Diversity and contrast describe this small but vibrant country in the heart of Southeast Asia. Malaysia offers volunteering opportunities for every taste and interest: from wildlife projects in the untamed jungle of Borneo to teaching English to children in urban environments. What makes it even better? The size and location of the country turn it into the perfect place for traveling and exploring the wonders of Southeast Asia. Volunteering in Malaysia is truly a great option for avid travelers looking for an original volunteer experience abroad.
Malaysia is the gateway to Southeast Asia, consisting of two land masses separated by the South China Sea. Peninsular or West Malaysia is linked by land to Thailand in the north, and East Malaysia across the sea on the island of Borneo. Due to its size and diversity, Malaysia is a great country to explore (on top of voluntary work of course!). Volunteers can go trekking in the jungle in the search for tigers and orangutans or relax on its beaches and islands during time off, or maybe even find a volunteer placement that requires it.
In the peninsula of Malaysia, you’ll find the nation’s capital, Kuala Lumpur. Nicknamed KL, Kuala Lumpur is a vibrant global city with a remarkable skyline and endless shopping opportunities, for all you shopaholic volunteers. Without losing its Asian and exotic personality, the central city of KL is comparable in many ways to Western capitals.
On the other side, Malaysian Borneo or East Malaysia is isolated to the island of Borneo, which is an oasis of rugged, dense rainforest and pristine waters and internationally renowned for its dive spots. Life on the island of Borneo is laid-back, and the landscape is jaw-dropping. The territory is divided into three parts: Sabah, Sarawak and Labuan. Of all the places to volunteer in Malaysia, Borneo is the best place for nature and animal lovers.
Malaysia also has a handful of beautiful heritage cities, like Malacca or George Town, on the island of Penang, and these cities aren’t world-recognized heritage sites for no good reason! Away from the big city lights, volunteers can also discover the fascinating jungle surroundings in incredible spots like Taman Negara.
Volunteer Programs in Malaysia
Opportunities to volunteer in Malaysia are as varied as the country itself, but projects related to wildlife and education are by far the most common, so volunteers frequently work with nonprofit organisations dedicated to these areas.
Animal Welfare. Malaysia is the perfect destination for individuals interested in wildlife volunteering projects. Wildlife volunteering in Malaysia spans a range for species, from conserving endangered sun bear populations (the smallest bear species in the world that is also known by the sweet name of “honey bear”) to protecting the orangutans that call the Malaysian jungle home.
Marine Conservation. If you are more of a water person, you can chose a volunteer placement in Malaysia focused on marine conservation instead, and help conserve and protect endangered turtles in Borneo and in Peninsular Malaysia. Better yet, if you like people as much as animals, why not volunteer at a non-profit bar in Borneo that is committed to wildlife conservation? (yes, that is really a placement option!).
Teaching English. The Malaysian government is stepping up its emphasis on English language learning, which means there are incredible opportunities for to volunteer as an English teacher in Malaysia for up to 12 months. However, there are some volunteer programs in Malaysia that offer teaching placements for a minimum of two weeks. English teaching placements in Malaysia can be based in either urban or rural areas. Becoming a teaching volunteer in Malaysia can be one of the best ways to discover Malaysian culture and the local way of life from the inside. It doesn’t matter if you are teaching English in a big city or in the dreamy surroundings of the jungle, or working with kids or adults, this type of voluntary work in Malaysia will be an incredibly beautiful and rewarding adventure.
Although Malaysia used to be an English colony, the English language is not as widespread as you’d expect. The Malaysian language, or Bahasa Malay, is the official and most used language throughout the country, followed by Mandarin, Cantonese, and Tamil. However, individuals that want to volunteer abroad in Malaysia won’t necessarily be expected to be fluent in any of the latter languages.
Costs & Affordability
As a Southeast Asian country, Malaysia can be considered an affordable destination for international volunteers, especially if you compare it to Western countries. But the cost of living in Malaysia can actually reach great extremes, depending on the specific location. Living in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur, or in other big cities like Penang, Johor Baru, Malacca, or Kota Kinabalu, will be more expensive than living in rural areas. While in most places you can enjoy your coffee for less than $1, in shopping malls in KL you will be paying easily four times that price, and this applies to food as well. For example, you can pay around $1 for local street food, but expect to pay much more in the city.
Prices for accommodation will be different depending on the location of your volunteer program in Malaysia. With some volunteer organizations you will be expected to pay a fee for your stay, while in others they will provide accommodation for you free of cost. Be sure that you are aware of all the expenses required for your voluntary work in Malaysia before arrival, so you can organise your budget.
Accommodation & Visas
Accommodation for volunteers in Malaysia is as varied as the wildlife species that call the country home. If you are teaching English in Malaysia in a rural community or preserving Malaysia’s flora and fauna in the jungle, be prepared for basic living conditions that are far from the comforts of city life. For example, imagine your life without electricity! On the other hand, the experience of volunteering in a Malaysian community will be unique and life-changing. Some volunteer programs in Malaysia will provide accommodation for volunteers in dormitories or guest houses, which is typically included in upfront fees or offers for an additional cost.
For short-term volunteering in Malaysia, volunteers will typically need a Short Term Social Visit Pass, which can be obtained upon arrival at the airport. Normally, this visa is valid for three months, but the visa conditions vary depending on the nationality of the applicant. Check GoAbroad’s Malaysian Embassy Directory for more details about the types of visas you can apply for and what the requirements for each are.
If you plan to volunteer in Malaysia for a longer period of time, you might have to apply for a Professional Visit Pass (PVP). This must be requested by the non-profit organisation while the volunteer is still in their home country. If granted, this visa can be valid for up to 12 months and renewed for another 12 months, but only after a three-month break in between.
Benefits & Challenges
The Cultures of Malaysia. Malaysia is an amazing mixture of Asian cultures, a place where Malay, Chinese, and Indian traditions meet, leaving visitors in wonder. After some embarrassing misunderstandings and lots of laughs, you will learn about not shaking hands to greet someone of the opposite sex or not pointing with your finger at someone, among many other cultural faux pas. However, Malaysia is a conservative country, so try to behave according to the traditions and the dress code. After learning your do’s and don’ts, you will surely enjoy living and volunteering abroad in such a unique blend of environments and cultures.
Diverse Culinary Influences. Another perk of the diverse cultures in Malaysia is the opportunity to enjoy a great variety of cuisines. Be ready to eat rice often, and get your taste buds prepared for the spiciness of sambal, a typical sauce made of chilli peppers.
A Walk on the Wild Side. The wildlife of Malaysia is stunning! Whether you are caring for turtles on the spectacular coast of Borneo or protecting cute sun bears in the jungle, the volunteer opportunities in Malaysia for nature lovers are endless. If you are volunteering in Malaysia in the forest or teaching English to the Orang Asli, the indigenous community of Malaysia, you will return home with an especially (and wildly) inspiring and eye-opening experience to add to your list of life experiences.
Whatever it is you decide to do as a volunteer in Malaysia, your volunteer work in this colourful country will be an exciting time in your life, and a great chance to stretch your own limits and discover your potential!