The best time to conduct business is the dry season, but the dry months vary as you move around the country – see the climate section for details. During the monsoon months, flooding can cause delays even in central Kuala Lumpur.
Suits are the preferred attire for business meetings, but a shirt and trousers is acceptable for less formal occasions. Female businesspeople should dress modestly, in long sleeves and a skirt that finishes below the knees. Business visitors should remember that the Malay population is predominantly Muslim and religious customs should be respected. Avoid criticising Malaysia in conversation – national identity is also taken very seriously.
Appointments should be made for meetings – punctuality is expected so call ahead if you are likely to be delayed. Personal relationships are important and it may take several meetings to secure a deal. Handshakes are a common greeting, and women may shake hands with other women but men should never shake hands with women. It is customary to exchange business cards, but always present your business card with both hands. If possible, have your cards printed in English and Chinese characters.
Gifts are rarely exchanged in a business situation, but you may bring a gift if you are invited to a family home. Avoid alcohol, pork or beef products and images of dogs or pigs for religious reasons. Confectionary or flowers are usually best, as Hindus, Muslims and Chinese Buddhists each have their own taboos. Never wrap gifts in white paper, as this is associated with death. It is not appropriate for a man to give a gift to a woman he does not know. Always give gifts with the right hand. When eating, always pass things with the right hand and do not let the serving spoon touch your plate.
When paying in a restaurant, hand over the money with your right hand. Never leave your chopsticks sticking upright in a bowl of rice as this is similar to the offerings made for the dead.