Why you should consider studying in Malaysia as an international student 

With diverse culture, rich history, and affordable tuition fees, Malaysia is increasingly becoming a desirable destination to study. One of the top reasons to study in Malaysia as an international student is that it has some of the best universities in the world.

These universities offer quality teaching and research programs which provide a globally recognized degree and credentials. To top it off, living expenses in Malaysia are much lower compared to other countries, allowing students to spend less money while receiving similar levels of education.

This country of 32 million has a multi-ethnic population which means you’ll fit right in, especially since lots of people speak English. 

Malaysia’s economy has improved steadily recently (it has the fourth largest economy in South-East Asia), offering international students excellent job opportunities. In fact, all sectors of the Malaysian economy have seen improvements of late, from increasing exports to higher incomes for citizens. The largely service-oriented economy is dominated by tourism, finance, and technology although manufacturing still plays an important role.

Investments in education and health care have also contributed creating a healthy economy characterized by low inflation and fairly robust economic growth. As a result, Malaysia has seen its ranking on the Human Development Index rise dramatically in the last few years. 

Top reasons for studying in Malaysia 

Low cost of living 

Locals can live a higher quality of life than residents in neighbouring countries with the low cost of housing, transport, fuel and food. The average monthly costs for a single person in Malaysia are $475 without rent. And it costs roughly $376 to rent a one-bedroom apartment in the city centre. 

Even if you choose to live in the more expensive cities, like the capital Kuala Lumpur, you’ll still save a lot on living expenses compared to the US. Going out for a basic lunch? It will cost you around $3.50 USD. You can get a cappuccino for $2.80 and a one-way ticket on public transport for 70 cents. Apartments are also much cheaper to rent in Malaysia than the USA, and utilities are relatively cheap, with electricity, heating, cooling, water and garbage priced at roughly $55 per month.

Lots of people speak English 

The make-up of Malaysia is Malay, of course, and Indian and Chinese, but there are plenty of Western expats too. English is not an official language in Malaysia (the three primary languages are Malay, Mandarin and Tamil) but it’s the language the three ethnicities use to communicate with each other. 

English happens to be a compulsory subject in both primary and secondary education and is widely understood and used, so it should be easy for you to get around and communicate with the locals. About 15 million people speak English in Malaysia (to varying degrees of fluency, mind you) which amounts to over 60% of the population. 

High level of health care

Malaysia offers a great healthcare system that is improving all the time, with good care available for visitors and expats alike. Infant mortality rates now on par with North America and western Europe. The good news is that public healthcare is available for all residents and it is heavily subsidised by the government (and most doctors and nurses speak English).  

High quality universities

Malaysia is home to universities that perform strongly on the global stage. Here are the top four universities in Malaysia (as voted by Best Global Universities Rankings):

Universiti Malaya

UM (Malaysia’s oldest university) is situated in southwest Kuala Lumpur. It (UM) is the leading research-intensive university in the country. UM boasts highly trained teaching staff, well-equipped modern infrastructure, enormous facilities, as well as access to high quality research books and journals. There is also a large international student body with social activities that cater to students of all backgrounds and interests such as sports teams, performing groups and voluntary teams.


Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

UTM is a leading university in science and technology in Malaysia, with two campuses (one in Kuala Lumpur and one in Johor Bahru, located in Iskandar in the south of Malaysia). 

The Johor Bahru university grounds are surrounded by breathtaking views of the city skyline, lush gardens and crystal clear rivers. The university has world-class sports facilities, boasting both recreational and competitive teams in a variety of sports covering multiple skill levels. Local business communities regularly offer employment opportunities to students so that they gain valuable insight into Malaysian business practices as they work on projects with local companies.

One of the most important reasons to study at UTM is its commitment to technological progress – its research centers are constantly pushing boundaries in their exploration of various thematic topics from aerospace engineering to artificial intelligence. 


Universiti Sains Malaysia

USM is the second oldest university in Malaysia. Today it has five campuses, with the main campus situated on the beautiful Penang Island. It has expanded to now host 32, 000 student each year. The main campus has lots facilities, such as medical centres, pharmacies, libraries, a post office, banks, a sports centre and an art centre. USM offers 60 programs for international students, including engineering, science, medicine, arts, business, and literature.

USM is unique in that students are allowed to choose their own minors, resulting in unique pairing of majors and minors. 


Universiti Putra Malaysia

Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), located in the city of Serdang, is an internationally-renowned university that caters to both local and international students. UPM has world-class facilities such as libraries, laboratories, research centers, and museums.

With its convenient location near downtown Kuala Lumpur, the university provides easy commute options for students, who can take advantage of the many cultural attractions the city has to offer. Additionally, UPM provides a range of student services such as peer mentoring programs and social and sporting programs.


Unique Scenery and Wildlife 

Did you know Malaysia has over 30 national parks? While you’re in Malaysia be sure to check out at least one of the national parks and other epic landmarks, like UNESCO Heritage site, Sungai Palas Tea Plantation in the Cameron Highlands, just 30km from the mainland.

Malaysia has an impressive 20% of the world’s population of animals within its borders. If you enjoy jungles, rainforests and free-roaming wildlife in its natural habitat, then you’ll have to plan a road trip in Malaysia and try to get a glimpse of the Malayan tiger and the Malayan lying lemur. 

Batu caves Kuala Lumpur
Batu caves

A safe country 

Malaysia is actually rated the 5th safest country in Asia, with many races and religions living in harmony with each other.

Local delicacies

A stay in Malaysia would not be complete without a chance to enjoy traditional Malaysian foods, like Satay, Sang Har Noodles (a prawn and noodle dish) and Nasi Lemak, the national dish of Malaysia made up of rice steamed with pandan leaf and coconut milk. 


It’s plain to see Malaysia celebrates its diversity of ethnicities, even in architecture with the variety of styles, including pre-colonial wooden stilted Malay structures, Islamic mosques, Victorian and Dutch monuments, and futuristic skyscrapers, like the Petronas (which are the world’s tallest twin towers, and worth a look!)

What are some cons to living in Malaysia?

If you choose to live in Malaysia, you’ll have to get used to sudden downpours of rain, especially in September and October which are the wettest months. And although most groceries are reasonably cheap, wine is really expensive due to heavy import fees. Actually, any luxury imported goods in Malaysia will be expensive. The other challenge in Malaysia is driving with lots of traffic and some locals do tend to take traffic rules with a grain of salt, so you may want to stick to public transport unless you want a challenge. 

Applying for a student visa

The process of applying for a visa is pretty straightforward in Malaysia. You’ll need to: 

  1. Get an acceptance letter from a Malaysian education institution
  2. Apply for a Visa Approval Letter (VAL)
  3. Apply for a Malaysian entry visa (depending on what country you’re from)
  4. Show your VAL and entry visa at the immigration checkpoint in Malaysia 
  5. Registering at your educational institution
  6. Apply for your Student Pass 

To apply for a Visa Approval Letter, you can apply online through the government website: https://visa.educationmalaysia.gov.my/ 

After creating an account for yourself online, you’ll need to upload electronic copies of all your documents. Once your visa is approved, it’s a good idea to print it and keep both a paper copy and a digital copy on you. 

Alternatively, you can also let your university handle the process for you. 

After getting a Visa Approval Letter, some nationalities are required to also get a Malaysian Entry Visa, which is basically an extra step where the Malaysian Immigration department gives their approval for you to travel. 

If you are from one of the following countries then you will need a Malaysian Entry Visa:

  • Argentina
  • Austria
  • Bahrain
  • Bangladesh
  • Belgium
  • Bosnia and Herzegovina
  • Brazil
  • Cambodia
  • Cameroon
  • Chile
  • China
  • Croatia
  • Cuba
  • Czech Republic
  • Egypt
  • Finland
  • France
  • Germany
  • Ghana
  • Guinea Republic
  • Hong Kong (C.I / D.I)
  • Hong Kong SAR / BNO
  • Hungary
  • India
  • Indonesia
  • Iran
  • Iraq
  • Ireland
  • Italy
  • Japan
  • Jordan
  • Kazakhstan
  • Kosovo
  • Kuwait
  • Lao PDR
  • Lebanon
  • Liechtenstein
  • Malta
  • Mexico
  • Montenegro
  • Morocco
  • Mozambique
  • Myanmar
  • Nepal
  • Netherland
  • Nigeria
  • North Korea
  • Oman
  • Pakistan
  • Philippines
  • Poland
  • Qatar
  • Romania
  • Russia
  • Rwanda
  • Samoa
  • Saudi Arabia
  • Senegal
  • Serbia
  • South Africa
  • South Korea
  • Spain
  • Sri Lanka
  • St Marino
  • Sweden
  • Syria
  • Taiwan
  • Thailand
  • Turkey
  • Turkmenistan
  • Ukraine
  • United Arab Emirates
  • United Nations
  • United States of America
  • Uzbekistan
  • Venezuela
  • Vietnam
  • Western Samoa
  • Yemen

If you aren’t from one of these countries, then you can enter the country with just your Visa Approval Letter and get a Visa on Arrival when you turn up at the airport. 

Once you arrive in Malaysia, you’ll need to go to the immigration checkpoint and show your Visa Approval Letter and your entry visa. 

Within 7 days of arriving, you need to register at your educational institution and undergo a medical screening. Once you’ve done that, you’ll get a sticker on your passport endorsing your stay in Malaysia. You can show your passport to your university and they will issue you with a Student Pass. 

You can apply here: https://visa.educationmalaysia.gov.my/

Required documents

When you apply your Visa Approval Letter, you need the following documents:

  • One picture of yourself
  • A copy of your passport (must be valid for 12 months or more)
  • Pages of all the pages of your passport, only if you are from one of the following countries:
    • Iran
    • Iraq
    • Libya
    • Somalia
    • Sudan
    • Syria
    • Yemen
  • The letter of acceptance from your educational institution.
  • Previous academic certificates and transcripts.
  • Medical certificate showing you are in good health. You must undergo a pre-arrival medical screening at a registered clinic overseas.
  • Yellow Fever Vaccination Certificate, if you are from a country or you recently travelled to a country that is at risk of Yellow Fever. 
  • A Personal Bond, which all foreign students have to sign as an effort to ensure they will not violate the Immigration laws of Malaysia. 
  • Proof of English Language Proficiency. You must undergo an English Language test and attach the certificate which shows you have an acceptable level of English. Malaysia accepts the following certificates:
    • IELTS (International English Language Testing System)
    • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language)
    • PTE – Academic (Pearson Test of English)
    • CAE (Cambridge English: Advance)
    • CPE (Cambridge English: Proficiency)
    • MUET (Malaysian University English Test)
  • If you are from Sudan: A No-Objection Certificate (NOC) which your institution must apply for at the Sudanese Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.
  • If you are from Iran: A Letter of Eligibility (LOE), which your institution must apply for at the Iranian Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

How to show respect in Malaysia 

Malaysian culture is collectivist, meaning that the family clan is really important and anything an individual does will impact the whole clan. 

Showing respect in Malaysian culture is an important part of everyday life. The traditional Malay greeting is “Salaam”. 

To show respect, it is important to speak politely, using titles to greet people (like Mr, Mrs or Doctor) and avoid any kind of derogatory comments, especially in public as this can be humiliating for a local. It is also considered respectful to take an interest in the other person by asking questions about their family.

Dressing modestly is also important, wearing clothes that cover your shoulders, and short or skirts that cover your knees. Bowing your head slightly is a common sign of respect when greeting people older than you.

To generalize, Malaysian culture involves lots of food and celebrations. Some Malaysian customs are truly unique and you won’t find them anywhere else. For example, the custom of Bakkukurung is practiced in certain areas of Malaysia where people build a hut out of palm leaves and then later set it on fire.

Another unique Malaysian tradition is called Tapai, which involves fermenting glutinous rice dough over several days. This creates an alcoholic beverage that’s absolutely delicious! And there are also the traditional Mask dances which have been popular in some parts of the country for centuries.

All these unique Malaysian customs make up a vibrant culture full of fascinating stories and beautiful artwork that you won’t soon forget. 

Unique cultural traditions

  • It’s common for businesses to have a 2-hour lunch break on Fridays for Muslim workers to go and perform their prayers.
  • A Malay woman is expected to stay in her home for 40 days after the birth of her child, after which a ceremony called Berchukor is celebrated where the baby’s head is shaved. 
  • Children in a Malay household are expected to be obedient and show respect for their parents and elders. 
  • When you visit someone, they will greet you with Assalamualaikum which means “peace be upon you”.
  • Chinese New Year celebrations last for a whole week and is celebrated in January/February with food, dances and music.
  • Muslims will celebrate the month long fast of Ramadan. They break the fast after sunset each evening with Iftar, a celebration of food with family and friends.  
  • It’s common to use the right hand when eating or giving or receiving things.
  • Malaysia is a Muslim country so most people have Friday off as it is a holy day, so Fridays and Saturdays are generally the weekend. 
  • Malay weddings are a grand affair, where guests sprinkle the couple with scented water and yellow rice. 


Because the cost of living is cheap and English is widely spoken, Malaysia has become a leading hub in Asia for international students, attracting many students from China, Indonesia and Bangladesh, but also from all over the world.

The process of applying for a student visa is relatively straightforward, so if affordability, safety, easy communication and good quality universities are high on your list, this might be the country for your future degree.

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