Malaysia ranks as one of the best places in the world for expats to live, according to HSBC’s 2016 Global Explorer Survey. Assessed on its opportunity for economic prospects, family life and overall expat experience, Malaysia sits proud at number 28.
It’s this heady mix of growing economic segments, friendly people, and an attractive climate, that draws people to Malaysia. But if you’re going there to work, study or retire, then you’re going to need a local bank account to get you started.
Check out our handy guide for all you need to know about opening a bank account in Malaysia.
What documents do I need to open a bank account in Malaysia?
Malaysia aims to make the arrival of expats who fulfil certain requirements as convenient as possible, with programs such as the MM2H visa. Under this program, foreigners willing to hold a fixed amount in a Malaysian bank account (among other criteria) can get a renewable and flexible visa.
As a result of this relatively open policy, and its accompanying financial requirements, you will find banks happy to help you open an account.
The documents you’ll need to open an account will vary, but typically include:
Proof of your right to be in Malaysia - this could be your residency permit, or your MM2H visa documents. Check the policy of the specific bank you choose.
You might be asked for your employment details, such as a work visa, a letter from your employer, or proof of business activities in Malaysia.
Photo ID such as a passport.
Minimum deposit amount - this is set by the bank, and varying according to account type.
Some banks will take your fingerprint for identification purposes.
Most bank accounts will provide you with a debit card, but if you want a credit card too, you might have to provide more paperwork. Expect to be asked for proof of earnings such as payslips or a letter from your employer.
Don’t be turned off if don’t hold all of the above documents. It’s still worth talking to the bank manager in person, who may have alternative suggestions to help you get started. In general the process of opening an account will be easier if you are referred to a bank by a Malaysian contact who already has an account there.
Can I open a bank account from abroad?
In theory, it is possible to open a Malaysian bank account online. Both Maybank and CIMB, for example, offer limited products which can be arranged with no need to visit a branch in person - but there’s a catch. For these accounts you must have an ‘existing relationship’ with the bank. That means you must already have some form of account with them (although this could under some circumstances be a business account, or a parent’s account in the case of younger customers).
For the majority of expats, this is not going to help, and the better option is to instead open an account with an international bank operating in Malaysia. That way you can get the process started before you move. Luckily lots of international banks operate in Malaysia, but it is certainly worth checking if your home bank have a presence there.
Can I open an account as a non-resident?
It is possible to open a Malaysian bank account as a non-resident. The documentation required to open an account is not fixed in law, so each bank has its own policy. You will usually need to show a reference from your company, or a reputable Malaysian contact, as well as a work permit or other documents proving your right to be in Malaysia.
Which Bank should I choose?
Malaysia has a strong network of both local and international banks. Opening an account is usually no more difficult than visiting a branch with the right paperwork, and if you choose an international bank you could even do it before you arrive.
Maybank (also known as Malayan Banking) are the largest of Malaysia’s retail banks. They have a range of accounts including regular checking and saving accounts, Islamic banking, and products for children. They have internet, phone and SMS based banking services as well as a branch network.
With over 13 million customers, and more than a thousand branches, you should be able to find a convenient branch of CIMB. On offer are current and savings accounts, as well as fixed term deposit products and credit cards. Online banking is possible with all accounts.
Public Bank Berhad (PBE) are a large Malaysian bank operating across the region. They have a wide range of products on offer, several of which come with related promotions such as cash back on spending or discounts for goods and services. It is worth scrutinising the small print, if you think any of the options would be of use for you.
RHB Bank offer a good range of basic and premium current accounts, savings products and multi-currency accounts. However, some of the better value products are only available for Malaysian citizens and permanent residents, so they may not be accessible for expats.
In general, opening a bank account in Malaysia should not be a complicated affair. As the major banks have good English language web pages with a reasonable range of products on offer, you will be able to narrow your options online before going to the bank in person. Once there, staff should be able to open an account in a very short time, and issue you a basic bank card on the spot for ATM withdrawal.
Banking fees and charges
Read the terms and conditions carefully before you choose a bank account - especially when it comes to banking fees and charges.
Any regular charges levied to keep your account open or use a credit or debit card will mount up over time, so it pays to be aware. Other common charges include a set fee for withdrawing cash from an ATM operated by a different bank.
Some accounts in Malaysia have a minimum balance requirement, meaning you must always keep a certain amount in your account. Others have a set minimum income needed to operate, so a steady flow of fresh funds must pass through the account to avoid charges.
Consider your personal preferences when choosing an account that’s right for you. For example, HSBC offer a ‘no frills’ account which includes free basic banking services, but only for those making very limited numbers of transactions. This might suit you if you're not going to use the account frequently - but it's not for everyone.
Another challenge for expats can be finding the best way to move money between accounts which use different currencies. Traditional banks can be an expensive route for this. They’ll often charge for processing the transaction, convert at a relatively poor exchange rate, and an international fee may also be incurred at the receiving end.
For international money transfers with low, transparent fees, try using Transferwise instead. Transferwise allow you to transfer money between accounts using the real exchange rate - no markup, and no hidden fees.
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