Work in Malaysia: Getting a Malaysian work visa

20.03.17
6 minute read
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Malaysia’s growing population includes a large number of immigrants, drawn by the opportunities to live and work in this exciting and vibrant environment. There are a number of big cities with high concentrations of expat workers, including the capital Kuala Lumpur, which has a rapidly developing startup scene.

Malaysia’s economy is forecasted to continue growing steadily, fuelling a need for skills and knowledge from around the globe. If you’re thinking of moving to Malaysia for a job, you might need a work visa to do so.

To help see how you can go about obtaining one, follow this guide to getting your Malaysian work visa.

Do I need a Malaysian work visa?

To work in Malaysia as a foreigner, you’re likely going to need a work visa. It’s possible to enter the country on a tourist visa and then later change your status to allow you to work, but as the authorities are very strict on undocumented workers, it’s important that you have your paperwork lined up before you start your new job.

The Expatriate Services Division, part of Malaysia’s Immigration Department, is a ‘one stop’ shop for people moving to Malaysia and has a lot of useful information for newcomers.

What is the process to get a Malaysian work visa?

Work visas for Malaysia are processed by the Malaysian Immigration Department. There are several different visa types, depending on your type of employment. The process of getting a visa arranged can be quite extensive, so be prepared for some leg work before you get your paperwork all in order.

The most common choice, the expatriate visa type is intended for people earning over 8000 MYR a month in professional jobs. However, there are a list of roles which can’t be done using this visa type.

Depending on the role you’re going to do, your employer might first need to get approval from a state body to bring a foreigner into the business. There are different state bodies responsible for approving roles across different sectors. Your employer will have to prove that the role they’re filling is vital to their business and can’t easily be filled locally.

After your employer has done this, you’ll need to present your documents to the authorities for their approval. Once your application gets the final approval, you’re then issued what’s known as an employment pass.

To be issued your employment pass you must have at least 18 months left before your passport expires. Passes are issued for time lengths varying from a year to five years, depending on the situation.

There’s also a ‘foreign workers’ visa type, but this is intended for immigrants working in relatively low paid sectors rather than ‘professional’ jobs. Eligibility for a work visa can be dependent on the type of role and the specific individual applying. For example, foreigners are only able to work in fixed sectors and visas will only be issued to those under the age of 45 when they apply.

There are also fees attached to all visas. These vary widely depending on the visa type, the location of the job, and the role you’re going to do. In addition to the main fees, there are further administrative costs that are payable by the applicant or the employer. These are detailed on the Malaysian Government website.

Employment Pass applications should be processed within five days of documents being submitted.

Plenty of visa agencies offer to help you arrange your visa for a fee. However, if you're coming to work for a legitimate employer, they’re likely to guide you through the process themselves. If you do choose to use an agent, make sure you know exactly what you're paying for before you hand over any cash.

What documents do I need?

For an expatriate visa, you’ll need to provide certain documents, including the following:

  • Completed application form, which must be attached to the original Employment Contract
  • Recent passport photos
  • Copies of your valid passport
  • Letter from the sponsoring company confirming they will pay salaries and tax revenues for the employee
  • Proof that the sponsoring company complies with regulatory conditions for the industry
  • For extension applications, you must also provide income tax receipts proving payment

If you’re applying for an expatriate visa and will be earning more than 8000 MYR a month, then your application should be automatically approved within a day. There’ll also be an inspection of your employer and the business might have to provide further proof of payment of all relevant taxes.

Malaysian work visas for part time, fixed term and seasonal workers

If you're coming to Malaysia in a professional capacity but will be there for under 12 months, you can apply for a temporary permit called a Professional Visit Pass. Otherwise, your options are the visa types outlined above, as there are few specialist visas for those looking to come to Malaysia for a short term to work.

That said, if you are moving to work as an au pair, you might be able to get a specific visa for the role. There are fairly tight restrictions on this visa type, so read the fine print.

Malaysia currently has very limited opportunities for people looking to take a working holiday. Although this situation might change, the visas offered at present are kept to extremely low numbers and reserved for Australian and New Zealand citizens. Because of the low quotas, these tend to go early in the year.

How do I get a Malaysian work visa as an entrepreneur?

The Malaysian Development Investment Authority outlines several different visa options for entrepreneurs depending on the exact circumstances. You might apply for a short term visit pass (social) if you're exploring business options before getting started, or a visit pass (temporary employment) if you're going to be in Malaysia for up to two years.

There’s also a visit pass (professional) that allows some freedoms about how and where you work, which is open to workers and entrepreneurs on certain fields.

Although Malaysia is open to foreign workers and investment, there’s also a priority placed on local employment. Therefore, some work sectors are off limits to foreigners. Because of this and the number of different options for securing the right visa cover, you might find it useful to talk to an immigration agent or lawyer before planning your trip.

How might my Malaysian work visa affect my spouse and family members?

If you have an employment pass, you’re able to apply for your spouse, parents and children under the age of 18 to join you in Malaysia. You’ll need to apply for a dependant pass for each family member coming to Malaysia. Passes are issued for the same length as the employment pass of the main applicant unless the passport validity of your family members is shorter than this.

How can I move money to Malaysia from my bank account abroad?

To get the most of your money in Malaysia, you'll want to open a bank account in Malaysia, which you can do before you arrive.

Once you send money either to or from Malaysia, consider using a money conversion service like TransferWise to avoid unfair exchange rates. There's a small transparent fee, and when your money is converted from one currency to another you’ll get the real exchange rate - the same one you can find on Google. Not only that, but TransferWise receives and sends money via local bank transfers instead of internationally, further saving you money by cutting out hefty international transfer fees.

If your trip is short or opening a bank account in Malaysia isn't an option, you can always withdraw money from your foreign account using an ATM there. Just keep in mind it'll be more favourable to agree to be charged in the local currency, not your home currency.

Regardless of when you start your new job abroad, it should be fairly straightforward to get yourself a visa if you follow the right steps. The most important part is just to make sure to enjoy your new adventure.

TransferWise is the smart, new way to send money abroad.

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