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Malaysia Travel Information

The Basics

Time

GMT +8

Electricity

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

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.

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 the last several years. Malaria risks are isolated to the inland regions; the exception is Sabah, where there is an all-year 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 one of the worst air qualities in Asia with very high Benzene pollution levels. This could aggravate cardiac or respiratory problems.

The hospitals in Kuala Lumpur and other cities are of a high standard but medical facilities may be lacking in rural areas. 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 5 percent government tax, though many cheaper hotels quote a price inclusive of this tax.

Safety Information

Malaysia shares with the rest of South East Asia a threat from terrorism, and this threat extends to places frequented by tourists and expats. The US State Department stresses that extra caution should be taken in the troubled eastern Malaysian state of Sabah and the eastern islands, where the risk of kidnapping is high. Terrorists are believed to be planning to kidnap foreign tourists from the islands and coastal areas of eastern Sabah and boats travelling to dive sites and between the islands are possible targets. Tourists wishing to visit the resorts and islands in the state should stick to larger resorts and exercise extreme caution. Visitors should be aware that street crime such as bag snatching, pick-pocketing and scams are a problem; most crimes against foreigners are petty and the normal precautions against crime should be taken. Stay alert, don't display conspicuous wealth, make use of hotel safes for valuables, duplicate travel documents, don't walk alone at night or in dangerous neighbourhoods, and be extra cautious when using public transport.

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 19 million people, of divergent ethnic groups. Although the Malaysian business world has largely succeeded in establishing a unified ethos for itself, it is important to understand that you might deal with people from different ethnic groups (Malay, Chinese and Indian being the most common), and that your 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 willful, 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. Don'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. Give and receive cards in your right hand, supported by the left, and never fold or put away a card without looking at it first. Be sure to have your details printed in Chinese on the reverse side of your card while in Malaysia. The dress code for business in Malaysia 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. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 001 for the United States). City/area codes are in use, e.g. (0)3 for Kuala Lumpur, (0)4 for Penang. 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. Coin and card-operated public phones are widespread, and phone cards can be purchased at the airport, petrol stations and newsagents. Cards are not transferable between phone companies: Uniphone and Telekom phone boxes are the most common. Mobile networks cover most of the country; the local mobile phone operators use GSM networks, which are compatible with most international phones. Internet cafes are widely available in tourist areas.

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; souvenirs and gifts to the value of RM 200 (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.

Become our Malaysia Travel Expert

We are looking for contributors for our Malaysia travel guide. If you are a local, a regular traveller to Malaysia or a travel professional with time to contribute and answer occasional forum questions, please contact us.

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