Living in Malaysia is certainly a big adventure for most expats. This country on the tip of Southeast Asia has much to offer in terms of cultural variety. Spending a few years in Malaysia can easily turn into a life-changing experience.
Of course, there are positives and negatives about life in this country. When asked what they value most about Malaysia, most expats count stability, a good infrastructure (both in general and for foreigners in particular), and the friendly and welcoming locals among the top reasons they enjoy living here.
Malaysia’s population is multi-ethnic. Around 30 million people are currently spending their life in Malaysia, with the majority living in Peninsular Malaysia. 50.4% of them are Malays, while indigenous people make up roughly 11% of the population. The so-called Bumiputra status is granted to Malays as well as some non-Malay indigenous people who have been living in Malaysia for centuries.
A further 24.6% of the population is of Chinese descent, and 7.1% of Indian ancestry. Migrant workers and foreign residents may account for ca. 7% of the population.
Since the 1970s, Bumiputras enjoy a “special position” according to the constitution, giving them the right to preferred treatment in certain areas of public life, e.g. education. This policy was initially introduced to even out inequalities among the different ethnic groups in Malaysia, especially in view of Chinese Malaysian economic dominance. However, it has somewhat backfired and led to new tensions.
There are as many languages spoken in Malaysia as there are people of different ethnic backgrounds. Bahasa Malaysia is the official language, but luckily for expats in Malaysia, English is an active second language which is widely spoken, particularly by business people.
The official term for the English used by people living in Malaysia is Malaysian Standard English. The use of “Manglish”, a form of colloquial English with Malay, Chinese and Tamil influences often heard on the streets, is being actively discouraged by the government. In total, there are over 137 different languages spoken in Malaysia. The most common ones – apart from Bahasa Malaysia and English – are various Chinese dialects as well as Tamil.
Religion is a defining feature of life in Malaysia. With more than 60% of the population being Muslims, Islam is the official religion. However, freedom of religion is enjoyed by everybody. Buddhists make up another big religious group in Malaysia, followed by Christians, Hindus, and various Chinese religions.
Different religious holidays are observed across the country, including Islamic New Year, Chinese New Year, Diwali/Deepavali, and Christmas. Many political parties are based on race, ethnicity, religion, and even in legislative matters, religion plays an important role.
All Muslims are bound by Syariah law and judged by Syariah courts in all areas of life regulated by religion. Civil courts deal with all other matters and with the members of all other religious groups.
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