Going Official: Working Visas in Malaysia

As of 2012, Malaysia ranks 30th in the world in terms of Gross Domestic Product (with the total GDP accounting for nearly $450 billion U.S.) Both its manufacturing base and its status as the global nexus of Islam-based finance have contributed to its present-day status, while the service sector is on the rise as well. Malaysia is also a reliable exporter of natural resources from petroleum to palm oil and rubber. All of this means that doing trade in Malaysia or being employed within the country is not an anomaly for expatriates, and has not been for some time.

Under the New Economic Policy of current Prime Minister (and Finance Minister) Najib Tun Razak, the three principles of “high income, sustainability and inclusiveness” are to be the driving engines of Malaysian economic growth, with emphasis on the latter being especially useful for expatriates. Indeed, employment quotas designed to benefit ethnic Malays are seemingly being phased out in favor of an embrace of foreign investment, and a permissive attitude toward majority share-holding by foreigners.Pre-employment Trips

For those who may be traveling to Malaysia on a “reconnaissance” mission in advance of moving there, special visas will not be required. The Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs does require some foreign nationals to have a valid travel visa for any period of transit, however, the countries on this list are – seemingly without exception – from countries outside of the ‘West.’ More importantly, employment passes must be obtained within the country of Malaysia itself (rather than from a consulate in a foreign nation) so expats from the countries of which travel visas are demanded, like India and China, should take note.

Employment Pass Essentials

At its simplest, a renewable Employment Pass (EP) to work in Malaysia is granted to a worker whose contract has been written for a minimum period of one year, and for a maximum of 60 months (premature termination of employment makes the employment pass null and void.) These are also available to workers who expect to make a monthly income of RM 3,000 (roughly $970 USD.) Your employer will apply on your behalf to the Malaysian immigration authorities, after which – if this application is successful – a letter of approval will be sent to both the employer and employee.

Workers who successfully obtain an employment pass should also make sure that the passport from their nation of origin has been valid for at least 18 months by the time that they plan to disembark in Malaysia. The waiting period for an approval from the Malaysian Government – upwards of 5-6 weeks – should also be taken into account. The necessary paperwork for this visa is fairly straightforward: a passport and multiple copies of its front identification page, bank statements attesting that one has adequate funds to survive in the country, and a valid airline ticket.

About 'Outside Commitments'

For those who may wish to take on multiple jobs while in Malaysia, a warning about employment passes is in order. These work permits are granted in the good faith that their recipients will not engage in work other than what is specified on the pass itself. While professionals in fields like, say, supply chain management will probably have their hands full with the duties required by their day job, employees such as teachers may be violating the labor law by setting up their own courses outside of their school obligations. Individuals who work in professions normally tolerant of taking on ‘outside work’ should make absolutely sure that such work is allowed by their sponsor organization before taking on these extra obligations.

Region-specific Visas

Some employment pass criteria apply to specific regions of the country, such as the Labuan territory in the east. This particular region, with financial, oil, and tourism industries all located here, seems to have a special place within the New Economic Policy. Those who profess the Islamic faith will be especially in demand here, as it is a hub for financial institutions compliant with Shariah law. For those wishing to move to Labuan or to incorporate a company here, the minimum acceptable monthly wage is set at RM 5,000 (around $1,600 USD.) This visa also entitles non-Malaysian personnel to be exempt from personal tax.

Like the regular employment pass, it is also the gateway to doing any sort of personal banking within the country: obtaining an ATM card, checking account and locally issued credit card are all possible once sponsorship by a Malaysian company has been secured. Those who obtain the visa to work in Labuan are not obligated, incidentally, to remain within Labuan during the period of their visa’s validity.

Back to top