This is an annual report produced
in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Kuala
Lumpur. OSAC encourages travelers to use
this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Malaysia.
For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Malaysia page
for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some
of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC
The current U.S. Department of State Travel
Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Malaysia at Level 1, indicating
travelers should exercise normal precautions. Exercise increased caution
in the eastern area of Sabah State due to crime and terrorism.
Overall Crime and
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kuala Lumpur as being a HIGH-threat
location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.
This includes around-the-clock street crime that occurs primarily in densely
populated urban centers and affects locals and foreigners alike. The most
common crimes include petty theft (particularly purse snatching and
pickpocketing), smash-and-grab thefts from vehicles, and residential
burglaries. Violent and more serious crimes are considerably less common. Other
types of common non-violent criminal activity include credit card fraud,
ATM-skimming, and cybercrime.
Most purse snatching incidents involve
thieves on motorcycles who stalk victims from behind before grabbing their purse,
phone, or other valuables. Pedestrians distracted by their children or mobile
phones are also more vulnerable. These types of thefts can occur at all hours,
in front of large groups of witnesses, even in upscale neighborhoods expatriates
frequent. Hotel driveways and valet areas have become favorite sites for
thieves, even in the early morning hours.
Zip purses and shoulder bags
closed, and tuck them under your arm. Do not to wrap the strap around your arm
or shoulder; victims have been injured and even killed after thieves on
motorcycles grabbed their bag, causing them to fall, and dragging them along
the pavement by their purse straps. Immediately give up possessions if
confronted. More recently, thieves carrying knives have slashed at and cut the
hands of victims in order to shock them into releasing valuables. Increasingly,
large groups of thugs physically confront victims.
While most streets are safe to walk,
downtown entertainment areas near bars and clubs see a higher volume of crime
after midnight. This is particularly true of the alleys and side streets just
off the main commercial zones. Prostitution is illegal but common in these same
areas. There have been reports of foreigners drugged at nightclubs and targeted
for robbery and/or sexual assault.
Taxi drivers in downtown Kuala
Lumpur have been complicit in violent crimes perpetrated against foreign
tourists and local residents. This is especially true in the early morning
hours after nightclubs close.
Smash-and-grab thieves most often
target motorists stuck in traffic. Typically, a pair of thieves on a motorcycle
identifies a lone passenger whose valuables are in plain sight. The thieves
smash the window of the car with a crowbar, grab the bag, and speed off. Reduce
your vulnerability by keeping valuables out of sight.
Residential break-ins are common,
and single-family homes are the most commonly targeted. Thieves are generally
non-confrontational, and most often target properties while tenants are away. While
uncommon, the possibility of confrontation does not deter some burglars, who will
detain residents and threaten them with violence. Gated high-rise apartment
complexes with 24-hour guards and electronic access control systems have a much
lower burglary rate than other types of housing. Major international hotels
typically have adequate security and low rates of crime. Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.
Debit and credit card fraud is
prevalent. While it is generally safe to use credit cards in larger department
stores or grocery chains, exercise caution when making purchases at smaller
restaurants and with local merchants, where there is less employee accountability.
Watch retailers closely, and maintain positive control of credit cards. Monitor
account transaction activity for fraudulent charges, as unauthorized charges
may not appear for months.
ATM cash withdrawals are generally
safe as long as the ATM is affiliated with reputable Malaysian or international
banks in secure locations. Avoid ATMs at less secure locations, such as at gas stations or convenience stores. A
police report is necessary for the Embassy to help follow up on incidents of
crime. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers
& Fraud and Taking Credit.
U.S. nationals and organizations
continue to be the victims of scams originating in Malaysia. Scammers and con
artists contact U.S. nationals through the telephone and internet, including
through online dating sites. There have been cases of U.S. organizations
defrauded by investment scams. Be very cautious about sending money to people you
have not met in person, and who claim to be U.S. citizens in trouble in
Individuals who believe they have
been the victim of a scam originating in Malaysia, and who wish to make a
formal complaint, can report it to the nearest Malaysian embassy or consulate,
which will accept the report (in person or via e-mail) and transmit to the
Malaysian police for follow-up. You can also report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. Find
resources in the Department of State's publication, International
Financial Scams, at StopFraud.gov
(a service of the Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force), and from the U.S.
Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on
Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends &
Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?
Other Areas of Concern
Exercise caution when traveling to
eastern Sabah due to the threat of kidnap-for-ransom and violence from
terrorist and criminal groups, including the Philippines-based Abu Sayyaf
Group. In addition to incursions into coastal or resort islands themselves,
criminal or terrorist groups may attempt to intercept boats ferrying tourists
from the mainland to resort islands. Due to these safety concerns, U.S.
government employees traveling to eastern Sabah east of the north-south line
drawn from Kudat to Tawau, including all islands, must first obtain official
written permission from the Embassy.
The Malaysian government has
designated the entire eastern portion of Sabah as the Eastern Sabah Security
Zone, and established the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) to coordinate
security. There is significant police and army presence in the area, and road
checkpoints have increased. The government has also enhanced efforts to patrol
its maritime border with the Philippines. Malaysian law enforcement has enacted
land- and water-based curfews in the coastal areas of eastern Sabah. Travelers
to eastern Sabah should monitor local media or ask local police for the most
recent curfew information.
Road Safety and Road Conditions
Road safety is a very serious safety
concern. Malaysia averages approximately 19 traffic fatalities a day, placing it
among the top 20 most dangerous countries in which to operate a vehicle
worldwide. Undisciplined motorcycle and motor scooter operators are the
principal cause of traffic accidents, and constitute nearly two-thirds (62%) of
all traffic fatalities. Motorcyclists tend not to obey traffic laws, and often
travel without regard for their safety or that of other motorists. As such, use
turn signals well in advance of turning to alert motorcycles.
Malaysian driving norms can be
difficult to understand. Local drivers can be aggressive and unyielding, but
seldom use their horn or get upset over the actions of other drivers. The
situation can change quickly, however, if another driver uses their horn or displays
hostility. This is particularly true with motorcyclists. Reports of road rage are
rising. Drivers who become involved in an accident with another vehicle should
avoid becoming confrontational and, if threatened, should leave the scene and
report the incident to the local police within 24 hours.
By law, passengers must use seat
belts regardless of where in the vehicle they sit, and drivers may not use cell
phones while driving without hands-free capability engaged; however, authorities
seldom enforce these two laws, and driver cell phone use is pervasive
throughout the country, even by motorcyclists. Malaysia is a left-side drive
country. Turning left at a red light is not legal unless marked. Police
strictly enforce laws against drinking and driving, which carry serious
penalties. Police operate sobriety checkpoints in many entertainment districts expatriates
frequent. At these checkpoints, all drivers must submit to alcohol breath
tests; police arrest those who fail.
Commuter traffic is quite heavy in
larger cities. Street flooding can occur quickly during the monsoon season due
to issues with inadequate infrastructure and drainage issues.
OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.
Public Transportation Conditions
There have been serious, sometimes
fatal accidents involving long-distance tour buses, particularly at night and/or
during inclement weather. Choose a reputable company and avoid overnight
Before entering a taxi, confirm
that there is a license (with a photo) on the dashboard or seatback, and that
the driver matches the photo. Taxis may not stop and pick up additional
passengers. Some drivers, particularly in tourist areas, refuse to use the
meter despite the legal requirement to do so. Travelers should book taxis in
downtown shopping areas by phone, rather than hailing taxis from the street,
particularly after dark. Immediately report any problems with taxis to the Land
Public Transportation Commission (Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat,
SPAD) via phone (+6180-088-7723), email,
or the internet.
service like Grab are popular and are generally safe, but visitors should
review the 2019 Uber U.S. Safety Report for security awareness and to understand the
risks associated with rideshare services.
OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public
Transport, and Overnights.
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kuala Lumpur as being a MEDIUM-threat
location for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government
interests. Malaysia experienced its first ISIS-related terrorist attack in
2016, when a grenade attack at a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur injured eight
people. Since 2013, Malaysian authorities have arrested more than 400 ISIS
supporters, including many individuals who planned to travel to Syria and Iraq
to participate in fighting.
The U.S. Department of State
remains concerned about the possibility of more terrorist attacks against U.S.
citizens in Malaysia. Regional extremist groups have demonstrated the
capability and intent to carry out attacks in locations where Westerners
congregate. Threat actors do not appear to distinguish between civilian and
official targets. Unsophisticated attacks in public areas, tourist sites, and
upscale shopping venues are of greatest concern.
The Malaysian government
characterized an incursion into the state of Sabah in 2013 by several hundred
gunmen from the southern Philippines who were asserting a territorial claim as
terrorism. Authorities have convicted dozens of suspects for waging war and
other national security offenses. Kidnap-for-Ransom (KFR) activity in the
waters off the eastern coast of Sabah remains a key concern linked directly to
the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a State Department-designated foreign terrorist organization
based in the southern Philippines.
Religious, and Ethnic Violence
The U.S. Department of State has
assessed Kuala Lumpur as being a MEDIUM-threat
location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S.
government interests. In 2018, Malaysia experienced its first democratic
transition of government in 61 years. While tensions were high, there were no
acts of violence or attempts to keep the new government from taking power. Public
protests occur in Kuala Lumpur, but local law prohibits non-Malaysians from
participating. Most demonstrations are peaceful and well organized, but some
are arranged hastily via social media and conducted “illegally” (without a
permit). Police coverage is adequate at most demonstrations.
Avoid demonstrations and exercise
caution near any large gatherings, protests, or demonstrations. Even
demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence with little or no
warning. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest
Protected by Indonesia and
positioned far from any tectonic boundaries, peninsular Malaysia seldom
experiences typhoons, earthquakes, or tsunamis.
Flooding is Malaysia’s primary
natural hazard. The tropical monsoon season lasts from November through March,
when heavy rains and thunderstorms occur almost daily. Urban areas with poor
drainage and other low-lying areas often suffer flooding. In rural areas, flooding
can cause dangerous mudslides.
Do not buy counterfeit or pirated
goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are these goods illegal in
the U.S. and Malaysia, individuals who purchase them encourage criminal
Malaysian legislation provides for
the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. The law presumes individuals
in possession of 15 grams (one-half ounce) of heroin or 200 grams (seven
ounces) of marijuana to be trafficking in drugs. These penalties
notwithstanding, drug use and drug-related crimes associated with synthetic
drugs or New Psychoactive Substances (NPS) appears to be on the rise.
Malaysia’s penal code criminalizes
homosexual acts, termed “carnal intercourse against the order of nature,”
leading to punishment of up to 20 years in prison and/or whipping. Several
states in Malaysia have instated Islamic Sharia laws, applying to male and
female Muslims, criminalizing same-sex activity with up to three years
imprisonment and whipping. Authorities have arrested transgender individuals
and charged them with "indecent behavior,” levying fines and prison
sentences of up to three months. LGBTI individuals may face discrimination or
even violence especially in more conservative rural areas. Review the State Department’s webpage on
security for LGBTI+ travelers.
of Malaysia does not mandate accessibility to transportation for persons with
disabilities, and few older public facilities are adapted for such persons. New
government buildings generally contain a full range of facilities for persons
with disabilities. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers
Consider the risks associated with
travel to coastal eastern Sabah due to the threat of kidnapping, and violence
from terrorist and criminal groups. The requirement for U.S. government
employees to receive permission before traveling to these areas highlights
significant safety concerns, and underscores the persistent threat of
kidnapping and piracy operations in the region.
In 2019, KFR activity continued, with Indonesian fishing vessels
and tourists on resort islands being the most common targets. With the fighting
in Marawi, Philippines now over, it is possible that Sulu Sea-based kidnappers
and regional terrorist groups will engage in KFR activities on the islands and
waters just off eastern Sabah in an effort to generate revenue.
OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics
Penalties for breaking the law can
be more severe than in the United States. Authorities may fine, expel, arrest, or
imprison anyone violating the law, even unknowingly. Penalties for possession,
use, or trafficking in illegal drugs are severe; convicted offenders can expect
long jail sentences and heavy fines. Malaysia actively enforces immigration
regulations and may levy high fines or incarcerate foreigners with prolonged
overstays. The court system is typically very slow and there are often lengthy
delays in trials.
The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP)
does not routinely inform the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of private U.S.
citizens. Detained or harassed U.S. citizens should contact the American
Citizen Services unit at the U.S. Embassy immediately.
The emergency line in MALAYSIA is 999. Download
the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure. In tourist areas, RMP “Tourist
Police” stations assist tourists in the event of an emergency.
The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) is
a well-trained and equipped federal police force. RMP provides good law
enforcement support to the U.S. Embassy, and has responded favorably to the
needs of the U.S. private sector and to U.S. citizens in general. The RMP is
sometimes limited in its effectiveness in investigations.
Medical facilities and services
are adequate in the larger cities, where travelers can usually find
Western-trained doctors. Kuala Lumpur has modern medical facilities generally
comparable in terms of quality of care to those in the United States. In an
emergency, immediately transport the patient to a hospital.
Malaysian ambulance emergency
response times can be slow, and the quality of care varies widely. By dialing 999,
callers will connect to the local emergency response team, which will direct
patients to whichever hospital the dispatcher chooses. Long-term travelers with
known health problems should research private ambulance services associated
with private hospitals.
Find contact information for
available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S.
Embassy to Malaysia’s Medical
Doctors and hospitals expect
immediate payment for health services, though most hospitals in larger cities
accept major credit cards. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization or medical evacuation to the
United States can cost thousands of dollars. Verify the validity of medical
insurance and overseas coverage before traveling to Malaysia, and consider
purchasing a private travel insurance policy, to include medevac insurance. The
U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health
insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Department’s
webpage on insurance overseas.
Country-specific Vaccination and
vigilant, destroy and prevent mosquito-breeding areas, and use mosquito
repellant. Dengue fever is endemic and cases occur throughout the year. The
Malaysian Ministry of Health reported over 65,000 cases in 2018 alone, including
at least 100 deaths. An annual spike in dengue after the rainy season is common.
There have been no known outbreaks of Zika infection since 2016, although the
disease is endemic to Malaysia.
2017, people have died of rabies in Sarawak state; authorities there are in the
midst of a statewide dog vaccination effort. Consider rabies immunization
periods when farmers in Malaysia and nearby countries burn vegetation
(generally March-June and September-October), air quality can become unhealthy,
particularly for those with existing health conditions. Children, older adults,
and people at risk of respiratory illness should avoid outdoor activities and
wear N95 respirators during periods of increased air pollution.
The CDC offers additional
information on vaccines and health guidance for Malaysia.
Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way,
Medication, I’m Drinking What in My
Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of
Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad
OSAC Country Council
The Kuala Lumpur OSAC Country
Council meets quarterly. Interested private-sector security managers should
contact OSAC’s East
Asia & Pacific team with any questions.
U.S. Embassy Contact Information
Embassy Kuala Lumpur, 376 Jalan Tun Razak, 50400 Kuala Lumpur
Hours: Monday-Friday, 0745 - 1630
(except U.S. and Malaysian holidays)
Embassy Operator: +60-3-2168-5000
Emergency calls after normal business hours:
American Citizen Services: email@example.com
Department Emergency Line: +1-202-501-4444
you travel, consider the following resources:
OSAC Risk Matrix
OSAC Travelers Toolkit
State Department Traveler’s Checklist
Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)