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With a vibrant mix of Malay, Chinese, Indian and European influences, Malaysia is a true cultural melting pot, characterised by bustling cities and lush rainforest. Spread across the Malay peninsula and the island of Borneo, there is plenty to see and do in Malaysia, from sampling delicious local dishes and sightseeing in Kuala Lumpur, to venturing into the tea plantations at Cameron Highlands.
However, one thing as unique as Malaysia’s beautiful countryside is some of its laws. While you’re holidaying in Malaysia, you need to be aware that you are subject to local law during your time there, and that you won’t be let off scot-free just because you’re only visiting.
While Malaysia is home to a number of cultures, it remains a predominantly Muslim country, with an estimated 60 per cent of the population practising Islam. Certain aspects of Sharia law are enforced across the country, with the states of Kelantan and Terengganu considered to be ‘particularly observant’, as noted by smartraveller.gov.au. Sharia law only applies to Muslims, but it can also encompass Muslims visiting from Australia.
As a visitor to Malaysia, you’re expected to respect local traditions, religion and customs, as well as keeping your style dress and behaviour conservative when appropriate. If in doubt, research your specific destination ahead of time, or ask a local. If you are visiting during Ramadan, ensure you are sensitive to those who are fasting by avoiding eating, drinking or smoking in public.
Bearing in mind the more conservative nature of Islamic countries, you can find yourself in trouble for indecent exposure in Malaysia. In 2002, bikinis were banned in the states of Terengganu and Kelantan, while in 2016, a group of Australian tourists were arrested for sporting swimwear with the Malaysian flag at the F1 Grand Prix.
Christened ‘the budgy nine’, the enthusiastic race fans spent four days in detention before pleading guilty to charges of public nuisance. While the nine were released with a warning, the case is an important reminder of the need to respect local culture while in Malaysia.
Drug laws are incredibly strict in Malaysia, as in accordance with the Dangerous Drugs Act 1952. Use or possession of drugs including heroin, morphine, opium, cocaine and cannabis can result in punishments from whipping to imprisonment and, for those found to be trafficking drugs, capital punishment.
If you are bringing medication into Malaysia, you may need a letter from your doctor. For more information, contact the High Commission of Malaysia in Australia.
Cross dressing and homosexual acts are illegal in Malaysia. It is unlikely that LGBTQI travellers will encounter issues, but it is still advisable behave conservatively – public displays of affection are often frowned upon for any couples, in spite of sexual orientation.
As part of the penal code, the singing of obscene songs in public to the annoyance of others is illegal (294). Under the ‘Mischief’ section of the code, if you destroy property belonging to others (425), you can be punished with jail time and/or a fine.
Examples of mischief given in the code include:
The Minor Offences Act 1995 outlines some other behaviours to avoid:
Even with some of Malaysia’s unfamiliar laws, this is still an incredible country to visit. When you’re ready to book your holiday, be sure that you’re covered with travel insurance.