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Malaysia: Doing business and staying in touch

Doing Business in Malaysia

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.

Office Hours

Most private sector offices are open Monday to Friday 0900-1700 and Saturday 0900-1300, but many public sector offices operate a five-day week.

Government office hours: Mon-Fri, 0830-1630.


A fully-fledged 'tiger' economy, from the 1970s onwards Malaysia's GDP grew rapidly at around 10% annually. However, in 1997 the Asian financial crisis brought this process to a shuddering halt. Malaysia has recovered reasonably well since then, although the headlong pre-1997 expansion has been replaced by a more measured pace of growth of around 4 to 5.5% each year, reaching 6.3% in 2007. Inflation was around 3% in 2007.

Healthy foreign exchange reserves, low inflation and a small external debt are all strengths that make it unlikely that a financial crisis similar to 1997 will re-occur. The Ringgit/US Dollar peg was abolished in July 2005. This has not resulted in any major change to the exchange rate.

Malaysia is a member of the Pacific Rim organisation APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Forum), which is assuming an increasingly important role in the regional economy.

Malaysia has rocketed up the international conventions league table; Tthe primary venue is the Kuala Lumpur Convention Centre, a large and very modern facility in the heart of the KLCC district (website: Many hotels around the country also offer event facilities. Further information can be obtained from Tourism Malaysia, Convention Promotion Division (see Contact Addresses).


US$296.3 billion (2015).

Main exports

Electrical equipment, petroleum, liquefied natural gas, chemicals and palm oil.

Main imports

Electronics, machinery, petroleum products, plastics and vehicles.

Main trading partners

USA, Japan, Singapore, China and Hong Kong.

Keeping in Touch in Malaysia


International calls can be made from public telephones or at any office of Malaysia Telekom Berhad, the national phone company ( Public phones can be found in many areas, such as supermarkets, shopping centres and post offices, and most use coins or pre-paid cards, which can be purchased at petrol stations and convenience stores

Mobile Phone

Roaming agreements exist with many international mobile phone companies and network coverage is good in most areas of Peninsular Malaysia, and in larger cities in East Malaysia. Signals are less reliable in the highlands and vanish entirely in rural areas of Borneo. Malaysia has GSM 900/1800 and 3G mobile networks, and pre-paid SIM cards can be purchased locally for unlocked mobile phones. If your phone is locked to a network, cheap handsets are widely available.


Internet cafés are found everywhere and most chain coffee shops and shopping centres offer Wi-Fi connections. Larger hotels offer in-room internet access and Wi-Fi access in the lobby.


The government strives hard to shield the Malaysian population from foreign influences that are deemed harmful, and to maintain the perception of national unity. There are strict laws on censorship, and most newspapers self-censor to avoid falling foul of the authorities. Private radio stations broadcast in Malay, Tamil, Chinese and English, but all are circumspect in their political coverage. The censorship laws extend to music and films, and many recordings from outside Malaysia are banned.


There are post offices in the commercial centre of all towns.

Post Office hours

Mon-Sat 0800-1700.

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