Malaysia flag Malaysia: Business Environment

Business Practices in Malaysia

Opening hours and bank holidays

General Information
Communicaid
Kwintessential
Export.gov, US Government Business Guide
Commisceo Global, Malaysian business culture as per Commisceo Global
E-Diplomat, Malaysian business culture as per E-Diplomat
Services for business, Global Affairs Canada
Opening Hours and Days
Banks: from 10 am to 3 pm, Monday to Friday, from 9.30 am to 11.30 am on Saturday.
Public Administration: from 8 am to 1 pm and 2 pm to 4 pm Monday to Thursday, 8 am to 1 pm and 2.45 pm to 4 pm on Friday, from 8 am to 1 pm on Saturday.
Shops: from 10 am to 9.30 pm Monday to Sunday for large stores and 9 am to 6 pm for small shops.
During the month of Ramadan, economic activity is considerably reduced and working hours change.
 
 
 

Public Holidays

New Year's Day 1 January
Hari Raya Qurban (Aid al-Adha) Varies each year
Awal Muharam Varies each year
Birth of the Prophet Mohammed Varies each year
Labor Day 1 May
Wesak Day 13 May
Birthday of the King 7 June
National Day 31 August
Malaysia Day 16 September
Deepavali 22 October
Hari Raya Puasa (End of Ramadan) Varies each year
Christmas Day 25 December
 
Holiday Compensation
If a public holiday falls on a Saturday or Sunday, the Monday is a holiday instead.

Business culture

The Fundamental Principles of Business Culture
Malaysia is complex mix of different ethnicities and religions living and working together and has therefore a distinctive business culture that could vary based on your local counterpart’s background. Despite internal differences, patience, tolerance, respect for hierarchy and interest in personal relationships are common values across all ethnicities and religions.

Malaysian business culture tends to be very hierarchical, which can be seen in various aspects surrounding meetings, from seating arrangements to decision-making process. Decision-making meetings are quite popular and extensive as every attendee is consulted before reaching a decision. Large decisions are usually made from the top.

Personal relationships are essential when negotiating with Malaysian business contacts regardless of their religious and ethnic background. Initial meetings are about getting to know your counterpart rather than reaching a decision. Loyalty, harmony and non-aggression are key to a good relationship.

First Contact
Malaysians appreciate personal relationships and prefer physical meetings over communicating via email and/or Skype. When meeting Malaysian business contacts for the first time, it is important to show respect to their status within the company. The first meeting will allow counterparts to get to know each other.
Time Management
Punctuality and time management are not a high priority in Malaysia. However, arriving on time for a meeting is important. Meetings may start later than scheduled even if everyone is present, as people tend not to rush or appear urgent. It is not unusual for meetings to start with a lot of small talk.

Meetings are usually not timed in advance (especially outside the Chinese community) and may over run. Muslim business partners may also take a break for the Islamic daily prayer.

Greetings and Titles
Greetings vary considerably depending on the ethnic origin of the local business contact and their gender. When meeting someone from the same sex, Malay business contacts will use the handshake and the salaam accompanied with a slight bow. Chinese business contacts will also use a light handshake or, among women, a slight nod of acknowledgement. Indian business contacts will use the handshake and the Namaste. When greeting someone from the opposite sex, handshakes are common; however, one must wait for the women (from all three ethnicities) to initiate. A nod or slight bow may also be used in lieu of handshake.

Titles are somewhat important in Malaysian business culture and it is advised to address your business partners with a title, such as “Dr”, “Ms”, “Ms” or “Mrs” and their last name. If the bosses have honorific titles before their names (e.g. Datuk, Dato) then they should be addressed by their titles.
Gift Policy
Gift giving is not as common as in some other Asian countries such as Japan and South Korea. Nonetheless, small gifts are appreciated and sometimes exchanged after a first meeting. Large gifts are usually not exchanged as they are considered bribery. Gifts should be wrapped and it is unlikely that the gift will be opened in front of the gift-giver. Foreign business contacts should take the ethnic and religious identity of their Malaysian counterparts into consideration: Alcohol or pork-based items to Muslims, sharp objects or clocks to the Chinese are to be avoided.
Dress Code
Both men and women are expected to wear formal and being well groomed is appreciated. Standard Western business attire of suits and ties for men and suits or skirts and blouse for women are appropriate. Women should be aware of Muslim sensibilities and dress conservatively. Wearing anything yellow should be avoided as the colour is designated for the Malaysian royalty.
Business Cards
The exchange of business cards is expected after a first meeting. The respect shown by the foreign business contact to the business card is considered indicative of their respect to the local counterparts. It is advised to use both hands (or the right hand only) to receive and present a business card. Foreign business contacts should also study the card and not put it in the back pocket of their trousers as a sign of respect.
Meetings Management
Meetings are often long and start with a lot of small talk. The amount of small talk should diminish as the relationship develops. Foreign business contacts should not expect any decision to be reached in initial meetings as they are mostly reserved for establishing contact.

Close relationship is key to any successful negotiation with Malaysian business contacts. The level of relationship can become even more important than the meeting agenda and impact the decision-making process. As most decisions are made by the most senior members, it is important to show them respect and directly address questions/proposals to them. It is not worthwhile to push for a decision during the meeting as the decision will be made only after all the facts have been analysed in very great detail and after all the relevant members of the group and the hierarchy have been consulted. It is important for foreign counterparts to remain patient.

Foreign business contacts should remain calm and diplomatic, and refrain from being overly animated in either speech or body gesture. Rejecting a Malaysian’s proposal immediately is considered impolite as it can be interpreted as the person that made the offer. Foreigners should also avoid interrupting or showing displeasure through facial or eye movements and talking over someone during meetings. Malaysians usually avoid directly giving a negative response, even when they do not agree with their counterparts’ offer. Foreigners should focus on hints of hesitation and pay close attention to what they subtly allude to. Bad news is also given in a very circuitous way through the use of coded messages, therefore foreigners should read between the lines.

It is common for Malaysian business contacts to entertain their foreign counterparts. Lunch or dinner follow important meetings, mostly to continue light conversation, and not necessarily to engage in further negotiations. The host usually orders the dishes to be served. Foreign business contacts are advised to use their right hand when handling food. 
Sources for Further Information
Cultural Atlas - Malaysian Business Etiquette Malaysian Business Meeting Etiquette Servcrop Malaysian Business Etiquette Culture Crossing - Malaysia Business Guide

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Latest Update: November 2022

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