Malaysia is a forward-thinking country with a vision. With access to 600 million people in the region, a booming economy and sound infrastructure it’s also one of the most attractive countries for foreign direct investment in Southeast Asia.

Covid-19 latest information

This guide is an accurate reflection of the pre-Covid-19 business environment in Malaysia. Please note that due to the current situation, some circumstances may have changed in this country. Figures and data in the guide were last updated in August 2020.




Welcome to Malaysia

Located strategically in the heart of ASEAN, Malaysia has one of the highest standards of living in the region. Add in the already excellent transport links, with plans for significant investment over the coming years, and the country is an ideal regional and international base for businesses.

HSBC's presence in Malaysia dates back to 1884 when the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation Limited established its first office in the country, on the island of Penang.

Today, HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad has more than 4,000 employees and a network of 68 branches, helping our clients grow their businesses and embrace all of the opportunities Malaysia has to offer.

Get in touch to find out how HSBC can help you and your business thrive in Malaysia.

We look forward to seeing you here!

Stuart Milne Chief Executive Officer, HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad

Head office address:
L12, South Tower
No 2 Leboh Ampang, 50100 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia


32 million1
Capital city
Kuala Lumpur
Main languages
Bahasa Malaysia (official language), English, Mandarin and Tamil
Malaysian Ringgit (RM)
Dialling code
USD11,521 per capita1
Top exports
Electronic equipment, semiconductors, petroleum and liquefied natural gas, wood and wood products, and palm oil2
Top imports
Electronics, machinery, petroleum products, plastics, vehicles, iron and steel products, and chemicals2
Unemployment rate
Corporation tax
Typical office hours
9.00am - 5.00pm, Monday to Friday
Time zone
UTC +8
Emergency numbers
999 (police and ambulance) or 994 (fire brigade)
Other major cities
Putrajaya, Johor Bahru, George Town, Kota Kinabalu
330,323 sq km

1 World Bank Group, 2019
2 Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 2019
3 Trading Economics, 2020
4 PwC, 2019

* Map shows cities of economic significance according to the CIA, 2019

Malaysia: A new powerhouse for Southeast Asia

  • Strategic location in Southeast Asia

    Businesses that base themselves in Malaysia can plug into 600 million people within the region. This is also a large domestic market with close to 32 million residents. It is diverse and has strong consumer markets.

  • Cost-effective within the region

    Malaysia is a cost-competitive location within Southeast Asia. Prices are fair, especially for setting up a manufacturing base. It is ranked 10th in the Asia Pacific region in terms of financial attractiveness.

  • Big on natural resources

    Malaysia benefits from an abundance of natural resources, including oil, rubber, timber, minerals and palm oil. It produces 39% of the world’s palm oil and 44% of world exports of this product. Increasing, global demand for commodities bodes well for this nation.

  • Productive, educated workforce

    The country is ranked high globally in terms of the pay to productivity ratio of its workers. Invest here and you will be tapping into a young, educated and productive workforce, which is largely English speaking.

  • A young nation with a plan

    Malaysia only recently celebrated 60 years of independence, yet most economic sectors have a plan. The country knows where it wants to be, whether to do with infrastructure, economic progression or business diversification. The government is also pro-business.

  • Booming and attractive economy

    There are strong fundamentals in Malaysia. The economy is growing, unemployment is low and tax breaks are attractive. No wonder it’s been one of the top recipients of foreign direct investment in the region.

Country profile

“Saya suka berada di sini” means “I like it here” in Bahasa Malaysia, the national language. The reply is: “what is there not to like?” The economy’s strong, infrastructure works well, the government of Prime Minister Najib Razak is considered on the side of business and there’s a relatively well educated workforce.

2020 saw Malaysia celebrate its 63rd year since independence. This country, at the heart of Southeast Asia, has evolved into a modern economy with forward-thinking industrial policies and some of the highest living standards in the region.

It also has aspirations to transform its economy from one centred on commodities and natural resources to one that has an industrial base concentrated on high-tech and value-added, digitally focused industries for the 21st Century.

Multinational corporations from more than 40 countries have invested in over 5,000 companies in manufacturing and services in Malaysia.

Between 2009 and 2016, Gross National Income increased by nearly 50%. This is a country on the rise, also having secured record levels of foreign direct investment.

Read on to discover more about the dos and don’ts of doing business in Malaysia. Also find out how trading in or with the country could help boost the future growth of your business.

5 reasons to do business in Malaysia1

  1. Third richest country in Southeast Asia
    After Brunei and Singapore, Malaysia is high on the region’s rich list. It is also home to the largest number of listed companies in ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. At USD29 billion, Bursa Malaysia recorded the highest amount of funds raised in the last five years out of the 10 ASEAN countries.
  2. Outperforming neighbours
    Malaysia carried out six business reforms in the past year, regaining a position among the top 20 ranked economies in the world, according to the World Bank's Doing Business Report 2019.
  3. Stable and English speaking
    The United Malays National Organisation and the coalition it leads has ruled since the country’s inception over 60 years ago. English is also used at all levels of industry and administration.
  4. Gateway into Asian markets
    It is cost-competitive to locate here and set up a strategic base in order to export to other markets within the region. The transport infrastructure is also strong for those who want to use Malaysia as a hub.
  5. Driver of growth
    Malaysia has been identified by the Asian Development Bank as one of the countries - along with China, India, Japan and South Korea - that will be the future primary drivers of regional growth.

5 key challenges2

  1. 1

    Competition lacking

    Government restrictions mean the competitive environment in Malaysia can be challenging. In many cases it is imperative to have a local partner to compete in the market.

  2. 2

    Election impact

    With the momentous 2018 General Election result announcing a new government for Malaysia, the country will be subject to a number of reforms over the coming years.

  3. 3

    Cultural diversity

    As a multi-ethnic, multicultural and multilingual society, these varying cultures can heavily influence the Malaysian approach to business.

  4. 4

    Cost of labour

    Some of the other countries in the ASEAN region, such as Indonesia, offer lower labour costs than Malaysia – so it’s good to be aware of your advantages when it comes to operating here.

  5. 5

    Commodity reliance

    Malaysia is still partly dependent on commodities from petroleum to palm oil, and a slump in oil prices have had an impact.

1, 2017

2 TMF Group, 2017