I’m beginning to really love writing these essential posts! After spending time in an area, I get super excited to share information about the place. If you’re new to the Essential series, I basically inform you with everything you need to know before visiting a destination. I cover important topics such as visas, vaccinations, where to stay, and much more! Instead of searching over and over in Google, I want people to be able to find all that they are looking for in one spot. This is the only Kuala Lumpur guide that you will need whether you are on a vacation or live a digital nomad lifestyle, like myself. Don’t forget to bookmark this page and share with your friends who are traveling!
Is a Visa Needed Before Traveling to Kuala Lumpur?
There are 162 countries that are exempt from needing a visa to enter Kuala Lumpur. 63 of these countries are granted a stay up to 90 days, 97 are granted a stay of 30 days, and 2 are able to enter for 14 days. Based off my experience, being an American or European Union citizen, you are categorized with the 90 day allowance. To verify how long you’re able to stay, you can visit Travelscope.
If you enjoy your visit and plan to come back, yet have used all your days allowed, the laws were recently tightened to prevent border runs. You must leave for 30 days before you can enter again.
Yellow Fever vaccination is mandatory for those travelling from countries mainly within Africa and South America.
For the majority of countries, none are needed before traveling to Kuala Lumpur. However, boosters and the basic immunizations such as Hepatitis A, Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Typhoid are recommended.
Kuala Lumpur’s currency is Malaysian Ringgit, stylized as RM or MYR. It previously was called Malaysian Dollar, so it is common to hear locals refer to amounts in dollars. The following are a variety of conversions to give you an idea of how the exchange rate compares: 1 USD to 4 MYR – 1 AUD to 3 MYR – 1 EUR to 4.75 MYR – 1 GBP to 5.50 MYR.
Point of Reference Costs
- 1.5L Coca-Cola: 3 MYR
- Instant Coffee (15 Packets): 12 MYR
- Local Food: 8 MYR*
- Sliced Bread 400g: 2.50 MYR
*I’ll talk more about the prices of local food further in this Kuala Lumpur guide.
Alcohol Laws and Costs
There was a recent change in the drinking age, as of December 1, 2017, you must be 21 to purchase alcohol. The cost of alcohol here can be quite pricey, it actually has one of the highest taxes in the entire world! If you want to avoid paying the high tax, you are allowed to enter the country with 1 liter per person.
Best Methods of Transportation
There’s many options when it comes to getting around. Depending on what you feel the most comfortable with, these are the easiest ways to get around the city.
Renting a Car
Driving in Kuala Lumpur is actually very structured. The past places I’ve been to such as Bangkok and Bali, the road rules seemed non-existent as people were flying by any direction they pleased. You won’t find that here! It’s very calm without an excess of honking. It’s important to know that if you decide to get a rental car that you must get used to driving on the left side of the road.
The local transportation is also a good choice. There’s a train system that will take you to every corner of Kuala Lumpur and farther, such as the Batu Caves. Buses run every 20 minutes or so, just be aware of what your stop looks like. My experience on a local bus didn’t announce upcoming stops or have a screen showing you what’s next. You can also opt for a Rapid KL reloadable card if you know you’ll be using the public systems frequently.
The Rapid KL card works for both trains and buses. It offers a discount on each fare and even at some restaurants and shops! It’s easy to reload, either at train stations or in stores, just make sure you look to see which shops are Rapid KL friendly. You can usually find the logo at the cashier/checkout area.
Not into local transportation? That’s fine, Grab will be your number one here. It’s more commonly used than Uber. The rates are affordable and you get a private car, can’t beat it! A 20 minute ride cost me about 15 RM and the least I’ve paid was 4 RM for about 5 minutes. I also discovered that Grab has a reward system, so if you use it enough you may get money off your next ride. You can also redeem your points for a discount at restaurants and more!
Should I Learn the Language Before Traveling to Kuala Lumpur?
If you are somewhat fluent in English, you will be just fine! Being colonized by the British, English is spoken just as much as Malay and Chinese here. You most likely will even be able to read signs, words are often spelled how they are pronounced. For instance, counter is ‘kaunter’ and bus is ‘bas’. With this being a Kuala Lumpur guide, I would normally list 5 basic phrases that you would commonly use, but speaking English is more than enough to know.
Choosing Where to Stay
No Kuala Lumpur guide is complete without talking about where to stay. There seems to be 3 main areas people tend to choose when deciding where to reside. These being near KLCC, in Bukit Bintang, or outside of the city.
Outside of the City
Outside of the city is where I stayed for 28 days and it was great. I love being able to access the city easily, and also being away from the noise. Although, I must admit that there really isn’t much noise here… yet! I think the city and tourism will grow majorly over the next few years. The neighborhood I resided in was Taman Desa and it was the perfect location for me. Even better because I had access to a large food court, a real grocery store (you know what I’m talking about if you’ve been traveling in Asia), and a main square that was full of restaurants and stores within a 5 minute walk.
Bukit Bintang, however, is the favored area to stay. If you’ve read any Kuala Lumpur guide then you probably recognize this name. This is a popular shopping street which is located nearby a famous night food market. Initially, I looked into staying in this area, as it was the only area I was recommended, but the accommodation prices were a bit too steep for what I was looking for. Perfect for those looking to be in the city!
KLCC, aka Kuala Lumpur City Centre, is exactly how it sounds: the center of city! This area will bring you closest to the Petronas Towers, which is a must-see when you visit. You won’t find much accommodation suited towards a budget here, mostly luxury hotels and lots of shopping malls in this area. There is a train that brings you right to this area, so staying here doesn’t appeal me much considering it is easy to access no matter where you are located.
There’s 3 main service providers that you can choose from: Digi, Maxis Hotlink, and Celcom. I used Celcom during the entirety of my stay and it was perfect. I even was able to hotspot internet from my phone to my MacBook and the connection was incredible! As usual, you can often find options to purchase a SIM card from arrival at the airport. Many times there is a tourist option that offers 7-10 days of activation, or if you travel for longer like myself, then a 30-day option may be more cost efficient. Take your time when comparing plans to make sure you find the one that suits you best.
As mentioned above, I used my hotspot function to carry the signal from my phone to my MacBook, and I have no complaints! At the time of writing this, it is 6 in the evening on a Monday, and my speeds are as follows: download 13mbps / upload 3 mbps. A bit slow at the moment, but I’m a night owl and I’ve found speeds to reach as high as 45 mbps during the night.
A Simple Kuala Lumpur Guide to Local Food
There’s 3 types of places you’ll find: restaurants, food courts/hawker stalls, and mamaks.
You’ll be able to easily spot restaurants, there’s nothing special about these. However, what may be new to you is coming across a food court, or what the locals call hawker stalls. It’s basically a large food court with many stalls set up inside. You can find the largest variety of food from Thai, Malay, Chinese, Western, and more! These food courts are great because the dishes are delicious and so cheap. The most I’ve spent at a hawker stall was 8 RM. Lastly, you’ll find mamaks. These are often recognized as being under tents along a street. You kind of have to wing it when ordering food at these places because they don’t usually have a menu. However, I’ve been able to get a meal (food + drink) for as little as 4 RM! How is that even possible?
– Tipping is not customary, unless in fine-dining restaurants.
– Dress conservatively when visiting temples. Shoulders and knees must be covered.
– Avoid pointing with your index finger, using your thumb and entire hand is more appropriate.
– Remove your shoes before entering another person’s home.
– When eating a meal with chopsticks, if you need to put them down, lay them down across the plate. Do not stick them in your food so they stand up.
Take Note Before Traveling to Kuala Lumpur
Like many surrounding countries, the tap water from the sink is not safe to drink. It’s best to find an accommodation with a water refill system on-site (here’s what they look like and how to use them) or be located near a store to purchase water easily. It’s also important to keep in mind that the electricity outlets here are the British standard.
The weather in Kuala Lumpur is similar to many surrounding countries, being that they have a wet and dry season. Overall, the weather is hot with the average temperature being around 30 celsius. The sun will dry you out, make sure to use lotion, premature aging is not cute! The wet season lasts from November to March with the dry season being April to October. I visited the city from January to February and the rain was very frequent, I recommend you always bring an umbrella with you, anywhere you go.
What to Pack Necessities
My Opinion of the City
One of the first places I’ve travelled to, so far, where I fell in love immediately. I can only explain so much in this Kuala Lumpur guide, it’s truly an area you have to experience yourself. I love the food, the cost of living, the calm traffic, the weather… a bit of everything! For the most part, it is perfect here. In my opinion, the only downfall is the alcohol prices. I’m just a little spoiled, a bottle of Jose Cuervo Tequila Silver runs about $22 in the states instead of $35 here. I can’t win ‘em all, but Kuala Lumpur is pretty close so far! I think it’s definitely worth a visit.
Save this Kuala Lumpur Guide
Now you’re absolutely prepared for your travels, don’t forget to save this Kuala Lumpur guide and share it with your tavel buddies! If you want to gain more insight, you can view my archive of Kuala Lumpur posts here. As always, I wish you safe travels and let me know how these tips helped you in the comments!