With over 170,000 international students from all over Asia, Europe, Africa, and the Middle East, Malaysia has become one of the significant destinations for higher education. Besides its pioneering education model across Asia, Malaysia offers unique opportunities for international students to shape their future by promoting academics and careers both locally and internationally.

Studying in Malaysia has various benefits and advantages for prospective students to complete their education with the best experience. First, due to its position at the center of Southeast Asia, Malaysia has a rich culture and diverse population, which makes it easier for international students to adapt. Second, studying in Malaysia is more budget-friendly than in other countries, and there are plenty of scholarship options.

Third, Malaysia hosts one of the most breathtaking natural resources and unique cuisines in the world, which makes it a pleasant and exciting journey besides academics for international students.

In this Ultimate Guide to Studying in Malaysia, we’ll cover everything you need to know, from admission requirements to living costs and more. So, if you’re ready to discover why Malaysia is the perfect study-abroad destination for you, read on!

How to Plan for Your Studies in Malaysia

Prospective students are required to plan their studies accordingly to get into their preferred programs in the country. Below are some important factors every international student must consider for their application.

Education System in Malaysia

Each year, Malaysian universities await new skilled and passionate international students with plentiful opportunities. However, it is critical for prospective students to acknowledge the academic expectations of Malaysian universities from them. Consequently, to understand Malaysian universities’ expectations, students should start by understanding the Malaysian education system.

Malaysian universities have accepted international students from all levels of education since the early 1990s. Although there aren’t any official statistics about the number of international students in the country as of 2023, the Malaysian government has a long-term vision to host over 250,000 international students by 2025. The number of universities for higher education in Malaysia is listed below:

  • Public Universities and Polytechnics: 53
  • Private Universities: 50
  • Private University colleges: 16
  • Foreign University branch campuses: 10

International students in Malaysian universities are provided with alternative program options. In addition to the bachelor’s, master’s, and Ph.D. programs, students can enroll in transnational programs or credit-transfer programs.

Transnational programs refer to the programs or courses recognized by a foreign university to be completed in Malaysia. Credit-transfer programs allow students to convert or obtain credits based on American or European standards (ECTS).

Choosing University in Malaysia

Each Malaysian university has its own merits and advantages for international students in that they encourage innovation and research to become a global destination for higher education by 2025. International students are provided with a wide scale of academic programs in Malaysia for different degrees of study.

The Malaysian government and many Malaysian colleges support international students with guidance on how to choose a school with the desired and appropriate program. Essentially, international students must recognize their academic interests and examine the employment opportunities of their selected program or university carefully.

Below are the top Malaysian colleges and universities you should consider when choosing a school and degree of study:

Planning your path to success? Check out our article on the Best Universities in Malaysia now and start your journey there!

Choosing a Study Program in Malaysia

Choosing the right university is definitely one big step ahead taken by international students, yet the greatest importance must be paid to choosing the right academic program in Malaysia since the program you study will define your future in academics and employment.

Malaysian universities offer a wide range of academic fields and degree programs, yet it is the international student’s role to choose which one suits them best for what they really want to and can do.

Popular study subjects and academic programs in Malaysia are usually Cyber Security, Medicine, Dentistry, or Public Health, Data Science or Data Analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI) Systems, Engineering, and Biomedical Science.

Malaysian higher education provides international students with different options at the certificate, diploma, undergraduate, and postgraduate levels. The overall entry requirements for different degree types are listed below:

  • Certificate Programs: usually take 1 to 3 years for students with secondary school qualifications and accept students of 17 years of age or older
  • Diploma Programs: usually take 2 to 3 years for students with secondary school qualifications and accept students of 17 years of age or older
  • Bachelor’s Degrees: usually take 3 to 5 years to complete and are more theoretical compared to vocational schools
  • Master’s Degrees: can take 1 to 3 years to complete and may require a thesis
  • Ph.D. Programs: can take 3 to 5 years to complete and may require coursework and a dissertation

How to Finance Your Education in Malaysia

Below is the information for international students in Malaysia to consider when financing their education.

Tuition fees in Malaysia

As stated above, completing higher education in Malaysia is much more affordable compared to many Asia-Pacific countries. Although average tuition fees depend on the university and degree of study, a general range of the costs change as the following:

  • Bachelor’s tuition fees: $2,200 to $5,000 per year for public universities/colleges, $1,500 to $10,500 per year for private universities/colleges
  • Master’s tuition fees: $560 to $4,500 per year for public universities/colleges, $1,700–$3,400 per year for private universities/colleges
  • Ph.D. tuition fees: $2,300 to $2,800 per year for public universities/colleges; for the tuition fees for private universities/colleges, please visit the university’s admissions website.

The most affordable Malaysian universities and colleges are usually public universities, such as the University of Malaya (UM), the University of Teknologi Malaysia (UTM), and the University of Sains Malaysia (USM).

When considering the tuition fees, please keep in mind that the type and field of the program can drastically affect the tuition fees. Programs such as engineering and medicine usually demand higher amounts of tuition fees. For instance, the average tuition for the Bachelor of Medicine in public universities can take up to $27,000 per year for public universities/colleges.

Find your dream university without breaking the bank – check out our article on the Cheapest Universities in Malaysia now!

Cost of Living in Malaysia

Kuala Lumpur is ranked #1 among the most affordable cities for higher education in the world for affordability, budget-friendly living costs and the abundance of scholarship options available. This makes studying in Malaysia especially attractive for international students since it is easier to finance their living expenses.

Living expenses usually include accommodation, transportation, food, textbooks and other supplies, clothing, traveling, and more. International students should expect to spend $500 to $850 per month to cover their basic expenses.

As for accommodation, Malaysian universities offer different options for international students. When choosing a university dormitory, international students can expect to pay from $70 to $300 per month, yet if they wish to rent an apartment, they can expect a monthly payment of $90 to $700.

Nourishment is also easily affordable in Malaysia; if you are careful of your spending, you can expect your food and grocery expenses to be around $250 to $400 per month. If you wish to enjoy the traditional or local food in the area and eat out, you can expect to pay some more.

To make transportation budget-friendly, international students can pay for the Monthly Pass, which is around $16 on average. The average cost of sports and entertainment activities is around $30 to $70, yet a more appropriate estimation can be made by the individuals.

According to the MOHE (Ministry of Higher Education), international students are to pay for health insurance during their stay in Malaysia. Annual health insurance coverage is from $4,500 to $11,200 for all international students studying in Malaysia.

Financial Aid and Scholarships

International students in Malaysia are offered plenty of financial aid and scholarship options. Many Malaysian universities and colleges offer full or partial tuition fee waivers, tuition fee payments with allowances, or full grants.

Both partially and fully funded scholarship options are available for international students in Malaysia. Scholarships in Malaysia are abundant since, apart from privately-owned grants, the Malaysian government supports international students with the following:

  • A full or partial waiver of tuition fees,
  • A monthly stipend,
  • A block grant,
  • A combination is one of more benefits.

These scholarship opportunities are available for international students with all types and degrees of study. For detailed information and a catalog of various types of scholarship options, you may visit the Malaysian higher education website.

Some of the popular scholarships available for international students in Malaysia are the following:

Turn your study abroad dreams into a reality – check out our article on the Best Scholarships in Malaysia now to learn more about your scholarship options!

How to Apply to Malaysian Universities

Below are the important steps for international students to follow when applying to universities in Malaysia:

Admission Requirements

When choosing a university and program in another country, international students must be especially careful about the demands and requirements of the desired school and program. Each Malaysian university may have its own requirements for international students for different degrees and fields of study. Therefore, the best thing to do should be to make sure the prospective student acknowledges the admission requirements in every detail.

General admission requirements to study higher education in Malaysia are proof of diploma for the highest completed education, recommendation letters, proof of language proficiency, transcript of academic records, payment of the application fee, and motivation letter. Some programs may require additional documentation, such as student portfolios, oral/written exam scores, and more. For an accurate list of admission requirements, please visit the desired program’s web page.

Required Documents

Each Malaysian university and program has its own regulations for prospective students, and sometimes international students may be required to submit additional documents for admission. Typical documentation for Malaysian university admission is listed as the following:

  • Completed application form (if the form is completed online, a digital or printed copy is applicable)
  • High school diploma (for bachelor’s applications)
  • Bachelor’s and/or master’s diploma (for master’s and Ph.D. applications)
  • Proof of English language proficiency (TOEFL iBT, IELTS Academic, or more.)
  • Letter of Intention/Motivation Letter
  • An official transcript of the completed courses at the previous academic level
  • Letter(s) of recommendations
  • Copy of valid passport and photo

Please keep in mind that these documents may differ for each program and university.

Application Deadlines

Application periods differ in each university in Malaysia; however, there are typically two intakes and application dates for international student admission:

  • Fall intake: International students should complete their application by June to be enrolled in their desired program in September
  • Spring intake: International students should complete their application by November to be enrolled in their desired program in February

To have access to the program-specific dates for application and admissions, please visit the related university’s web page.

General Admission Steps

When considering your application to Malaysian universities and colleges, you must organize an admission plan with the important steps to avoid missing any deadlines or documents. Below is the general admission steps an international student should consider when applying to academic programs in Malaysia:

  1. Choose your desired university and program: check out the program catalogs of each university
  2. Find out the language requirements
  3. Check program requirements and prepare documents
  4. Pay the application fee and submit your application
  5. Apply for scholarships and other grants

How to Obtain a Student Visa in Malaysia

According to the MOHE (Ministry of Higher Education), all international students wishing to study in Malaysia are required to be eligible for a student visa. A student visa is valid for 12 months for each international student; therefore, it must be renewed at least one year before it is expired.

International students who receive an admission letter from one of the governmentally recognized universities and colleges in Malaysia can start right after their application for a student visa. Usually, the approval is after four to six weeks. Below are the important steps to apply for a student visa in Malaysia:

  1. Obtain proof of English proficiency: Since most universities in Malaysia, the Malaysian government mandates international students to document their scores on governmentally approved English language proficiency exams. To check which English exams are accepted, please visit MOHE’s website.
  2. Obtain university acceptance letter: international students are to submit a copy of their offer letter from a Malaysian university or college to be eligible for the student visa.
  3. Prepare all the documents: although it can be overwhelming to work on too much paperwork, international students must prepare all the necessary documents to complete their student visa application. A copy of a passport, health declaration form, academic transcripts, offer letter, and English language proficiency score are the general documents to obtain. For details, please visit MOHE’s website.
  4. Pay for the visa application fee: the fee depends on the accepting university or college, but the range can be stated from $110 to $220. For details, please visit MOHE’s website.

Start your study abroad journey in Malaysia – check out our article on How to Get a Malaysia Student Visa now!

How to Prepare for Your Arrival in Malaysia

Moving to a foreign country can be stressful for international students as they need to consider every little detail to make sure everything is going well. Here are some of the most important factors for international students to consider before arriving in Malaysia:

Find an accommodation

It can be very difficult for international students to arrange accommodation from a different country, yet it will be a nightmare if they leave it undone after their arrival. The most effective way to solve the accommodation problem is to contact the university and evaluate the option it provides. There are several on-campus options for each Malaysian university such as student residential halls, student hostels, or dormitories. Whereas popular off-campus options are typically apartments or shared houses owned by Malaysian universities.

Bring enough cash for the establishment costs

When you first arrive in Malaysia, you need to have enough pocket money with you to purchase your essentials and pay for the establishment costs of your apartment. Usually, carrying around $200-300, or MYR 900-1,350, of cash will be enough; if you want to carry more amounts of money, the safest option is to obtain a debit or credit card.

Arrange your transportation method

The most affordable and practical option for an international student in Malaysia is to use public transportation such as the bus or metro. One ride is around $1 for international students, but if you benefit from a monthly pass, it only costs around $25. Choosing and figuring out the transportation in Malaysia will help you adapt to this new lifestyle faster.

Apart from the financial preparations, it is crucial for international students to study Malaysian culture and diversity because it will make it much easier to adapt to society. Malaysia has a very rich and colorful culture with different traditions of celebrations, cuisine, customs, and values. Getting used to them will make your life much more pleasant during your stay.

How to Study and Live in Malaysia

Apart from academics, there are many exciting experiences waiting for international students in Malaysia: undiscovered locations, customs, food, and hospitality from the locals. However, it may take time for some international students to adapt to this major change in their life.

Depending on the country an international student comes from, the adaptation period can take longer. For students coming from surrounding Asian countries, getting used to living in Malaysia may be easy, yet it may not be the same for students coming from overseas. Below are some challenges international students may face when moving to Malaysia:

Challenge 1: Getting Used To The Local Food

Student life in Malaysia has plenty of charms and merits for international students; however, it is very natural for some students to deal with certain challenges. Malaysia is home to different cultures and traditions, which influences the lifestyle drastically.

Getting used to the local food can take time for some students, yet the best thing to do is to be patient and take it easy when trying new tastes. Malay cuisine has a rich variety of noodles, rice, soups, and more. Below are certain must-try Malaysian dishes every international student should try at least once:

  • Nasi Lemak, a rice meal made with coconut milk,
  • Ikan Bakar, a BBQ’ed fish or seafood covered with banana leaves,
  • Assam Laksa, a fish-based soup with rice noodles

Challenge 2: Learning The Language

Malaysia is home to a great many cultures with over 137 languages, yet officially, there are two languages: Malay and English. Malay is spoken by over 80% of people, yet the majority of the locals have a certain proficiency in English.

When getting used to living in Malaysia, language will not be a huge barrier keeping international students from interacting with the local communities. However, learning the national language will be an important advantage for adaptation.

There are several Malay language programs offered by certain Malaysian universities and colleges. Below are some of them for reference:

Discover top English-taught universities in Malaysia – check out our article now!

Challenge 3: Getting Used to the Climate

As Malaysia is one of the countries in Southeast Asia, the humid climate is pretty dominant for almost the whole year. Adjusting to the new weather can be challenging for students who have not experienced it. Thus, it is essential to research the Malaysian climate to pack clothing and other items.

Here are some tips for every international student to consider during their stay in Malaysia:

  1. Socialize with the locals to build friendships.
  2. Keep constant contact with your parents to keep you motivated.
  3. Organize your spending carefully.
  4. Get to know your neighborhood and city.
  5. Get organized before leaving.

Can You Work in Malaysia After Graduation

One of the most critical concerns of international students in Malaysia is to have job opportunities in the country after graduation. Although there are some restricted positions and sectors under specific requirements, the Malaysian government prioritizes international students who completed higher education in Malaysia with vacant jobs.

To benefit from the international employment opportunities for international students in Malaysia, students must obtain a work permit from a company they have agreed upon a contract. To be eligible for the work permit status, international graduates must have a passport valid for at least 18 months and a contract with a Malaysian company. For more information, please visit the Malaysian immigration department’s web page.

A Malaysian work permit is usually given to international graduates in management, software and web design, sales, or finance. Earning a higher education degree in Malaysia is a significant advantage to obtaining a position in such sectors.

The job hunting period is crucial for seniors and graduates since many Malaysian companies start hiring students in their final year at the university. When preparing for job hunting and networking in Malaysia, international students should do thorough research about the companies they wish to apply to and make sure they meet the qualifications for the position.

Conclusion

Malaysian schools definitely have much to offer, and more and more international students enroll in higher education programs to experience diversity and quality education, as it is also the Ministry of Education’s vision to have 250,000 international students by 2025. If you are excited about discovering the wonders and experiencing life in a multicultural environment while pursuing your academics, studying in Malaysia is one of the best options to consider.

 

We hope this Ultimate Guide to Studying in Malaysia was informative and helpful. Do visit the Asia Scholarships Page to find out more about universities and scholarships in Asia!

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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