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Working in Malaysia

While numerous expats opt to go to Malaysia, it is not always easy to find a job or get a permit. Once you’re there, plenty of other issues will require your attention. InterNations provides you with info on work permits, healthcare, social security, taxes, and business etiquette in Malaysia.
The Seri Wawasan Bridge connects residential areas with Putrajaya's business districts.

Malaysia’s economy is one of the most successful in Asia. The workforce in Malaysia benefits from an open, state-oriented, recently industrialized market economy with two key sectors: international trade and manufacturing.

The country is also an important center of Islamic finance, with a comparatively high number of women working in the Islamic banking sector. As in many other Asian economies, the employment statistics of Malaysia are gradually shifting towards the services sector.

Malaysia: Facing the Competition

Traditionally, Malaysia’s economy used to be focus on producing rubber, tin, and palm oil, and has been propelled by the country’s large amounts of natural resources, especially petroleum and liquefied natural gas. The local labor force has witnessed the shift from an economy based on agriculture and mining towards one fueled by the petrochemical industries in the 1970s and 1980s.

These days, a considerable number of people are still employed in Malaysia’s secondary sector, and it is one of the world’s largest exporters of electrical goods, semiconductors, and IT/CT products. However, many industries are in decline. This development is due to competition from other low-cost economies as well as the targeted expansion of the services sector.

Employment shares are spread across the three sectors as follows: 53% of the active population is working in Malaysia’s services sector, 36% are still employed in various industries, but only 11% of the active population work in the agricultural sector.

Malaysia’s Growing Economy

Despite recent attempts to move away from an over-reliance on export, the latter still dominates Malaysia’s economy. As mentioned above, laborers working in Malaysia produce petroleum-based products, semiconductor devices, electronics, textiles, palm oil, and timber as well as information and communication technology for export.

As one of the recent growth areas, information and communication technology in particular has become an increasingly important provider of employment. Other expanding sectors are science (e.g. biotechnology, nanotechnology, and renewable energies) and tourism (including medical tourism).

Major multinational companies with expat personnel working in Malaysia include Accenture, CIMB Group, Exxon Mobil, HSBC, KPMG, Maybank, Pricewaterhouse Coopers, Public Bank Berhad, Schlumberger, and Shell.

Achieving Expat Status

Before you can start working in Malaysia, you need to be granted expat status. The country has a dedicated Expat Committee, which deals with questions of expat employment.

There are two preliminary requirements which must be fulfilled by prospective expats: a minimum salary of 5,000 MYR and a minimum employment period of two years. On top of that, only people who fall into one of the following categories qualify for becoming expats in Malaysia:

  • Key post: You occupy a top managerial position in the company in question.
  • Executive post: You hold a middle management post and have relevant professional experience and academic qualifications.
  • Non-executive post: You are highly skilled thanks to your technical know-how and are thus indispensable for the company.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete. 


Adam Malewski

"With all the great information on this site, getting settled in Kuala Lumpur was a piece of cake."

Yasmin Krüger-Darango

"A former business partner recommended InterNations to me when I moved abroad to Malaysia. We still use it to stay in touch."

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