Plan Your Trip
Visas and entry requirements
To enter Malaysia, you need a valid passport or visa. A disembarkation card has to be filled out and handed to Immigration officials on arrival. Even though Sabah and Sarawak are in the federation of Malaysia, you need a passport to visit these East Malaysian States.
Visa requirements. British, Irish and most Commonwealth citizens do not need a visa. Holders of US passports, for example, can enter Malaysia for three months without a visa.
Malaysian diplomatic missions overseas
Australia 7 Perth Avenue, Yarralumla ACT 2600, Canberra; tel: +61 (0) 2 6120 0300.
Canada 160 Boteler Street, Ottawa, Ontario K1N 8Y7; tel: +1 613 241 5182.
New Zealand 10 Washington Avenue, Brookyn, Wellington PO Box 9422; tel: +64 (0)4 385 2439.
UK 45-46 Belgrave Square, London SW1X 8QT; tel: +44 (0) 20 7235 8033.
US 3516 International Court, NW, Washington DC 20008; tel: +1 202 572 9700.
Getting to Malaysia
Flying is the most common means of getting to Malaysia, and KLIA is the major gateway; you will sometimes find cheaper fares to Singapore or Bangkok, and from either of these gateways you can get to Malaysia by train or plane. The national airline, Malaysia Airlines, flies from numerous destinations around the world. Many airlines like KLM, Singapore Airlines and Cathay Pacific all fly to KLIA. Budget airline AirAsia also connects to the region. Fares are best booked online. Check with the closest Tourism Malaysia Office or travel agent for more specific information. Many people travel to Malaysia quite economically on packages or tours.
Getting around Malaysia
By car. Roads are generally good except in parts of Sabah and Sarawak. The North–South Expressway, which links Singapore to Thailand, is of international standard, though you have to pay a toll to use it. Rental car companies usually provide you with an emergency contact number should your car break down. Failing that, the Automobile Association of Malaysia (AAM) has a prompt breakdown service for members (tel: 03-2161 0808).
By train. The Malaysian Railway is based in KL Sentral and offers an efficient rail service with reasonable fares across the country and to Thailand and Singapore. A railway line links Gemas to Tumpat in the northeastern state of Kelantan. In Sabah, a railway line links Kota Kinabalu to Tenom. The Kuala Lumpur-to-Singapore service is often fully booked. There is also an electric train service connecting Ipoh to KL Sentral. MYrapid runs KL’s Light Rail Transit and the Monorail and riders pay by tokens for a single journey or pass cards for multiple travel.
By bus. Buses ply the main towns. There are several companies, and tickets can be purchased at the generally very busy bus stations or online. It is best to book a day ahead. Mini-bus services are also available between popular destinations, and the fares are quite reasonable (RM10–30).
By plane. Malaysia Airlines, Berjaya Air, AirAsia and Firefly operate an extensive network of domestic flights to all major towns in Malaysia. MASwings services remote places in Sabah and Sarawak.
By boat. Regular ferry services are still in operation; the below are some of the most frequent. Note that trips can be cancelled or delayed if the weather is bad.
Local transport. Taxis, mostly air-conditioned, are readily available and fares are metered, though in some places, like Penang, cabbies do not use the meter. In such places, negotiate the fare before boarding. In cities, taxis can be found at taxi stands or flagged down anywhere. The blue-coloured premier taxis, although plusher inside, are double the rate of a budget taxi. Flag fall for the latter is RM3, and every 115m (377ft) is 10 sen while a premium taxi’s flag fall is RM4 and every 200m (656ft) is 20 sen. In Kuala Terengganu, Kota Bharu, George Town in Penang and Melaka, trishaws are a popular mode of transport for tourists and make for good photos. Rides within town limits range from RM3–30, depending on the distance.
Health and safety
Most major hotels and resorts provide some medical service for minor ailments. Every town has a government hospital and major towns and cities have private clinics and hospitals. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff mostly speak English, and chances are high that they will have obtained their qualifications from Western universities.
If you have a sensitive stomach, do be cautious when ordering food and drink from hawkers’ stalls. Though the tap water is chlorinated, drink boiled or bottled water. Lay off curries and spicy foods if you're not used to such fare.
Pharmacies, many of which are in department stores, close at 9.30pm. A licensed pharmacist is usually on duty weekdays from 10am–5pm.
Health regulations. A valid vaccination certificate against yellow fever is required from any traveller above one year of age who has visited a yellow fever-infected country up to six days prior to arrival in Malaysia.
If you plan to trek in the forest, take anti-malaria pills. It is also advisable to be vaccinated against Hepatitis B or at least to have a gamma-globulin injection prior to your trip.
Crime and safety
Malaysia is generally safe, but as in any other country, some basic rules apply. Petty theft occurs in tourist areas, and some consular warnings point to a high rate of credit card fraud and snatch thieves.
• Don’t accept drinks from strangers.
• Don’t carry too much money in your wallet.
• Don’t flaunt expensive jewellery.
• Don’t leave your bags or cameras lying around unattended.
• When visiting crowded places, beware of pickpockets.
• Dress in a sensible manner.
Money and budgeting
Malaysia uses ringgit and sen. RM1=100 sen. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen, and notes in RM1, RM2, RM5, RM10, RM50 and RM100.
Carry a combination of cash and traveller’s cheques and/or a credit card. Cash is imperative in rural areas, but you can change traveller’s cheques and use credit cards in urban areas and established tourist areas.
In all states except Kelantan and Terengganu, banking hours are Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4pm. Some open on the second and fourth Saturdays of the month, 9.30am to noon. In Kelantan and Terengganu, banks open Sunday to Thursday 9.30am to 4pm.
Most currencies can be exchanged for ringgit, but the popular ones are US dollars, British sterling pounds, euros and Singapore dollars. Licensed money changers (open from early morning until late at night) offer better rates than banks, while hotels and shopping centres levy a service charge (usually 2–4 percent).
Local and international banks handle the gamut of transactions, and automated teller machines, from which you can use your credit card to withdraw cash, are widespread in cities, towns and transport hubs.
The most widely used credit cards are Visa and MasterCard. Diners Club and American Express are less welcome, but accepted. Note that some retailers add a 2–3 percent surcharge for the privilege of using plastic – so ask first before paying. As with everywhere in the world, be watchful of credit card fraud. Make sure you have enough cash before you leave a city.
Tipping is not encouraged, but some tourist drivers and guides may want a reward. At major restaurants and hotels, a 10 percent service charge (plus 6 percent government tax) is added.
Budgeting for your trip
Holders of the International Student Identity Card (ISIC), the International Youth Travel Card (IYTC) and Hostelling International receive discounts at selected attractions and hotels.
Flights: A flight from KL to Kuching in Sarawak or Kota Kinabalu in Sabah can cost RM300–600, depending on when you fly and how far in advance you purchase your ticket. From time to time Malaysia Airlines, AirAsia and Firefly have online promotions, offering seat prices under RM50 (before the add-ons) for domestic destinations but for specific dates of travel.
Accommodation. Prices generally start from RM30 a night in budget places (air-conditioning, with a shared bath) to RM130 for a mid-range en-suite double room and RM450 for high-end establishments.
Meals. Food in Malaysia is relatively inexpensive, and, apart from high-end restaurants, you can eat well on a very modest budget. A three-course meal in a mid-range restaurant costs RM30–90.