Studying in Malaysia
Updated 2022-05-20 14:02

Malaysia's Ministry of Higher Education monitors the country's institutions. This is to ensure that they deliver education that meets international standards. Increased public investment in the education sector and international enrollments make Malaysia a true regional education hub in Southeast Asia.

According to the Ministry of Education, in 2019, Malaysia welcomed 92,415 international students, out of an overall student population of 390,990. For several years, Malaysia has indeed been one of the most acclaimed countries internationally for its tertiary education system, welcoming many students from countries in the region and overseas. In 2014, Malaysia came out 12th in a ranking of destinations hosting the most international students.

In 2015, the Malaysian government launched the Malaysia Education Blueprint to increase international enrolment at its tertiary institutions. This strategic plan, established over 10 years, aims to place two Malaysian universities in the world's top 100 and to welcome 250,000 international students over one year by 2025. In recent years, it has also been possible for international students to work in Malaysia after graduation, and high-tech fields are made to grant work permits for up to two years.

Plan your studies

To study in Malaysia, you will first need to choose the type of institution you wish to attend and the field of learning you wish to study full-time. There are three main types of institutions for foreign students in Malaysia: colleges and universities, accredited vocational training centres and language schools.

Public universities welcome a large majority of Malaysian students, as well as foreigners mainly from neighboring countries such as Indonesia, Thailand, and Vietnam, but also from Arab countries such as Pakistan. Islam is indeed the religion of most Malaysians and likewise, the official religion of the country. Most Western students choose to follow courses in private institutions, often vocational schools or training centres. Many private institutions in Malaysia are renowned around the world for the excellence of their educational programs.

High schools and universities

Private higher education institutions depend on business investments and student funds. This covers private high schools and universities that award their own qualifications and diplomas (as well as the common core of study), branches of foreign university campuses, and private high schools. These establishments also provide practical courses for professional diplomas.

The University of Nottingham was the first British institution to open a campus in Malaysia. That was in 2000. Following this, university branches began to receive more and more foreign students, since fees and expenses were generally significantly lower in Malaysia than at home campuses for some foreign students.

Public higher education institutions are funded by the government. They consist of public universities that offer bachelor's, graduate, and diploma programs, polytechnics and community colleges that offer certificate and diploma programs, and public colleges that offer certificate and diploma programs.

The University of Malaya (UM), a private institution that was subsequently recognized by the Malaysian Ministry of Higher Education, has the largest number of international students in the country. This huge university complex where courses in many fields are dispensed has a capacity of 18,000 students. No less than 23% of them are foreign students, thanks to a vast program of international exchanges resulting from agreements signed with other international universities.

Other Malaysian universities, popular with international students include Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UNTAR), Universite Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Universite Malaysia Perlis, Universite Putra Malaysia, or Universite Sains Malaysia, to name just a few.

Accredited Vocational Training Centers

These are institutions registered with the Department of Skills Development that allow students to take specialized technical and vocational training courses accredited by the Malaysian government. Accredited courses allow students to subsequently obtain internationally recognized diplomas.

The most popular professional training centers in Malaysia include the School of Skills, VTAR Institute, MIB College (formerly known as Malaysian Institute of Banking), Petian Perindustrian Institute Kuala Lumpur, MTTC College or Auto Prima College. The courses provided in these professional schools cover a multitude of disciplines and professions such as finance, mechanics, mathematics, architecture, and art amongst many others.

Language schools

Students between 18 and 35 can enroll in an institution offering language courses. They can also enroll in computer training and skills courses. These establishments are registered with the Ministry of Higher Education. Since the training courses are short, students can only enroll for a maximum of six months at a time.

Another option is the mobility program for students, which allows the exchange of students between two academic institutions for a period of study ranging from 3 to 12 months, and the transfer of credits in the initial program of study.

Conditions and registration fees

Once you have selected your field of study, you will need to check if you meet the admission requirements of your chosen institution. This can be done via their website. Good grades are often required. Fluency in English is essential for international students in Malaysia, and many institutions will require international applicants to take a language test to validate their applications. The test can be taken in the candidate's home country, provided that Malaysia has an embassy or consulate there.

If your profile matches the institution of your choice's requirements, you can then submit your application form, together with all relevant documents and registration fees. If your application is successful, you will receive an offer letter from the institution and, if you receive multiple offers, then you will be able to accept the best one and pay the appropriate admission fee.

To study in Malaysia, you must be able to finance your stay for the duration of your studies. You may be asked for proof of resources by customs authorities when you arrive in the country. It is important to note that part-time work is limited to 20 hours per week and can only be taken during vacations between university semesters.

There is no centralized system for international students' admission, so you will need to apply directly to the institution you have chosen to attend. Similarly, the registration fees vary according to the establishments, study programs and examinations. For a bachelor's degree, an international student spends an average of around RM7,000 per year in Malaysia. However, students enjoy many benefits that allow them to save money in Malaysia.

Authorization letter and Student visa

Any foreigner wishing to study at a tertiary institution in Malaysia must obtain a student pass from the Malaysian Immigration Department. The host institution can provide assistance in the process of obtaining the necessary letter of authorization and Student Visa, but this is not systematic and depends on the policy of the relevant institution.

Once you have made payment and submitted all required documents to the institution of your choice, the application process for your Visa Authorization Letter (VAL) will begin. A visa authorization letter takes a minimum of 14 business days to process from the time the completed application, documents and payment have been received. The VAL will then be delivered to the host institution, which is responsible for sending this document to you in your country of origin. Once you have received the VAL, you can make arrangements to travel to Malaysia.

Alternatively, new students who have received letters of acceptance from public and private higher education institutions have the option of applying for their VAL directly on the Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS) website. Once the letter is received in the post, you can prepare to come to Malaysia.

Note that the visa authorization letter means that the immigration department in Malaysia has granted your right to obtain a student pass. This letter is however not the student card, it simply gives you permission to enter Malaysia for the rest of the procedure for your Student Visa.

Before traveling to Malaysia, you will need to check with the Malaysian Embassy or Consulate in your country about the conditions for obtaining a student visa for Malaysia. If your nationality requires a visa, you will need to obtain a single-entry visa before traveling to Malaysia. If you do not need a visa to enter Malaysia, you can only present your clearance letter at the port of entry.

On arrival at immigration in Malaysia, you will need to show your clearance letter. A special pass will be stamped on your passport to allow you to stay in the country while waiting for your Student Visa to be issued. This special and temporary pass is valid for between 14 and 30 days depending on the immigration department.

You will need to present the following documents at the immigration counter:

  • Your passport
  • Your authorization letter
  • The original letter of acceptance from the institution where you will be studying in Malaysia
  • If you come from a country where the risk of yellow fever is high, you will need to show proof of vaccination before presenting yourself at immigration.

Once in Malaysia, you will be required to complete a medical checkup within seven days of arrival. These tests are linked to EMGS, and medical reports are sent online. Once you have passed the checkup, EMGS will notify your institution to submit your passport to them in order to authorize your Student Visa. Your student pass will then replace the special temporary pass you received at the point of entry. Once your Student Visa has been issued, EMGS will issue your student ID card, called iKad, and you will also receive an insurance card if you have insurance with EMGS.

Good to know:

It is best to ask a representative from your institution to meet you in the arrivals hall and transfer you to your establishment to report your arrival.

Useful links:

Malaysian Government Official Portal

Study Malaysia

Education Malaysia Global Services (EMGS)

Malaysia University Portal

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