Taxes and Retirement Plans for Teachers in Malaysia

If you’ve decided to look for an international teaching job in Malaysia or if you’re already here, as a university student or a teacher, you may want further information on how taxes affect your salary package. When comparing salaries and benefits from international schools in the region, it’s important to have a good understanding of the financial impact they have on your earnings.

**Please note, we are not international tax accountants and are no replacement for professional advice, this is merely a general overview of what to consider**


The rate of tax you’ll be charged depends on your residence status.

For a teacher who is considered a ‘resident’ for tax purposes, any income received in or remitted to Malaysia is taxable at scale rates, whereas a ‘non-resident’ teacher is liable to Malaysian income tax only on income received from a Malaysia source at a flat rate of 30% (effective year of assessment 2020).

Residential Status for Tax Purposes

Arriving in January

In order to reach ‘resident’ status, a teacher must physically be present in Malaysia for a minimum of 182 days in a calendar year – January to December.  As a teacher, if you arrive in Malaysia in early January of any given year, you will easily achieve your 182 days in the country for that calendar year.   The 182 days do not need to be consecutive.  

Arriving before July 1st

For teachers who arrive mid-year, you don’t have as much time to reach the 182 day threshold.  That usually means you will be required to remain in the country until the end of the year.  For instance, if you arrive on July 1st, in order to obtain 182 days in country, you would be required to stay in Malaysia until December 29th of that year.  Of course you are not forced to remain in Malaysia.  You may choose to leave on vacations and trips, but that means you will not obtain your ‘residency for tax purposes’ and you will continue to be taxed at 30%.  

Arriving after July 1st

If you are not able to achieve your 182 days in the country in a given calendar year, there are ways to ‘link’ your physical days in Malaysia to the previous tax year or the next tax year.  This gets complicated, so seek advice from your school’s finance department on how to do this.  What I do know for sure, is that in order to ‘link’ two calendar years, you have to physically be in Malaysia on December 31st and January 1st of the years you are ‘linking’

How does income tax work in Malaysia?

Initially upon arrival, you will be taxed at the highest rate of 30% as a non-resident until reaching your 183rd day in country, when you become a ‘resident for tax purposes’.  At that point, your tax rate will be assessed based on your actual/real income (see income scale HERE.  In many cases, the taxes you’ve already paid up to that point will be equal to or even higher than what you should have paid based on your actual income.  Often this will result in your tax rate for the remaining portion of the calendar year being near or even 0%, and you may even receive a refund! 

Each year you are expected to submit your taxes HERE before April 30th.  When completing your taxes, there are a number of common deductions teachers use to reduce their taxable income.  Tax relief for residents include self and dependent relief of RM9,000, non-working spouse relief of RM4,000, child relief of RM2,000, lifestyle relief (such as purchase of books, computers, mobile phones, gym memberships…) of RM2,500 and EPF contributions of RM4,000).  These deductions and others can help to greatly reduce your taxable income each year.  Click HERE for a complete list.


When working abroad, it can be harder to invest in a pension or save for the future. An advantage to working in Malaysia is that international teachers are also included in the EPF system. This is a retirement fund set up by the Malaysian Government to ensure that teachers (all employees in the private sector) are financially secure after their retirement. It is a compulsory saving scheme for all Malaysians and all those working in Malaysia.  EPF historically has earned between 4% – 6% annually.  Of course,  it’s always important to point out that past performance is not an indicator of future performance.

International Schools And Your EPF

Most international schools make a monthly contribution to your EPF of approximately 12% of your monthly salary.  This contribution is on top of your monthly pay.  In addition, you have the option of further contributions to this savings tool. If you choose to contribute additional funds to your EPF, monthly contributions at the predetermined rate will be deducted from your salary.  The EPF contributions will commence only upon obtaining your work visa.  Ask your school for details.

A teacher whose contract is due to expire and who is leaving the country should apply for withdrawal of their EPF at least 1 – 2 months before the contract ends.  Normally teachers must attend the EPF office to submit the necessary documentation for the withdrawal.  Terms of withdrawal will be subject to the laws in place at the time of withdrawal.  Withdrawals are tax free.

How Much Can A Teacher Save?

For example, over three years, a teacher earning RM15,000 per month and contributing 11% of their monthly salary (in addition to the 12% contributed by the school) will save approx. RM124,200 (approx. $29,850 USD) before any compounded interest has been applied.

Most international teachers earn a good salary in Malaysia and are able to save money each month, in addition to their EPF.  Depending on your lifestyle and the number of overseas holidays you take each year, an international teacher working in Malaysia can save a substantial amount of money.  Teaching in Malaysia can be both professionally and financially rewarding.

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