Malaysia

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Tuesday, 23 September 2014.   It contains updated information under Laws (information on travelling with prescription and non-prescription medications) and Where to get help (the Australian Consulate in Penang is temporarily closed until further notice. If you require consular assistance, you can contact the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur). We continue to advise Australians to reconsider your need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah, including islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities, due to the high threat of kidnapping. We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in all other areas of eastern Sabah covered by the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (ESSZone) due to the heightened security measures in place. We continue to advise Australians to exercise normal safety precautions in Malaysia overall.

Malaysia overall

Eastern Sabah

Coastal region of eastern Sabah including nearby islands and dive sites

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise normal security precautions in Malaysia overall. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia.
  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in all parts of eastern Sabah covered by the Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (ESSZone) due to the heightened security measures in place. Authorities have imposed a curfew on all travel by water between 1800 hrs and 0600 hrs. See Safety and security section.
  • Australians should avoid all travel to the coastal resorts of eastern Sabah, including the islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities owing to the continuing high threat of kidnapping, and as such you should reconsider your need to travel to the area. The risk of kidnapping increases on the water and waterfront after nightfall. Information indicates there is a continuing threat of attacks by armed insurgents in or around eastern Sabah.
  • The kidnapping threat is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau due to its proximity to the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines. There are recent indications that extremists may be in the advanced stages of planning to kidnap foreigners from locations in this vicinity.
  • Smoke haze across some parts of Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur is usual from June to October but can occur at any time of the year. When haze levels are high the Malaysian authorities recommend limiting outdoor activity. There has been a significant increase in cases of dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis in 2014. See Health section.
  • If you are intending to travel overland from Malaysia to Thailand, you should also read the travel advice for Thailand which recommends that Australians do not travel to or through the far southern Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla.
  • Australians visiting Malaysia on business should see our Advice to Australian business travellers.
  • Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
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Entry and exit

The Immigration Department of Malaysia has a system of biometric registration procedures for foreigners. Under the system, all foreigners entering Malaysia by land, air and sea are required to provide biometric fingerprints of both thumbs and index fingers at all Malaysian immigration entry points. Children below 12 years of age, visitors with finger disabilities and diplomatic passport holders, are exempt from this procedure.

Tourists do not require visas for stays of up to three months. Australians entering Malaysia for business or study/research purposes require a visa. As visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly, you should contact the nearest Embassy, High Commission or Consulate of Malaysia for the most up-to-date information.

Particular care should be taken to follow all immigration rules and regulations. Violation of visa conditions and overstaying your visa may result in penalties, including fines, detention and deportation. Check the dates on the visa stamp placed in your passport on arrival.

The website of the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra has information on regulations for importing prescription and non-prescription medication. Some medications require a letter from the prescribing doctor. You should always keep your medication in its original packaging and respect the restrictions on importation of prescription and non-prescription medication.

You should carry suitable photographic identification with you at all times while in Malaysia. Passports are required for travel between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak).

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Malaysian immigration authorities may deny entry and deport people arriving in Malaysia with less than six months' validity remaining on their passport, even if the person intends staying for just a few days.

Safety and security

Terrorism

There is a general threat of terrorist attack in Malaysia. The coastal areas of eastern Sabah are subject to a continuing high threat of kidnapping by extremists based in the southern Philippines.

In planning your activities, consider the kinds of places known to be terrorist targets and the level of security provided. Possible targets include commercial and public places frequented by foreigners such as hotels, clubs, restaurants, bars, schools, markets, places of worship, outdoor recreation events and tourist areas.

Areas of eastern Sabah covered by the ESSZone: We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in parts of eastern Sabah covered by the Malaysian Government’s Eastern Sabah Safety Zone (ESSZone) due to the heightened security measures in place. In February 2013, clashes between gunmen from the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines and Malaysian authorities resulted in a number of fatalities. The ESSZone remains in place and includes an increased security presence.

The ESSZone comprises the regions of Kudat, Kota Marudu, Pitas, Beluran, Sandakan, Kinabatangan, Lahad Datu, Kunak, Semporna and Tawau.

Threat of kidnapping in coastal areas of eastern Sabah: Australians should avoid all travel to the coastal resorts of eastern Sabah, including islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities, owing to the continuing high threat of kidnapping by militant groups based in the southern Philippines. We have consistently advised Australians to reconsider your travel to this area due to the persistent threat of kidnapping, as demonstrated by the security incidents outlined below. The risk of kidnapping increases on the water and waterfront after nightfall and curfews may be put in place by local authorities to address such concerns. A 6:00pm to 6:00am curfew was first imposed on 20 July 2014 and is currently in place to 17 August 2014 (subject to further extension).

The kidnapping threat is highest in the area between the towns of Sandakan and Tawau owing to its proximity to the Sulu archipelago in the southern Philippines. Information indicates there is a continuing threat of attacks by armed insurgents in or around eastern Sabah. There are recent indications that extremists may be in the advanced stages of planning to kidnap foreigners from locations in this vicinity.

On 12 July 2014, gunmen attacked the Mabul Water Bungalows Resort on Mabul Island in eastern Sabah, reportedly killing one member of the security forces and kidnapping another. In June 2014, a foreign worker and a local employee were kidnapped from a fish farm near the town of Kunak in Eastern Sabah. In May 2014, a foreign worker was kidnapped at gunpoint from a fish farm near the coastal town of Palau Baik, near Lahad Datu. On 2 April 2014, a foreign tourist and a local employee were kidnapped from the Singamata Reef Resort in eastern Sabah. On 15 November 2013, two foreign tourists were attacked in their room at the Sipadan Pom Pom Resort, off the coast of eastern Sabah. A male tourist was murdered in the attack and his wife was kidnapped and held captive for many months. These incidents highlight the ongoing risk of violent crime, including kidnapping, in eastern Sabah by groups based in the southern Philippines.

In the past, the Abu Sayyaf Group, based in the southern Philippines, has kidnapped foreigners from the east coast of mainland Sabah, the islands (Sipadan and Mataking) and surrounding waters. Malaysian authorities have increased security in the region in response to these incidents.

Since April 2014, the Sabah Government enforced night-time restrictions on the use of waterways off Semporna. It has also ceased all resort organised activities such as diving and fishing, undertaken at night.

On 20 July 2014, authorities tightened restrictions even further by imposing a curfew on all travel by water from 1800hrs to 0600hrs in six coastal districts of eastern Sabah state. The curfew remains in place until 17 August and may be extended. The affected districts are Kinabatangan, Kunak, Lahad Datu, Sandakan, Semporna and Tawau, and include offshore areas up to three nautical miles (5.5 kilometers) from the coast. The authorities have warned those travelling by water during curfew hours without permission may face a fine or up to six months imprisonment.

Vessels travelling in the area in daylight hours require a permit or permission from police to enter controlled areas in the waters off Lahad Datu and Sandakan. Vessels sailing through these high risk areas are required to travel on designated routes.

If you do decide to travel to this region, you should exercise extreme caution and ensure that your hotel has appropriate security measures in place. The Australian Government's longstanding policy is that it does not make payments or concessions to kidnappers. The Australian Government considers that paying a ransom increases the risk of further kidnappings, including of other Australians. If you do decide to travel to an area where there is a particular threat of kidnapping, you should seek professional security advice and have effective personal security measures in place.

See our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin for more information.

Overland travel to Thailand: If you are intending to travel overland from Malaysia to Thailand, you should also read the travel advice for Thailand which recommends that Australians do not travel to or through the far southern Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin for more information on terrorism and our General advice to Australian travellers for tips on staying safe overseas.

Civil unrest/political tension

From time to time, protests and demonstrations have occurred on the streets and at certain venues in Malaysia. Police permission is required for public gatherings and demonstrations. Foreigners taking part in protests and demonstrations can be arrested and deported under immigration laws for a breach of the terms of their tourist visa. You should avoid all protests and demonstrations as they may turn violent and involve arrests. Protest activity could also cause disruption to public services, including public transport, and traffic congestion. You should monitor local media for information on personal safety and security.

Crime

Petty crime is common. “Snatch and grab” type robberies, where thieves snatch handbags, shoulder bags, jewellery, mobile phones and other valuables from pedestrians, occur regularly. Busy pedestrian crossings near major shopping malls are particular hotspots for this activity. Motor-cyclists appear to use the crossing to target unsuspecting individuals. Injuries have been reported in the course of these incidents, in particular when bags are pulled from victims by thieves on moving motorcycles and on occasion other vehicles. It is recommended that you walk on the footpaths (where available) and away from the curb with your bag held on the opposite side to the traffic, and remain alert.

“Smash and grab” type attacks against slow-moving and parked vehicles also occur. Remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves. You should ensure that valuables are kept out of sight (i.e. in the boot/glove box) and that vehicle windows are closed and doors are locked at all times.

Credit card fraud occurs extensively throughout Malaysia. Credit cards are frequently copied in places ranging from small shops to large department stores and hotels for later illegal use. Keep your credit card in sight at all times when using it. Scams involving gambling are also common.

Australians should also be aware of scams being perpetrated at busy shopping centres. Individuals may be approached by one or more individuals with stories of distress, or warnings for the individual’s safety etc with the intention of separating the targeted individual from their valuables. Travellers should be alert and avoid such contact.

Violent crimes perpetrated against foreign tourists and local residents by taxi drivers in downtown Kuala Lumpur also occur. Travellers, especially women travelling alone, are advised to book taxis by phone, use the shopping centre taxi desk or the new My Teksi App, rather than hailing taxis on the street, particularly after dark. Make sure it is a bona fide taxi. Confirm that there is a license (with photo) on the dashboard or seatback before entering the vehicle. Make sure that the driver's appearance matches the photo. If alone sit in the back seat, and if possible keep your belongings with you. Taxis are not permitted to stop to pick up additional passengers. If they do, you should disembark when safe to do so. Note that some drivers, particularly in tourist spots or when roads are jammed, refuse to use the meter despite a law prohibiting the practice.

SPAD, the government body regulating taxis in Malaysia, has an English language hotline for reporting problems: 1-800-88-7732. To make a report, you should be able to provide details such as the vehicle number, the taxi company name, the time/date/location of the indicent incident and the name of the driver (if known).

Drink spiking occurs. Do not leave your drink unattended and be careful if offered a drink, including in reputable establishments. Victims lose consciousness and have been assaulted and robbed.

Money and valuables

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

Review the general advice to Australian travellers for further information on being safe and prepared abroad.

Local travel

Traffic can be congested and standards of driving may differ from Australia. Motorcyclists can be a traffic hazard in Malaysia due to unsafe driving practices, particularly weaving through traffic and failing to stop at traffic lights, pedestrian crossings and travelling on the wrong side of the road. It is not advisable to shout at, gesture, or toot your horn, at such times. There has been an increasing number of reports where such action has escalated into a more serious confrontation, threat of violence or actual violence. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Passports are required for travel between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak).

If you intend to hire cars, motorcycles, jet skis or any other motorised water sport equipment, talk to your travel insurer to check if it is covered by your insurance policy. If not, consider paying a premium to be covered.

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including adventure activities such as diving, are not always met. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed. But don’t be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal requirements.

Buses: There have been fatal and other serious accidents involving long-distance tour buses in Malaysia, particularly at night or in adverse weather conditions. If you plan to travel by bus, choose a reputable company and avoid overnight routes.

Boats: There have also been instances of passenger boats sinking, usually due to overloading and/or poor maintenance. You should exercise care at all times when travelling by passenger ferry or speedboat and ensure that appropriate safety equipment is available, including confirming that life jackets are available and readily accessible for all passengers. You should not travel on vessels that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition. In bad weather, you should wear a life jacket, even if others do not.

Piracy in south-east Asian waters is an ongoing problem, particularly in the Strait of Malacca, and around Tioman Island off peninsular Malaysia's east coast in the South China Sea, and in the waters between Sabah and the southern Philippines. The International Maritime Bureau issues weekly piracy reports on its website. You should also read our piracy bulletin.

Airline safety

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation incidents in Malaysia. Please also refer to our air travel page for information about aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Malaysia, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail. Research local laws before travelling.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the mandatory death penalty for drug trafficking.

Travellers should note some aspects of Sharia (Islamic) Law have been introduced by all states in Malaysia. Kelantan and Trengganu states are particularly observant. You should ensure you are aware of relevant provisions, which apply to all Muslims, including those from Australia.

The website of the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra has information on regulations for importing prescription and non-prescription medication. Some medications require a letter from the prescribing doctor. You should always keep your medication in its original packaging and respect the restrictions on importation of prescription and non-prescription medication.

The penalty for criminal offences, including other drug offences, commercial crime, rape and robbery, may include corporal punishment.

Homosexual acts between males are illegal and penalties include corporal punishment and long prison sentences. Homosexual acts between women may be considered an 'act of gross indecency with another' and penalties include imprisonment. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Driving under the influence of alcohol is illegal and penalties are strictly enforced.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

Malaysia is a multicultural but predominantly Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultural or religious beliefs. There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour in many areas of Malaysia. You should find out what customs are observed at your destination and take care not to offend. If in doubt, seek local advice.

The Islamic holy month of Ramadan is expected to begin in mid-June 2015. During Ramadan, Australians travelling to countries with significant Muslim communities should take care to respect religious and cultural sensitivities, rules and customs. In particular, people who are not fasting are advised to avoid eating, drinking and smoking in public and in the presence of people who are fasting. For more information see our Ramadan travel bulletin.

Information for dual nationals

Malaysia does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular assistance to Australian/Malaysian dual nationals who are arrested or detained. We recommend you travel on your Australian passport at all times.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Smoke Haze: Smoke haze often occurs across parts of Malaysia, usually from June to October. However, it can occur at any time such as the high pollution levels registered in March 2014. Australians travelling to Malaysia may wish to monitor the haze situation and any health warnings issued by the Malaysian government and seek their own medical advice. When haze levels are high the Malaysian authorities recommend limiting outdoor activity. Regular air quality reports are available from the Malaysian Department of the Environment website.

The standard of medical facilities is adequate in major cities but can be limited in rural areas. Public hospital services can be limited and access slow. Private hospitals with international standard facilities can be found in major cities. Most private hospitals require a cash deposit or a confirmation of insurance prior to admission and expect immediate payment for services.

Decompression chambers are located in Kuantan, Lumut, Ipoh, Semporna and Labuan.

Stings from jellyfish and other marine animals can be fatal. You should seek advice from local authorities, your tour operator or hotel regarding seasonal bathing conditions, recommended precautions and other potential dangers.

Medical tourism, including for cosmetic surgery, is common. Australians should ensure that they are not lured to discount or uncertified medical establishments where standards can be lacking, resulting in serious and possibly life-threatening complications. Check to see if your travel insurance covers you for such treatments if things go wrong – most don’t.

Malaria is a risk in rural areas but not in urban and coastal areas. Outbreaks of other mosquito-borne illnesses (including chikungunya fever and filariasis) also occur. Dengue fever is prevalent, including in major urban areas, with more serious outbreaks reported from time to time. There has been a 250 per cent increase in cases of dengue in the first half of 2014 (compared with the same period in 2013). The risk of contracting these infections rises during the wet season. We recommend that you consider malaria prophylaxis where appropriate and that you take precautions against being bitten by mosquitoes, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Reported cases of Japanese encephalitis have also increased in 2014. A Japanese encephalitis vaccine is registered for use and is currently available in Australia. For further details please consult your travel health doctor.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including hepatitis, tuberculosis, cholera, and hand, foot and mouth disease (HFMD)) are prevalent, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Avoid temporary 'black henna' tattoos as they often contain a dye which can cause serious skin reactions. For further information see the Australasian College of Dermatologists' website.

The website of the Malaysian High Commission in Canberra has information on regulations for importing prescription and non-prescription medication. Some medications require a letter from the prescribing doctor. You should always keep your medication in its original packaging and respect the restrictions on importation of prescription and non-prescription medication.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider in the first instance.

If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the national emergency number, 999. Alternatively call the Royal Malaysia Police Operations Center in Kuala Lumpur, 03-2115-9999 or 03-2262-6555.

If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

To contact the Australian Government for consular assistance in accordance with the Consular Services Charter.

In Malaysia, you can obtain full consular assistance from the:

Australian High Commission, Kuala Lumpur

6 Jalan Yap Kwan Seng
50450 Kuala Lumpur
MALAYSIA
Telephone: (60 3) 2146 5555/2146 5575
Facsimile: (60 3) 2141 5773
Email: ahckl.consular@dfat.gov.au

Normal working days in Malaysia are Monday to Friday. See the High Commission’s website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

You can also obtain limited consular assistance and lodge Australian passport applications through the:

Australian Consulate, Penang

The Australian Consulate in Penang is temporarily closed until further notice. If you require consular assistance, you can contact the Australian High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.

Australian Consulate, Kota Kinabalu

This post is headed by an Honorary Consul.

Suite 10.1, Level 10
Wisma Great Eastern
65 Jalan Gaya
88000 Kota Kinabalu
Sabah
MALAYSIA
Telephone: (60 88) 267 151
Facsimile: (60 88) 266 509
Email: andrewsmk@yahoo.com

Australian Consulate, Sarawak

This post is headed by an Honorary Consul.

E39 Level 2
Taman Sri Sarawak Mall
Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman
93100 Kuching
Sarawak
MALAYSIA
Telephone: (60 82) 230 777
Facsimile: (60 82) 313 388
Email: philipting66@gmail.com

If you are travelling to Malaysia, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate or online. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency – whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the High Commission or Honorary Consulates you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia or 1800 808 449 within Malaysia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

Travellers to Malaysia should familiarise themselves with natural disaster and severe weather risks and monitor sources of information on latest developments. If a natural disaster occurs, travellers should follow instructions from local authorities, monitor media and weather reports, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

Severe weather: Flooding and landslides are common during the wet season (October to February). Severe rainstorms could result in loss of life, extensive damage to infrastructure and can hamper the provision of essential services. Travellers should check with their tour operators on travel conditions and visit the Malaysian Meteorological Department’s website for the latest weather forecasts and alerts. Travellers should avoid flood-affected areas and follow the instructions of local authorities.

Tsunamis: The Pacific Tsunami Warning Centre website has information on seismic activity in the Pacific and the potential for tsunamis. All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Additional Resources

For additional general and economic information to assist travelling in this country, see the following links:



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.