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Travel money guide: Malaysia
Learn the tips that will help you get your travel money in order for your trip to Malaysia.
Whether you’re snapping a skyline photo of Kuala Lumpur or relaxing with the Langkawi beaches and rainforest in view, make sure you carry a mix of your debit or credit card and plenty of Malaysian Ringgit to travel around. Both Visa and Mastercard are accepted in the country, and if you want to shop like a true local, pay with your digital wallet.
You can use a travel credit card that doesn’t charge any foreign transaction fees. However, the further away from major cities and shopping centers you go, the more you’ll want to keep the local currency in hand.
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Travel card, debit card or credit card?
You’ll need cash to experience some of the best parts of Malaysian food and culture. Most travelers visiting Malaysia opt for a combination of debit, credit and travel cards. Debit and travel cards are a good way to pay for your everyday spending, while credit cards can be used for deposits, big purchases and emergency situations.
If you do plan on using your credit card in Malaysia, make sure you tell your card provider about your travel plans first so that your credit card is not blocked.
It’s important to know how you plan on spending and where you plan on visiting to find the right travel money combination. Cards are widely accepted, but there are times when you’ll need cash.
There’s no limit to the amount of foreign currency you can take into the country, and it’s not going to be hard to exchange cash. That being said, when looking at credit cards and debit cards, ATM withdrawal fees and foreign transaction fees should be at the top of your list of perks.
These are your options for spending money in Malaysia
Using a credit card
Since credit cards are widely accepted in Malaysia, you won’t have a problem spending at shopping centers, restaurants or hotels. Look for a travel rewards credit card that waives foreign transaction fees and offers complimentary travel perks, like the Capital One VentureOne Rewards Credit Card (Terms apply, see rates & fees).
Be sure to avoid cash advances with your credit card unless it is necessary, as they come with hefty fees and attract interest immediately.
- Tip: Credit card perks could include anything from complimentary travel insurance when you book your return ticket with the card to reward points and interest-free days.
- Widely accepted in Malaysia
- Complimentary travel insurance
- Rewards and signup bonus points
- Average currency conversion fee of 3%
- Cash advance fees apply
- Most cards have an annual fee
Compare travel credit cards
Explore top debit cards with no foreign transaction fees and travel credit cards by using the tabs to narrow down your options. Select Compare for up to four products to see their benefits side by side.
Using a debit card
Debit cards and transaction accounts are usually free to open but look for an account that will save you on unnecessary fees. For example, using the Betterment Checking will waive international ATM fees and foreign transaction fees, the ideal for keeping your pockets padded while you spend abroad.
When spending with your debit card in Malaysia, the exchange rate is set in place by your credit card lender, and it is likely close to the interbank rate – giving you a good deal.
- Tip: Local ATM fees are charged by the ATM operator, but you can avoid this fee in some countries by using an ATM within your bank’s ATM network – Citibank has an ATM alliance in Malaysia.
- Usually no charge to open an account
- Currency conversion fee may apply
Using a prepaid travel card
These cards have some advantages, but make sure you dig a little into the fees section in order to find the travel money card that will cost you less to use overseas. Using a travel card in Malaysia will be subject to a currency conversion fee as you can’t load ringgit onto the card.
What’s great about these cards is that you’re spending your own money, so it’s easy to keep track of your expenses. You can also lock in your exchange rate when you load money onto the card and can easily withdraw cash from ATMs. And just in case you lose your first card, you can use the backup card that was issued to you.
- Can load multiple currencies
- Comes with a backup card
- There are currently no prepaid cards in the US that supports Malaysian ringgit
- May be subject to currency conversion fees in Malaysia
Using traveler’s checks
Fewer and fewer places are cashing traveler’s checks in Malaysia as the digital economy grows. They lend some peace of mind because they’re secure and need ID to cash, but they fall short in acceptance and fees. You’ll pay a commission to cash the check, but if you avoid hotels and go to a bank or a foreign exchange office, you’ll get a better rate.
- Secure as your ID is needed to cash checks
- Commission is paid to cash check
- Handling fee applies
You’re going to need Malaysian ringgits when you visit Malaysia. Exchanging dollars to ringgits is straightforward and you can bring as much as you’d like – although you’ll have to declare large sums of money at customs. Don’t get your money changed before you get to Malaysia; you’ll get a better rate buying ringgits once you arrive.
Banks and foreign exchange offices can be found in major tourist centers. There is no fee to exchange cash – just different rates between exchange offices. Shop around to find the best rate, and make sure you check you’ve been given the right amount of cash before you walk away from the teller.
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Malaysians sometimes refer to Malaysian ringgits as dollars, and some prices use the prefix dollar sign. All prices are in ringgits, even if you hear the vendor saying dollars.
Banknotes are divided into the following denominations: 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100.
The main banks in Malaysia are:
- CIMB Bank
- Public Bank Berhad
- RHB Bank
- Hong Leong Bank
- AmBank Group
- United Overseas Bank (Malaysia)
- Bank Rakyat
- OCBC Bank (Malaysia) Berhad
- HSBC Bank Malaysia Berhad
ATMs in Malaysia
You’ll find ATMs aplenty around the major cities in Malaysia, including in main shopping centers and streets, inside banks and at gas stations. You can locate the most well-known Maybank ATMs by looking for their unique black and yellow color.
Using the travel-friendly Betterment Checking debit card can ease your cash woes by returning any foreign transaction and ATM fees that you might get charged.
How much should I budget to travel in Malaysia?
The Malaysian ringgit (MYR) is Malaysia’s local currency. 100 sen makes up 1 ringgit, and you’ll need to use this currency to pay in cash on your vacation. You can easily get your cash exchanged for the local currency at Malaysian money changers, which are located throughout the country.
Here’s an idea of how much a few things cost. All prices are in US dollars.
|Food court lunch
|Dinner at Indian restaurant (for two)
|Dinner at Ding Tai Fung
$45 per couple
|Canopy walk at FRIM Forest Reserve
|Train & boat to Pulau Ketam
|KL Tower admission (for two)
|Metro ride (for two)
|Bus from airport
|Taxi from airport
Prices are approximate and are subject to change.
Find the ideal insurance policy for your travel to Malaysia
Make sure you have travel insurance for your trip to Malaysia, so you are not left paying out of pocket for hefty medical costs if you get sick or injured. These policies can also help you replace stolen personal items like luggage and cameras.
Common items and events covered by travel insurance policies can include:
- Emergency medical and dental assistance
- Lost luggage
- Missed flights and cancellations
Frequently asked questions
What safety tips should I know for handling money in Malaysia?
Common sense is the best approach to money safety in Malaysia. Avoid carrying excessive amounts of cash and don’t make it obvious if you are holding a lot of banknotes. Use reputable ATMs inside of banks or near banks with security and cover your hand when you’re entering your PIN.
Do I pay more because I’m not Malaysian?
In some places, you may pay more because you’re a tourist. This foreigner tax is not unique to Malaysia. If you feel the price is unreasonably inflated, all you can do is walk away.
How much should I tip?
Tipping is not expected in Malaysia, although a service fee may be included in the bill at some restaurants. A tip is always appreciated, so you can leave change for wait staff if you feel the service justifies something extra.
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