Official advice for New Zealanders living and travelling overseas

  • Reviewed: 30 August 2023, 12:21 NZST
  • Still current at: 19 April 2024

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If you are planning international travel at this time, please read our COVID-19 related travel advice here, alongside our destination specific travel advice below.

Avoid non-essential travel

Avoid non-essential travel to coastal areas of eastern Sabah (from Kudat to Tawau, including Sandakan, Lahad Datu, Kunak and Semporna, including the offshore islands and dive sites) due to the risk of kidnapping (level 3 of 4).

Exercise normal safety and security precautions

Exercise normal safety and security precautions elsewhere in Malaysia (level 1 of 4). 

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There is a continued risk of terrorist groups planning attacks in South East Asia, including Malaysia. While there have not been any attacks in Malaysia since 2016, Malaysian authorities have successfully disrupted a number of plots.

New Zealanders in Malaysia are advised to be vigilant at all times, particularly in public places, areas frequented by foreigners and tourists, and at large gatherings. We recommend complying with any instructions issued by the Malaysian authorities and monitoring local media to stay informed.

There is an ongoing risk of kidnapping in coastal areas of eastern Sabah.  Terrorist and criminal groups based in the southern Philippines have in the past kidnapped people from these areas for ransom payments and further kidnappings are possible. The risk increases on the water and waterfront after dark.

  • In May 2021, Malaysian authorities arrested eight members of the Abu Sayyaf Group based in the Southern Philippines who they believe may have been planning kidnappings in Malaysia.
  • On 7 November 2016, a German couple were kidnapped by terrorists in waters around Sabah resulting in one fatality.
  • On 14 May 2015, a Malaysian tourist and a restaurant worker were abducted by armed men from a seaside restaurant in Sandakan. The tourist was subsequently murdered by his captors.  Foreigners have also been specifically targeted.

Boats travelling to and from offshore islands and dive sites are also possible targets. In response, Malaysian authorities have increased their security presence in the region, restricted the use of waterways and imposed curfews on travel by water at night. We recommend adhering to any instructions and restrictions issued by the local authorities, including curfews.

You may be required to take a urine test on arrival in Malaysia if you are suspected of using drugs before your visit. This includes if you are travelling from a country where possession and use of drugs such as cannabis is legal. Penalties for drug offences are severe, and include the death penalty.  

Civil Unrest
Large-scale demonstrations can occur in Malaysia. New Zealanders in Malaysia are advised to avoid all protests, demonstrations and political rallies as even those intended to be peaceful have the potential to result in violence.  Police have used tear gas and/or water cannons in the past to disperse demonstrations.

Petty crime is common in Malaysia. Incidents of bag-snatching occur and can become violent. Individuals on motorcycles who grab bags from pedestrians have caused injuries, and even death in the past from being pulled to the ground. Handbags, expensive watches, jewellery, cameras and other electronic devices are tempting targets for thieves. It is advisable to avoid wearing or displaying items that appear valuable when walking in public areas, avoid carrying valuables and take particular care of your passport and personal belongings whilst in airports, cafes, railway stations, and hotel rooms.

There have been incidents of drink spiking followed by robbery and assault reported in Malaysia. Extra care should be taken to ensure your food and drink is never left unattended. We recommend against accepting drinks from strangers or recent acquaintances.

Credit card fraud is common. We recommend New Zealanders take extra care when using credit cards and ATMs, carefully check credit card statements for fraudulent charges, and avoid letting their credit card out of their sight when making payments.

Taxi drivers in Kuala Lumpur have committed violent crimes against foreign tourists and local residents. New Zealanders in Malaysia are advised to register for and use an e-hailing service with the safety functions activated, rather than hailing a taxi on the street. Taxis are not permitted to pick up additional passengers. If they do, exit the vehicle as soon as it is safe to do so.

Maritime Safety
Piracy is a problem in South East Asian waters, particularly in the Strait of Malacca, and in the waters between Sabah and the southern Philippines.  Mariners are advised to take appropriate precautionary measures in these waters. For more information view the International Maritime Bureau's piracy report.

Some passenger boats have sunk due to overloading and/or poor maintenance. Take care at all times when travelling by water. Check the safety equipment available onboard and do not board any vessel that is clearly overloaded or in poor condition.

Smoke haze from fires in Sumatra (Indonesia) periodically causes very high pollution readings in Malaysia and in the past has reached levels considered hazardous in some parts of the country. The smoke haze is generally worse between June and October depending on the number of fires lit, wind direction and climatic conditions.

Some of the most common health effects include irritation of eyes, throat and lungs. For people with existing respiratory conditions, such as asthma or bronchitis, breathing in particle pollution can make these conditions worse. For more information on pollution readings in Malaysia refer to Malaysia's Department of Environment.

General Travel Advice
New Zealanders are advised against crossing the border with Thailand by land due to ongoing politically motivated violence in the southern Thai provinces.

New Zealanders are advised to respect religious, social and cultural traditions in Malaysia to avoid offending local sensitivities. Modesty and discretion should be exercised in both dress and behaviour.

New Zealanders are advised to be aware of and adhere to specific dress codes if accessing Malaysian government agencies, including police stations and public hospitals. These often mandate closed toe shoes, and prohibit shorts for all genders. In recent times, people have been refused entry to government agencies for non-compliance with dress codes.

Malaysia enforces some aspects of Shari’a law. Kelantan and Terranganu states are stricter than others. These laws apply to all Muslims including visiting New Zealand Muslims.

Homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia and punishable under federal law. New Zealanders should avoid any behaviour which could attract unwanted attention, including public displays of affection.

New Zealanders travelling or living in Malaysia should have a comprehensive travel insurance policy in place that includes provision for medical evacuation by air.

New Zealanders in Malaysia are encouraged to register their details with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.


Travel tips

The New Zealand High Commission Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Street Address Level 21, Menara IMC, 8 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur 50250 Telephone +60 3 2078 2533 Fax +60 3 2078 0387 Email Web Site Hours Mon-Fri 0830am to 1230 hrs (reception); Mon-Thurs 0800-1630 hrs, Fri 0800-1600 hrs (telephone enquiries and pre-arranged appointments)

See our regional advice for South East Asia

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New Zealand High Commission Malaysia

Street Address
Level 21, Menara IMC, 8 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Kuala Lumpur 50250

Telephone: +60 3 2078 2533

Fax: +60 3 2078 0387



Hours: Mon-Fri 0830am to 1230 hrs (reception); Mon-Thurs 0800-1630 hrs, Fri 0800-1600 hrs (telephone enquiries and pre-arranged appointments)

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