Malaysia is a large country in South East Asia. The capital city is Kuala Lumpur and the administrative capital is Putrajaya. With a 27 million population, Malaysia is spread over two distinctly separate areas separated by the South China Sea. Formerly known as Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak, these three areas formed Malaysia in 1963. The islands of Langkawi and Penang are popular tourist spots along the west coast of Malaysia.
Malaysia is close to the Equator and has a tropical climate. It gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1957 and is now a Federal Constitutional Elective Monarchy. The Government is modelled upon the English Westminster Parliamentary system with a Prime Minister and a Cabinet. English is widely spoken and taught in the schools, but the official language is Malay. Although the country is deemed to be secular, a large number of the population is Islamic. The currency is the Malaysian Ringgit.
Manufacturing is a large and important part of Malaysia’s economy with electronics being widely produced here. Traditionally Malaysia produced much of the world’s tin, rubber, timber and palm oil. It has considerable reserves of oil and natural gas as well as being rich in minerals. As much of the industry is labor intensive, there are about 2 million foreign workers, including an estimated million Indonesian illegal workers.
There are sizeable immigrant populations of Chinese and Indian residents with approximately 70,000 refugees and asylum seekers from the Philippines, Burma and Indonesia. Malaysia has a very poor record on refugees and has turned deportees over to human smugglers at times. Visas are not required for US citizens unless they are seeking employment. Most nationals of other countries do not require a visa if the stay is for less than one month. Check the government website before traveling to get the up-to-date facts on this issue. Malaysia is currently promoting a ‘Second Home’ Program and offering 10 year Social visit passes to foreigners and retirees.
Although Malaysia guarantees religious freedom, Muslims are ruled by the Syariah courts which supercede the Civil Courts. This can cause problems for non-Muslims.
The government funds healthcare for Malaysian nationals, but specialists are in short supply. Public hospitals are poorly equipped and underfunded but private hospitals in major cities have good facilities and there is a growing interest in health tourism. Health insurance is usually necessary for immigrants.
Whilst East Malaysia is sparsely populated and undeveloped, major cities elsewhere have good infrastructure, highways and railways. Communications are excellent and real estate is to a high standard and is low priced to rent or to buy. Supermarkets are well stocked and restaurants offer excellent cuisine at relatively low prices. Food is influenced by the Chinese and Indian communities and near the coast is fish-based.