Going to a foreign country can sometimes be a hassle, but driving in one doesn’t always have to be. In Malaysia, there are regulations that are similar to the ones you have in your home country. There are also those that are quite different. This can make things quite confusing. That’s why we’re here to present to you the essential guide to driving on Malaysian roads.
How to Get a Driver’s License
First of all, and most importantly, let’s discuss how to get a valid driver’s license in Malaysia. To obtain this all-important document, you need to be at least 18 years of age and have a valid driver’s license from your country of origin. You can get a learner’s permit if you’re 17 years old. If you hold a foreign driver’s license, you can drive in Malaysia as long as this document is valid and is accompanied by a complete English or Malay translation. The latter part of this condition only applies to licenses in languages other than the two mentioned.
If you have the means to do so, we also recommend getting an international driver’s license. However, this will only let you operate a motor vehicle in the country for up to 90 days. Afterwards, you can apply a Class B2 or B motorcycle license, or a Class D car license. For this conversion, you’re going to need your foreign license and a translation if it’s not in Malay or English, a letter of endorsement from your country’s embassy, your passport, and your visa. You’re also going to need a passport-size color ID photo and a Form JPJ L1. This process should only take less than a day and cost you RM 20.00.
How to Import or Purchase a Car
Getting a car in Malaysia can also be a bit hard, especially if you’re not getting one from a local manufacturer. The Malaysian government would have the best interests of local brands such as Perodua and Proton in mind since automobile manufacturing is one of the biggest contributors to their economy. With that in mind, you need to be at least 23 years old to rent a car, with the maximum age being 65 years old. You also need to have held a valid driver’s license for a minimum of one year.
If you’re planning to import a car from overseas, it could get very expensive. Not only that, you’re also going to need a valid work permit as well as an approved application from the Ministry of International Trade and Industry. The use of an imported car in Malaysia is usually limited to personal reasons and you’ll need to export your vehicle immediately once your work permit expires. An exception to this is if you have a Malaysia My Second Home or MM2H visa, which lets you bring your own car or purchase a locally-made one tax-free.
It would also be good to know that Malaysians drive on the left-side of the road, so make sure that your car is a right-hand drive – the steering wheel is installed on the right instead of on the left. Other countries that drive on the left side include Japan, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United Kingdom. If your car is from one of these territories, you can easily just import it and take it to the streets. However, if it’s from a country where driving on the right is the norm, it has to go through a lengthy process of being converted to one can be driven on the left.
General Road Rules
Now that you have a working vehicle and a valid driver’s license, let’s talk about the general road rules you need to follow in Malaysia. To state the obvious, wearing a seatbelt while in a motor vehicle is mandatory. You should also carry your driver’s license as well as your registration and insurance documents at all times. Meanwhile, the use of mobile devices is completely prohibited, except when they’re connected to a hands-free system, for instance, by Bluetooth.
Always drive within the speed limits in place. After driving in Malaysia for a while, you’ll notice that the speed limits are a little bit slower compared to those being enforced in Western countries. On highways, the maximum speed you can drive ranges from 90 to 110 kilometers per hour (km/h), or around 55 to 70 miles per hour (mph). In towns, on the other hand, the speed limit is considerably lower at only 50 to 70 km/h, or around 30 to 40 mph.
In the past couple of years, local law enforcement has taken steps to install multiple cameras and radars to catch people who are driving over the speed limit. This in an effort to reduce the number of road accidents that cause major traffic jams in a lot of areas. The position of these devices is quite hidden, but they can usually be found near traffic lights or under bridges. So be vigilant or simply drive your car with extra care. If you do get caught speeding, expect a hefty fine as well as possible suspension of your driver’s license.
You should also be careful when changing lanes on Malaysian roads, as many drivers don’t necessarily follow the laws here. This is especially true for motorcyclists who tend to zigzag through lanes without much regard for other motorists. In fact, statistics have shown that around 60% of the road accidents in Malaysia are caused by speeding motorcycle riders, with most of them being quite young. Because of this, when switching lanes, it is always best to assume that there is always a motorcycle trying to squeeze through the tiniest of gaps available to them. Make a habit of using your turn signal indicator as well.
Practice extra care when driving at traffic lights, too. While we all know that green means “go,” in Malaysia, the amber or yellow light almost seems as a challenge to beat the red light instead of as a warning to slow down. For a number of motorists, the red light is merely a suggestion. You’ll find many drivers not stopping for a red light if they don’t see any incoming traffic. This is also the case for road signs such as the ones for “Stop” and “No U-Turn,” among others.
There is also a road tax in Malaysia that you should be aware of. You’ll need to go to the Road Transport Department or JPJ to register. To pay your annual road tax, simply present the JPJ registration card for your vehicle at any Pos Malaysia office. You could also pay for this online. Before paying for the road tax, make sure that your car’s insurance is up to date. Once you’ve paid in full, place the tag given to you on the front windshield of your vehicle to indicate that you have already settled your road tax for the year.
Obviously, driving under the influence of alcohol and other prohibited substances is strictly forbidden. If the authorities find you operating a motor vehicle with a blood alcohol content higher than 0.8 grams per liter, you’ll be given a fine not exceeding RM 2,000 as well as a prison sentence of no longer than six months. If you know you’re going to consume alcohol, just hire a cab instead. It’s pretty easy to get a taxi in Malaysia and their rates are quite cheap also. Drinking and driving aren’t worth risking your own life as well as those of other motorists.
However, those figures are only for a first offense. If the police catch you driving under the influence for a second or third time, they will give you a fine not exceeding RM 4,000 and no more than 12 months in jail. There’s also a large possibility that they take away your license for an entire year. It’s going to be extremely difficult to get your driver’s license back if you have an offense for driving under the influence. Doing so involves a lengthy process, which could potentially involve attending road safety classes as well.
Getting Around Malaysia
Now that we’ve gotten those rules and regulations out of the way, we can now talk about how to actually get around Malaysia. The country is connected by numerous highways that have proven to be a great help in shortening the travel time from point A to point B. For instance, it now only takes three hours to travel almost 160 miles from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur. It now takes one and a half hours to travel from Johor to Mensing as well. There are many tollways that connect these roads so have some change ready for a much faster trip.
Speaking of tollways, you can go through them even faster if you sign up for a SmartTag or a Touch ‘n’ Go card. These have a stored value, which you can top up at different locations such as convenience stores and gasoline stations. There are also online payment methods, which prove to be more convenient for some people. Motorists who use these have a dedicated lane. Just make sure that you have enough load for where you’re going, as your card maybe confiscated if it doesn’t have a sufficient value.
Traffic jams are commonplace in Malaysia, especially during the morning rush hour. Driving during public holidays has also been described as “hellish” by a lot of motorists. Things that are out of your control such as accidents, inclement weather, and ongoing construction have also been known to slow down the movement of cars by a considerable amount. Plan your drive appropriately. It’s advisable to leave as early as possible to avoid getting stuck in a traffic jam.
The growing number of personal vehicles and at times unreliable public transportation have also been deemed as causes of heavy traffic on Malaysian roads. There are over 23 million registered vehicles in Malaysia – a steadily increasing figure that shows no signs of slowing down any time soon. This may seem like a small number compared to other countries, but when you consider there are only approximately 30 million people in Malaysia, it becomes hard to comprehend that there’s almost a 1:1 ratio of people to cars in the country.
Once you’ve gotten to your destination, you may find yourself asking “Where do I park my car?” There are many areas with paid parking along major roads and landmarks. The parking meters in these locations, unless said otherwise, are in effect from 9 in the morning until 6 in the evening. When it’s Sunday or a public holiday, parking is usually free, but depends from place to place, so make sure to check first to avoid having to pay unnecessary fines. When going somewhere on vacation, know that some hotels have complimentary parking.
The common cost for parking is around 50 sen per hour. As opposed to having a meter at each available space, parking lots in Malaysia have car owners pay at a centralized location. All you have to do is punch in your vehicle registration number and put some coins in. A ticket with how much time you’re allowed to park written down is going to be printed out. Place this ticket somewhere on your dashboard where it can be visible to the parking attendants on duty.
Be extra careful when maneuvering your vehicle in a car park, since the roads and the spaces themselves can be quite narrow. Watch out for cars that have been improperly parked in order to avoid hassling other motorists as well. You’ll soon find that the prices of parking and tolls add up in what seems to be no time at all. Fortunately for you, the low price of subsidized fuel more than makes up for this. It’s also relatively cheap to get your car fixed and maintained at Malaysian auto shops.
Following these tips makes it a lot easier to get around Malaysia in a car. If you read this guide thoroughly, there’s less need to be worried about getting a violation or causing an accident on the road, as well as getting stuck in some infamously heavy Malaysian traffic.