Culture Trip explores the Malaysian visa essentials, including everything a visitor needs to know about the visas for tourists, expats and entrepreneurs.
Getting a Malaysian visa is straightforward. Most nationalities don’t need to apply in advance and will get a 90-day free visa at the airport or land border crossing with Singapore or Thailand. Millions travel to the country that promotes itself as one of the top Muslim-friendly destinations in the world. And as of 2018, there are 160 nationalities who enjoy visa-free access for either 90, 30 or 14 days. Chinese and Indian nationals need to apply for an e-Visa, while tech start-ups can benefit from one to five-year visa-free passes.
Malaysian tourist visa
Compared to other Southeast Asian visas, the Malaysian visa is more liberal and convenient for international visitors. The only requirement for most nationalities is a valid passport that means the following:
No arrival or departure cards
No invitation letters
Immigration officers stamp a 90-day single entry into passports. Tourists need to scan their fingerprints as they pass through passport control.
With a thriving expat community, the second most common type of Malaysian visa for foreign nationals is the work visa.
Employers need to fill in the necessary paperwork and process the visa, rather than their employees. Work visas typically last from six months to five years.
All that’s required is a passport that is valid for at least 18 months and, of course, empty pages.
For those with a job offer, the company will provide guidance on the process before arriving in Malaysia. If not, a work permit can be processed from a tourist visa.
Some visitors, including Chinese, Indian and Sri Lankan nationals, might need to apply for an e-Visa.
The few countries’ residents who aren’t eligible for visa-free access, such as Chinese, Burmese, Nepalese and Bhutanese citizens, may get a 120-hour transit pass. An outbound ticket on either AirAsia or Malaysian Airlines is required to qualify for this pass.
Malaysia doesn’t recognise Israel’s sovereignty. Israeli passport holders need special permission from the Malaysian Ministry of Home Affairs. Dual nationals should use their other passport.
Retirees who meet specific requirements might also want to consider Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H).
The East Malaysia stamp
Sabah and Sarawak stamp passports in and out, which doesn’t affect the original Malaysian visa. Every passport holder with a valid entry stamp into Malaysia can visit Sabah and Sarawak. Those flying directly to East Malaysia will get a stamp which acts as the Malaysian visa.
Techies are welcome
As Malaysia aims to become an Asian tech hub, the country attracts entrepreneurs with the relatively new Malaysia Tech Entrepreneur Programme. New entrepreneurs can apply for a one-year pass starting at approximately 2,650 Malaysian ringgits (£515), while established business owners might choose the five-year visa-free access to Malaysia, costing around 5,300 ringgits (£1,030). The process claims to take less than six weeks. Applicants need to meet specific requirements. It’s unclear whether this type of visa would suit freelancing digital nomads or those looking to start a business in Malaysia.
The dreaded outbound ticket
While some airlines insist on an outbound flight, and technically it is required, immigration officers typically don’t ask for proof of outward travel. Flights into Malaysia from Southeast Asia rarely ask at check-in. For those who want to travel overland to Singapore, an advance ticket isn’t required.
If someone says 2pm, they really mean 3pm in Malaysia, as things usually take longer than expected. Tourists need to consider this if they have a tight connection; lines at immigration sometimes seem to take forever. Those applying for a work permit should have enough money for unexpected delays.
Other ways to enter Malaysia
Because of the generous nature of the Malaysian visa, tourists have several ways to enter the country. Most long-haul flights arrive at KLIA, while regional ones often fly into KLIA2. Regular buses connect Johor and Singapore and into Thailand from northern Malaysia. Ferries pass between Malaysia’s Langkawi and Thailand’s Phuket. It’s possible to fly directly into Malaysian Borneo, bypassing West Malaysia as well as taking a boat from the Philippines to Sandakan. Culture Trip recommends adventurous tourists visit Brunei from either Sabah or Sarawak.
A digital nomad hotspot
Malaysia attracts a growing number of digital nomads who base themselves in Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi. While the idea of working online is still a bit of a grey area, it’s unclear if this type of work violates visa conditions. However, most workers are employed by their home country where they pay an income tax.