Background to Business in Malaysia

Malaysia is one of Asia success stories with a vibrant economy which has resulted from decades of careful planning and hard work.

The government acted swiftly in 2009 to try to reduce the impact of the global downturn and the results of this intervention were mainly positive. Malaysia’s thriving economy has helped it become, for example, one of the world’s leading producers of computer disks.

Malaysia’s population of over 30 million inhabitants presents the external business traveller with a minefield of cultural dilemmas. The country is strongly divided along ethnic lines with the three largest ethnic groups being (in order of size) Malays, Chinese and Indians. In addition, there are a number of smaller indigenous peoples in the territories of Sarawak and Sabah. That this amalgam of races and ethnic diversity has been moulded together and has (post the awful riots of 1969) worked reasonably well is truly one of the great success stories of the last thirty years.

As with all countries, culture and history very heavily influence the Malaysian approach to business. Anybody wishing to do business in Malaysia needs to become as conversant as possible with the cultural complexities of its business world in order to be able to develop the all-important relationships as quickly and as smoothly as possible.

With such a diverse cultural make-up, it is obvious that differences will occur within Malaysia itself with regard to attitudes to some aspects of business. Fortunately, however, there are certain common threads which run through the three major ethnic groupings and which will help the overseas visitor make sense of everything. This country profile attempts to pull together some of these common approaches. (It is also recommended that you read the country section on Singapore and India, which will help if working specifically with Chinese Malays or Indian Malays).

The Influence of Islam

Although Malaysia is an Islamic country fundamentalist principles have not affected the conduct of business. This does not mean that religious duties are not observed and the working day is punctuated by prayer in many offices. Some provinces observe Friday as the day of rest and close for business. Kuala Lumpur maintains a more Western weekly pattern – although some offices open on Saturday morning.

Ramadan, the month of fasting, is observed and levels of effort and motivation can, naturally be affected. Government departments often find themselves understaffed at this time, making the processing of visas and other official business somewhat tardy.


This country-specific business culture profile was written by Keith Warburton who is the founder of the cultural awareness training consultancy Global Business Culture

Global Business culture is a leading training provider in the fields of cross-cultural communication and global virtual team working.  We provide training to global corporations in live classroom-based formats, through webinars and also through our cultural awareness digital learning hub, Global Business Compass.

This World Business Culture profile is designed as an introduction to business culture in Malaysia only and a more detailed understanding needs a more in-depth exploration which we can provide through our training and consultancy services.

Country Breakdown





Malaysian Ringgit


$ 296.4