Malaysia

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Friday, 04 April 2014.   It contains updated information in the Summary and under Safety and security: Terrorism (on 2 April 2014, a foreign tourist and a local employee were kidnapped from the Singamata Reef Resort in eastern Sabah). We continue to advise Australians to reconsider their need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah, including islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities, due to the threat of kidnapping. We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in all other areas of eastern Sabah covered by the 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.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • Information indicates there is a continuing threat of attacks by armed insurgents in or around eastern Sabah.
  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in all parts of eastern Sabah covered by the ESSZone due to the heightened security measures in place. See under Safety and Security for further information.
  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah due to the ongoing threat of kidnapping by militant and criminal groups based in the southern Philippines and violence linked to insurgency and terrorists. The kidnapping threat in eastern Sabah includes dive sites and associated tourist facilities.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Smoke haze across some parts of Malaysia including Kuala Lumpur is usual from June to October. When haze levels are high the Malaysian authorities recommend limiting outdoor activity. See under Health for further information.
  • 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 the far southern Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla, including overland travel from and to the Malaysian border through these provinces.
  • 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.

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. 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.

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

You should carry suitable photographic identification with you at all times while in Malaysia.

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

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

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.

Information indicates there is a continuing threat of attacks by armed insurgents in or around eastern Sabah.

Threat of kidnapping in coastal areas of eastern Sabah: We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the coastal region of eastern Sabah, including islands, dive sites and associated tourist facilities, due to the ongoing threat of kidnapping by militant groups based in the southern Philippines and violence linked to insurgency and terrorists.

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.

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.

In November 2012, two Malaysian nationals were kidnapped from a coastal location in Tawau division, eastern Sabah.

If you do decide to travel to this region, you should exercise extreme caution. 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 ensure you have personal security measures in place, seek professional security advice and take out kidnapping insurance.

See our Kidnapping threat travel bulletin for more information.

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.

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 the far southern Thai provinces of Yala, Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla, including overland travel from and to the Malaysian border through these provinces.

Civil unrest/political tension

From time to time, protests and demonstrations have occurred on the streets and at certain venues in Malaysia. 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.

Police permission is required for public gatherings and demonstrations.

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.

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.

Violent crimes, including against foreigners, may occur on occasion.

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.

Credit card fraud and scams involving gambling are common.

Money and valuables

Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas. You should only use licensed money changers and count the cash given to you.

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.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

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.

Australians are required to pay an additional fee to have their passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

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 and pedestrian crossings. 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 for all passengers. You should not travel on vessels that are clearly overloaded or in poor condition.

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

Please 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.

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

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

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

The penalty for some 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.

During Ramadan, eating, drinking and smoking between sunrise and sunset is forbidden for Muslims.

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: Since March 2014, smoke haze caused high pollution readings in a number of states. 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. Smoke haze often occurs across parts of Malaysia, usually from June to October.

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.

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. 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.

The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis is found throughout many regions of North, South and South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea. 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.

Avian influenza: The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed human deaths from avian influenza in South-East Asia. See our health page for further information on influenza.

Where to get help

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
Facsimile: (60 3) 2141 5773
Email: ahckl.consular@dfat.gov.au
Website: www.malaysia.highcommission.gov.au

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

Australian Consulate, Penang

This post is headed by an Honorary Consul.

YMCA
211 Jalan Macalister
10450 Penang
MALAYSIA
Telephone/Facsimile: (60 4) 226 7285
Email: pg.aus.consul@gmail.com

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

Flooding and mudslides 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.

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.

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.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children page.



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.