Can a foreigner do business in Malaysia?

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As a foreigner, doing business in Malaysia is not legal unless you have obtained the relevant approval before hand. In most cases, if you bring a large quantity of a certain item into the country, you will be stopped at the customs before entering the country upon your arrival and you will be questioned.

However, if you are able to bring your items in, setting up stall or anything like that can be quite difficult. In fact, there are quite limited choices unless you go through the proper process.

People – The culture in Malaysia is very Asian which means that they are generally very friendly and in many cases do not turn you away in an instant. In fact, Malaysians are known to be quite accommodating and could well be listening to what you have to offer before politely turning down your offer.

Meetings – Unlike places like Hong Kong or Singapore, you need not wear a suit if you set up a business meeting. In any case, wearing a shirt and trousers for men and a jacket and skirt for women would suffice. This however should be presentable and you might want to be mindful that there is a large population of Muslims in Malaysia who takes attire very seriously.

Appointments and Punctuality – There is something known as the ‘Malaysian Timing’ which is about 15 minutes later than the scheduled event. However, if you are going to meet top executives, you MUST set an appointment beforehand and be punctual.

Name Cards – Before the meeting starts, it is courteous to hand out your business card and expect one in return. Always use your RIGHT hand when you shake hands.

Gifts – You do not bring any gifts to a business meeting but this is common courtesy if you are visiting someone’s home. If you are doing so, DO NOT wrap it with black or white paper as it is considered taboo by most Asians.

Office hours –Malaysian private companies seldom work on Saturdays. They are usually open from 9.00am to 5.00pm while government offices are opened about the same time. On Fridays, some companies break for Friday prayers from 12.15pm to 2.45pm. For government offices, some states observe working Sundays while they do not work on Fridays.

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