Malaysia Travel Information – Vital Information for the First-Time Visitor

Visas, Currency, Holidays, Weather, What to Wear

Kuala Lumpur skyline with Petronas Towers in Malaysia
••• Kuala Lumpur skyline with Petronas Towers in Malaysia. joakimbkk/Getty Images

You’ll only be allowed into Malaysia if your passport is valid for at least six months after arrival, with enough pages for embarkation stamp upon arrival, and must show proof of onward or return passage.

For a list of visa requirements per nationality see the Malaysian Immigration Department website.

Customs

You may bring these items into Malaysia without paying customs duty:

  • 200 cigarettes / 50 cigars / 225g of tobacco.
  • One liter of spirits / wine / malt liquor.
  • Cosmetics, perfume, soaps and toothpaste up to the value of RM200.
  • Gifts and souvenirs not exceeding a total value of RM200 (except for goods from Langkawi and Labuan, which are allowed up to a value of RM500).
  • 100 matches.
  • A total of RM75 for dutiable food preparations.
  • A maximum three pieces of new wearing apparel, and one pair of new footwear.
  • One portable electrical or battery-operated appliance for personal care and hygiene.

You are not allowed to import any goods from Haiti. You are also prohibited from bringing non-prescribed drugs, weapons, any reproduction of any currency note or coin, or pornographic material. Any amount of illegal drugs found on your person will get you the death penalty, so don’t even think about it!

Airport Tax

You will be charged an airport tax of RM40.00 is charged upon departure on any international flight. Passengers of domestic flights will be charged RM5.00.

Health & Immunizations

You’ll only be asked to show health certificates of vaccination against smallpox, cholera, and yellow fever if you’re coming from known infected areas. More information on Malaysia-specific health issues are discussed at the CDC page on Malaysia. 

Safety

Malaysia is safer than many other destinations in Asia, although terrorism remains a special concern.

Those planning to visit resorts and islands should choose the larger resorts and exercise caution. In urban areas, street crimes like bag snatching and pickpocketing are common.

Malaysian law shares the draconian attitude to drugs common in Southeast Asia. For more information, read: Drug Laws and Penalties in Southeast Asia - by Country.

Money Matters

The Malaysian unit of currency is called the Ringgit (RM), and it is divided into 100 sen. Coins come in denominations of 1c, 2c, 5c, 10c, 20c, 50c, R1, R2 and R5, and notes in denominations of R10, R20, R50, R100 and R200.

The British Pound Sterling stands as the best currency for exchange in Malaysia, but US Dollars are also widely circulated. All commercial banks are authorized to exchange foreign currency, while major hotels can only buy or accept foreign currency in the form of notes and traveler’s cheques.

American Express, Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are widely accepted across the country. Travelers’ checks are accepted by all banks, hotels and large department stores. Additional exchange rate charges can be avoided by bringing travelers’ checks in Pounds Sterling, US Dollars or Australian Dollars.

Tipping. Tipping isn’t standard practice in Malaysia, so you’re not required to tip unless asked.

Restaurants often levy a service charge of 10%. If you feel generous, you can leave an extra tip for the wait staff; just leave some change behind after you pay up.

Climate

Malaysia is a tropical country with a warm and humid climate throughout the year, with temperatures ranging from 70°F to 90°F {21°C to 32°C}. Cooler temperatures are more common in the hill resorts.

When and Where to Go 

Malaysia has two peak tourist seasons: one in winter and another in summer.

The winter tourist season happens between December and January, encompassing Christmas, New Year's Day, and Chinese New Year.

The summer tourist season happens between June and August, with some overlap into mid-September. Hotels can be hard to book during these times, as this is school holiday season in many countries in the region.

Malaysia's school holidays happen for about 1 or 2 weeks each during March, June, and August, repeating from November till December.

Avoid the east coast resort areas between November and March – the monsoon tides make the water too choppy for comfort. For west coast resorts, avoid them from April through May, and again from October through November.

What to Wear 

Wear light, cool, and casual clothing on most occasions. On formal occasions, jackets, ties, or long-sleeved batik shirts on men are recommended, while women should wear dresses.

Don’t wear shorts and beachwear outside the beach, especially if you’re planning to call on a mosque or other place of worship.

Women would be wise to dress respectfully, covering shoulders and legs covered. Malaysia is still a conservative country, and modestly-dressed women will get more respect from locals.

Getting to Malaysia

By Air
Many international airlines offer flights to Malaysia, most of which land at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KUL) about 35 miles (55km) south of Kuala Lumpur.

The new KL International Airport at Sepang has one of the most sophisticated passenger facilities in the region.

The national carrier, Malaysia Airlines, flies to 95 destinations worldwide.

By Land
The railway system of Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM) connects to Singapore and Bangkok.

It will take up to ten hours to ride from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur, two days if you’re coming from Bangkok.

Buses from Ban San in Singapore can travel to many points on peninsular Malaysia. You can also travel from Bangkok or Haadyai in Thailand to either coast of peninsular Malaysia, as well as Kuala Lumpur.

Entering Malaysia by rental car is not difficult from either Thailand or Singapore, and the North-South highway makes travel along the west coast quite convenient (10-12 hours from Singapore to the Thai border).

By Sea
Seafarers can enter through Penang, Port Klang, Kuantan, Kuching, and Kota Kinabalu.

Getting Around Malaysia

By air
A growing number of domestic airlines now serve popular tourist destinations. Some of them include Pelangu Air, Berjaya Air and Mofaz Air.

By rail
Keretapi Tanah Melayu Berhad (KTM)’s rail network reaches all parts of peninsular Malaysia. KTM also offers special deals for tourists.

In KL, a Light Rail Transit (LRT) System links to the adjoining Klang Valley District. The KTM Komuter rail system connects Kuala Lumpur with outlying areas.

By bus
Air-conditioned express buses and non-aircon regional buses can take you from Kuala Lumpur to other areas in Peninsular Malaysia. Buses traveling inside towns and cities charge according to distance.

Minibuses in KL charge a standard fare of 60 sen wherever you stop.

By taxi
Limousine service can be hired at the airport going to hotels in the city. Enquire at the taxi counter for service.

Interstate taxis can take you across state lines relatively cheaply. Fares for these taxis are fixed.

City taxis are metered. In Kuala Lumpur, taxis are colored yellow and black, or red and white. Fares are calculated according to distance. Flag-down rate is RM 1.50 for the first two kilometers, plus 10 sen for every 200m afterward.

By rented car
If you want to drive yourself, car rentals are easy to arrange through your hotel, or directly with a reputable car rental company. Rates for a car vary from RM60 to RM260 per day.

Malaysia requires drivers to be at least 18 years old with a valid international driver's license. Malaysians drive on the left-hand side of the road.

The Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM) is Malaysia’s national motoring organization. If you belong to a motoring organizations affiliated to AAM, you can enjoy the perks of reciprocal membership.

The North-South Expressway on peninsular Malaysia links up to coastal roads and the rest of the road arteries in the region. Excellently maintained, the Expressway lets you drive all around Peninsular Malaysia.

By boat

Ferry services can take you between peninsular Malaysia and major islands. Popular services include:

  • Butterworth to Penang island
  • Kuala Perlis to Pulau Langkawi
  • Lumut to Pangkor Island
  • Mersing to Tioman Island
  • Labuan to Menumbak

By trishaw

Trishaws (bicycle rickshaws) are much less prevalent these days, but you can still find them in Melaka, Georgetown, Kota Bahru, and Kuala Terengganu. Negotiate the price before you ride. A half day of sightseeing on a trishaw costs RM25 or so.