and ASEAN markets.
There are more than 40 seaports across Malaysia. Sixteen of these ports have container facilities. The largest container port in Westport, along the Straits of Malacca in Port Klang, is about an hour by road from Kuala Lumpur.
Air cargo facilities are well developed in the five international airports. In Peninsular Malaysia, these are the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Penang International Airport, and Langkawi International Airport. Malaysia’s modern KLIA is the nation’s largest, located 50 kilometers south of Kuala Lumpur. Cargo import and export procedures are fully automated at KLIA.
In east Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu International Airport serves the State of Sabah, and Kuching International Airport serves the State of Sarawak.
Kuala Lumpur is served by several international airlines, with international carriers flying into KLIA and low-cost carriers utilizing the nearby ultra-modern KLIA2 terminal that opened in 2014.
No U.S. airlines fly to Malaysia, though codeshare and partner flights are available through major U.S. carriers. Additional international connections are available via Singapore, from which there is a joint Malaysia Airlines/Singapore Airlines air shuttle service. Direct flights to Singapore are available from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.
Within Malaysia, the national airline, Malaysia Airlines, provides frequent service to all major cities. A range of low-cost carriers has dramatically expanded service to cities throughout Malaysia and, in some instances, the rest of Asia.
Taxis are generally plentiful and inexpensive, and the 0nline booking service, Grab, is increasingly popular and commonplace. Uber is not available in Malaysia. Taxis and cars may be booked for extended trips by the hour or day. Kuala Lumpur boasts a growing and modern light rail system that can conveniently avoid traffic delays.
Allow at least an hour for taxi service between the airport and Kuala Lumpur’s central business district (though 45 minutes is the norm for off-peak times). Taxi fares can be prepaid at KLIA booths outside the Customs area; avoiding taxi touts is recommended. The KLIA Ekspres train is faster and less expensive, providing direct service between KLIA and the city’s Stesen Sentral (central train station) in under 30 minutes.
English is widely spoken and is commonly used in business. British English conventions are generally used. As a result of the country’s ethnic diversity, most Malaysians speak at least two or even three languages: Bahasa Malaysia (the national language), English, and an individual’s ancestral tongue (often Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese, or Tamil).
See the U.S. State Department’s Health information.
State-of-the-art private medical facilities are available in Kuala Lumpur and other big cities, but certain services (including emergency services) may be limited or less developed.
The climate is warm, typically 83F-95F during the day in Kuala Lumpur and dropping as low as 71F at night. Heavy rainfall is also typical, with afternoon downpours often delivering more than an inch. High humidity is another feather of the climate in Kuala Lumpur, often reaching over 90 percent during the day and dropping to 60 percent at night.
Travelers should be aware of mosquito-borne illnesses, including Malaria, Chikungunya, dengue fever (including the hemorrhagic variety), and Zika virus. Dengue has reached epidemic numbers in Malaysia and throughout Southeast Asia. Wearing long sleeves and trousers and regular application of DEET-containing insect repellants are strongly recommended when spending any time out of doors, including at numerous open-air dining establishments.
Business Hours and Holidays
When planning business travel to Malaysia, consider whether any local holidays may occur during the trip and whether they will disrupt the normal flow of business. If offices are not open, appointments may not be scheduled as quickly. All states and territories in Malaysia observe federal holidays. Also, each state observes its respective local holidays, such as birthday celebrations of its Sultan and the current King.
Malaysian government offices are open five days a week, Monday to Friday, in all states except Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu. Saturdays and Sundays are considered weekends, and offices are closed.
Temporary Entry of Materials and Personal Belongings
Malaysian authorities enforce strict regulations concerning the import or export of items such as firearms, narcotics, medication, business equipment, currency, books, cultural property, or any material which might be considered obscene or harmful to the public interest. Contact the Malaysian Embassy or one of Malaysia’s consulates in the United States for specific information regarding customs requirements.