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Is Borneo Safe to Visit in 2024? | Safety Concerns

Is Borneo Safe to Visit in 2024? | Safety Concerns

Is Borneo safe to visit?

The safety of visiting Borneo varies by region, with the eastern part of Sabah in Malaysian Borneo posing higher risks of kidnapping and piracy. In contrast, other areas of Borneo generally face minor issues like petty theft, with Brunei being notably safer.

The island of Borneo is divided between three countries — Malaysia, Brunei, and Indonesia. In 2019, the island attracted two million visitors from international destinations (not including visitors from other parts of Malaysia or Indonesia).

It’s a dream destination for eco-tourists, wildlife lovers, and adventurers. But while it may be a tropical paradise, is Borneo safe to visit? Here’s our take.

Is Borneo Safe to Visit in 2024?

Village of Tambatuon in Borneo for a piece titled Is Borneo Safe to Visit with a cloud-capped mountain towering over a stream with water running down the rocky area


The answer depends on which part of Borneo you are visiting. There is a higher risk of traveling to the eastern part of Sabah in the Malaysian part of Borneo due to kidnapping and piracy, but this danger does not affect other parts of the island.

Outside of this region of the island, you only have to worry about some petty theft and dangers during your outdoor adventures.

Since Borneo is divided between three countries, the security situation will be very different depending on which part of the island you will be visiting. It helps to look at travel advisories for all three countries before you go.

Concerns you might encounter in those advisories include:

  • Pickpocketing
  • Petty theft
  • Robbery
  • Piracy
  • Kidnapping
  • terrorism

If you are traveling to Sabah or Sarawak, read travel advisories for Malaysia carefully. In its travel advisory for Malaysia, the United States tells travelers to exercise increased caution in the eastern part of Sabah due to threats of kidnapping and violent attacks on tourists.

The Canadian government is even more concerned, advising its citizens to avoid all non-essential travel between the cities of Kudat and Tawau.

Most travel advisories for Indonesia don’t mention any dangers specific to the Indonesian part of Borneo, Kalimantan. The Canadian government warns that there have been kidnapping incidents in East and West Kalimantan, but they are not nearly as common as the ones in the Malaysian part of the island.

Besides that, you should stay alert to potential dangers that are common throughout Indonesia. The New Zealand government warns its citizens traveling to any part of Indonesia to be careful of terrorism, civil unrest, and property crimes such as petty theft and robbery.

The safest part of the island of Borneo is the country of Brunei. The United States just tells its citizens visiting Brunei to exercise normal precautions.

The Canadian government mentions that violent crime rarely happens but that petty crime sometimes occurs. Luckily, you can easily prevent the latter with a few basic precautions.

Many people come to Borneo for the opportunity to be in the jungle but going out into nature comes with its own set of dangers. Make sure that you are protected against pests, including mosquitoes and leeches.

The weather is very hot and humid, so bring lightweight clothing that dries quickly and plenty of dry clothing to change into after your hike. Go with a local guide whenever possible. The island of Borneo sometimes experiences natural disasters. The most common ones are flooding and forest fires.

Forest fires sometimes affect the air quality, which can be dangerous for visitors with respiratory issues. Monitor weather forecasts and local news while you are there and follow any advice or alerts from local authorities.

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Crime in Borneo

Gorgeous aerial view of the sea gypsy water village in Borneo pictured in Mabul Bodgaya Island

Yusnizam Yusof/Shutterstock

Crime is one of the most common concerns for tourists heading on vacation. A look at crime statistics for the place you are visiting can either put your mind at ease, or let you know that you should be on your guard.

To get an accurate picture of crime in Borneo, you will need to look at crime statistics from a few different sources. Focus on researching crime in the parts of Borneo you will be visiting.

Malaysian Borneo has a moderately high crime rate, with certain regions suffering more than others. In the state of Sabah, the crime index increased by about 22% in 2022. The state of Sarawak, another part of Malaysia’s Borneo region, experienced a drop in crime by about 9% in 2022.

15% of reported crimes in Sarawak were violent crimes, and the most common forms of violent crime were armed robbery, robbery without weapons, and injuries. Property crimes are fairly common, especially scooter thefts, break-ins, and other forms of theft.

The Indonesian parts of Borneo make up the largest part of the island. The provinces of North and South Kalimantan have the highest overall crime rates, although the crime rate is actually low compared to other parts of Indonesia.

South Kalimantan has a crime rate of 196 crime incidents per 100,000 people, and unfortunately has been increasing steadily.

North Kalimantan has a crime rate of 146 incidents per 100,000 people and is also increasing. There have been incidents of terrorism in several parts of Kalimantan. Brunei is the part of Borneo with the lowest crime rate.

According to World Bank data, the homicide rate is close to zero. Brunei also has a low score on Numbeo’s crime index — 24.62 out of 100. The crimes residents and expats worry about the most are break-ins and petty property crimes such as vandalism and theft.

Since crime rates vary so drastically around Borneo, the best way to see if you will be safe is to plan your itinerary, then look up crime information specifically for those cities and regions.

Petty Theft

When you head anywhere in the world, even to a crowded place of your nearest big city, there is a risk of petty theft. These crimes of opportunity also happen in all regions of Borneo.

Even in very safe Brunei, petty theft happens. The Canadian government advisory warns that petty crime occurs. During busy periods, such as around school vacations in July and December holidays, rates of theft increase.

The Australian government warns that theft is common in all parts of Indonesia, including Borneo, and in all parts of Malaysia. You will need to be more alert in Indonesia and Malaysia than in Brunei.

Precautions against theft are the same no matter where you go in the world, including Borneo. Never leave your valuables unattended, even in places where you might be lulled into a false sense of security (that means don’t hang your bag off the back of your chair in restaurants).

Thieves sometimes operate from the backs of motorbikes, so make sure that you are holding your bag on the side of your body away from traffic. You might want to take extra precautions to ensure that your valuables are secure.

Some travelers opt for a money belt, but a cross-body bag with a secure zipper can also work. Store some of your cash, an emergency credit card, and copies of your valuables somewhere else just in case.

There have been cases of hotel room break-ins in Borneo, so make sure that you research your accommodation thoroughly. If you are booking a hotel, make sure that it has a room safe you can use.


Unfortunately, terrorism is a problem in some parts of Borneo. Terrorism is the main reason why countries don’t advise their citizens to visit Eastern Sabah.

According to the UK government advisory on terrorism in Malaysia, terrorists and criminal groups frequently kidnap foreigners in the eastern part of the island, which is close to the Philippines base of the ISIS-affiliated Abu Sayyaf Group.

This group has targeted foreign tourists in the past, especially visitors to coastal resorts, off-shore islands, and popular dive sites. The Malaysian government designated a special Eastern Sabah Security Command to try and deal with the situation.

Measures include strict regulation on water traffic and a complete ban on water travel after dark. For now, it is best to avoid this region of Sabah, especially since most governments have a policy not to pay kidnapping ransoms.

There is a risk of terrorism elsewhere in Borneo. There have been attacks in Kalimantan, the Indonesian part of Borneo, such as a 2020 attack on a police station claimed by ISIS that the UK includes in its list of recent terrorist events in Indonesia.

In 2021, authorities arrested three suspected IS-affiliated terrorists in the region.

Although the risk of terrorism is not as high here as it is elsewhere in Indonesia, it is still present. There is no way to really avoid terrorism as it is a random act of violence by definition but stay alert to the possibilities in Borneo.

You may want to avoid crowds around areas that might be targets, such as religious sites and government buildings, or time your trip to avoid holidays that are often targeted by terrorists.

Follow local news and if there is a terrorist attack, avoid the area as there are often copycat attacks in the aftermath.

Avoiding Bad Areas

Neat blue homes on stilts pictured above teal water offshore from Mabul Bodgaya

Hkhtt hj/Shutterstock

As we mentioned a few times, the main place you need to avoid in Borneo is eastern Sabah, mainly the stretch of coast between Kudat to Tawau.

The regions included in the Malaysian government’s Eastern Sabah Security Zone include:

  • Beluran
  • Kinabatangan
  • Kota Marudu
  • Kudat
  • Kunak
  • Lahad Datu
  • Pitas
  • Sandakan
  • Semporna
  • Tawau

Avoid the offshore islands of Sipadan and Mataking as well as other more remote destinations.

Frequently Asked Questions

Long wooden jetty leading to Bohey Dulang Island to illustrate that Borneo is safe to visit if you stay in the right place


Here are a few other questions that visitors to Borneo have asked before:

Is Borneo safe for tourism?

Borneo is generally safe for tourism. Although some parts such as regions in Sabah are more dangerous, most of the island has a low crime rate and is safe for tourists.

Where to avoid in Borneo?

The main part of Borneo that you should avoid is eastern regions of Malaysia’s Sabah state. The threat of terrorism and kidnapping is higher in this region due to its proximity to a region of the Philippines that is suffering from terrorism.

Is Borneo a good place to go?

Borneo is a very good place to go if you want to explore beautiful nature. There are few other places on Earth with so much untouched jungle expanse nestled near beautiful beaches. Plus, the blend of cultures is found nowhere else.

Is Borneo safe for solo female travelers?

Borneo is a great destination for solo female travelers (as long as you avoid the dangerous regions). Many female travelers come here for hikes, so you will likely find travel companions, and the culture is warm and friendly.

Is it safe to swim in Borneo?

It is mostly safe to swim in Borneo. However, the waves can be strong, so check with locals about which beaches are safe to swim in and opt for monitored beaches if possible.

So, Is Borneo Safe to Visit?

As long as you hold on to your wallet and apply plenty of bug spray, Borneo is safe to visit. Just make sure you stay away from parts of the island where there is an elevated risk of terrorist kidnapping.

So, with so much to see and do, what are you waiting for — book your trip to Borneo today!