The figures beat forecasts for the export-driven economy and experts now believe that the central bank will keep its key interest rate steady at 3.00 per cent when it meets this week, instead of cutting it.
Malaysia exported 58.9 billion ringgit ($18.7 billion) of goods in May, compared to 55.1 billion ringgit reported in May of last year, according to the figures released by the trade ministry.
Exports increased to the 10 countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), China and Japan as well as to the US, while exports to the European Union declined by 3.2 per cent to 5.44 billion ringgit.
Malaysia, Southeast Asia's third largest economy, had suffered a contraction in exports in March and April as the eurozone debt crisis loomed over the country's vital export sector.
The May data will give more reason for the central bank to maintain the rate at 3.00 per cent at a policy review meeting on Thursday, said Yeah Kim Leng, chief economist with financial research firm RAM Holdings.
The economist added the figures showed Malaysia is weathering the global slowdown in advanced economies.
The resource-rich Southeast Asian nation relies heavily on exports of commodities such as palm oil and energy products as well as some manufactured goods.
Malaysia's neighbour Singapore emerged as the top export market in May followed by China and Japan.
Exports to Asean rose 19.7 per cent to 16.1 billion ringgit from May 2011 while shipments to China increased 1.4 per cent to 7.1 billion.
Major export products for the month were electrical and electronic products, palm oil, liquefied natural gas, chemical and refined petroleum products.
The figures also showed that imports grew 16.2 per cent to 54.2 billion ringgit. The trade surplus was 4.6 billion ringgit, narrowing sharply from April's 7.51 billion.