A Foreigner’s Guide to Malaysian Citizenship

A Foreigner’s Guide to Malaysian Citizenship

While Malaysia may be a small Asian country in terms of area, it is attractive for both tourists and immigrants, offering a combination of developed infrastructure and a cultural heritage dating back to ancient times.

The local government is also promoting interest in the country, offering various convenient programmes for long-term visas, preferential tax options, and guaranteeing a high level of security. So, is it easy to get citizenship in Malaysia for foreigners? Despite the favourable treatment of foreigners, it is hard to obtain Malaysian citizenship. We will tell you how to do this and the permanent residency options available so that you can stay in the country officially.

Moving To Malaysia: What Foreigners Need To Know

Most foreigners do not need a visa to enter Malaysia: a visa-free regime for a period of up to 30 days is stipulated for citizens from a number of countries. The list of exceptions includes Ethiopia, Peru, Panama, Brazil, Nigeria and a few other countries. The citizens of these countries must comply with a number of specific requirements posted on the website of the Malaysian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by Sulthan Auliya (Unsplash)

If you plan to stay in the country for more than 30 days, you will need a visa. You can apply for various programmes, which depend on the purpose of the visit to the country, the status of the immigrant, and their financial situation. The following programmes guarantee the longest stay in the country: “Malaysia Is My Second Home (MM2H)” and “Permanent Resident”. An employee visa is particularly popular.

Regarding the cost of living, it is far cheaper in Malaysia compared to developed European countries. However, prices in Malaysia are slightly higher than prices in Thailand and Vietnam. At the same time, the labour of foreign specialists is valued higher than similar work performed by locals. On average, as a foreign specialist you can earn about USD 3,000 and rent a comfortable three-room flat for USD 400 to USD 500 per month.

Moreover, knowledge of Malay is not required to move to the country. Until 1957, Malaysia was a British colony. As a result, most locals understand English. Whether be fluent in Malay is necessary for getting citizenship in Malaysia? You will need at the very least basic knowledge of the Malay language to be eligible for citizenship.

Instances When Citizenship Is The Best Option

What I need to know before obtaining a Malaysian citizenship? There is one important issue that you need to bear in mind: Malaysia does not allow dual citizenship. Therefore, regardless of their country of origin, foreigners have to renounce their previous citizenship. If that is not a problem, then you need to make sure that you meet local eligibility requirements for Malaysian citizenship. How exactly to get Malaysian citizenship? You can obtain citizenship either through registration or naturalisation. Either option has its peculiarities which every immigrant should know about.

Batu Caves, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by Meimei Ismail (Unsplash)

Citizenship Through Registration

So, how to get citizenship in Malaysia through registration? This option is only available to foreigners if at least one of their parents was a Malaysian citizen at the time of the applicant's birth. To all intents and purposes, in this case the applicant is already considered a Malaysian by law. All they need to do is register their rights. However, far from everyone can exercise this option.

What are the Malaysia citizenship requirements, if I want to obtain it through registration? Malaysia has established a special age requirement: the applicant must be younger than 21 at the time of the application. Applications must also prove that they were born abroad to a Malaysian citizen and demonstrate at least basic knowledge of the local language. As the set of required documents is determined on a case-by-case basis, it is advisable to request the complete list from the National Registration Bureau.

Ipoh, Malaysia. Photo by Alfred (Unsplash)

Citizenship Through Naturalisation

How to get Malaysia citizenship in another way? If you are not of Malay descent, you can obtain citizenship through naturalisation. There are three legal options.

  1. Marry a Malaysian citizen. So how to obtain citizenship in Malaysia via marriage? This option is only available for women. At the time of the application for citizenship, the applicant must have been officially married for at least two years. If this requirement is not met, the acquired citizenship will be revoked automatically. Another important issue: as most Malaysians are adherents of the Islamic faith, it is highly likely that a foreign wife will be expected to convert to this religion.
  2. Stand out for special services to Malaysia. This concerns the receipt of honorary titles, state awards, international awards, scientific achievements, etc. Does Malaysia often give citizenship to foreigners via this way? In practice, this type of naturalisation is extremely rare as the country does not accept dual citizenship. 
  3. Reside legally in Malaysia for more than 10 of the past 12 years. What are the Malaysia citizenship rules? How to apply for Malaysia citizenship? A foreigner must be over the age of 21 at the time of the application. As well as completing the application form, you need to submit the following documents to the National Registration Office:
    a birth certificate;
    permit to enter the country;
    an ID card.

Is that all I need to do while apply for Malaysia citizenship? That is not all. You also need to find two Malaysian residents who can vouch for you and are ready to submit copies of their passports to the government agency. There is one more requirement: demonstration of sufficient knowledge of the Malay language.

What else I need to know about how to become Malaysian citizen? Even if you do qualify for any of the listed options and provide all the necessary documents, this does not guarantee that your application for Malaysian citizenship will be approved. This is because the requirements of local legislation are anything but clear. They are extremely vague even about knowledge of the Malay language. That is why many applicants for citizenship wait several years and may still get rejected eventually.

Other Forms Of Legal Residency In Malaysia

How to become a citizen of Malaysia ? As we have mentioned it can be difficult enough and there is no guarantee that your application will be approved. You can also stay in the country for the rest of your life without having to obtain citizenship via a number of visa programmes. There is one key nuance here: the permit is issued for a maximum of 10 years, but can be extended repeatedly.

Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Photo by Huỳnh Chương (Unsplash)

Malaysia Is My Second Home Programme

How can I get Malaysian visa if I cannot apply for its citizenship ? Take a look at Malaysia Is My Second Home Programme. Many people believe that this programme is only available to pensioners. That is not true. Foreigners over the age of 18 can also participate in this programme. There is one significant condition, though: financial solvency. For instance, anyone under the age of 50 must open a deposit account in a local bank, placing there the amount of MYR 300,000 (USD 66,500 at the exchange rate at the beginning of June 2023). Anyone over the age of 50 must deposit MYR 60,000 (USD 13,300). This is the reason why the programme is popular primarily with older foreigners.

In some situations, the required deposit may be reduced. This applies in cases where an immigrant buys real estate in Malaysia for at least MYR 1,000,000 (USD 220,000). In any case each application will be reviewed regarding the size of the deposit and the visa will be granted on a case-by-case basis.

If your application is approved, you will have no problem moving with your family to Malaysia. This right applies to spouses and children under the age of 21. In addition, you can import your car without paying taxes or buy a new one in the country. Please note: you cannot get a job under MM2H, but are allowed to open your own business in Malaysia or invest in local enterprises.

Employment Visa

How can I get a Malaysian visa, if my apply for citizenship in Malaysia was rejected ? Take a look at employment visa. To apply for an employment visa, you must first find a suitable employer in the country. The greatest demand at present is for teachers, engineers, doctors, and IT specialists. However, the eligibility requirements for candidates are strict:

  • minimum age: 27 (23 for IT specialists and programmers),
  • certificate (diploma) of higher education,
  • experience in the field of expertise: at least three years (two years for IT),
  • fluency in English,
  • written recommendation letters from previous employers.

If you think that you meet all the requirements, feel free to submit your documents by e-mail. Once the potential employer has approved you for a position, you will no longer have to deal independently with any employment visa issues. In most cases, the employer handles these issues. A work permit is issued for a period of three to five years. If you change your place of work, the previous documents will become invalid, and the new employer will have to apply for a visa for you again.

Sibu Island, Pulau Sibu, Mersing, Johor, Malaysia. Photo by Louis Gan (Unsplash)

Permanent Resident Programme

How to obtain Malaysian permanent residency permit, not a citizenship? The Permanent Resident programme is another way to obtain the official status of a local resident . The Malay Department only allows certain foreigners access to this programme, dividing them into the following categories:

  1. Spouses and children under the age of six. If a foreign woman marries a Malaysian, she has a choice: either to obtain a long-term visa or to apply for citizenship. In the first case, the spouse must vouch for her as sponsor. To participate in the Permanent Resident programme, the female candidate will also need to have lived legally resided in Malaysia for more than five years. If a man marries a Malaysian, he can also expect to obtain a long-term visa.
  2. Specialists and experts. These categories include qualified specialists from various fields who have confirmed their competence at a respective Malaysian agency. How to apply for Malaysian long-term visa, not a citizenship, if you are a qualified specialist? To participate in the “Permanent Resident” programme, they need to provide a certificate from their home country, proving that they have no criminal record, find a Malay sponsor and provide references from authoritative employers.
  3. Investors. How to become Malaysia resident, not a citizen, if you are a wealthy person? Probably, you can be an investor. This category includes wealthy foreigners ready to open and place on a deposit account in a local bank at least USD 2,000,000. However, it should be noted here that they will only be able to withdraw funds from this account after five years.

How to become not a citizen, but a permanent resident of Malaysia via real estate investment? One more category of immigrants can receive a long-term visa automatically: individuals who buy local real estate. However, according to the national laws, this permit is only issued if the price of the purchased housing exceeds MYR 1,000,000 (USD 220,000). There is one exception: the Medini suburb does not set a minimum real estate price for foreigners. So to all intents and purposes, any foreign buyer of a property can apply for a long-term visa.

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In A Nutshell

All in all, how to apply for citizenship in Malaysia and get it? It is hard to obtain Malaysian citizenship. Moreover such a status does not offer that many benefits. Foreigners with Permanent Resident status have the same rights and obligations as Malaysians. In some cases, immigrants have even more advantages than locals. There is only one area where your rights are restricted as a resident: you cannot join political parties or vote.

Looking for an easier way to get a second citizenship? Check out the requirements for obtaining a Turkish passport through real estate.

Cover photo: Kuala Lumpur. Meriç Dağlı (Unsplash)

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