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Malaysia Travel Essentials

Everything You Need to Know Before Traveling to Malaysia


Petronas Towers

Malaysia travel can include islands, traditional villages, and big cities.

Photo by Greg Rodgers

General Information:

  • Time: GMT + 8 hours (12 hours ahead of US Eastern Standard Time)
  • Country Phone Code: +60
  • Capital City: Kuala Lumpur (population: 1.49 million)
  • Primary Religion: Islam

What to Expect from Malaysia Travel:

Malaysia travel offers a unique opportunity to sample food and culture from a mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian, and indigenous people all in one place. Roads and the general travel infrastructure are excellent.

Malaysia can be traveled on a budget, although accommodation costs are slightly higher than those found in neighboring Thailand and Indonesia. Eating is cheap at street carts and in food courts, however, consuming alcohol is significantly more expensive than in Thailand.

Accommodation in Kuala Lumpur can be pricey and comes at a lower standard of cleanliness than comparable places in Thailand. Couchsurfing is prominent in Kuala Lumpur and cheaper all-dorm hostels can be found.

The People:

  • Population: 29.1 million
  • Ethnic Groups: 50.4% Malay; 23.7% Chinese; 11% Indigenous; 7.8% Other; 7.1% Indian.
  • Life Expectancy: 74 years

Malaysia travel comes with the advantage of interacting with people from a diverse mix of different ethnic backgrounds. In any given situation you'll often find Malay, Indian, and Chinese socializing and speaking English together.


  • Currency: MYR - Malaysian ringgit. The local abbreviation of 'RM' is usually placed before the amount.
  • Per-Capita GDP: US $15,800

Western-networked ATMs are reliable and can be found throughout Malaysia. All major currencies can be exchanged in cities and tourist destinations. Credit cards are accepted only in large hotels and shopping malls, although a commission fee may be added; Visa and Mastercard are the two most accepted card types.

Malaysian ringgit is available in denominations of RM1, RM5, RM10, RM20, RM50, and RM100 notes. ATMs usually only dispense denominations of RM50 and RM10.

Tipping is not customary in Malaysia, however, a small tip may be expected in luxury hotels. Read more about tipping in Asia.

See how to access money while in Asia.


  • Official Language: Bahasa Melayu

Bahasa Melayu is non-tonal and is a relatively easy language to grasp compared to tonal languages such as Thai, Mandarin Chinese, and Vietnamese. Although the official language is bahasa Melayu, a majority of the population also speaks English due to the large mix of ethnic backgrounds.

See how to say hello in Malay and know these 10 useful phrases for getting around in Malaysia.

Visa Requirements:

US citizens and most nationalities are granted free entry for up to 90 days upon arrival. See more about how to get a travel visa.

Popular Places to Visit in Malaysia:

  • Kuala Lumpur: Malaysia's capital city can be a little hectic and grungy at first glance, but it has a unique character that can actually win you over. See this Kuala Lumpur travel guide.
  • Penang: A UNESCO World Heritage Site and absolutely fantastic place to visit, the large island off the west coast of Malaysia is famous for food and colonial heritage. Read about the famous Penang hawker food.
  • Borneo: Malaysia shares the world's third-largest island with Indonesia and Brunei. On Borneo you'll find a nature-lover's dream come true with wild orangutans and plenty of national parks. See 7 good reasons to visit Borneo and how to find cheap flights to Borneo.
  • Cameron Highlands: If you're getting burned out on the heat, the much cooler Cameron Highlands are a green, peaceful escape with trekking through tea plantations. Read about visiting the Cameron Highlands.
  • Malacca: Colonial history and a pleasant charm draw visitors to this small and clean tourist town. See this introduction to Malacca.

Holidays and Festivals:

Ramadan is observed throughout Malaysia as is Chinese New Year and Hari Merdeka, their independence day on August 31.

The Rainforest World Music Festival held each summer in Sarawak, Borneo, is one of the largest music festivals in Asia.

Getting There:

A bulk of international flights come through Kuala Lumpur International Airport (airport code: KUL) into either KLIA or the new KLIA2 terminal that services budget airline flights.

Comfortable five-hour buses run daily between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, allowing you to visit both cities without the need to fly. Find out how to take the bus from KL to Singapore.

When to Go

The best time to visit Malaysia depends upon where you are going.

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