Malaysia ranks as one of the top 25 places in the world for expats to live¹, according to HSBC’s 2021 Global Explorer Survey.
The Southeast Asian nation has a heady mix of growing economic segments, friendly people, and an attractive climate. But if you’re going there to work, study or retire, then you’re going to need a local bank account to get you started.
Check out our handy guide for all you need to know about opening a bank account in Malaysia.
It is possible to open a Malaysian bank account as a non-resident. However, it’s likely that you’ll need to provide more documentation than a resident or Malaysian national.
It can vary from bank to bank (and we’ll cover exactly what’s needed in just a moment) but most will require evidence of your work or student visa, along with your resident or MM2H permit².
It can be easier to open a bank account in Malaysia if you choose an international bank, such as HSBC, Standard Chartered Bank or Citibank. These banks have a presence in both the UK and Malaysia, and can help expats to open accounts and access other banking services.
In theory, it is possible to open a Malaysian bank account online. At Maybank for example, you can open certain accounts by completing an online application form³. However, you may still be required to visit a branch in person to provide your supporting documents⁴.
In some cases, you’ll need to make a phone or in-person appointment with the bank to start the process of opening your account. There can be different processes for new and existing customers, and for residents and non-residents. So, it’s always a good idea to check with your chosen bank so you understand the process, how long it’ll take and what documents you’ll need.
If you’ve not yet moved to Malaysia, you might find it a little tricky to open your bank account from abroad. Not all Malaysian banks let you open a bank account wholly online, so you’ll need to schedule at least one in-person visit for an appointment at the bank.
There’s also the matter of the visa and permit documentation you may need to provide. If you don’t have this yet, you might have to wait to set up your bank account.
If you’re in this situation, it could be a smart idea to choose an international bank with a presence in both Malaysia and your home country.
For example, HSBC can help you open a bank account in Malaysia before you arrive². You can start your application and provide your documents at your local HSBC branch or International Banking Center (IBC) here in the UK.
Application requirements can vary from bank to bank. But generally speaking, you’ll need to provide the following to open an account in Malaysia²:
- Photo ID - such as a valid passport or National identity Card
- Proof of your right to be in Malaysia - this could be your residency permit, or your MM2H visa approval letter or other documents.
- Your employment details, such as a working visa, work permit, a letter from your employer, or proof of business activities in Malaysia.
- Sales and Purchase agreement - for Malaysian home property investments
- Acceptance letter from your Malaysian university or college - for those studying in Malaysia.
Some banks may take your fingerprint for identification purposes.
Many expats arriving in Malaysia take advantage of the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) program. This is a government scheme granting a 10 year visa⁵ to anyone from a country that has diplomatic relations with Malaysia - provided they meet the criteria. The main condition is that you must make and keep a fixed minimum deposit in a Malaysian bank.
If you’re part of the MM2H scheme, you can use your approval and visa documents to apply for your new bank account.
Malaysia has a strong network of both local and international banks. Opening an account is usually no more difficult than visiting a branch with the right paperwork, and if you choose an international bank you could even do it before you arrive.
In general, opening a bank account in Malaysia should not be a complicated affair. Many of the major banks have good English language web pages with a reasonable range of products on offer, so you can narrow your options online before going to the bank in person.
Remember that not all accounts will be available to all applicants. Some banks stipulate that you must be a permanent resident or Malaysian national in order to apply - so it’s worth checking your eligibility in advance.
Let’s run through a few of the major banks in Malaysia you can choose from:
Maybank (also known as Malayan Banking Berhad) is the largest of Malaysia’s retail banks, and has over 2,600 locations in 10 countries⁶.
It offers a range of accounts including a basic checking account, Personal Current Account, and a Premier1 checking account that also earns interest. Plus multi-currency accounts, Islamic banking, and products for children.
Maybank has internet, phone and SMS based banking services as well as a branch network.
With over 13.5 million customers and more than a thousand branches⁶, you should be able to find a convenient branch of CIMB. It also operates in Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand⁶.
On offer at CIMB Bank is a wide choice of current and savings accounts, including a Basic Current Account, Regular Current Account and interest-earning Preferred Current Account. There’s also accounts for seniors, multi-currency accounts, fixed term deposit products and credit cards. Online banking is possible with nearly all accounts.
Public Bank Berhad (PBE) is a large Malaysian bank operating across the region. They have a wide range of accounts on offer, including a Basic Current Account for individuals, small businesses and over 55s.
You can also choose from the PLUS Current Account and the ACE Account, a hybrid of checking and savings which offers interest on balances above a certain amount. Plus, fixed deposit and foreign currency accounts.
PBE offers easy account management through branch, ATM or online banking.
RHB Bank offers a good range of basic and premium current accounts, savings products and multi-currency accounts.
These include the RHB Basic Current Account and RHB Smart Account, both of which offer online banking and an RHB debit card. The Smart Account also has the added bonus of attractive interest rates when you meet certain spending, saving and investment conditions⁷.
While not one of the largest in the country, HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad is one of the biggest foreign-owned banks in Malaysia⁶.
It’s also a good option for expats, as HSBC has a global presence. This means it will accept applications from non-residents, and can help you open your Malaysian account before you arrive in the country.
HSBC has over 60 branches⁶ throughout the country, and offers a range of accounts and services. This includes Advance and Premier accounts, but one of the best solutions for expats is the HSBC Everyday Global Account. This is an all-in-one multi-currency account, which comes with an international debit card, instant online transfers between global HSBC accounts and many other features and rewards².
It’s important to read the terms and conditions carefully before you choose a bank account, especially when it comes to banking fees and charges.
Here are the main fees you need to know about when banking in Malaysia:
Many current accounts in Malaysia come with a half-yearly service charge. This can vary depending on the balance in the account. For example, at CIMB and Maybank, you’ll pay around 10 RM for an average credit balance of less than 1,000 RM⁸. But if you can keep your balance above this amount, you can avoid the fee.
To open a bank account in Malaysia, you’ll often need to make a minimum deposit. This is usually around 1,000 RM⁹, but for some basic accounts it can be as low as 500 RM⁹. You may also need to keep this amount in your bank account to avoid or reduce regular service fees.
Many current accounts in Malaysia come with a debit card, although you pay an annual fee of between 8 RM¹⁰ and 15 RM⁸ for it.
Most banks in Malaysia won’t charge you to use their own ATMs¹¹, although you may pay a fee to use another bank’s ATM.
Banks like RHB¹⁰ give you free ATM withdrawals when you pay an annual debit card fee, or you can swerve the fee and get a limited number of free withdrawals per month.
If you close your account within a certain time period, there may be a fee to pay. For example, you’ll pay a fee of 20 RM at CIMB⁸ if you close your account within 3 months of opening it. This drops to 10 RM after you’ve had the account for 3 months.
Cheques are still commonly used in Malaysia¹², although they may be on the decline in other countries.
If you do use cheques, there is likely to be a processing fee of around 0.50 RM per cheque¹³.
Another challenge for expats can be finding the best way to move money between accounts which use different currencies.
If you need to make an international transfer, you’ll find that traditional banks can be an expensive option. They’ll often charge for processing the transaction, convert at poor exchange rates, and fees may also be incurred at the receiving end.
Send money to and from Malaysia with Wise, and you’ll always get the real exchange rate. This means no markup, the fairest exchange rate around and no hidden fees to worry about.
It can sometimes be a little tricky to open a bank account in Malaysia as an expat, as you’ll need some extra paperwork and may need to visit a branch in person.
But after reading this guide, you should be all set to compare banks, get your documents in order and open your new account in Malaysia. Good luck!
Sources used for this article:
- HSBC - expat explorer league table
- HSBC - open an account
- Maybank - opening new account
- Maybank - personal current accounts
- MM2H - programme overview
- Corporate Finance Institute - top banks in Malaysia
- RHB Group - smart account
- CIMB - current accounts
- RHB Group - current accounts
- RHB Group - basic current account
- HSBC - tariff charges
- BNM - types of payment systems
- Maybank - fees and charges
Sources checked on 6-Dec-2021.
This publication is provided for general information purposes only and is not intended to cover every aspect of the topics with which it deals. It is not intended to amount to advice on which you should rely. You must obtain professional or specialist advice before taking, or refraining from, any action on the basis of the content in this publication. The information in this publication does not constitute legal, tax or other professional advice from TransferWise Limited or its affiliates. Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome. We make no representations, warranties or guarantees, whether express or implied, that the content in the publication is accurate, complete or up to date.
A useful guide on how to close a bank account with NatWest by branch, post and online, with all the info you need to close down an unwanted account.
A guide on how to close a Barclays bank account, including how to close an account online, by post and in branch.
A helpful guide on how to close a bank account with HSBC, including online, post, phone, mobile banking and in branch.
A helpful guide on how to open a Revolut account, with info and advice for personal and business customers.
A helpful guide on how to close a TSB bank account, including online and postal options for current, savings and business account holders.
A guide on how to close a bank account with Halifax, including options for savings accounts. Plus, whether you can close a Halifax bank account online.