Malaysia Basics

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The Basics

Time: GMT +8

Electricity: Electrical current is 240 volts, 50Hz. UK-style three-pin plugs are used.

Money: The official currency is the Malaysian Ringit (MYR), also referred to as the Malaysian Dollar, which is divided into 100 sen. Money changers are generally quicker to deal with than banks and do not charge commission; their rates however are variable. British Pounds or US Dollars are the easiest to exchange. All major credit cards are accepted at upmarket hotels, shops and restaurants. ATMs are widely available.

Currency Exchange Rates

MYR1.00 = USD 0.24GBP 0.20CAD 0.32AUD 0.35ZAR 3.60EUR 0.22NZD 0.38
Note: These rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.

Language: Bahasa Melayu is the national language, but English is widely spoken and is the language of business. Cantonese, Hokkien and Hakka are spoken by the Malaysian Chinese population and Tamil, Malayalam and Hindi among the Indian population.

Entry requirements for Americans: US citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for holders of British passports, irrespective of the endorsement regarding their national status contained therein, for stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Canadians: Canadian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for Australians: Australian citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC business travel card, provided that the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Malaysia.

Entry requirements for South Africans: South African citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

Entry requirements for New Zealanders: New Zealand citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days. Note that visa exemptions apply to holders of an APEC business travel card, provided that the back of the card states that it is valid for travel to Malaysia.

Entry requirements for Irish nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of their arrival in Malaysia. No visa is required for stays of up to 90 days.

Passport/Visa Note: Foreign passengers to Malaysia are required to hold sufficient funds (at least USD 100 per day) to cover their expenses while in the country, return/onward tickets, and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination. If passengers are not in possession of a return/onward ticket, they will be requested to purchase one. Passports must have at least one unused page upon arrival. Note that admission will be refused to foreign ladies in an advanced stage of pregnancy (six months or more), except if they are in transit, for a maximum period of 72 hours (no extensions allowed). A yellow fever vaccination certificate is required to enter Malaysia, if arriving within six days of leaving or transiting through an infected area. NOTE: It is highly recommended that a visitor's passport has at least six months' validity remaining after their intended date of departure from their travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.

Travel Health: Some tropical illnesses are prevalent in Malaysia and travellers should seek medical advice regarding any recommended vaccinations before travelling. Hepatitis A and hepatitis B are common, as is dengue fever, which has no vaccination or immunisation. There has been an increase in cases of dengue fever in recent years. Malaria risks are isolated to the inland regions; the exception is Sabah, where there is a year-round risk. Travellers older than one year coming from infected areas require a yellow fever vaccination certificate. Visitors may also be advised to get vaccinations for rabies, typhoid and Japanese encephalitis, depending on their travel itineraries in Malaysia. Visitors should stick to bottled water and avoid uncooked meat, fish and vegetables, unpeeled fruit, ice and salads. A further health hazard in Malaysia is smoke haze and air pollution, particularly in Kuala Lumpur, which has some of the poorest air quality in Asia. The very high Benzene pollution levels could aggravate cardiac or respiratory problems. Hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and other major Malaysian cities are of a high standard but medical facilities may be lacking in rural areas. Comprehensive medical insurance is recommended.

Tipping: Although tipping is not customary in Malaysia, the more expensive hotels and restaurants add a 10 percent service charge to their bills and further gratuity is unnecessary. All hotel rooms are subject to a six percent government tax, though many cheaper hotels quote a price inclusive of this tax.

Safety Information: Malaysia is a generally safe travel destination, where visitors should nevertheless practice normal precautions against crime. That is, they should stay alert and avoid displaying conspicuous wealth. They should also be wary of petty crimes such as bag-snatching and pick-pocketing. Tourists should use hotel safes and duplicate travel documents. Remote parts of eastern and northern Sabah carry some threat of kidnappings by militant Filipino groups.

Local Customs: Malaysia is largely Muslim and therefore Islamic customs should be respected, especially during the month of Ramadan when eating, drinking and smoking in public should be avoided, as it is forbidden by Islamic law. Dress, particularly for women, should be conservative, and arms and legs should be covered when visiting places of worship. It is customary to remove shoes before entering homes and places of worship. When eating or exchanging money, the right hand is used. Homosexuality is illegal.

Business: Those looking to do business in Malaysia are strongly urged to research some of the cultural complexities of the country, which is home to different ethnic groups. Although the Malaysian business world has largely succeeded in establishing a unified ethos for itself, it is important to understand that visitors might deal with people from different ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian being the most common), and that their expectations and conduct might need to adjust accordingly. The defining characteristic of business culture in Malaysia is respect for, and deference to authority. Authority figures are identified more by skills, wisdom and temperament, than by powerful positions and strict hierarchy. The Malaysian style of management, it follows, is less goal-driven, and more holistic, than in some Western cultures, with managers taking a personal interest in the well-being of their employees. Business etiquette in Malaysia is marked by sensitivity and diplomacy. The golden rule is never to cause another to 'lose face' in professional company; the wilful, or even careless, humiliation of even a subordinate, is considered anathema in the Malaysian business world. Business meetings in Malaysia usually convene punctually, but can be subject to a lot of 'small talk' and personal digressions. Attendees shouldn't get impatient, as this is seen as an important function of meetings in Malaysia, where the agenda is not always as important as the relationships between people that meetings serve to develop. Business cards are usually exchanged upon meeting new associates. People give and receive cards with their right hand, supported by the left, and never fold or put away a card without looking at it first. Details are printed in Chinese on the reverse side of cards. The dress code for business is typically Western, with smart, formal clothes being worn. Men generally wear white shirts and ties (jackets to be worn to meetings); while women - since Malaysia is home to a large Muslim population - should dress more conservatively than they might be used to doing at home. English is widely spoken in Malaysia, and commonly used in most businesses. Business hours are generally Monday to Friday, from 9am to 5pm.

Communications: The international access code for Malaysia is +60. International Direct Dial is available throughout the country, but the service can be erratic. Hotels can add a hefty surcharge to their telephone bills; it is best to check before making international calls. Cafes, hotels and restaurants offer free wifi in most tourist areas. Buying a local SIM card is a cheaper alternative to using international roaming.

Duty Free: Travellers to Malaysia do not have to pay customs duty on 200 cigarettes, 50 cigars or 225g tobacco; 1 litre wine, spirits or malt liquor; cosmetic products to the value of RM 200; up to three new items of clothing and one pair of footwear; one portable electrical or battery-operated appliance for personal hygiene; food preparations to the value of RM 75; other goods to the value of RM 400 (with the exception of goods from Langkawi and Labuan, to the value of RM 500). Prohibited items include goods from Haiti, counterfeit money and illegal drugs.