A Guide for PhD Students - Living in Malaysia

As a PhD student living in Malaysia you’ll have the chance to explore the country’s beautiful scenery and thriving multicultural cities. The guide covers useful information about moving to Malaysia for your doctoral studies, including accommodation, living costs, part-time work, transport and opening a bank account in the country.

Life in Malaysia

Home to many other international students, Malaysia is a great place to work for your degree whilst immersing yourself in a vibrant new culture.


Malaysia is located at the heart of South-East Asia and is a lively multi-cultural country. It is well- known as a dynamic tourist destination and for its capital, Kuala Lumpur, which boasts some of the most spectacular architecture in the world.

If you prefer the great outdoors, Malaysia is awash with beautiful vistas and fascinating biodiversity. From the rugged mountains to the warm sandy beaches and rich, humid mangroves, there is something to explore whatever your interests..

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Food and drink

As a student living in Malaysia you are in for a treat when it comes to food. Malaysian dishes reflect the diversity of the country; their cuisine blends the flavours from Chinese, Indian and local southeast Asian Malay dishes.

From a classic Nasi lemak, a rice dish cooked in coconut milk, topped with spicy sambal chili sauce, to Ikan bakar, a delicious marinated grilled fish, Malaysia will give you with plenty of new flavours to explore.

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There are several options for accommodation during your PhD. The price of the accommodation will depend on the city in which you’re studying as well as the type and size of the housing.

Typically, international students studying in Malaysia will live either in privately rented accommodation or on campus university accommodation:

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Living costs

The cost of living in Malaysia is fairly affordable relative to other parts of the world, such as the UK or Australia. A typical monthly budget for a PhD student living in Malaysia is around MYR 4000 (USD $960). This consists of MYR 2,050 (USD $500) a month for living expenses and around MYR 1500 (USD $360) for rent.

Working during your PhD

As an international student in Malaysia, you can take part-time work, though there are several limitations surrounding what you are permitted to do. These limitations drastically reduce your earning potential and so it’s probably not a practical way to fund your studies

It also goes without saying that you should never take unofficial employment as that could result in you losing your student visa and a rather abrupt end to your studies.

If you want to apply for a work permit you should contact the Student Visa Officer at your university. You will need to submit a document detailing a valid reason for part time work. The university will also need to provide a supporting letter giving permission for you to work as well as term dates.


Opening a bank account in Malaysia is not essential but doing so will save you from paying unnecessary fees on day-to-day expenses.

The currency in Malaysia is the Malaysian ringgit (MYR)

To open a bank account in Malaysia you will need to provide:

  • Your student pass
  • Your passport
  • Minimum deposit - the value of this will vary by bank
  • Fingerprints - some banks will take your fingerprint for identification purposes

Unfortunately, you will not be able to open a new account with a Malaysian bank before you arrive. If you need a bank account in place before travelling, you could open an account with an international bank that operates in Malaysia. Quite a few international banks operate in Malaysia so it’s worth checking if your current bank is one of them.

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