Be aware that people tend not to express their individual opinions strongly.
Background: Malaysia is collectivist, where the interest and benefit of the group is prioritised over that of the individual.
Plan for and expect the decision making process to take a longer time.
Background: Decisions often need to be escalated up several hierarchical levels, and this takes time. However, if the key decision maker is part of the immediate discussion, you can expect a swift decision.
When attending business meetings, don't be late! Plan to arrive early or on time.
Background: Malaysian time is known as ‘rubber time’, i.e. it is flexible. Expect that meetings and social events will start late. However, you do not want to be in a position where you are the cause of this, especially if you are meeting with someone deemed to be more important than yourself such as a client or a higher-up.
Exports of goods and services from Malaysia makes up over 60% of its gross domestic product (GDP).
Background: In addition to its main trading partners China, Singapore and USA, Malaysia is an excellent gateway to other developing markets in Southeast Asia (Indonesia, Brunei, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, The Philippines) as well as has free trade agreements with developed markets in Asia and Asia Pacific.
One should not stereotype countries as being conservative or liberal purely on the basis of religion.
Background: While Islam is the official religion and almost 70% of the population is Muslim, Malaysia is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society that is relatively moderate/liberal and tolerant.
Be aware that open confrontation is frowned upon. Negative opinions should be expressed in a polite, indirect manner or in private.
Background: Open confrontation will cause the recipient to 'lose face'. Furthermore, an outburst of emotion will make you seem emotionally unstable.
Even in business settings, you might be asked personal questions, or even taken out to meals or after-hours socialising.
Background: The weather is not an interesting conversation topic to Malaysians. What you may deem to be personal questions or intrusive behaviour is simply their way of being friendly by showing an interest in you. Malaysians pride themselves in being hospitable!
Foreigners are able to register a company or buy a property with full or partial foreign ownership (within guidelines) with relative ease in Malaysia.
Background: Malaysia has pro-business government policies, encouraging foreign direct investments in order to achieve its high economic growth targets. It is ranked 12th in the World Bank 2020 Ease of Doing Business report.
About 20% of the country's labour force is made up of migrant workers from countries such as Indonesia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Myanmar and The Philippines.
Background: Malaysia has a shortage of local labour for unskilled and semi-skilled jobs due to the unwillingness of locals to work in 3D jobs (dirty, dangerous, difficult).
Companies do not necessarily need to be located in Cyberjaya in order to enjoy incentives for the ICT industry.
Background: ICT incentives can also apply to companies located in Cybercity or Cybercentre locations in other cities, townships or large building complexes in MSC designated areas.
Pay attention to hierarchy and titles.
Background: People of 'higher' status, whether by position/seniority/socio economic level/etc, are accorded (and often expect) different treatment to those of 'lower' status.
How does the decision-making process work in Malaysia? Is it difficult for a foreigner to start a business in Malaysia? Test your knowledge of Malaysian culture and innovation in our quiz and learn more!