Straddling the South China Sea and home to an array of cultures, a diverse geography and a futuristic capital city, Malaysia is a truly unique country, in both its landscapes and its citizens.

Choose to study in Malaysia and you’ll discover that the country’s natural beauty extends way beyond its ancient rain forests, national parks and glorious beaches. In the cities too, there’s plenty to keep all the senses occupied, from colorful and varied markets to the mosques, Buddhist temples and Hindu shrines that are often found side by side, and the profusion of annual festivals celebrating both traditional and modern aspects of Malaysian culture.

One of the world’s most politically stable countries, Malaysia may be second to Singapore in terms of regional economic clout, but it offers a much more organic lifestyle than its city-state rival. One half of the country, situated on the southern tip of the peninsula below Thailand, is known as Peninsular Malaysia. This is where the highest ranked universities in Malaysia can be found, along with the most diverse and vibrant urban areas. The other half, Malaysian Borneo, shares an island with Indonesia and remains the quieter of the two halves, offering solitude, authenticity and jungle life.

-Although Kuala Lumpur is the capital city, the headquarters of the federal government is in Putrajaya.

-The currency of Malaysia is the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR).

-The country is a federal democracy with a ceremonial king.

-Major exports include petrol, electronic equipment, natural gas, wood and palm oil.

-The national language is Malay (or Bahasa Melayu), but English is also widely spoken.

Applications, fees and visas

Already the world’s 11th most popular study destination according to UNESCO figures, Malaysia has even grander ambitions, aiming to be the sixth-largest education provider by 2020 with a target of gaining 200,000 international students by this date.

Among the development initiatives introduced to achieve this is a new agency known as Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS), which will provide assistance for foreign students applying to study in Malaysia. As of 2013, students wishing to apply to private universities in Malaysia should apply via EMGS with a ‘one stop application’, intended to make the process more efficient and allowing students to apply for multiple courses and institutions in one go. International students looking to study in Malaysia at a public university, however, will still need to apply for their desired program directly through each individual university.

English is the language of Instruction of private colleges and some government universities in Malaysia, and is commonly spoken by Malaysians. For those less proficient in the language, most colleges offer English proficiency classes.

Student passes and visas for Malaysia

All international students will also need a “Student Pass” and student visa. Gaining your Student Pass is simple and, once you are accepted onto a program at an accredited university in Malaysia, the school itself will directly apply for the pass on your behalf. Among the documents they will submit for you is a Personal Bond, for which you will need to pay a fee of around MYR300-1,500 (US$69-US$346), depending on your country of origin.

Once both your acceptance and Student Pass have been approved, all students (for both private and public universities), will need to apply separately for a single-entry student visa through the Malaysian embassy or high commission in their home country. For this you will need to provide evidence of your offer of study and your Student Pass, have proof of financial stability to meet tuition and living fees, show that you are “in good health and of good character”, and confirm that you intend to live in Malaysia solely for study. Depending on where you’re from, you may also be asked to submit additional documents.

Tuition fees

Fees differ between universities in Malaysia, with the prevalence of international branch campuses and private institutions bringing the overall average up. In general however, studying in Malaysia is cheaper than many countries, with average tuition fees currently standing at approximately US$3,985 per year.

Surprisingly, the highest ranked university in the country, Universiti Malaya (UM), as a public institution, has an average which is again much lower, standing at just MYR 7,078 (~US$1,647) per year for international undergraduates.

Although the prices of programs at Malaysia’s international branch campuses tend to be higher, they are still much cheaper than their international counterparts, while offering the same prestige. For example, if you were to take a bachelor’s degree in computer science from Monash University’s Malaysian branch campus it would cost US$9,222 a year, while at the original Monash University in Australia the price would be more than double, currently US$23,297 a year.

Living expenses

The cost of living for international students in Malaysia is as low as MYR 10,000-12,000 (~US$2,370-2,840) per year, including food, travel and accommodation. While this is relatively low compared to many destinations, it is of course still important to plan your budget as early as possible, especially as your visa application will require proof of available funds.

Scholarships and grants

You will also need to bear in mind that international students are unable to work during term time. The only permitted times students can work are during semester breaks and school holidays of more than seven days, for no more than 20 hours a week and on a restricted category of jobs. This means that earning your tuition and living expenses as you go is not an option. 

Scholarships and grants 

Scholarships and grants are a common way for students to find funding to study in Malaysia. Individual universities in Malaysia will often offer scholarships or fellowships to international as well as domestic students, and information on these is available on their websites.

The Malaysian government also offers funds for international students, one such fund being the Malaysian Commonwealth Scholarship and Fellowship Plan (CSFP), available to both undergraduate and postgraduate students with a 2:1 degree or higher.

See how universities in Malaysia compare to other top Asian universities

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