Since they’re literally neighbors, Singapore and Malaysia are very similar and probably have a lot more in common than you might think. However, there are also many differences between these two countries. If you didn’t know before, you will know by the end of the article just what exactly is the difference between Singapore VS Malaysia.
Before we start weighing in on the differences, we’d like to remind everyone reading this that Singapore and Malaysia share a lot in common, and what they have in common may be even more than the differences sometimes.
Table of Contents
What is the difference in size between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Singapore is the 20th smallest country in the world, while Malaysia is the 66th largest country in the world. This is the first main difference between the two countries. With a land mass of only about 730km2, Singapore is like a little peanut compared to Malaysia’s whopping size of 329,613 km2.
Interestingly, Singapore used to be part of Malaysia until they officially achieved independence in 1965. So, it makes sense that they’re a very tiny hub, but just because they’re small, doesn’t mean they’re not powerful. In fact, Singapore is one of the biggest financial powerhouses in the world, as we will be exploring later on.
What is the difference in population between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Chinese are the majority race in Singapore. (Source: Singapore census)
Bumiputeras (including Malays) are the majority race in Malaysia. (Source: Malaysia census)
While Singaporeans and Malaysians have pretty much the same roots, one of their main differences is their ethnic composition. While Singaporeans are mostly Chinese (75.9%), Malaysians are led by a Malay majority (67.4%).
Even though each of these countries has equally diverse cultures, with each country having Malays, Chinese and Indians as the main races, the composition is different. You will notice that Singapore’s Prime Ministers have been Chinese all this while, while Malaysia’s Prime Ministers have always been Malays.
The most followed religion in Singapore is Buddhism (31.1%), while in Malaysia, the official national religion is Islam (61.3%). However, in both countries, any religion is allowed to be practised in peace and harmony.
You can read about these in the Singapore census and the Malaysian census.
What is the difference in the standard of living between Singapore VS Malaysia?
The Human Development Index (HDI) measures a country’s standard of living based on 3 main indicators: long and healthy life, knowledge, and a decent standard of living. (Source: UNDP)
Singapore ranked #12 on the HDI, which is way above Malaysia, who stands at #62. (Source: UNDP)
Singapore definitely has a higher standard of living, given that they’re considered a First World country, while Malaysia is still merely a developing nation.
According to the 2021 Human Development Index (HDI) as compiled by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Singapore ranks at number 12, while Malaysia falls far behind at number 62.
This index compiles a country’s health, income and education standards, which reflects a country’s ability to provide high quality of life for its citizens.
Of course, we agree that a happy life is about more than just good health, decent income and high quality education, but these are pretty good measures that indicate how healthy a population is generally.
You can read more about the report here.
Pretty much everything in Singapore is more expensive than in Malaysia, as you can see in the image above. If you ever send a Malaysian to Singapore for a weekend getaway, you’ll definitely hear some grumbles about how expensive a plate of Nasi Lemak can be. If you do the opposite and send a Singaporean to Malaysia, you can probably expect them to order 2 or 3 portions of the same dish!
Having a high quality of life certainly comes at a cost, literally. Even though Singapore has higher standard of life as we have mentioned earlier, they also have a much higher cost of living. So, even though you can make a higher income in Singapore, you also have to spend more in your daily necessities and activities.
This is probably why you see Singaporeans taking frequent trips to Malaysia without worrying too much, because the cost of living in Malaysia, after currency conversion, is so, so affordable for them!
What is the difference in nature between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Singapore would definitely lose out to Malaysia in the nature aspect, as they’re too small to accommodate for any large terrain of forests and mountains.
Malaysia has many tropical rainforests, and has one of the tallest mountains in the Borneo region called Mount Kinabalu. Many Malaysians, including the ones living in city centres, tend to take weekend nature getaways in hilly areas to get away from the hustle and bustle of their busy working lives.
Unfortunately, Singaporeans do not share the same luxury, unless you consider “concrete jungles” as part of nature as well. While they do have some nature reserves and wetland reserves, such as the ones in Bukit Timah and Sungei Buloh, these are very few in comparison to Malaysia, which has not just wetlands like this, but also mountains and large national parks!
What is the difference in food between Singapore VS Malaysia?
I’m delving into dangerous territories here, but I’m just going to say it – Malaysian food is better than Singaporean food!
This is a very controversial topic that all Singaporeans and Malaysians will never stop arguing about. It’s just my personal opinion, and maybe you can say I’m biased since I’m a Malaysian myself, but objectively speaking, I think Malaysia has a lot more to offer in terms of cuisines.
First of all, not only are Malaysian food much more affordable, they’re also often cooked by locals who have been using the same traditional recipes passed down from generations ago. Another thing is that, while it’s obviously possible to find high quality Singaporean food as well, it’s a bit harder to do so as there are less restaurants generally.
In Malaysia, however, restaurants and cafes are so densely populated. Every 3-minute drive will lead you to some restaurants or kopitiams, and one of it is bound to be good!
What is the difference in cleanliness between Singapore VS Malaysia?
No questions here – Singapore is much, much cleaner compared to Malaysia.
As a Malaysian myself, I’m ashamed to admit that I absolutely dread having to go into our public restrooms. I also don’t understand how our public restrooms can be so, so nasty, and often wonder how Singapore can keep theirs so clean. Apparently, Singapore not only has strictly enforced fines against people who litter, they also have a huge army of cleaners who keep the streets clean every day.
There’s something called the broken windows theory, which states that, the more small crimes there are in a city, the more likely that people will want to commit them or even bigger crimes. So, it makes sense that – if a city has clean streets, then people will be less likely to want to litter.
I can’t say the same in Malaysia. The dirty streets make us feel like it’s not wrong to litter, but for Singaporeans, because it’s already clean, it just feels wrong to litter.
What is the difference in education between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Source: Aug Student Services
One question we often ask in Malaysia is – why is our education so much worse compared to Singapore?
In Singapore, their education is considered one of the best in the world, always ranking high on many international lists. They focus a lot on Math and Science, as they believe that these are the main drivers of the economy. The students are also trained to be highly competitive, and so they often spend a lot of time studying to get high grades.
Two Singaporean universities also made it to the top of the QS World University ranking: National University of Singapore (NUS), and Nanyang Technological University (NTU), ranking at 11 and 12 respectively.
It’s a little different in Malaysia. Generally, one of the biggest flaws in our education system is that students are not taught to think critically, most of us can score well with just memorising and regurgitating facts. If you want to look at it objectively, the highest ranking Malaysian university on QS is Universiti Malaya, which ranked far behind at number 70.
What is the difference in economy between Singapore VS Malaysia?
As of 2022, Malaysia stands at about US$30,000 per capita, while Singapore has about US$111,000 per capita.
Source: Brilliant Stats/YouTube
Even though Singapore and Malaysia have similar GDP overall, the GDP per capita of Singapore is far ahead of Malaysia. As of 2022, Malaysia stands at about US$30,000 per capita, while Singapore has about US$111,000 per capita.
There are many reasons for this, but we shall list just 3:
- Political stability. Out of all of the Southeast Asian countries, Singapore has one of the most stable political scenes. It has been ruled by the Lee family ever since independence, and their efficient policies have garnered their own people’s respect. Being one of the few countries with stable politics, this leads Singapore to attract many foreign investors.
- Low corruption rates. Instead of wasting money away on unnecessary activities, having minimal corruption in the country allows for more energy to be diverted towards productive activities which benefits all, such as business.
- Its strategic location. Located just off the Malacca Straits, it guarantees the control of over at least 40% of trading passes.
What is the difference in doing business between Singapore VS Malaysia?
In 2020’s Ease of Doing Business Report, the World Bank ranked Singapore as the #2 best country to do business, while Malaysia ranked at #12.
This index takes into account of the following factors:
- How easy is it to start a business?
- How easy is it to deal with construction permits?
- How easy is it to get electricity?
- How easy is it to register property?
- How easy is it to get credit?
- How likely is it to protect investors?
- How are taxes paid?
- How easy is it to trade across borders?
- How easy is it to enforce contracts?
- How easy is it to resolve insolvency?
- Trade freedom. About 99% of goods entering Singapore are duty-free. They also have very friendly tax and legal structures that makes them a very dependable environment for foreign investment.
- Technological advancements. One of the things that makes a country a business-friendly place, is how efficient its border processing is, as well as how good their transport services are. Singapore has all of these and more, which is why so many people love doing business with Singapore.
- Relatively light tax burden. The overall tax burden is about 13% of its total domestic income. New business owners can also take advantage of their tax exemption of up to S$125,000 for the first three years of business.
What is the difference in the politics between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Singapore practices a parliamentary representative democratic republic, where the president is the head of state, the prime minister is the head of government, and there is a multi-party system. Meanwhile, Malaysia has a federal representative democratic constitutional monarchy, in which the king (Yang di-Pertuan Agong) is the head of state, while the Prime Minister is the head of government.
One of the things that put Malaysia in the international limelight in recent years are the MH370 flight incident, as well as the political crisis that happened between 2020 and 2022, where several politicians hopped between different political parties, leading to the dissolution of Parliament, as well as the resignation of 2 Prime Ministers within less than 18 months.
While Malaysia has had to deal with multiple political crisis, Singapore has been relatively stable politically. It has also been rated as one of the least-corrupt countries in the world. Their political stability has certainly contributed to their economical success as well.
What is the difference in the crime rates between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Singapore is well known as one of the safest countries in the world, ranking 2nd just behind Osaka, Japan. However, Malaysia fairs poorly when it comes to crime rates.
In 2021, Singapore came up with a report which said, “There were 250 days which were free from confrontational crimes, including snatch theft, robbery, or housebreaking.” That’s 8 full months without anyone having their phones or any other properties stolen.
One news anchor actually made a video where he left a laptop in a hawker centre in Singapore while he went elsewhere for about an hour or two, and unsurprisingly, the laptop was left untouched.
There are many reasons for Singapore’s low crime rates. Most importantly, Singaporeans have most of their basic needs met already, so everyone’s living pretty well, and therefore there is no need to resort to stealing to make ends meet.
Meanwhile, in Malaysia, even I personally have experienced snatch theft before, even though I was just a pre-school kid back then.
What is the difference in the tourism between Singapore VS Malaysia?
We think it’s safe to say that both Singapore and Malaysia are popular tourist hotspots, but for different reasons. While Malaysia can provide a larger variety of activities, ranging from nature to concrete jungles, from delicious local delicacies to Michelin star restaurants, from cheap Airbnb to 5-star hotels, Singapore has slightly less to offer.
Like we mentioned earlier, Malaysia has some popular nature offerings:
1. Mount Kinabalu, Sabah – for enthusiastic hikers
2. Manukan Island, Sabah – for beach lovers
3. Penang Hill – a temperate refuge from the heat
Meanwhile, Singapore has had to create their own hotspots from the ground up in the form of some skyscrapers and state-of-the-art modern architectures:
1. The Marina Bay
2. Changi Airport
3. Gardens by the Bay
Something fun we thought was worth mentioning was that a few months ago, National Geographic posted a picture of the Gardens by the Bay and slipped up with their caption.
Apparently Singapore and Malaysia are so alike that National Geographic mistakenly thought that Singapore is still a part of Malaysia!
What is the difference in sports between Singapore VS Malaysia?
Dato’ Lee Chong Wei, one of Malaysia’s most loved athletes.
Singapore’s national sport is football, while Malaysia’s national sport is Sepak Takraw, which is sort of a fusion between football and volleyball, where the players have to play volleyball but with their feet instead of their hands.
Even though Singapore has won one Olympic gold medal before, Malaysia has scored none so far. However, any avid sports fan would probably know that badminton is one of Malaysia’s most important sports, despite it not being the national sport of the country.
Dato’ Lee Chong Wei is the familiar name that every Malaysian (and possibly Singaporean) would know. He has come very close to winning an Olympic gold multiple times before, but lady luck was never on his side. Despite this, his badminton matches have always brought Malaysians together in a way that no other public figures can.
While both countries do not bring in any major sports success like the USA or China, it is safe to say that the people of both countries always have the best time gathering around in front of a TV, rooting for their national athletes, regardless of the outcome.
What is the difference in entertainment between Singapore VS Malaysia?
In Singapore, there is a famous TV show called Phua Chu Kang, while in Malaysia, we have Upin and Ipin.
Phua Chu Kang is a sitcom whereby all the characters speak in informal broken Singlish, which made a strong impact on audience in both Singapore and Malaysia alike. I remember watching it with my family members in front of a TV and laughing out loud at some of his funniest moments. In a way, he was the Singaporean Mr Bean!
Upin & Ipin, on the other hand, is an animated cute story about twin brothers living in a kampung (a rural area). I was way too old for it by the time it became popular, but young children all over Malaysia absolutely love it, and it’s listed as Malaysia’s most successful animated series of all time.
What are the similarities between Singapore and Malaysia?
Despite all of their differences, Singapore and Malaysia also have a lot in common.
1. The people. If you look past all the glam of Singapore’s economical success and Malaysia’s renowned place in the sports world, they’re both made up of very hardworking, humble, and down-to-earth individuals. They’re also very humorous people who do not shy from throwing harmless insults at each other!
2. The food. Having the same cultural origins means these two nations share the same cuisines also. Putting the quality of the food aside, both Singapore and Malaysia have in common the traditional Malay food called Nasi Lemak, the Chinese classic Char Kuey Teow and Laksa, as well as the Indian Roti Canai and Tosai. These are all fantastic (but not the healthiest!) breakfast choices.
3. The language. In our previous post, we talked about how the national language of Singapore is Singlish, but we forgot to mention that Malaysians also have their own version of this called Manglish. Essentially, they’re pretty much the same and equally expressive. “Why leh?” “Finished already ah?” “Weih, why you bojio?” All of these phrases would mean nothing to an outsider, but to Malaysians and Singaporeans, an instant mutual understanding is built. It is almost like an invisible superpower!
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
We talked a lot about the ways in which Singapore and Malaysia are different from one another, but we also think that they’re very similar to each other, given that they shared the same history.
Despite their differences, Singaporeans and Malaysians ultimately have a strong sense of respect for each other, for what one lacks, is often found in the other. In that way, Singapore and Malaysia have learnt from each other and grown to be stronger in different senses while being independent from each other politically.
All in all, we cannot wait to see the future of these two countries. Despite the gloom of the impending recession, we sure hope that the well-known resilience of these two nations will be there to guide them through these difficult times.