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Education and Safety in Malaysia

Life in Malaysia can be a beautiful and stressful experience at the same time. Get the most out of your expat life in Malaysia by knowing what to expect! With the InterNations Country Guide, you will learn about culture, languages, residence permits, and schooling for expat kids in Malaysia.
Although most Malaysians are Muslim, the number of Buddhists is also quite high.

Malaysian Schools and the Alternative

Six years of primary education are compulsory for school children in Malaysia. Prior to that, most children attend preschool for a couple of years. After primary school, students may chose to attend secondary school for five more years.

Primary education takes place in national primary schools and in vernacular schools, the difference being the language of instruction. While Bahasa Malaysia is the language of choice in all national primary schools, teaching in vernacular schools is in Chinese or Tamil.

Unless your child is proficient in one of the languages above, it makes sense to send him or her to an international school. Fortunately, there are plenty in Malaysia, most of them centered in Kuala Lumpur. There is a list of international schools available on this website. On top of that, there are plenty of international nursery schools and kindergartens for expat children.

Dress Codes and Losing Face

Last but not least, there are a few things to consider if you are an expat living in Malaysia: First of all, don’t forget you are in a Muslim country. While you are, of course, free to practice your own religion, it is a question of respect for your host country to honor local customs and dress codes (i.e. dress conservatively).

However, Malaysia is also an Asian country, so the concept of “face” is very important. Especially when you are doing business, it is important not to lose face or cause someone else to lose face. Both are considered inacceptable and will harm your reputation in every respect.

Heavy Penalties and Air Pollution

Another important rule for foreigners in Malaysia is to stay away from drugs. You may well be accosted by drug dealers during your stay in Malaysia, but it’s best to avoid talking to them at all. If you are caught in possession of drugs, depending on the amount you carry with you, you may face whipping, prison, or even the death penalty. 

When it comes to general health matters, expats should be aware of the massive concerns surrounding the air quality in Malaysia. During the relatively recent and large-scale industrialization of the country, a lot of damage has been done to the environment. Air pollution can reach levels dangerous to human health: the Department of Environment may be able to provide information on current levels of air pollution.


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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