DO’S & DON’TS – Guidelines you should adhere to when in Malaysia.


Do smile when you greet people. It is normal to see people in the tourist industry to greet visitors by placing their right hand over the left breast. It means “I greet you from my heart”.

Do remove your shoes when entering homes and places of worship.

Do dress neatly when entering places of worship. It is advisable for ladies, when entering places of worship to wear long sleeves and loose pants or long skirts.

Do wait until you’re in Malaysia to convert most of your currency. A special permit is needed to bring large amounts of ringgit (Malaysia’s currency) into or out of the country. There are no restrictions for foreign money.

Do point with the thumb of your right hand, fingers folded and not with the forefinger.

Do pay careful attention to your attire if you’re female: Wearing hot pants and vests on the islands where Malaysians are used to foreigners is fine, but it may invite harassment elsewhere. At mainland beaches, bring a wrap-around as well as a swimsuit so you won’t feel conspicuous; Malay women usually go swimming fully dressed and some keep their scarves on. While you wouldn’t be expected to do the same, it’s best not to draw attention.

Do help preserve reefs and beaches by leaving coral and shells where you find them.


Don’t kiss anyone in public – not romantically anyway. It has become fashionable in Kuala Lumpur (but not in other parts of the country) to kiss friends hello and goodbye as is done in Europe.

Don’t point the bottom of your feet at anyone.

Don’t touch the head of an adult.

Don’t offer to shake hands unless you know that your acquaintances are fairly Westernized. Even then, let them offer to shake first. Never shake hands with women unless they offer to do so first.

Don’t even think about buying or transporting illegal drugs – there’s a mandatory death penalty for trafficking (possession of 200 grams of marijuana is considered to be trafficking).

Don’t bring up the topic of ethnic relations in Malaysia or the political system: They are both sensitive subjects.

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