Malaysia is one of the jewels of Southeast Asia. When tourism is fully functional in the country, over 21 million visit in search of adventure and amazing sights.
Visitors to Malaysia can enjoy beautiful nature, bustling cities showing off the multicultural atmosphere that makes Malaysia unique, and historic sites dating back centuries.
Most people start their trip to Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur, the capital, and take in the Petronas Twin Towers, trek up to the Batu Caves, and enjoy the famous street food.
Enjoy a more laid-back getaway to George Town or go completely off the grid in the Taman Negara National Park, which takes you deep into the heart of the jungle. Before planning a trip to any new destination, it’s always good to read up on safety, and Malaysia is no different.
A trip can quickly sour if you are the victim of a crime or other unpleasant incident. But don’t worry — our travel experts rounded up all you need to know to prepare for a safe trip to Malaysia. Let us be your guide!
Is Malaysia Safe to Visit in 2023?
Yes. Malaysia is very safe to visit. The only problem you are likely to encounter is petty theft, or a sore stomach after taking a risk with some street food.
However, there are some areas of the country where more violent crime is common, so follow travel advisories carefully.
Common concerns people have when traveling to Malaysia include:
- Bag snatching
- Tourist scams
- Kidnapping and violent crime
While there is a risk of violent crime in Malaysia, it occurs primarily in certain regions. The United States has most of the country under a Level One travel advisory (the lowest possible one) except for part of Sabah State.
That shows how avoiding bad areas is key to helping you feel safe on your trip. Other countries are a bit more cautious with their travel advice.
Canada advises its citizens to exercise increased caution in all of Malaysia due to higher risks of crime and terrorism. While a little extra caution is always good, you shouldn’t let that stop you from going to Malaysia and enjoying your time there.
Some countries mention terrorism in their travel advice for Malaysia, and it is a common concern for people thinking about going there.
However, there have been no major terrorist attacks in recent years, outside of some skirmishes in the region of eastern Sabah. Terrorists that do operate in Malaysia rarely use mass murder tactics.
The Malaysian authorities are prompt about responding to threats. They frequently interrupt terror cells and stop plans before they can happen.
Although terrorism is still a risk in Malaysia, in most of the country, the risk is not much higher than it is elsewhere in the world. Malaysia experiences some natural disasters due to its location.
The most common natural disaster that occurs in the country is flooding.
In March 2023, thousands of people were displaced, and several people died when heavy rain caused floods. Always monitor the weather before and during your trip and follow any advice to evacuate.
Malaysia experiences several typhoons or cyclones a year. Avoid traveling to the country in August and September as that is when the worst of the typhoon season hits.
Crime in Malaysia
Crime is the primary concern most travelers have when they visit Malaysia. The country is in Southeast Asia, a region that is notorious for its street crime and pickpockets that target tourists.
However, Malaysia has a much lower crime rate than many of its neighbors. You still have to take some precautions, but they are not nearly as extensive as you would traveling somewhere else.
The perception of crime in Malaysia is that there is a problem, but it is not very dangerous. According to Numbeo, Malaysia scores 52.54 out of 100 on the crime index scale, which is a moderate value.
Respondents were most worried about property crimes such as vandalism, theft, vehicle break-ins, and muggings. People were particularly concerned about corruption.
The good news is that violent crime is very low in Malaysia. According to the World Bank, the intentional homicide rate is just one incident per 100,000 people. The homicide rate has been steadily declining for the past decade.
Rates of other violent crimes are similarly very low. The violent crimes that do occur primarily affect locals, not tourists. Malaysia struggles somewhat with organized crime.
These groups are behind many of the violent crimes that do occur in the country. According to the Global Organized Crime Index, Malaysia scores a 5.94 on the criminality index.
The most common criminal activities are human smuggling, illicit logging, poaching, and the synthetic drug and heroin trades. Most crimes committed in Malaysia are property crimes.
According to some statistics, property crimes make up 85% of total crimes committed in the country. These tend to be petty offenses, such as bag snatching and pickpocketing. Crime in Malaysia is highest in certain locations.
Kuala Lumpur experiences the most crimes. This makes sense as it is the capital and largest city, creating the most opportunity for thieves.
Pickpockets also operate in other cities in Malaysia. However, there are a few reasons to be optimistic about crime in Malaysia. Police reported that crime declined by 4.1% in 2022 compared to the year prior.
There were some increases in certain categories of crimes, particularly smuggling, but overall crime decreased.
Drug-related offenses decreased as did property crimes. As the country’s economic prospects increase, hopefully property crime will decrease comparatively.
The government is increasing law enforcement capabilities and particularly targeting drug offenses as organized criminal gangs are often behind the drug trade. You will have to be on your guard in Malaysia as property crimes often affect tourists.
However, you don’t have to be worried for your physical safety as violent crimes are rare. Just take precautions to make sure that you don’t get robbed.
The most common crime you are likely to encounter in Malaysia is petty theft. Street crime is common throughout Southeast Asia, and Malaysia is no different.
The Canadian government warns that the most common forms of petty theft in Malaysia are pickpocketing, bag snatching, and snatch-and-grab incidents, which are thefts where thieves smash the windows of cars, grab valuables, and speed away.
Petty theft is most common in big cities such as Kuala Lumpur, but it can occur anywhere in the country. Thieves often target foreigners because they perceive them as wealthier (and better targets) than locals.
They operate around places that attract lots of tourists, such as the airport, public transportation hubs, tourist destinations, and busy streets. Women or families are also targets as they are less likely to fight back.
Thieves often operate on busy roads, especially around shopping malls. Theft from the back of motorcycles is a common problem in Malaysia. People have been injured in the past when they tried to hold on to their bags and got dragged into the street.
When walking in busy streets, the Australian government advises that you stay away from the curb and put your bag on the side of your body that is further away from the road.
Pay attention if there is a motorcycle or scooter going on the sidewalk. Staying alert goes a long way towards preventing petty theft.
Stay on your guard when someone approaches you, as they could be working with a partner that takes advantage of your distraction to go through your things. Don’t flash any valuables. Only carry what you need for the day and leave the rest of your things in the hotel room.
Although in most of Malaysia, there is very little risk of violent crime affecting foreigners, the exception is the eastern region of the State of Sabah.
Here, there is an elevated risk of kidnapping, which affects locals and foreigners. Most governments such as the UK government warn their citizens to avoid traveling to this region, which the Malaysian government has designated a Special Security Zone.
Terrorists and criminal groups based in the Sulu Archipelago of the Philippines conduct raids on this part of Malaysian Borneo. The most common culprit is the Abu Sayyaf Group.
This terrorist group uses kidnapping to finance their operations thanks to ransom payments. Kidnappers primarily operate on offshore islands and coastal towns, taking people using piracy tactics.
Most previous victims have been Indonesian fishermen. Other foreigners, for example those out on boat tours, are also targets since kidnappers assume ransom payments will be lucrative.
The best way to eliminate your risk of kidnapping altogether is to avoid traveling to the parts of eastern Sabah under the Security Zone. If you do venture here, make sure that you stay away from coastal areas at night and don’t go on any overnight boat tours.
Follow the Malaysian government rules very closely as they are carefully enforced for public safety in this region. The government may announce additional measures, such as mandatory curfews, at a moment’s notice.
Avoiding Bad Areas
There are a few areas in Malaysia that you should definitely be careful of visiting. As mentioned above, parts of eastern Sabah are the only areas in Malaysia that see frequent terrorist activity. Avoid the area of Sabah from Kudat to Tawau.
Be careful around the Malaysia-Thailand land border. Southern Thailand has a high degree of terrorism and civil unrest which rarely bleeds over the border, but you still don’t want to be in the area.
The most dangerous city in Malaysia is Petaling Jaya. It has the highest crime rates, including violent crime. It also doesn’t have many tourist attractions, so feel free to skip it on your travels through the country.
Things to Consider
Here are a few additional tips that can make your trip to Malaysia go smoothly:
- Tourist scams are common in Malaysia. Always agree on the price of everything ahead of time, especially taxis. Beware of common street scams, such as fake Buddhist monks offering amulets that they will then charge you for.
- Illegal gambling rings are also common scams targeting tourists. Men will approach tourists, especially single men, and act friendly. Then, they invite the victim back home to a casual gambling set-up, where the victim will lose thousands of dollars.
- Women are at a higher risk of being crime victims. Exercise caution as you move around and try to travel mostly during the day. Never tell anyone where you are staying and never open your hotel room door to anyone. Call reception to confirm if there are unannounced repairs or room service.
- Only take registered taxis from the airport. There is an airport taxi counter that gives you a ticket. Unauthorized taxis have robbed or assaulted passengers before.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some other questions you may have about visiting Malaysia:
Is Malaysia safe for female travelers?
For the most part, Malaysia is safe for female travelers. There have been cases of sexual harassment and even assault targeting foreign women before, so you should take some precautions to protect yourself.
Is Malaysia a friendly country?
Yes, Malaysia is a friendly country, and locals are known for their hospitality. However, beware of people that are acting too friendly as they are often scammers or thieves.
How safe is Kuala Lumpur for tourists?
Kuala Lumpur is mostly safe for tourists. It does have the highest crime rate in Malaysia, but that is still relative as Malaysia has a lower crime rate than many other countries in the region. You will have to be on your guard against street crime in the capital.
Is it a good idea to go to Malaysia?
Yes, it is a very good idea to go to Malaysia! The country has so much to offer to visitors and most tourists there have a wonderful time.
Is it okay to kiss in public in Malaysia?
Malaysia has a conservative culture, and that includes norms about affection. Public displays of affection, including kissing, are generally frowned upon.
So, Is Malaysia Safe to Visit?
Malaysia is a safe place to visit as long as you use your common sense! You will have to avoid certain areas with higher crime risks and keep a firm grasp on your valuables at all times, but as long as you take those precautions, you should have a great time in the country.
So, with so much to see and do and a relatively safe atmosphere and culture, what are you waiting for — book your trip to Malaysia today!