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Do’s and Don’ts In Malaysia – 12 Things To Be Careful Of In Malaysia

Malaysia is a fascinating country to visit. Whether you’re visiting the glitzy city of Kuala Lumpur or the island of Borneo, there are certain things to be careful of in Malaysia. This post covers the do’s and don’ts in Malaysia.

Key Things To Know About Malaysia

Wilayah Mosque, Kuala Lumpur Photo by Fahrul Azmi on Unsplash

Malaysia is a multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country with about half of the population being Malay. There are also large populations of Chinese Malaysian and Indian Malaysian people. 

The first important thing to note about Malaysia is that it is largely a Muslim country. In fact, 61% of the population is Muslim.

Some parts of Malaysia are much more relaxed and laid back than others. For example, Kuala Lumpur is very relaxed and you’ll even find bars here where alcohol is served. There is still a certain level of conservativeness to be aware of in Malaysia and it is best to respect local customs when visiting any country.

Malaysian people are generally very friendly people and so as long as you’re aware of the difference in customs between the West and Malaysia then you’ll have a great time.

Things To Be Careful Of In Malaysia – Do’s and Don’ts

Batu Caves

1. Don’t Shake Hands With Muslim Women

Avoid offering a handshake to a Muslim woman as many Muslim women don’t shake hands with men due to their beliefs. To avoid any issues, allow the woman to initiate the handshake and if not you can smile and nod as an alternative greeting.

In Islam, physical contact between men and woman is discouraged. You will find many women who are fine with shaking hands but many are not. Handshakes from a man to a man are common and shouldn’t be an issue.

2. Dress Appropriately At Religious Sites

Ensure you dress respectfully and appropriately when visiting places of worship such as mosques or temples. You should ensure you cover up to your elbows and knees or you may not be allowed entry and could cause offence.

You may also be asked to remove your shoes when entering a mosque/temple but not always.

You don’t have to dress as modestly elsewhere in the city e.g. you’ll often see non-Muslim Malaysians and tourists in shorts, t-shirts etc around Malaysia.

3. Only Wear A Bikini On The Beach

You can wear a bikini when on the beaches in Malaysia. Just ensure you put something over the top of it when leaving the beach or entering a restaurant. You shouldn’t walk around the surrounding streets or town in a bikini as it would be considered inappropriate.

Malaysian people tend to cover up more and you won’t see many Malaysian people wearing bikinis on the beaches (in fact many women will be fully covered, even on the beach!) however it is perfectly fine for visitors to wear bikinis/bathing suits.

You should also avoid topless sunbathing, whilst fine in certain countries, it will not go down well in Malaysia.

4. Avoid Public Displays of Affection

Try to keep public displays of affection to a minimum. This includes things like hugging or kissing in public as it is generally considered inappropriate.

Hand holding, a quick peck, or a brief embrace is fine but you may make locals feel uncomfortable if you go much further. This applies even if you’re a married couple.

It’s not uncommon to see a sign prohibiting public displays of affection in Malaysia such as in a shopping mall or park.

5. Remove Your Shoes Before Entering A Malaysian Home

Remove your shoes if you are invited into a Malaysian house. This is seen as respectful.

It would be seen as incredibly rude to enter someone’s home and not remove your shoes. It is a similar practice to many other Asian countries.

6. Don’t Use Your Forefinger To Point At Things

It is considered rude to use your forefinger to point at things in Malaysia. If you do need to point to something, try to use your 4 fingers to indicate the direction or your thumb.

7. Don’t Get Drunk in Public

Avoid getting drunk in public. Whilst you will be able to purchase alcohol and drink alcohol in Malaysia, alcohol is banned in Islam so you may cause offence if you get really drunk in public.

There are many bars in places such as Kuala Lumpur and you’re fine to have a drink or two here with no issues.

It can also be really expensive to drink in Malaysia as alcohol is heavily taxed. You can easily spend a lot of a couple of drinks.

8. Don’t Bring Drugs Into Malaysia

Avoid all drugs in Malaysia as they have very harsh penalties for possession of drugs including marijuana.

You could face a long prison sentence so avoid drugs all together including oils derived from cannabis.

Possession of 200g of marijuana is enough to be convicted of trafficking which faces a maximum penalty of death. Possession of 50g or less can get you up to 10 years in prison.

9. You Don’t Need To Tip In Malaysia

Don’t leave a tip. It is not customary to leave a tip in Malaysia as the servers don’t rely on tips to make a living.

For sure, your server will appreciate a tip if you do decide to leave one but it isn’t expected of you. Sometimes you may find they will chase you down the street thinking you left it by mistake!

10. Ask Before Taking Photos Of Locals

Always ask before taking photos of the locals. Although most people will be fine with you snapping a photo of them, it is best to ask first to be polite.

11. Don’t Touch Anyone On The Head

Don’t touch anyone’s head. The head is considered to be the most sacred part of the body in Malaysia and it is seen as rude to touch someone else’s head including children.

12. Avoid Using Public Taxis

Avoid using public taxis in Malaysia. Instead use Grab – you can download the app onto your phone. Grab works the same as Uber and you can pay with cash if you’d prefer.

The reason for this is the taxi drivers tend to hike the price up substantially and often will refuse to use the meter. You could be quoted a price up to 4 times higher than the price on Grab! It’s best to avoid the hassle and use Grab.

Thanks for reading this post on the do’s and don’ts in Malaysia and things to be careful of when visiting Malaysia. It’s super important to respect local culture and customs when travelling to avoid offending locals and by following the do’s and don’ts above, you’ll have no problems!

Happy travels!