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Malaysia 2017 Crime & Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Malaysia; East Asia & Pacific > Malaysia > Kuala Lumpur

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

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 officials.

Please review OSAC’s Malaysia-specific webpage proprietary analytic reports, Consular Messages, and contact information.

Crime Threats

Crime in densely-populated urban areas is the main driver for the high threat crime designation. Petty crime is fairly common; violent crime is considerably less common. The most common crimes committed against foreigners are petty theft (purse snatching, pickpocketing), smash-and-grab thefts from vehicles, and residential burglaries. Other types of non-violent criminal activity include credit card fraud, automobile theft, and cybercrime. Most purse snatching incidents occur when two thieves on a motorcycle approach a victim from behind and the passenger on the back snatches the valuables. Women walking by themselves or with small children are common targets, but men walking or jogging alone have also been targeted. Thieves carrying knives have slashed and cut at the victim’s hands in order to shock him/her into releasing valuables. Increasingly, large groups of thugs have physically confronted victims. These types of thefts can occur at all hours and often in front of witnesses, even in upscale neighborhoods frequented by expatriates. Avoid extensive cell phone use when in public; it is a distraction and makes you a target. Pedestrians should walk facing traffic and keep a close eye on all vehicles, particularly motorcycles. If possible, walk on the sidewalk farthest from the street. Purses or shoulder bags should be zipped closed and tucked under the arm. Do not wrap the strap around your arm/shoulder; victims have been severely injured and killed after being dragged along the pavement by a motorcycle.

Smash-and-grab thieves most often target motorists in traffic. A pair of thieves on a motorcycle identifies a car with a lone passenger and visible, valuable items. The thieves smash the window with a crow bar, grab the bag, and speed off.

Credit card fraud continues to be a problem. While it is generally safe to use your credit cards in larger department stores or grocery chains, caution should be exercised when making purchases at smaller restaurants and with local merchants, where there is less employee accountability. Travelers are advised to watch retailers closely and maintain positive control of credit cards when possible. If you must use a credit card, check your account information frequently for fraudulent charges, as unauthorized activity may not show up on your statement for several months.

ATM cash withdrawals are generally safe as long as the ATMs are affiliated with reputable Malaysian or international banks;

Residential break-ins have occurred, and single family homes are the most frequent targets. Normally, these break-ins do not result in confrontations or injuries to the residents. While uncommon, some burglars will enter when the occupants are home, tie residents up, 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. Major international hotels typically have adequate security and a low incidence of crime.

Other Areas of Concern

Downtown entertainment areas near bars and clubs can turn into crime zones after midnight, particularly the alleys and side streets. Prostitution is illegal but is common in some areas. There have been reports of foreigners being drugged at nightclubs and targeted for robbery/sexual assault.

U.S. government employees are prohibited from travelling to the coastal regions and outlying islands of eastern Sabah without prior permission from the RSO and the Ambassador. U.S. citizens are advised against travel to coastal resorts and outlying islands in eastern Sabah from Kudat to Tawau. This area includes resort islands of Selingan, Lankayan, Mabul, Pom Pom, Kapalai, Ligitan, Sipadan, and Mataking. Inland road travel to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve and Danum Valley should be arranged through reputable travel companies and take place during daylight hours. The government has designated the entire eastern portion of Sabah (extending from the town of Kudat in the north to Tawau district near the border of Indonesia) as the Eastern Sabah Security Zone and has established the Eastern Sabah Security Command (ESSCOM) to coordinate security. There is a significant police and army presence in the area, and checkpoints have increased. The government has also enhanced efforts to patrol its maritime border with the Philippines. Malaysian law enforcement officials have enacted land- and water-based curfews in the coastal areas of eastern Sabah.

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions 

Road safety is a significant concern. In 2016, there were over 7,150 traffic fatalities (19.5 per day), which places Malaysia among the top 20 most dangerous countries in the world in terms of operating a vehicle. Motorcycles are a large part of the problem, as they attempt to circumvent traffic blockage by weaving in/out of traffic, temporarily using on-coming traffic lanes and running through red lights. This poses a hazard for both drivers and pedestrians. Drivers should use turn signals well in advance of turning to alert motorcyclists.

By law, passengers must use seat belts and are prohibited from using cell phones while driving unless they are hands-free. Traffic moves on the left, but turning left at a red light is not legal unless otherwise marked.

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. However, the situation can change quickly if another driver uses their horn or negatively engages with them; this is particularly true with motorcyclists. Reports of road rage are rising. If you become involved in an accident, avoid becoming confrontational and, if threatened, leave the scene and report the incident to the local police within 24 hours.  

Laws against drinking and driving are strictly enforced and carry serious penalties. Police operate sobriety checkpoints in many entertainment districts frequented by expatriates. All drivers must comply with alcohol breath tests. Those who fail breath tests will be arrested.

Visitors should be aware that commuter traffic is quite heavy in the larger cities and that street flooding can occur quickly during the monsoon season due to issues with lagging infrastructure and drainage.

Public Transportation Conditions

There have been fatal and serious accidents involving long-distance tour buses, particularly at night or in adverse weather conditions. If you plan to travel by bus, choose a reputable company and avoid overnight routes.

Taxis are not permitted to pick up additional passengers. Some drivers, particularly in tourist areas, refuse to use the meter despite a law requiring they do so. Taxi drivers in downtown Kuala Lumpur have been involved or complicit in violent crimes against foreign tourists and local residents. Single women travelers are advised to book taxis in downtown shopping areas by phone, rather than hail taxis from the street, particularly after dark. Before entering the taxi, passengers are advised to confirm that there is a license (with a photo) on the dashboard or the seatback, and that the driver matches the photo. Any problems with taxis should be reported immediately to the Land Public Transportation Commission (Suruhanjaya Pengangkutan Awam Darat or “SPAD”) at +6180-088-7723, aduan@spad.gov.my or www.spad.gov.my.

Car services (Uber, Grab Car) are generally considered safe.

Terrorism Threat

THE U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE HAS ASSESSED KUALA LUMPUR AS BEING A MEDIUM-THREAT LOCATION FOR TERRORIST ACTIVITY DIRECTED AT OR AFFECTING OFFICIAL U.S. GOVERNMENT INTERESTS.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Malaysia experienced its first terrorist attack related ISIS in June 2016 when six patrons were injured in a grenade attack at a nightclub near Kuala Lumpur. The 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 to carry out attacks in locations where Westerners congregate; these groups do not distinguish between civilian and official targets. 

Since April 2014, Malaysian authorities have arrested more than 250 ISIS supporters, including many individuals who planned to fight in Syria and Iraq.

An incursion into Sabah in February/March 2013 by several hundred gunmen from the southern Philippines asserting a territorial claim was characterized by the Malaysian government as terrorism, and dozens of suspects are on trial for charges of waging war and other national security offenses.

Travelers should be aware of the Department's periodic Worldwide Cautions re-emphasizing that U.S. citizens abroad may be targets of terrorist actions.

Political, Economic, 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.

Civil Unrest

Public demonstrations periodically occur in Kuala Lumpur; most are peaceful and well-organized, but some are hastily arranged via social media and conducted “without permit. Police presence is well-represented at most demonstrations. The U.S. Embassy advises travelers to avoid all demonstrations. Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational and escalate into violence with little/no warning. You should monitor local media to keep updated with the latest information about demonstrations and areas to avoid. Additionally, local law prohibits non-Malaysians from participating in public protests.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

The tropical monsoon season is November until mid-February, and heavy rains and thunderstorms occur almost daily. Urban areas with poor drainage and other low-lying areas can suffer flooding. In rural areas, flooding can cause landslides.

Economic Concerns

Travelers should not buy counterfeit or pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the U.S. and Malaysia, you are encouraging criminal activity if you buy them.

Drug-related Crimes

Malaysian legislation provides for the death penalty for convicted drug traffickers. Individuals in possession of 15 grams (one-half ounce) of heroin or 200 grams (seven ounces) of marijuana are presumed to be trafficking.

Kidnapping Threats

Kidnap for ransom (KFR) activity in the waters offshore eastern Sabah remains a key concern and is directly linked to Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG), a terrorist organization based in the southern Philippines. U.S. citizens should consider the risks associated with travel to coastal eastern Sabah because of the KFR threat and violence from both terrorist and criminal groups. The requirement for U.S. government employees to receive permission before traveling to these areas indicates a strong concern over safety and underscores the persistent threat of kidnapping and pirating operations in the region. In 2016, KFR activity continued at a similar pace as recent years; however, the victims were mostly Malaysian and Indonesian fishermen, and the KFR groups generally targeted slow-moving commercial vessels some distance from the Malaysian coast. A few notable exceptions are the kidnapping of a Korean captain from a cargo ship in October 2016 and the abduction of a 70-year old German and the killing of his 60-year old companion in open waters near the Philippines in November 2016.

Police Response

The Royal Malaysia Police (RMP) is a national police force that is well-trained and well-equipped. The 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. With that in mind, the RMP is sometimes limited in its effectiveness in investigations. Report all theft incidents as soon as possible to the police. A police report is necessary for the Embassy to help follow-up on incidents of crime.

Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the U.S. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be fined, expelled, arrested, and/or imprisoned. Malaysia also 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.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

The RMP does not routinely inform the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of private U.S. citizens. If a U.S. citizen encounters an incidence of police detention or harassment, the American Citizen Services section at the U.S. Embassy should be notified immediately.

Crime Victim Assistance

Victims of crimes should call the national emergency telephone number 999.

In tourist areas (Bukit Bintang, Petaling Street (Chinatown), Sri Hartamas, Bangsar, and the main square in Malacca), the police have established small Tourist Police stations.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities and services are adequate in the larger cities and often include Western-trained doctors. Doctors and hospitals expect immediate cash payment for health services, though major credit cards are accepted at most hospitals in larger cities.

Kuala Lumpur has modern medical facilities that are generally comparable in quality of care to those in the U.S. In an emergency, it is recommended the that victim be transported to a hospital immediately.

Malaysian ambulance attendants are required to obtain advance paramedic training or Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) training; however, emergency response times may be slow and the quality of care varies widely. Callers to Malaysia's 999 emergency number are connected to the Red Crescent (a member of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies), and patients are directed to whichever hospital the dispatcher chooses. Long-term travelers with known health problems are advised to investigate private ambulance services and to provide family and close contacts with the direct telephone number(s) of the services they prefer. If ambulance transport is required, available services include:

Lifeline Ambulance: 03-7956-9999

St. John Ambulance 03-9285-5294

Red Crescent Ambulance 03-4257-8726

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

The U.S. Embassy maintains a list of English-speaking doctors and hospitals.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Air medevac services can be arranged through the SOS Clinic or through LEO.

Insurance Guidance

Travelers are advised to consider purchasing insurance; serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the U.S. can cost thousands of dollars.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Dengue fever is endemic, and cases tend to rise during the rainy seasons. The Malaysian Ministry of Health reported over 102,000 cases in 2016 alone, resulting in 231 reported deaths. While an annual spike in dengue after the rainy season is common, it is important to be aware of the possibility of dengue and the ways it can be prevented.

As of January 2017, Malaysia recorded eight cases of persons infected with Zika. U.S. citizens are encouraged to be vigilant, destroy mosquito breeding areas, and use mosquito repellant.

Malaysia and nearby countries burn vegetation (March-June, September-October), air quality can become unhealthy, particularly for those with existing health conditions. Children, older adults, and people with risk factors for respiratory illness are advised to 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.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Kuala Lumpur Country Council meetings are organized by the RSO and are held quarterly. The Country Council chapter has three Steering Committee Members, seven Standing Committee Members, and over 80 full time members. The Kuala Lumpur Country Council point of contact is Regional Security Officer (RSO) Brian Cummings, who can be reached at +60-3-2168-5111 or by email.

Please contact OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Kuala Lumpur
376 Jalan Tun Razak 
50400 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Hours: Mon-Fri, 0800-1700 (except U.S. and local holidays) for emergency services. American Citizens Services (ACS) is open Mon-Fri: 0945-1200 and 1315-1445 by appointment only. For emergencies outside of normal business hours, call the U.S. Embassy main line and listen to the recorded instructions.

Embassy Contact Numbers

Main line: +60-3-2168-5000; (from the U.S., 011-60-3-2168-5000)
American Citizen Services: +60-3-2168-4189, email: KLACS@state.gov
Marine Post One (24-hours): +60-3-2168-4959
Regional Security Office: +60-3-2168-5111, email: KLRSO@state.gov
Website: https://my.usembassy.gov/

Additional Resources

Public Announcements are available on the Department’s website.

Malaysia Country Information Sheet