About Malaysia

One of the most successful countries in Southeast Asia, Malaysia is a middle income country that consistently shows a robust growth. Though the country’s development has been guided by the government, Malaysia’s economy is steadily opening and advancing fast towards technology and innovation.

Malaysia economy is pushed towards higher value-added industries and services, away from the country’s reliance upon natural resources, and target an increased well-being for its people.

These objectives enhance business in Malaysia and consolidates its place as a pillar of Southeast Asia by expanding upon the country’s other key advantages:

  • A population that is highly proficient in English
  • Many large companies that are already leaders in Southeast Asia
  • The regulatory and fiscal environment designed to foster the attractiveness of Malaysia
  • Relatively low taxes in the global competition.

Doing Business in Malaysia


Key sectors of Malaysia

Rich in natural resources such as timber and oil, Malaysia has developed a leading position in the production and refining of palm oil. Its large industrial production leading in electronics, pharmaceuticals and medical technologies, also make Malaysia a strong industrial country.

Services however have also developed exponentially in Malaysia: a notable leader in the region for digital technologies, e-commerce and mobile applications, Malaysia is also an important financial center, and more specifically in Islamic finance, where Malaysia has become a global leader.

Malaysia is also a leader for tourism in Southeast Asia in terms of numbers of foreign tourists arrivals. With its diverse landscapes, modern and traditional cities, wide range of activities, famous UNESCO world heritage sites, Malaysia also displays witty ways to recycle its cultural heritage.


Main Industries of Malaysia

  • Electronics
  • Rubber and Palm oil processing
  • Pharmaceuticals
  • Medical technology
  • Smelting
  • Logging
  • Timber processing
  • Petroleum production & refining


Ahead of Southeast Asia for digital

The second highest connectivity in Southeast Asia behind Singapore, Malaysia has a much larger population which makes it one of the most interesting digital markets in the region. These characteristics help the rapid development of online business and the maturing of online behaviours, as shown by the trends of e-commerce in Malaysia.


Working in Malaysia

On its way to become a high income country, Malaysia provides its workforce and expats with relatively high salaries compared to other countries of the region. Furthermore, to provide a more liveable environment, the local authorities engage a movement towards a more sustainable development to foster greener cities with more public transports, such as in Kuala Lumpur.



  • While punctuality is not generally a high priority in Malaysia, it is still expected in the business setting. However, meetings may start later than scheduled even if everyone is present, as people tend not to rush or appear urgent.
  • In Malaysia, people enter a meeting in order of importance with the highest-ranking person arriving first, and so on. The same goes for introductions.
  • You are expected to greet everyone in the room individually – even if the group is large.
  • Malaysian business culture is very hierarchical. Be sure to respect the seating arrangement that is chosen as it will reflect everyone’s position within their organisations.
  • Receiving Business Cards: Asian culture interprets the respect you show one’s business card to be indicative of the respect you will show the individual in business. Use both hands (or the right hand only) to receive a business card as the left hand is considered unclean and is used for the removal of dirt and for cleaning. Do not put the card away immediately, but regard it carefully and then place it in on the table before you until everyone is seated. Do not put it in the back pocket of your pants as this could be taken as you sitting on the individual’s face. Similarly, do not write on a card unless directed to do so.
  • Presenting Business Cards: Use both hands (or the right hand only) when presenting a business card, making sure that the writing is facing the other person. Do not deal out your cards as though you were playing a game of cards as this risks being interpreted as rude.
  • Allow a few moments of social conversation to pass before mentioning business.
  • Do not expect a decision to be reached during initial meetings as they are usually reserved for establishing relationships and objectives.
  • Make a habit of asking the person with the senior rank for their opinion.
  • The most advantageous approach is to be friendly yet still somewhat formal in meetings with Malaysians.
  • Everyone is consulted before reaching a decision, which can lead to lengthy negotiations. Try to remain patient and don’t expect things to be done quickly.
  • Meeting agendas may be interrupted by the prayer sessions of practising Muslims. If you know your Malaysian counterpart prays (not all do), it’s a good idea to schedule in the time for the midday prayer. This is the prayer most likely to overlap with the working day.
  • Be patient and respectful if some or all Malaysians leave briefly to pray. They will return when they have finished.


Relationship Oriented

Personal relationships play a large role in Malaysian business culture. Trust is key to good business for them, and therefore they will be looking for an honest commitment to the business relationship from you. Their business networks are often comprised of relatives and peers as nepotism is assumed to guarantee trust. They will often ask many questions about your family and personal life, which can sometimes come across as direct and overly personal. However, it is not intended that way. In fact, they will expect you to ask the same of them.


Consider that if you lose your temper or become aggressive at all during your interactions with a Malaysian, you may lose their trust in doing business with you. All matters of disagreement or conflict should be dealt with in the most diplomatic, private manner possible. Any kind of criticism can be seen as overly direct. Therefore, do not criticise any colleague in front of others. It can be more tactful to use a third person to deliver bad news or criticism indirectly.



  • Workplaces in Malaysia are very hierarchical, based on age and position. Everyone has a distinct place and role within their business.
  • Given how strongly tiered the system is, Malaysians’ subordinates may struggle to express opinions that differ from those of their leaders.
  • It can be a good idea to gently encourage them to be open about any misgivings they have that haven’t already been mentioned.
  • If you are seeking to reward or treat a colleague/business partner, you should clearly explain that the act does not require a reciprocating favour in return.
  • Malaysians can feel obligated to reciprocate acts of kindness – to the point that it may actually cause them stress if the gesture is beyond their means.
  • Many Malaysians have a fatalistic view of the world that leads them to attribute some of the successes and failures of their business ventures to the will of God. Thus, they may take into account feelings of instinct or thoughts informed by their faith when making decisions. They may not always rely on hard facts alone.
  • Most Malaysian business people have travelled internationally and are culturally aware; however, your experience may vary depending on ethnicity, age, gender and status.
  • Do not immediately reject a Malaysian’s proposal; when you reject someone’s idea, it can be interpreted as rejecting the person who made it.
  • For the sake of saving face, many Malaysians avoid giving a flat negative response to proposals you make, even when they don’t agree with it. Therefore, focus on hints of hesitation, listening for what they say, but also paying close attention to what they subtly allude to. You can always double-check your understanding by asking open-ended questions.


The people of Malaysia



Malaysians, which is actually a mixture of: Malays, Chinese, Indians, Ibans, Kadazan-Dusun, Melanau, Bidayuh, Kelabit, Urang Ulu, Bajau Murut, Rungus, Iranun, Bisaya, Tatana, Lun Dayeh, Tindal, Tobilung, Kimaragang, Suluk, Ubian, Tagal, Timogun, Nabay, Kedayan, Orang Sungai, Makiang, Minokok, Mangka’ak, Lobu, Bonggi, Tidong, Bugis, Ida’an (Idahan), Begahak, Kagayan, Talantang, Tinagas, Banjar, Gana, Kuijau, Tombonuo, Dumpas, Peluan, Baukan, Sino, Jawa, etc. are proud of their country, their ancestral background and their economic success.


The concept of face

Malaysia’s population of Malays, Chinese, Indians etc. all strive to maintain “face” and avoid shame both in public and private situations. Face is a personal concept that embraces qualities such as good character, and being held in esteem by one’s peers. Face is also considered a commodity that can be given, lost, taken away, or earned. On top of this, the concept of face also extends to the family, school, company and even the nation. Consequently, the desire to maintain face inspires Malaysians to strive for harmonious relationships.

Face can be lost by openly criticising, insulting, or putting someone on the spot; doing something that brings shame to a group or individual; challenging someone in authority, especially if this is done in public; showing anger at another person; refusing a request; not keeping a promise; or disagreeing with someone publicly.

In contrast, face can be saved by remaining calm and courteous; discussing errors or transgressions in private; speaking about problems without attributing blame; using non-verbal communication to say “no”; and allowing the other person to get out of a tricky situation with their pride intact.

The main issues with face, well we do have it at home in Denmark as well…. and although we may call “face” by different names, the issues remains identical in several cases.


Honorary titles

Malays: Men add their father’s name to their own name with the term bin (meaning “son of”). Likewise, women use the term binti.

Chinese: The Chinese traditionally have three names. The surname (family name) is first and is followed by two personal names.

Indian: Many Indians do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father’s name in front of their own name similar to the Malay custom of using the term a/l for men (son of) and a/p for women (daughter of) and then their father’s name.


The language

Multicultural as Malaysia is, and have been for centuries, language is for many people a bilingual, or trilingual issue, and while the most common & National language is Bahasa Melayu, English, Chinese in several dialects, Tamil, and many dialect of the tribes in Malaysia, are widely spoken by a very large part of Malaysians, meaning many people are indeed bilingual through their mother tongue and Bahasa Malaysia, and English very often being their 3rd language.

While at the same time, the plural demography and multicultural diversity of the Malaysian society give her both unique strengths and weaknesses, simply because diversity is a great blessing in so many ways, but also can require some tact to keep a “orderly” and peaceful nation.

A few basic phrases in English – Bahasa Melayu – Mandarin Chinese, while Iban and many other tribal languages are mostly spoken languages and not widely used in written form, just as dialects in Denmark are spoken languages, not written!

As back home in Denmark, the ability for foreigners to speak even a few words in Bahasa Malaysia, or some of the other widely used mother tongues widely used, is greatly appreciated as it shows a genuine interest in the Nation and the People here, so do spend 10 – 20 Euro on buying a Malaysian phrase book, found in most book stores throughout the country.


Religious diversity

Malaysia has a huge variety of Religious communities, and although the main religion is Islam, a large part of Malaysians are followers of the Buddhist, Christian, Hindu and several others faith’s, which have coexisted in harmony since ancient times.

Religious tolerance and understanding is an essential etiquette of Malaysia society, and is officially recognised in the number of Public Holidays in Malaysia which reflect the number of religions present, including official well wishing of respective religious holidays by the King and the Government of Malaysia to each community, accompanied by the “concept of open house” for the festive occasion.

Religious etiquette at houses of worship applies to all visitors, meaning those who belong to the faith, and those who visit as a Guest.



As we once in Denmark had the practice of using sen / son or dottir of: (+ the father’s name, i.e. Nielsen, son of Niels.) …. a practice still used in Iceland, well this principle is also widely used in Malaysia today;

Malays: Men add their father’s name to their own name with the term bin (meaning “son of”). Likewise, women use the term binti.

Chinese: The Chinese traditionally have three names. The surname (family name) is first and is followed by two personal names.

Indian: Many Indians do not use surnames. Instead, they place the initial of their father’s name in front of their own name similar to the Malay custom of using the term a/l for men (son of) and a/p for women (daughter of) and then their father’s name.