Malaysia is arguably one of the best countries to visit if you are interested in some of the best historical and natural attractions in the world. Additionally, it has recently gained prominence on the education front attracting thousands of international students to its top academic institutions. Some of the best globally ranked institutions include Universiti Malaya, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, and Universiti Sains Malaysia.

Whether it’s studying, enjoying outdoor adventures, doing business, or indulging in the most flavorful Malay, Indian, or Chinese cuisines, Malaysia has something to cater to your unique interests. This is what makes it a global hub for students, businessmen, and tourists.

But where in Malaysia should you pursue higher education? If you are interested in studying in Malaysia, the diverse range of cities will cater to your academic and lifestyle preferences. Here are five of the best cities to consider for studying in Malaysia.

Top Cities to Study in Malaysia for International Students

Let us look at some of the top Malaysian cities and what makes them favorable to international students.

1. Kuala Lumpur

Our first recommendation is obviously at the top of our list. Consistently named among the top and most affordable cities for students, Kuala Lumpur is, without a doubt, the most popular city for international students seeking to study in Malaysia. As the capital and largest city of Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur (KL) offers a vibrant scene known for its modern infrastructure, cultural diversity, and numerous economic opportunities that international students can take advantage of.

The city is home to top universities like the University of Malaya (UM) and Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), which are the top universities in Malaysia according to several renowned university rankings. Some notable names like Mahathir Mohamad, a former Malaysian Prime Minister, trace their academic roots to the University of Malaya.

2. Penang

Our second recommendation for the best Malaysian city for international students is Penang. If you are looking for quality education and also interested in learning about Malaysia’s rich history and cultural heritage, this city should be on top of your list. George Town, the capital of Penang, is a UNESCO World Heritage Site famously known for its vibrant street art and unique architecture.

Where should you study in Penang? You have several options to choose from including Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), which is the second oldest university in Malaysia. It is a leading research university in Malaysia boasting over 160,000 alumni from various countries worldwide. Other notable institutions include the Wawasan Open University and Han Chiang University College.

3. Kota Kinabalu

If you want to savor some of the best natural attractions in Malaysia, then studying at a university based in Kota Kinabalu would be your best bet. Situated in East Malaysia on the island of Borneo, Kota Kinabalu is known for its natural beauty, including tropical islands, lush landscapes, and Mount Kinabalu.

When it comes to studies, the Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS) should be top of your list as it is one of the prominent universities in Kota Kinabalu. Not only will you study at one of Malaysia’s top schools, but you will also get the chance to enjoy outdoor activities like hiking Mount Kinabalu, visiting the Tabin Wildlife Reserve, and exploring marine biodiversity around the island. This is also ideal if you are looking to pursue programs in marine science or related courses.

4. Shah Alam

Previously known as Sungai Renggam, Shah Alam is a predominantly Muslim city claiming to house the largest mosque in Malaysia – the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Mosque. It’s a unique city known to have very modern infrastructure and top educational institutions.

The Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM), which is Malaysia’s largest university has a campus in Shah Alam. There is also the Management and Science University in South Eastern Asia known for its top programs like Hospitality and Leisure Management.

There is so much to explore in Shah Alam including the Garden of Islamic Arts, the Sultan Alam Shah Museum, and the Alam Megah Recreational Park. Additionally, the overall cost of living in Shah Alam is low when compared to other Malaysian cities, making it an ideal choice for students looking to study and live affordably.

5. Johor Bahru

Our last recommendation for the best cities to study in Malaysia is Johor Bahru. Touted as one of the most rapidly growing cities in Malaysia, the city is located at the southern tip of Peninsular Malaysia, with a strategic location near Singapore. It’s a more laid-back city when compared to vibrant cities like Kuala Lumpur.

However, the city boasts some of the top universities in Malaysia including Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM) which has a campus in Johor Bahru, offering a range of engineering and technology programs. The university ranks #1 in Malaysia for industry innovation and infrastructure as per the University Impact Rankings and boasts a 26% international student population.

While studying in Johor Bahru, you can find some time to explore places like Legoland theme park, indulge in a jetski adventure, and take advantage of the city’s proximity to Singapore.

FAQs: Studying in Malaysia

Which City in Malaysia Has the Highest Number of International Students?

Malaysia plays host to over 170,000 international students, with the majority studying at top institutions in Kuala Lumpur, the country’s capital. The cost of living is low in Kuala Lumpur with some of the cheapest universities like the University of Malaya and the Universiti Sains Malaysia Kuala Lumpur stationed here. It is no wonder international students find this city favorable compared to other Malaysian cities.

There is no doubt that Malaysian cities have a lot to offer international students when it comes to quality education and cultural and recreational opportunities. From Kuala Lumpur and Penang to Shah Alam and Johor Bahru, there is no shortage of options for international students looking for top-ranking institutions, affordable cost of living, and various lifestyle preferences. Just ensure that you research the city and the specific university of interest to see if their offerings align with your academic goals.


We hope this article will help in choosing the right city to study and live in Malaysia. Make sure to check the Study in Malaysia for more information and tips about studying abroad! If you are still looking for what program to take, head on over to the Open Courses page!

About the Author: Hyun Lee

Hi! I am Hyun, and I am the founder at Global Scholarships. I've received a full-tuition scholarship at Birmingham-Southern College and a $1,000 Burger King Scholarship for my undergraduate degree and was offered a fully funded scholarship consisting of tuition, living stipend, and health insurance for computer science Ph.D. program at North Carolina State University. You can read more about my scholarship journey here. If you are interested, you can follow me on Linkedin where I regularly write about scholarship opportunities.

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