Below is our list of Malaysia travel essentials: visas, money, language, tipping, keeping in touch, and more. Once you book a holiday with us, we’ll provide additional tips and information specific to your trip. For Borneo travel essentials, please have a look at our Borneo page.
Passport holders from more than 60 nations including the UK, European Union members, USA, and Australia do not require a visa. A 90-day stay will be granted upon entry so long as your passport is valid for at least six months after your intended departure date and you can provide proof of onward or return travel. With similar requirements, passport holders from an additional 90+ countries are permitted a 30-day visit without a visa.
The Malaysian ringitt is the national currency. Local currency can be exchanged or withdrawn at the international airports, in city centres, and throughout the country. Western Malaysia is a well-developed region with international ATMs and banking facilities available even in small towns.
Credit cards are generally accepted in hotels and in city restaurants although less so as you move away from the major urban and heavily touristed areas. Some restaurants and shops require a minimum amount for the use of a credit card. A fee of up to 5% may be imposed for credit card payment in some places but this should always be disclosed before you provide your card.
Vaccinations & Health
We advise you to make a travel appointment with your local medical team for the most up-to-date and accurate information. For most travelers, anti-malarial tablets are not advised but there are exceptions. We recommend consulting the NHS Fit for Travel website for more detail about immunizations and a malaria map of the region: you can find information about Malaysia here.
Mosquito repellent is available in chemists although it may not be your preferred brand or type so we recommend bringing some along from home.
A policy to cover theft, loss, and medical issues is a must. Please visit our page on travel insurance for further information. It is a good idea to photocopy and scan all relevant documents – passport, travel insurance policy, etc. – and leave one copy at home. Carry another copy with you separate from the originals and digital versions in your smartphone.
Malay is the official language but English is widely spoken. It’s also common to hear Mandarin and other Chinese languages. If you wish to say ‘thank you’ in Malay, the words are ‘terima kasih’ and you will almost always receive a pleasant ‘sama-sama’ in response. Our guides and drivers all speak English.
What to Wear
Malaysia is predominantly Muslim and dressing modestly is appreciated. Some women cover their arms and legs and wear a tudung (head scarf) while others dress conservatively but still bare their limbs to a modest degree. Foreign women are not expected to wear a head scarf. Lightweight, modest clothing will likely be the most comfortable option. We recommend bringing along a small umbrella at all times as well as sunglasses and a hat. In a tropical climate, any day can hold both sunshine and rain.
While tipping is not mandatory or expected in Malaysia, it is certainly appreciated. If you wish to tip, 10-20 ringitt per person per day is appropriate for generalist guides and drivers. For specialist guides, you may wish to tip up to double that amount depending on the service provided and the guide’s level of expertise.
Internet & Telephone
You will find WiFi in hotels, cafés, and shopping malls. On some of the islands, WiFi may not be as fast or strong as on the mainland but generally speaking, connections are good throughout the peninsula.
If your phone is unlocked you may wish to purchase a local SIM card upon arrival at Kuala Lumpur airport. Cards from Celcom, Digi, and Tune are readily available and purchasing a data package for a one or two week trip is quite affordable.
The country code for Malaysia is +60. If you are calling within either country from a local number, you may need to add a 0 at the start of the sequence. To dial the UK, dial +44 or 0044.
Malaysia is 8 hours ahead of GMT during the winter and 7 hours ahead when daylight savings time is in effect in the UK.
The standard voltage is 220 and standard frequency is 50. Most electrical outlets are the traditional British three-prong (type “G”) although you may encounter a few universal outlets in some city hotels.
When hiring a car, you’ll need to show your home license if it’s printed in English. If it’s printed in any other language, an International Driver’s Permit is required. Should you wish to hire a motorbike or scooter, you must have a valid motorbike license from your home country.
Generally, tap water is not safe to drink in Malaysia. We encourage all travelers to Malaysia to bring a reusable water bottle to minimize the use of disposable plastic bottles. We like these bottles from Water to Go as they filter out contaminants and for taste making any freshwater safe to drink. If you prefer to travel without a self-filtering bottle, remember to ask at your hotel about filling your personal bottle from a larger one as they often have a dispenser of safe drinking water in the restaurant or elsewhere on the property.
Laws, Customs, and Culture
Islam is the state religion of Malaysia although Christianity, Buddhism, Daoism, and traditional tribal belief systems are also practiced. Conservative dress and respectful behavior is appreciated and expected.
When visiting a mosque, avoid passing in front of a person who is praying and be respectful of dress codes. Women need to be completely covered including a headscarf. Some mosques will loan robes and head coverings to visiting women.
Throughout Malaysia, removing one’s shoes upon entering a home, mosque, temple, and in some cases the public areas of a resort or lodge, is expected. When in doubt, watch what others do and follow suit.
A traditional greeting is to place one’s right hand on the heart while exchanging pleasantries although you will find this less in peninsular Malaysia than in Borneo. Some Muslims will not shake hands with members of the opposite sex.
Public displays of affection are extremely rare. Given the state religion, homosexuality is subject to official discrimination although tolerance is growing.
During Ramadan, eating, drinking, or smoking in front of Muslims between sunrise and sunset is taboo.
Festivals & Holidays
Muslim, Christian, Chinese, Buddhist, Hindu, and a number of state holidays are recognized in Malaysia. Prices rise during the Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year, and Easter holidays. If you are fortunate enough to be in Melaka, Penang, or Kuala Lumpur during Chinese New Year you may encounter any number of celebrations in the streets and Chinese temples. The 31st of August, Malaysian Independence Day, brings parades to the streets of many cities and towns.