The road system in Peninsular Malaysia is modern and well-maintained, with an extensive highway network providing road links to Thailand and Singapore. East Malaysia’s roads are less modern and can be poorly maintained in places, but are also less well travelled and often less congested. In Malaysia, vehicles are driven on the left-hand side of the road – a legacy of British colonial rule. Driving standards can be poor, particularly in the cities where congestion is at its highest, so some expats prefer to stick to public transport.
Diesel and petrol costs are subsidised so running a car can be fairly cheap, however vehicles are expensive to purchase. To drive a car in Malaysia you must be aged 17 or over, although you can ride a motorcycle at the age of 16. For any vehicle, you must have valid road tax and insurance as well as a driving licence as the penalties for driving without these items are severe. Foreign nationals may be allowed to drive on their home country licence for up to three months before they must exchange it for a Malaysian one. For more information, contact the Road Transport Department Malaysia.
There is no shortage of taxis in Malaysia, however they do have a reputation for being expensive in comparison with other public transport options. This is not always the case, but if you do choose to take a taxi then check whether or not it is metered before starting the journey. If it has no meter, make sure you negotiate a price upfront to avoid being overcharged.
Buses and coaches
Local and national bus and coach services remain a popular way to get around in Malaysia, with most major cities and some rural areas operating services at fairly low cost. Long-distance coach companies also operate routes to Thailand, Singapore and Brunei.
Peninsular Malaysia has a fairly extensive railway network, with a range of freight and passenger services linking major cities within Malaysia as well as providing international routes to Thailand and Singapore. The government has invested heavily in modernising the railways and the result is a fairly comfortable and inexpensive way to travel. The main train operator is KLIA Ekspres and the best priced tickets are usually available online. In East Malaysia, train transport is far less well-established with only the state of Sabah running services.
Trams and light rail
Several cities in Malaysia have trams or light railways systems to alleviate pressure on the roads. For example, Kuala Lumpur has two light rail lines, a monorail and an airport rail link operated by MyRapid.
Malaysia has several commercial airports, although the majority of international services are focused around the major hubs of Kuala Lumpur International Airport, Kota Kinabalu International Airport and Penang International Airport. Despite being relatively expensive, domestic air travel is important for reaching the more remote regions and for linking Peninsular Malaysia to East Malaysia. Malaysia Airlines is the flag carrier and operates both international and domestic routes, while competition is increasing from budget airlines like AirAsia.
Other ways to get around
Many foreign nationals are surprised to learn that there are no regular ferry routes between Peninsular Malaysia and East Malaysia. That said, sea transport is important to the South China Sea region and major Malaysian ports link the country to Indonesia, the Philippines, Brunei, Singapore and Thailand. Boat services are also important for reaching outlying Malaysian islands, while there are also several hundred kilometres of canals and inland waterways spanning the country.