If there is something that always makes me nervous – it’s driving in a foreign country. However, when we moved to Malaysia, I quickly got over these nerves as Malaysia is an easy country to drive around. In fact, I don’t know why more travellers in Malaysia don’t hire a car and take their time exploring this great country.
In this article, I’m going to quickly go over essential information you need to know about driving in Malaysia before telling you what to expect, how safe it is and information about tolls, parking and renting a car.
Essential Information About Driving In Malaysia
- The driving age in Malaysia is 18 so you need to be 18 or over with a full license
- Driving in Malaysia with foreign license is fine if it is in the roman alphabet. Otherwise, you need an international license
- You need to be 23 to hire a car (exact ages will depend on car rental company) and had your license at least a year. Some companies will only hire to people under 65
- You need to drive on the left
- Seat belts are mandatory
- Mobiles can only be used with a hands free system while driving
- You should have your license, registration and insurance papers with you at all times while driving
- The speed limit is generally 110km/h on highways and 50-60km/h in towns and cities
What To Expect
Because Malaysia is in South East Asia where I am used to chaotic traffic, I expected being a foreigner driving in Malaysia to be really difficult. But actually, it is not that much different to driving at home in Australia.
Cars drive on the left which make it easier if you are an Australian driving in Malaysia or from somewhere else where traffic is on the left.
I found that unless you are on one of the big tollways that traffic runs generally slower than I am used to. In city areas, there are often traffic jams, even on the tollways, so journeys may take longer than you expect.
The main thing that was different to driving in Europe, US or Australia is that cars are merging and changing lanes and directions all the time and may not indicate.
So you need to by hyper-aware of all cars around you and know that any of them could switch lanes or turn at any point without notice.
Since traffic was generally moving quite slowly, I did not find this an issue but you do need to be more aware than you may be used to.
On the upside, this means that if you suddenly realise you are in the wrong lane or need to turn at the intersection you are metres away from, you can and people will get out of your way. Handy when you are in a new place!
How Safe Is It To Drive In Malaysia?
It is generally safe with great roads, cheap petrol and frequent road signs.
The biggest difference I have found is that people park where they want, go through traffic lights when they want and change lanes when they want.
I was involved in one accident in our year living in Malaysia and it was someone rear-ending me because I stopped when the traffic lights turned red and they didn’t expect me to.
If you are involved in any accident, it’s important to go to a local police station and report it as soon as you can. If you don’t and the other party does, even if it was their fault, you can be blamed and could have a fine when exiting the country.
If you hired a car then ring your agency and they should help you with this.
In the main areas and highways, the roads are in good condition. In fact, we have rarely driven on a road that wasn’t.
You should also be aware of motorcyclists. They can be particularly crazy drivers and actually most deaths on Malaysian roads are in this category. I recommend you hire a car over a motorcycle.
As noted above, it is fine to be driving in Malaysia with US license, driving in Malaysia with Australian license and any other license that uses the roman alphabet. Otherwise, you should have an international license.
If you are moving to Malaysia, you currently do need an international’s drive permit as well after you have been in the country for 90 days. Until recently, you had to apply for a local license at this point but this process is suspended at time of writing this. It’s best to get up to date information in Malaysia if this applies to you.
Otherwise, driving in Malaysia with Singapore license, driving in Malaysia with UK license, etc is fine.
There are plenty of toll roads in Malaysia which will save you a lot of time for minimal cost. You need a Touch ‘n Go card to use the tolls. You need to load this card with money and then you can use it to pass through the toll gates.
You can buy a Touch ‘n Go card at toll kiosks along the highway, petrol stations, and Touch ‘n Go hubs. We have been able to buy them and load more money at toll points by making sure we picked the right kiosk.
When driving on toll roads or highways, only go in the right most lane when overtaking.
In popular areas, you will probably need to pay for parking. The exact rules on this depend where you are. In Georgetown, Penang, for example, there was a complicated system for street parking and you needed to buy a book of vouchers. We avoided it by using big car parks.
Other places there may be a meter and you may need to go to a central spot to pay for this and enter your car registration number (so make sure you know it!) and then you’ll be given a paper slip to display on your metre.
It’s best to read the signs to try to work out what the specific method is for where you are parking (we always found this to be clear) or use a big car park (often attached to shopping centres) where you pay per hour or day and it’s easier to work out what is going on.
Petrol stations are frequent and easy to find. Along major highways and tollways, these are likely to have some eating options and toilets too and make for a good rest stop.
There are many car rental companies in Malaysia including all the major brands and some local ones too. Local car hire companies are likely to be cheaper but not as handy as the international chains that are likely to be in many locations.
We used Magic Green car hire company when we were living in Penang and highly recommend them. For other destinations, or to find the best deal, we recommend RentalCars.com.
As noted above, you usually have to be over 23 and people over 65 may have limited options as well. A credit card and valid, full drivers license will also be required.
I hope you now feel comfortable about driving in Malaysia. It is an excellent way to explore more of this country. Let me know if you have any further questions below or you can read more about getting around Malaysia here.
Joshua is an Australian who has fallen in love with Malaysia! He explores Malaysia at least a few times a year and has previously lived in Penang.