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Finding employment

Malaysia’s economy is one of the most successful in Asia.

Its recently industrialised market economy consists of two key sectors: international trade and manufacturing. There has also been a recent shift in employment statistics towards the services sector.

Historically, Malaysia's leading industries have been the production of tin, rubber, and palm oil. A shift in the economy away from mining and agriculture, and towards petrochemical industries, began in the 1970s and 1980s, driven by the country's natural resources, in particular, liquefied natural gas and petroleum. Of the working population, 53% are employed in the services sector, 36% in industry, and only 11% in agriculture, according to Statista (December 2018).

Though there has been a recent attempt to move away from an over-reliance on export, Malaysia is still one of the world’s largest exporters of electrical goods and IT products. The expansion of the service sector, coupled with competition from other low-cost economies, means that while some industries are in decline, others are expanding and, combined with Malaysia’s welcoming attitude to foreign workers, employment opportunities may be found for expatriates with the right experience and qualifications.

Information and communication technology – An industry with a growing economy and potential employment opportunities for expatriates.

Science – Including biotechnology, nanotechnology and environmental science – working in one of these expanding sectors would put you at the forefront of cutting-edge research.

Tourism (including medical tourism) – With a staggering 27.5 million tourists visiting Malaysia in 2015, the industry is booming. The excellent standard of health care available means that Malaysia is fast becoming a destination for medical tourism.

Banking – Malaysia is also a centre of finance with a comparatively high number of women working in the banking sector.

Education There are opportunities throughout universities to further your teaching career in a wide range of subjects.

Multinational companies with expatriate employees include:

HSBC, KPMG, Maybank, PricewaterhouseCoopers, Public Bank Berhad, Accenture, CIMB Group, Exxon Mobil, Schlumberger and Shell.

Ideally, you will need to have a job offer in place before relocating to Malaysia — there are strict visa and work permit legislations which require certain criteria to be fulfilled before you can work (see below). The most certain way to achieve this is to be transferred by an international company with vacancies in Malaysian offices.

Visas and Work Permits

Anyone travelling to Malaysia must have the correct visa — there are strict penalties for having the wrong type or for overstaying, so make sure you have secured the right one through the relevant consulate before you travel. For more information visit the Malaysian Immigration Website:

To work in Malaysia, your employer will first have to apply for expatriate status for you from the relevant agency that covers the correct business sector. The Malaysian government has made a guide for the application process. 

Preliminary Requirements for Expat Status:

  • Minimum annual salary of 5,000 MYR
  • Minimum employment period of two years

Categories of employment necessary to qualify for Expat Status

  • An individual occupying a top managerial position in the company
  • A person with a middle management position with appropriate academic qualifications and experience professionally and who has been approved by relevant Malaysian agency
  • A highly-skilled individual in your field and indispensable to the company, who has worked in Malaysia for at least three years and has been approved by the relevant Malaysian agencyAn individual who has been married to a Malaysian citizen and has lived in the country for over five years
  • An investor with high net worth with an investment of over 2 million USD in a fixed deposit Malaysian bank
  • Qualifying under the points-based system with a minimum score of 65/120

Work Permits must be obtained if you plan to work in Malaysia. Malaysian employers often have a fixed number of foreign nationals that they can employ within their company, and they must prove that only the foreign worker can do the job. Once appropriate officials in conjunction with the Malaysian Immigration Department have granted the approval of the employment, the employer or company can then apply for a work permit on behalf of the expatriate employee. The permits last between six months and five years.

My Second Home Programme (MM2H)

The My Second Home Programme is a scheme that allows foreign nationals and their dependents to reside in Malaysia on a long-term basis, for example, to retire.

Not available for people wishing to work in Malaysia, applicants must deposit a certain amount of money in a Malaysian fixed deposit account for the duration of the validity of the visa (ten years). Read more about the MM2H programme on the official web portal. There are three different types of Work Permit, and obtaining one can be a lengthy process. The Malaysian Government Expatriate Services Division have made a guide to the work permit types and application process. 

Job Applications

The standard European and US format applies for preparing your CV: covering letter or online application form. These should be presented in a formal tone, be a maximum of one page and outline succinctly your suitability for the position. Putting your information in chronological order will allow prospective employers to view your career progression.

During the interview process, meetings at the company’s branch in your location may be required, but most often Skype or telephone interviews will take place, often in several rounds. Be prepared to discuss your aptitude for the role, be polite, punctual, and dress appropriately.  

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