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Living In Malaysia, A Guide For Expats

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Malaysia, in Southeast Asia, is a popular destination for global expats. Many foreign nationals enjoy a relaxed lifestyle with a well-developed infrastructure, delicious cuisine, and low living costs. UK expats have been retiring in the country since the 1920s.

The shopping and leisure amenities in Kuala Lumpur are excellent, and the beaches, native wildlife, flora and fauna in the tropical jungles and national parks attract tens of thousands of visitors yearly.

Neighbouring Thailand, Singapore and Indonesia make Malaysia a good location for international businesses, with direct flights to London, France, Taiwan and China. However, if you are considering a move overseas, you must have a comprehensive understanding of the culture, taxes, visa options and living costs you should expect.

Malaysia – Quick Facts

  • Jalur Gemilang – stripes of excellence; the Malay flag
  • Population: 33.57 million
  • UK expat population: 16,000
  • Capital: Kuala Lumpur
  • Main cities: Johor Bahru, Ipoh and Georgetown

Visas And Residency

Foreign nationals normally travel to Malaysia on tourist or multi-entry visas; these are mandatory for visitors who intend to stay for up to 12 months and are commonly used for business trips.

There are several residence permit and visa categories designed for specific groups. The Residence Pass-Talent (RP-T) is a ten-year renewable permit that allows highly qualified professionals to live and work long-term in Malaysia. The scheme was launched in 2011 and has varied benefits, allowing a spouse to relocate on the same terms and seek employment without requiring a separate Employment Pass.

Another route to Malaysian residency is the Malaysia My 2nd Home programme, abbreviated to MM2H. This unique initiative in Asia offers a ten-year multiple entry visa with the option to renew, primarily aimed at retirees and wealthy expats.

Successful applicants can relocate with children under 21, and import belongings tax-free, with options to invest in the economy and local markets. Money transferred to Malaysia under MM2H is tax-exempt, as is interest earned.

Information about other visa categories and permits is available from the Immigration Department of Malaysia.

Proof of vaccination

Rules for travellers vary between regions of Malaysia. In Sarawak and Peninsular Malaysia, arrivals do not need to provide proof of vaccination status.

In Sabah, the requirements depend on your country of origin or where you have travelled from. Travellers outside China do not need to produce proof of vaccination or a negative test but must undergo temperature screening on entry.

Travellers with a temperature or other suspected symptoms may be instructed to take a test at the airport and isolate or stay in a local health facility until their result is negative.

Passport validity

All travellers should ensure they have at least six months of validity remaining on their passports from arriving in Malaysia. Suppose you are relocating with a long-term visa. In that case, having the same minimum validity on your UK passport and bringing all your visa documentation with you for inspection is advisable.

Taking medicines into Malaysia

Some medicines and drugs are banned in Malaysia or considered controlled substances under the Poisons Act 1952. If you have medications, you should bring the prescription and a letter from your doctor, and you may need to meet with a pharmacy enforcement officer to seek approval.

Police certificates

Expats may need to provide a police clearance certificate during the visa application process and may also need to apply for a certificate from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Malaysia to renew a long-stay visa and access other services.

Safety And Security

Foreign nationals should avoid the eastern region of Sabah from Kudat to Tawau. The Malaysian authorities have named the area the Eastern Sabah Security Zone, controlled by security forces and coastal patrols.

Travellers should avoid carrying large amounts of currency or valuables and be cautious about leaving their passports on display. Credit card fraud is common, and petty theft is more likely in tourist areas and crowded city centres, where gangs snatch bags from unsuspecting tourists – you should avoid carrying a bag with a shoulder strap.

You must purchase a taxi coupon to use public transport in airports, but taxis should always be metered in other areas.


Expats can drive in Malaysia using an International Driving Permit for 12 months from their entry date. After one year, you must apply for a Malaysian driving licence through the Malaysian Road Transport Department.

The road conditions are good in most parts of Peninsular Malaysia but can be rough and uneven in the east. Vehicles do not always obey signs or traffic lights, and if you are involved in a collision or accident, you must remain at the scene until the police arrive.

Drink driving is a serious criminal offence, and the police regularly stop drivers for breath tests. If you are driving over the limit, you can be imprisoned, deported or fined.

Cost Of Living

Living costs in Malaysia are around 44.4 per cent lower than the UK average, and property rental prices are 68.1 per cent more affordable. A family of four requires a rough budget of RM 7,416 (£1,358) and an individual RM 2,109 (£386) per month, excluding accommodation.

The Malaysian government actively encourages expats to retire to the country. Low living expenses mean you will generally be able to enjoy a more luxurious lifestyle than in Britain.

Buying Or Renting A Home

Rental properties are widely available in Malaysia, and you do not need a residency permit to rent a home. Foreign nationals usually must prove they have found accommodation before applying for a visa.

Most apartment rental contracts run for one to two years, and expats can negotiate a lower rent if they are prepared to sign a lease for two years. Landlords usually require two months’ notice if you wish to renew the tenancy or end the contract.

Rental prices generally exclude utilities, but costs are negotiable. Expats will need to pay a deposit of roughly two months’ rent, which they receive back once the contract ends, provided the property remains in the same condition.

The first month’s rent is normally payable upfront, plus around half of a further month’s rent to cover any outstanding utility payments owing against the property. Leases must be stamped to verify they are formal contracts, and tenants will usually be asked to cover a small fee.

You can find properties to rent online through sites such as Mudah, StarProperty and Speedhome.

Expats can also purchase property in Malaysia, and there are few restrictions. You can buy land, an apartment or a condo provided the value is over RM 1 million (£183,076), although the exact threshold can change between states. The threshold prevents foreign nationals from purchasing low-cost housing reserved for Malay locals.

Properties available to buy have three potential titles. A master title covers the land, a strata title provides ownership of a home in a shared building, and an individual title relates to an independent property with land attached.

Cost of renting and buying a home

Property TypeAverage Rental Cost Per Month
One-bedroom city centre apartmentRM 1,649 / £302
One-bedroom apartment elsewhereRM 1,111 / £203
Three-bedroom city centre apartmentRM 2,946 / £539
Three-bedroom apartment elsewhereRM 1,866 / £342
Property TypeAverage Purchase Cost Per Square Metre
City centre apartmentRM 8,101 / £1,483
Apartment elsewhereRM 4,687 / £858

Where Do British Expats Live In Malaysia?

Most expats choose to live in Kuala Lumpur, with properties on the coast around Penang popular. The duty-free island of Langkawi is another destination close to the border with Thailand. Up-and-coming areas include Kuantan and Terengganu.


The Malaysian healthcare system is of a good standard, and hospitals, clinics and doctors are widely available in the larger cities. All legal residents and citizens are entitled to universal healthcare, not funded by taxes or national insurance.

Instead, the government subsidises public facilities which work with an established private healthcare sector. Most medical professionals speak English, and expats are advised to take out private insurance to avoid long waiting times at some public facilities.

There is no public health insurance programme, but international expats living long-term in Malaysia can join schemes such as the Foreign Worker Hospitalisation and Surgical Insurance Scheme to comply with the terms of most visas.

If you move to Malaysia to take up employment, it is normal for your employer to contribute.

Need Help with your Finances?

Working In Malaysia

Expats wishing to work in Malaysia will need an appropriate work visa and a confirmed work offer before they can apply. The employer usually manages most of the process and will have a work permit endorsed on your behalf before you travel.

Work permits vary depending on your profession, the length of your employment contract and the sector you intend to work in.

  • Employment Pass applicants must have a formal qualification and work experience, with a salary of at least RM 3,000 (£549) per month or RM 10,000 (£1,831) per month for some categories.
  • The Temporary Employment Pass is available to applicants between 18 and 45 from an approved country.
  • Professional Visit Passes allow entry to Malaysia for a limited period and are granted to applicants employed by non-Malaysian organisations.

Employers apply to the Immigration Department of Malaysia, and expats can only travel or complete the visa application process once approved.


Income tax rates are lower than those in the UK, with a maximum tax band of 30 per cent. In 2023, income taxes were reduced by two per cent in most tax brackets, with bands as follows.

Taxable IncomeFlat Rate TaxAdditional Tax on the Excess
Up to RM 5,000Zero1 per cent
Up to RM 20,000RM 1503 per cent
Up to RM 35,000RM 6008 per cent
Up to RM 50,000RM 1,80011 per cent
Up to RM 70,000RM 4,00019 per cent
Up to RM 100,000RM 9,70024 per cent
Up to RM 250,000RM 45,70025 per cent
Up to RM 400,000RM 83,20025 per cent
Up to RM 600,000RM 133,20026 per cent
Up to RM 1 millionRM 237,20028 per cent
Up to RM 2 millionRM 517,20030 per cent

A Qualified Person can be taxed at a flat rate of 15 per cent, provided they meet the conditions such as being employed within a designated company and carrying out a qualifying activity within specific regions.

Non-citizens are also taxed at a 15 per cent flat rate for five years, provided they have a minimum income of RM 25,000 (£4,577) per month and are within an eligible position.

Foreign-sourced income in Malaysia by tax residents is tax-exempt from January 1, 2022, until December 31, 2026.


There are no HMRC-approved pension funds in Malaysia on the Recognised Overseas Pension Schemes list, so transferring a UK fund to the country may not be possible or may incur a significant penalty. Expats can continue receiving a State Pension in Malaysia but will not receive an annual uplift in benefits.

Local Laws And Customs

  • Malaysia is primarily a Muslim country, and expats should respect the traditions, religions and local culture, particularly during major festivals and the Ramadan holy month or when visiting religious sites.
  • Expats should dress modestly, cover their shoulders and wear closed shoes when entering a place of worship or government building. Rural areas may have more conservative attitudes, and signs outside buildings will indicate modesty rules.
  • Muslim foreign nationals may be subject to Sharia law.
  • Drug offences carry severe penalties, including mandatory death penalties for trafficking, custodial sentences and whipping for drug possession.
  • Travellers arriving in Malaysia may be asked to take a urine test on arrival, and tests are also common if police raid a bar or club. Positive tests can result in detention, deportation, criminal charges and a lifetime return ban.
  • Bringing unlicensed ammunition or weapons into Malaysia can be punishable by the death penalty, including souvenirs and ammunition from museums. Replica weapons or ammunition are also prohibited.
  • Homosexuality is illegal, and public displays of affection are punishable by law.

Education And Schooling

The standard of education in Malaysian schools is fairly good, although class sizes can be very large. Locals and residents do not pay school fees, but expats may be asked to charge their children to attend a public school, although the cost is significantly lower than for a private or international school. Expats sending children to a public school must apply for a foreign student pass.

Private schools may teach in Malay but use English for science and maths tuition and should have a Ministry of Home Affairs certificate that allows them to permit foreign national students.

Many international schools in Malaysia, primarily in Kuala Lumpur, follow the English or International Baccalaureate curriculum, teaching in English.

Living In Malaysia FAQ

What is Malaysia’s currency and exchange rate?

The currency is the Malaysian Ringgit, abbreviated to MYR or RM. One RM is worth around £0.18.

Is Malaysia a safe place to live?

Yes, Malaysia is considered a safe country, and while some regions in the east are less stable, the most common crimes are petty theft and bag snatching in tourist regions.

What is the main language in Malaysia?

Malaysians speak Malay, which has ten different dialects.

What is the climate like in Malaysia?

Malaysia is a hot, tropical country with an average year-round temperature of 25.4°C. There is little change between the seasons, although April to June is the hottest time.

What is the MM2H Malaysian visa?

MM2H is a visa category designed to attract foreign nationals to live long-term in Malaysia, aimed at retirees. Applicants must provide evidence of their liquid assets and receive favourable tax treatment in return for an annual pass fee.

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