Travel post COVID is never straightforward and Malaysia international travel post COVID is no exception. This diverse country has many things to draw tourists, from mouthwatering food to complex cultural attractions, but, before you dive into your first laska, you’re going to have to dive into some paperwork. Luckily for you though, I’ve just jumped through the bureaucratic hoops necessary to get from Australia to Malaysia so I can walk you through it with up to date information on how Malaysia international travel post COVID works as of April 2022.
Before You Travel
First things first, you will need to be vaccinated if you want to avoid 14 days in hotel quarantine and your second jab must be at least 14 days prior to your departure for Malaysia. At this stage most countries require vaccination and it’s a good health idea as well, so just get vaccinated.
You will also need to prove your vaccination status and this is where the helpful site from MySafeTravel falls down a bit. Yes, they give you that nice little checklist, but it doesn’t let you know how long things will take. I recommend to start uploading your vaccination certificates at least a week prior to travel to allow them time to approve your vaccination certificates. Kane and I did not think about this and were biting our nails a bit as Kane’s approval ran right to the wire, it literally came through when we were in the check in line at the Sydney International Airport. Download the MySejahtera app and upload documents directly to this for the fastest results. Additionally, you will need to upload your vaccination certificates to MySafeTravel for entry verification – yes I know it is redundant, unfortunately, I don’t make the rules about Malaysia international travel post COVID. Now, don’t throw your computer out a window just yet, you’ve got to fill out the pre-departure traveller’s card in the MySejahtera app.
Next up is COVID health insurance. You are required by law to buy a COVID specific travel health insurance policy and to upload the proof of this onto MySafeTarvel. We normally don’t bother with this as we book our trips on our lovely American Express credit card that comes with travel health insurance, but, as we don’t get a specific policy number from this, we ended buying additional COVID cover, just to be able to prove it to the government to meet their requirements for Malaysia international travel post COVID. In hindsight, not a single person asked to see this, so it might have been a waste of $244 AUD – who really knows these days.
Now that you have already spent hours trying to decipher the poorly worded government websites and have uploaded seemingly a billion copies of your vaccination records and travel plans to every website under the sun, it’s time for PCR tests (that was just Kane and I’s experience, now that you’re reading this hopefully you’ll have a more streamlined experience of Malaysia international travel post COVID). You will need a negative PCR test taken within 48 hours of departure and once you have this negative test you will need to upload it to your traveller’s card on the MySejahtera app for verification.
We have played this PCR test game twice now (first to the US and now to Malaysia) and good God it feels like roulette. You pay a lot of money ($79 each from Histopath was the cheapest we could find – they are in most Australian international airports), get your brain poked, and cross your fingers that the little bastard of a virus hasn’t found its way into your nose yet, because if it has, well you ain’t getting on that plane and you’re heading back home with your tail between your legs and your plans in tatters.
We tested negative – obviously as I’m currently writing this from a lovely little historical guesthouse in George Town, Penang – but I suggest you make a plan for the possibility of a positive test. Vaccines are great, they keep you from getting too sick and, so far, they’ve kept us from getting infected, but they aren’t infallible, so make sure you book flexible plane tickets and get cancelable accommodation – it’s just how things are for Malaysia international travel post COVID right now.
Phew, you think, your eyes straining and tired from too much computer time, that’s done you’ve 1) downloaded MySejahtera, 2) uploaded your vaccination certificates, 3) filled out your pre-departure travel forms on the app, 3) bought COVID health insurance, and 4) booked your pre-departure PCR tests – you’re ready to go! Not quite though – don’t be like Kane and I, who were so caught up in the COVID-ness of international travel to Malaysia, that we completely forgot to check if we’d need a visa to go there and were frantically googling this at the gate with less than an hour to go until boarding. Yup, that’s some passport privilege right there, completely blanking on the visa stuff, I’m blaming it on our Western Australian isolation for 2 1/2 years…anyway we were fine, Australians and Americans get a 90 day visa on arrival, but still, it’s best to check and avoid the cortisol spike.
At the Airport
Okay, this bit should be easier if you’ve done you’re homework. All you need to do is roll the travel dice on your PCR test, pray for a negative, and check in as usual – albeit this time clutching a stack of paperwork as well as all your luggage. It’s best to print out and have multiple copies of your 1) vaccination certificates, 2) COVID health insurance, 3) travel plans – you still need proof of onward travel, and 4) negative PCR tests as the airline will check these prior to allowing you to check in. Do get to the airport earlier than usual as this pre-check in checking of documents can add a chunk of time. We were waiting in the Scoot line for 2 hours and had a similar wait at Qantas when we went to the US for Christmas.
Once the document gods have granted you entry to the sacred hall of metal tubes that hurtle through the sky you are all good, so relax, eat some overpriced airport food, and congratulate yourself for not snapping at anyone – after all, everyone’s just trying to do their jobs, it’s not their fault they have to sift through an encyclopedia of health documents.
Landing in Malaysia
Yay, you made it to Malaysia! You ran the gauntlet of COVID rules and made it out the other side! You’re walking off the plane feeling like a million bucks and smelling like a couple of cents (sleeping in a mask never did anyone favors in the breath department) and ready to head to your hotel for a much needed shower, but wait, wasn’t there something else you needed to do? You rack your sleep deprived brain for what it was and…yes that’s what it was, the RATs! Before you are free to wander the country you will need to test negative AGAIN! At this stage you’d sell your first born to get to a shower and a bed quicker, so when you stumble off the plane and see a lady with a rapid antigen test sign you sheepishly follow her without doing prior research about other options.
This is a mistake, do not do as we did. There are MUCH cheaper options for RATs outside of the airport, so just keep walking, trust that the first is not always the best and definitely not the cheapest. We paid 320 MYR for our RATs total and could have gotten them both for like 20 MYR if we had waited until we got into Kuala Lumpur. We were afraid that immigration would want to see the proof of negative RAT, but, just like in the states, they didn’t ask a single COVID question or look at any paperwork. Given how much work we put into that stuff, this left me feeling a little put out. I mean seriously, I spent the better part of a very pretty Saturday on the Sunshine Coast slaving away over my computer for these silly pieces of paper and apps, the least they could do is have a look…alas my ego means nothing to the Malaysian government.
What to Expect from Malaysia International Travel Post COVID
International travel to Malaysia has been stopped for over two years and in this time the country has suffered under three, very strict lockdowns that left many, many Malaysians out of work so expect for things to be a little bit different when you arrive. In places that were heavily dependent on international travel to Malaysia pre-COVID, like Langkawi, expect a large number of shops to be shuttered, restaurants to be closed, and resorts abandoned. It is still worth visiting for its beaches, cheap cocktails, and affordable massages, but don’t expect it to be what it once was – it is recovering from the economic shock dealt it by two locked up years.
Other places that have larger local populations, like Penang and Kuala Lumpur, have not been so visibly affected, but people’s lives have still been impacted – not a single local we’ve talked to has had anything good to say about the time in lockdown. They are glad to have been spared COVID, but the cost of that protection was high – as the story from our taxi driver in Kuala Lumpur so painfully illustrates. His friend had a successful business pre-COVID doing group tours, but, it was a company aimed at international tourists and he’d gone into debt to buy the cars. He was doing well, making good money, then the pandemic hit. The debts pilled up and the only way out, at least in his mind, was to take his own life. COVID hurt this country in more ways than we realized and our hearts broke hearing that story.
Beyond the stories you’ll hear, you should expect to wear masks even outdoors, at least for the time being, and have a harder time getting from place to place as ferries, tours, and buses that existed pre-COVID have often ceased, leaving limited options to get from point A to point B. I strongly recommend researching how to get from one place to another before booking your accommodation, as you might find that you’ll need to add a travel day here and there to make timetables work.
I do hope the mask mandates will be dropped soon, at least for outside, as this is a very hot and humid country which makes wearing them while walking at 2 pm in the blazing Asian sun a very minor form of torture that involves chin sweat, something I hadn’t previously known to exist. Malaysia is very highly vaccinated (over 80% of their entire population is fully vaccinated) so the risk of removal, especially outdoors where the risk of transmission has always been lower, is not high. I do not expect international travel to Malaysia to fully recover until the mask mandates are dropped and testing requirements are loosened. We are glad to be here, it is a fascinating experience traveling this soon after borders reopened and lockdowns lifted (the last one only lifted four months ago), but I would be lying if I said it was easy.
Malaysia international travel post COVID in 2022 is expensive, complicated, and requires a significant sum of patience at this point in time. It is worth it for us, nomads who have nothing but time, but if you only have a set amount of time off work and need things to work out I would suggest waiting to add Malaysia to your itinerary for a few months to let it re-adjust to being part of the world again.