How to open an international account in Malaysia [2024]

Claire Millard
Şeyma Mektepli
Last updated
2 May 2023

Looking to open an international bank account? Whether you're planning to move to a different country or you need to make regular transfers abroad, managing your money across different countries and currencies can be challenging.

In this article we’ll look at how to open an international bank account with a traditional bank or online specialist service, including the documents you need. We’ll also analyze the best options available to show you some of the most cost-effective international accounts, such as Wise or BigPay. But more on that later, read on.

Here’s a rundown of what we’ll cover:

  • What is an international account?

  • How to open an international account

  • Benefits of international bank accounts

  • Can I open an international bank account from Malaysia?

  • 5 best international bank accounts

  • What are the costs?

What is an international account?

An international account lets you hold one or more foreign currencies, and make easy payments internationally. While different providers have their own features and fees, accounts can often come with linked cards for payments and withdrawals, and ways to pay and get paid in foreign currencies.

Here’s a quick overview of some of the people who may benefit from an international account:

  • Anyone who travels internationally for work or leisure

  • International students and expats living away for work

  • Freelancers and contractors getting paid in foreign currencies

  • Business owners looking to send and receive overseas payments

  • People who choose to invest in foreign currencies or assets

Depending on the international account you select, you may find it’s easier to send and receive foreign currency payments, and hold multi-currency balances. That means you can send international money transfers without the need for currency conversion, bringing down the costs overall.

How to open an international account

The exact steps you need to take to open an international account will vary based on the provider you pick. Traditional banks often ask you to visit a branch to get your account set up and provide your paperwork for verification. Digital specialist services will allow you to complete the entire process from home, usually with nothing more than your phone to upload your documents.

Here’s how to open an international account step by step:

Step 1. Choose the bank or provider you prefer

Doing some research to find the right bank and account type is essential. Take a look at the international accounts on offer from some of the big global banking brands available in Malaysia, as well as digital specialist services like Wise and BigPay.

Step 2. Fill in the application in a branch, via an app or online

Complete the application form online or in hard copy, and start to gather the paperwork and evidence you might need to support your application.

Step 3. Provide the necessary documents

All banks need to follow verification processes, so you’ll have to provide documents either by scanning and uploading them if you can apply online, or by visiting a bank branch.

Step 4. Fund the account

Depending on the account type you choose you may now need to add a fixed minimum deposit to get started.

Step 5. Start using the account

Once your account has been verified - which can happen instantly, or may take a day or two - you’re ready to start using your account. You’ll be able to set up online or mobile banking, order a bank card and begin to manage your international account in your preferred way.

What do you need to open an international account?

Exactly what’s needed to open your account will depend a lot on the provider you select. It’s a good idea to double check before you start your application, so you’ll know you have all you need to hand. Here’s a rundown of the documents often needed to open an international account:

  • Proof of identity - a passport, driving license or other government issued photo ID

  • Proof of address - a utility bill or government correspondence in your name, usually from within the last few months

  • Proof of minimum funding or salary, depending on the eligibility requirements for the account

Can you open an international account online?

Yes. Some banks will let you open an international account online - but this isn’t always an option with a traditional banking brand. Digital providers like Wise and BigPay offer online application, verification and onboarding processes.

Who is the international bank account for?

International bank accounts can be handy for people moving to a different country for a limited time to work or study, people transferring money in different currencies, and people receiving salaries in different currencies.

If you pick an account which offers multi-currency balances and a linked payment card you could also find it’s handy for any international travel, and even when shopping online with retailers based overseas.

Different providers have quite different account options which suit different customer needs. It’s worth noting that international accounts from traditional banks often come with strict eligibility requirements and monthly fees. Digital services can be more flexible with lower overall costs - we’ll look at a comparison of some traditional banks vs specialist services, later.

Benefits of international bank accounts

An international account is a valuable resource for people who travel frequently, or who are living abroad for work or study. International accounts are also helpful for freelancers, and online sellers who receive payments from overseas, as well as businesses that engage in global trade.

Here are some of the key benefits of an international account:

  • Spend conveniently when you travel or shop in foreign currencies - particularly if you have a multi-currency account which lets you hold a selection of currencies

  • Lower fees and better exchange rates when you send a payment overseas or spend using your linked card

  • Receive foreign currencies - useful if you’re an international freelancer or business owner getting paid from overseas

  • Hold foreign currencies for future use, to pay overseas bills, or to invest

Good to know:
Multi-currency accounts with a linked card can mean you cut out foreign transaction fees when you travel or shop online in foreign currencies - saving around 3% compared to using many normal bank cards
Learn more about WiseLearn more about BigPay

Can I open an international bank account from Malaysia?

Yes. You can open an international bank account in Malaysia, either with a traditional bank or a digital provider. We’ll cover more on these options in the following sections.

5 best international bank accounts 

Not sure where to start? We’ve got you covered. In this section, we’ll cover 4 providers that offer international accounts, such as online specialists like Wise and BigPay first, then traditional providers like RHB and Public Bank.

Multi-currency accountHold 50+ currenciesNot available
Account detailsLocal details in 10 currenciesNot available
Open account onlineYesYes
Account opening fee

No fee for personal customers

113 MYR fee for business customers

Minimum balance requirementNoneNone
Fall below feeNoneNone
Maintenance feeNoneNone
International money transfersFrom 0.41%3.5 MYR to 23 MYR depending on country
International debit cardsAvailableAvailable
Close account fee NoneNone

* Details correct at time of writing -  18th April 2023

ServiceRHBPublic BankMaybank
Multi-currency accountHold 24 currenciesHold 12 currenciesHold 16 currencies
Account detailsNot availableNot availableNot available
Open account onlineNoYesYes
Account opening feeNoneNoneNone
Minimum balance requirementNone1,000 USD or equivalent1,000 USD or equivalent
Fall below feeNoneNot specifiedNone
Maintenance feeNone30 MYR/yearNone
International transfers10 USD2 MYR + cable fees and exchange rate markup10 MYR or equivalent
International debit cardsAvailableNot availableNot available
Close account fee NoneNoneNone

* Details correct at time of writing -  18th April 2023

The accounts available from digital providers like Wise and BigPay tend to be more designed for day to day use, with linked multi-currency cards and easy ways to pay and get paid.

Traditional banks which offer multi-currency or foreign currency account services often have more of a focus on customers who want to invest in foreign currencies, and high wealth individuals who want additional perks and services.

Here’s a summary of the international account providers we’ve picked out:

  • Wise: hold and exchange 50+ currencies, get local bank details for 10 currencies to get paid for free, send money to 70+ countries and use your linked Wise card in 170+ countries

  • BigPay: hold MYR and spend and withdraw all over the world with your BigPay Visa card. Currency exchange uses the Visa rate with a 1% fee, plus you can send international payments to 30+ countries

  • RHB: hold and exchange 24 currencies and precious metals, and access preferential exchange rates. Linked international debit cards available for easy spending

  • Public Bank: hold and exchange 12 currencies to earn interest and make foreign currency payments easier. No debit card available

  • Maybank: hold and exchange 16 major currencies with preferential rates and transfer fees. No debit card available

Learn more about WiseLearn more about BigPay

We’ll cover each providers’ account in more detail, next.

Wise Account

Wise accounts can be opened online or through the Wise app, and are a good choice for day to day money management across currencies.

You can hold 50+ currencies, send payments to 70+ countries, and get local bank details to get paid like a local in up to 10 currencies. Wise accounts also come with the option to add a Wise international debit card which can be used for spending and withdrawals in 170+ countries.

Read our detailed reviews to learn more about Wise in Malaysia: Wise account review & Wise card review

Best features of the Wise account:

  • No monthly fees to pay and no minimum balance requirement

  • Hold and exchange 50+ currencies

  • Currency exchange uses the mid-market rate with low fees from 0.41%

Pros of Wise accountCons of Wise account
  • Broad multi-currency features

  • Mid-market exchange rate for currency conversion

  • Low, transparent fees

  • 50+ currencies supported

  • Local account details in 9 currencies

  • Linked debit card for international spending 

  • No branch network

  • No cash or check payment options

Learn more about Wise

BigPay Account

BigPay customers can open an account in the BigPay app, and order a linked BigPay card for international use. BigPay accounts are offered in MYR only, but do come with easy ways to send money overseas and currency exchange with just a 1% fee. BigPay also has handy budgeting and bill payment tools included.

Best features of the BigPay account:

  • Popular ewallet for local and international use

  • Spend in a broad range of currencies with the Visa rate and 1% fee

  • Get budgeting and bill payment tools

Pros of BigPay accountCons of BigPay account
  • Free to open an account

  • Linked card for easy spending and withdrawals

  • 1% currency conversion fee

  • No branch network

  • Transaction fees apply

Learn more about BigPay
Learn more about WiseLearn more about BigPay

RHB Account

Hold 24 currencies in an RHB multi-currency account, and apply for a linked RHB multi-currency debit card for easy spending and withdrawals. Currency conversion gets preferential rates from RHB, and there’s no conversion fee to spend currencies you hold in your account. Several different account types are available based on individual customer needs.

Best features of the RHB account:

  • Hold and exchange 24 currencies and precious metals

  • Get a debit card to make spending easier

  • In branch and online service options

Pros of RHB accountCons of RHB account
  • 24 currencies available all in one account

  • Online trading options for investment diversification

  • Preferential currency exchange rates

  • Must be opened in a branch

  • Transaction fees apply

Public Bank Account

Public Bank’s foreign currency accounts are offered in any of 12 major currencies, with a focus on customers who want to invest and diversify their savings portfolios. Interest is available on account balances, and there’s a minimum opening deposit of the equivalent of 1,000 USD. Cards are not available with this account.

Best features of the Public Bank account:

  • 12 supported currencies

  • Good for customers looking to diversify investments

  • Interest bearing

Pros of Public Bank accountCons of Public Bank account
  • Available to personal and business customers

  • 12 major currencies supported

  • Good choice for investors and those with a foreign currency savings pot

  • No card available

  • High minimum deposit amount

Maybank Account

Maybank’s foreign currency account is aimed at customers who want to invest in any of the 16 supported currencies. There’s a 1,000 USD or equivalent minimum deposit required, and accounts can earn interest depending on the currencies involved. No payment cards are supplied with this account.

Best features of the Maybank account:

  • 16 supported currencies

  • Good for investing and saving

  • Apply online in Maybank2U

Pros of Maybank accountCons of Maybank account
  • Good selection of major currencies covered

  • Online and in branch service available

  • Free personal accident insurance offered

  • 1,000 USD minimum deposit

  • Some service fees apply when you use your account

What are the costs?

Opening an international account is usually free of charge. However, different accounts do have their own fees, which can include maintenance fees. Some accounts may also require you to make and maintain a minimum deposit amount to access features and services.

Finally, international accounts from traditional banks might also be available only to eligible customers who hold a MYR account already with that bank - so you’ll need to double check if there are any fees involved in maintaining the MYR account too, before you decide which international account to pick.

Tips for saving money with an international account

Here are a few extra ideas to help you get the most out of your international account:

  • Avoid unnecessary currency exchange - if you’re paid in a foreign currency you can hold it in that currency instead of switching back to MYR unnecessarily

  • Get better rates - buy currencies you need when the rates look good, and hold the balance until you need it

  • Avoid foreign transaction fees - international accounts often let you spend foreign currencies for free with no additional charge to worry about

Is it safe to keep money in international accounts?

All of the providers we’ve profiled are safe to use and comply with the required legislation to offer services in Malaysia, and often, internationally, too.

  • Wise: globally licensed and regulated, with strong digital security features

  • BigPay: regulated in Malaysia and Singapore, safe to use

  • RHB: safe banking brand, regulated in Malaysia and elsewhere

  • Public Bank: large and trusted banking brand which is fully regulated

  • Maybank: licensed and regulated in all countries and regions it trades in

Conclusion: Which international bank is best in Malaysia?

Ultimately the best bank for your international bank account will depend on your personal preferences and needs. Traditional Malaysian banks don’t usually have such a broad range of international account products for personal customers looking for ways to manage their money on a day to day basis across currencies. Investors and businesses are better served, but you’ll need to shop around to find a bank and account that suits you.

Alternatively, specialist providers like Wise and BigPay can offer more flexible international account options which can hold dozens of currencies and which come with extra perks like low cost international transfer and currency conversion which uses the mid-market rate.

Learn more about WiseLearn more about BigPay

How to open an international bank account FAQ

What’s the best bank to open an international account in Malaysia?

Traditional banks in Malaysia don’t usually offer a very broad selection of international accounts, with options limited to accounts for saving and investment. Alternative providers like Wise and BigPay may be a better option if you’re looking for a more flexible international account which has a good selection of supported currencies.

Can I open an international account online?

You can open an international account online or through an app if you pick a digital provider like Wise or BigPay. If you’d prefer to use a traditional bank you may be eligible to open a bank account online if you’ve got a full set of standard documents available for verification - if not you’ll need to visit a branch.

What’s the bank with the cheapest international fees?

Banks tend to have fees for international transfers, overseas spending and currency exchange. While bank international fees can vary widely, customers often find they can access lower international fees by picking a specialist online service for their foreign currency transactions instead.

How much does it cost to open an international account?

It’s often free to open an international account, although some account providers do have maintenance fees. Transaction fees usually apply when you use your account, including currency conversion charges and ATM fees.

Is it safe to keep money in an international account?

As long as you pick a reputable and properly licensed provider, it’s safe to keep money in an international account. All the providers we profile on Exiap are regulated and safe to use.