Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, acceptable business etiquette, dress, business cards, gifts, etc.
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 mostly 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. Compared to some other Asian countries, the traits of frankness, openness, and punctuality are valued relatively more in business negotiations and dealings. Ongoing personal contact is essential. However, 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, and visitors should take 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 that there is 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. In particular, U.S. citizens are advised against travel to certain coastal areas and outlying islands in Eastern Sabah because of the threat of kidnappings-for-random and violence. U.S. government employees traveling to these regions may need official written permission from the Embassy before traveling.
Safety and Security
Review the U.S. State Department Travel Advisory for Malaysia to see the current safety and security advisories.
Crime: Petty theft and violent crime in Kuala Lumpur continue to be concerns. Purse snatching, pick-pocketing, and residential burglaries are the most common crimes committed against foreigners. Criminals also target motorists stuck in traffic with smash-and-grab robberies.
Scams: U.S. citizens and businesses continue to be frequent victims of Internet-based scams originating in Malaysia and have reported millions of dollars in losses. Do not send money to people you have not met in person and who claim to be U.S. citizens in trouble in Malaysia.
Credit Card Fraud Credit cards are widely accepted in Malaysia; however, carefully safeguard your credit cards at all times, use them only at reputable establishments, and check your account information frequently for fraudulent charges.
You do not need a visa if you are coming for business or tourism for 90 days or less. For holders of a U.S. Passport, your passport must be valid for at least six months and have at least one blank page. For additional information, including visa requirements for non-U.S. passport holders, see State Department – Entry, Exit, and Visa Requirements and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Malaysia.
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.
Only institutions with prior approval from Malaysia’s central bank are allowed to issue credit cards in Malaysia. Institutions primarily issue Visa and MasterCard credit cards.
The usage of debit cards is gaining popularity in Malaysia, with banking institutions issuing both domestic debit cards and international brand debit cards, such as Visa Electron and MasterCard Maestro. Malaysian Electronic Payment System Sdn Bhd (MEPS) has set up a domestic debit card switching network that enables universal usage of local debit cards at all debit card merchants. This network improves the operational efficiency of the local debit card system and promotes the usage of debit cards in Malaysia.
Banking institutions in Malaysia provide electronic banking. This service includes telephone banking, desktop banking, mobile banking, and home banking. Desktop banking and telephone banking are commonly used in electronic distribution channels.
Domestic banking institutions are allowed to provide a full range of Internet banking facilities, subject to compliance with the guidelines on Internet banking issued by BNM. Typically, the services offered by banking institutions through their Internet banking facilities are account balance summaries, request for account statements, funds transfer between own or third party accounts, payment facilities, and checkbook request services.
Telephone: International telephone service from Malaysia is good and more investment is being undertaken to keep up with a very rapid increase in demand. GSM is the Malaysian standard for digital cellular cmmunications. One of its mobile providers is GPRS enabled, while the other two are 4G spectrum holders.
Internet: Broadband Internet access is widely available in most major hotels. Offices and residential customers have dial-up or broadband Internet access via ISDN, ADSL, SDSL, WiFi and/or WiMax.
Voltage: The voltage used in Malaysia is 230/240 volts and 50hz. 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. Some electrical appliances are multi-voltage and can be used for both 120 volts and 230/240 volt. Most multi-voltage equipment will state somewhere on the product, usually on a label or decal on the charging unit, input 100-240 AC 50-60 HZ.
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.
Seaports: With such a massive coastline, there are more than 40 seaports across the country. Sixteen of these ports have container facilities. By far, the largest container port in Westport, along the Straits of Malacca in Port Klang, about an hour by road from Kuala Lumpur.
Air Cargo: Air cargo facilities are well developed in the five international airports. On Peninsular Malaysia, these are the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), Penang International Airport, and Langkawi International Airport. Malaysia’s modern Kuala Lumpur International Airport (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.
Airplanes: Kuala Lumpur is served by several international airlines, with international carriers flying into KLIA and low-cost carriers utilizing the nearby and ultra-modern KLIA2 terminal opened in 2014. No U.S. airlines fly to Malaysia directly, though there are codeshare and partner flights 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 (MAS)—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. The largest of these is Air Asia. Other low-cost carriers include Malindo Air, Firefly, TigerAir, and Lion Air.
Local transportation: Local transportation rates can be found on the MIDA website: Living In Malaysia (the exchange rate is RM4.25 = USD$1.00).
Taxis are generally plentiful and inexpensive, and online booking services such as Grab Car and the taxi e-hailing app PICKnGO (launched collaboratively in 2017) are increasingly popular and commonplace. Uber is not available in Malaysia.
For the latest security tips, please visit International Travel. Taxis and cars may be booked by the hour or day for extended trips. Kuala Lumpur boasts a growing and modern light rail system that can be convenient for avoiding 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 at booths located just 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 and even three languages: Bahasa Malaysia (the national language), English, and an individual’s ancestral tongue (often Chinese Mandarin, Cantonese, or Tamil).
Medical Facilities: 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.
Climate: The climate can be debilitating for some because of the warm temperatures (typically 83F-95F during the day in Kuala Lumpur dropping as low as 71F at night), the rainfall (afternoon downpours often delivering more than an inch per day), and high humidity (well over 90 percent during the day, dropping to 60 percent at night).
Disease: 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 the numerous open-air dining establishments.
Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays
Malaysian Employer’s Federation – 2020 Public Holidays
U.S. Embassy – 2020 Holidays
The first thing to consider when planning business travel to Malaysia is whether or not 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 through Friday, in all states except Kedah, Kelantan, and Terengganu. Saturdays and Sundays are considered weekends and offices are closed.
Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings
Malaysia has no restrictions on temporary entry of business-related materials, such as software, laptop computers, etc. Movement of exhibit materials for Malaysia-based trade shows is typically handled by official freight-forwarding companies that can handle customs and other required procedures easily and quickly. Malaysia also accepts the ATA Carnet, which is essentially a passport for your goods. If the product can be described as a “tool of the trade,” then upon presentation of the ATA Carnet, the good may be exempt from duties and taxes. “Tools of the trade” are items such as commercial samples, professional equipment, items used for trade shows or exhibitions, and some ordinary goods such as computers (including laptops) or industrial equipment. Carnets do not cover consumable products, disposable items, or postal traffic. The ATA Carnet can be ordered by contacting the U.S. Council for International Business (1-866-786-5625 or 1-212-703-5078).
Some equipment, including some high-speed or encrypted laptop computers, requires an export license from the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) or other U.S. government export licensing authorities. Also, some technical materials, sophisticated equipment, and goods to certain countries will need a license. If you are unsure whether or not an export license is required for your laptop or other materials, please contact BIS at 202-482-4811 or visit their website.
Finally, before returning to the U.S., the U.S. Customs Service should be notified that your temporary entry items will be coming back into the U.S. and that U.S. import duties and taxes should not be assessed on the goods once they return. U.S. Customs will need the serial number of the item(s) taken. To find your local customs office, information may be found online at the U.S. Customs website.
Travel Related Web Resources
- Bureau of Industry and Security
- Malaysia Ministry of Foreign Affairs
- State Department’s Travel Advisories
- State Department Visa Information
- U.S. Customs
- 2018 U.S. Embassy Holidays
- U.S. Council for International Business
- Immigration Department of Malaysia
- Tourism Malaysia
- Malaysia Employers Federation Public Holidays Knowledge Center