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Should You Study in Malaysia or Thailand?

By Sabrina Collier

Updated November 27, 2020 Updated November 27, 2020

If you want to study in Southeast Asia, both Thailand and Malaysia are bound to be top of your list. Both are highly affordable, with very low costs of living (especially if you love street food), both offer English-taught courses, and both are culturally rich, with lots to explore during your spare time. So, should you study in Malaysia, or Thailand? The answer is likely to be largely swayed by your own personal preference, as the two countries offer two different, yet equally exciting, study abroad experiences, but to make the decision easier we’ve compared both countries on a number of factors. 

Top universities

There are nine top universities in Malaysia featured in the QS World University Rankings® 2021, while Thailand has eight entrants. The highest ranked university in Malaysia is Universiti Malaya (UM) at 59th in the world. In Thailand, Chulalongkorn University is the highest ranked at 208th. The table below shows how each country’s remaining entrants compare:



Universiti Putra Malaya (UPM)

·         Ranked 132nd in the world

Mahidol University

·         Ranked joint 252nd in the world

Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM)

·         Ranked 141st

Chiang Mai University 

·         Ranked 601-650

Universiti Teknologi Malaysia (UTM)

·         Ranked joint 187th

Thammasat University 

·         Ranked 561-570

Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM)

·         Ranked 142nd

Kasetsart University 

·         Ranked 801-1000

Universiti Teknologi Petronas 

·         Ranked joint 439th

Khon Kaen University 

·         Ranked 801-1000

International Islamic University Malaysia

·         Ranked 601-650

King Mongkut’s University of Technology Thonburi 

·         Ranked 801-1000

Universiti Utara Malaysia (UUM)

·         Ranked 531-540

Prince of Songkla University

·         Ranked 801-1000

 Universiti Teknologi MARA

·         Ranked 651-700


More top universities in Malaysia and Thailand can be found in the QS Asia University Rankings.

Malaysian universities may have a clear lead in terms of World University Rankings performance, but this doesn’t necessarily mean they’re the best place to go for every subject. If we look at the QS World University Rankings by Subject, we’re able to get a clearer picture of where Malaysian and Thai universities are strongest. For example, the Thai Kasetsart University is ranked 29th in the world for agriculture, higher than any Malaysian university (the highest-ranked in Malaysia for this subject is Universiti Putra Malaysia).  

Both Thai and Malaysian universities are strong for engineering, but Malaysia takes the lead, with five universities ranked in the global top 150 for the broad subject area of Engineering and Technology, while Thailand has just two in the top 300 - Chulalongkorn University and Asian Institute of Technology, Thailand.

Street food


As mentioned, both Thailand and Malaysia are affordable study destinations, but to find out which one’s cheaper we’ve put together the following table of some average costs – bear in mind that your actual costs will vary depending on your lifestyle, spending habits and location (large cities are typically more expensive to live in).

As tuition fees vary between universities, we’ve listed fees at each country’s top ranked university:


Annual international tuition fees

Study level

Malaysia – Universiti Malaya

Thailand - Chulalongkorn University


RM 7,078.22 per year (~US$1,650)

From 30,750 Thai Baht per year (~US$930).


RM 11,706.99 (~US$2,700).

From 80,000 Thai Baht (~US$2,400).

You may also need to pay application and/or student union fees. More information on the average tuition fees in Malaysia can be found here.

Living costs


Average living expenses per month





RM 300-450 (~US$70-105)

15,000 Thai Baht (~US$450)


RM 400-450 (~US$90-105)

10,000 Thai Baht (~US$300)

Books & course materials

RM 50-100 (~US$12-24)

[No data]


RM 60 (~US$14)

1,141 Thai Baht (~US$34)

Public transport

RM 30-50 (~US$7-12)

1,203 Thai Baht (~US$36)

Phone costs

RM 30-80 (~US$7-19)

500 Thai Baht (~US$15)

Misc. personal expenses

RM 100-200 (~US$24-48)

[No data]

Total needed per month: approximately RM1,000 and RM1,500 in Malaysia (~US$230-350) and 15,000-20,000 Thai Baht in Thailand (~US$450-600). So, although there are differences between Malaysia and Thailand, in both countries you’ll spend no more than US$7,200 on living costs each year.

Malaysian culture

Student life & culture

Aside from just comparing the top universities and their associated costs – what’s it like to actually study in Malaysia or Thailand? Both are far more than simply budget options.

Why study in Thailand?

  • You’ll receive a warm welcome from the locals – the country is known for being the ‘land of smiles’.
  • You can immerse yourself in Thailand’s rich culture, which blends the old and new. Thailand’s cities host international businesses on the doorstep of Buddhist temples and outdoor markets.
  • You can eat delicious, cheap Thai street food, with capital city Bangkok hosting a legendary street food scene. Foodies will be in heaven.
  • Thailand has pleasant weather all year round and beautiful natural landscapes.
  • The country has one of the strongest economies in the region.
  • Thailand will definitely appeal to animal lovers; you can see elephants, tigers and monkeys, among others.
  • If city life gets too hectic, you’re never far away from a beach.

Find out what else you should know about studying in Thailand >

Why study in Malaysia?

  • Malaysia hosts international branch campuses of prestigious universities such as the UK’s Nottingham University and Australia’s Monash University, allowing you to get the same high quality education for a much lower cost.
  • Malaysia has the third-largest economy in Southeast Asia and is also one of the region’s most developed countries.
  • The country’s universities are steadily rising in the World University Rankings.
  • English is widely spoken in Malaysia, meaning you should be able to study there without facing a language barrier.
  • It’s hugely multicultural, meaning you can broaden your horizons.
  • It’s also one of the most tolerant Asian countries (although you’re still advised to dress modestly).
  • You can explore the country’s beautiful rainforests, beaches and jungles in your spare time, or stick to the fascinating historical sights you can see in the cities. (Here are some must-see places to visit).

Would you rather study in Malaysia or Thailand? Let us know in the comments below!

This article was first published in August 2017 and most recently updated in November 2020

This article was originally published in August 2017 . It was last updated in November 2020

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Written by

The former Assistant Editor of, Sabrina wrote and edited articles to guide students from around the world on a wide range of topics. She has a bachelor's degree in English Literature and Creative Writing from Aberystwyth University and grew up in Staffordshire, UK. 

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