Money exchange and cards in Malaysia – use these hacks as tourist!
Money exchange and cards in Malaysia
If you’re planning a trip to Malaysia, you’ll need to know how to manage your money and access cash while you’re there. In short: Cashless is the way in cities while on Islands and in the countryside as well as street food is all cash. Or Fintech… but more on that later.
Here are some tips to help you get the most out of your trip:
Quite straight forward but expensive! Especially at hotels, the cash exchange rate is really bad. Even at the airport, the spread to change Euros or Dollars to Ringgit is relatively wide, but of course it is better compared to changing money into Ringgit in Europe or the US. Roughly the spread is about 10-20% at money exchange counters of major banks. Ok, but not good.
Use credit cards:
Credit cards are widely accepted in Malaysia’s major cities. That is Visa and Mastercard and sometimes UnionPay is widely accepted. It is very rare to find places that accept American Express. So you are out of luck if you try to use your Amex in Malaysia! Except if you check online beforehand and only frequent the few places that accept American Express. Mostly Hotels, Airlines and Grab accept American Express, while 7-eleven, almost all retail stores and restaurants do not accept Amex. More Amex acceptance in Malaysia here.
Make sure you know the fees that you will pay for usage in foreign currency and country. Many card providers charge 2-3% for that, but there are also some dedicated travel cards that have a 0% fee. Make sure to compare credit cards. If you are from Europe, a Barclays card could be a good option.
Get Money from an ATM:
ATMs are widely available in Malaysia. So instead of bringing cash, you can just withdraw some money from an ATM. Again, depending on your card providers that might mean 0-3% fees. So make sure to check first. But in most cases that is still much cheaper and safer than exchanging cash.
Just make sure to avoid ATM scams. Use ATMs in reputable banks and malls, not outside. Anyways, compared to the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia, these scams are relatively rare in Malaysia.
Use local Fintech solutions:
As mentioned, most street vendors will just accept cash, but there are many that also accept local fintech solutions.
The most frequently used is the Payment app connecting local bank accounts. As a traveler it might be difficult to access this as you need to have a local bank account.
Check out if SeaMoney and Grab pay works for you! These options are sometimes a good alternative to credit cards. Especially if you want to leave your cash and cards in a secure place, you can often still pay for food and your grab ride with Grabpay. A good solution!
Check the daily exchange rates. Roughly, it is 4.5 Ringgit per USD or Euro. Or roughly 20 USD/EUR cent per Ringgit in March 2023. Just make sure you check again later. By the way, if you exchange money at at hotel, they often offer you rates below 4 Ringgit per hard earned Dollar. In the airport and at major banks it is 4-4.2 Ringgit per USD. So check which is the best way to exchange money.
Conclusion about money in Malaysia
Overall, managing your money in Malaysia is relatively straightforward. With a little planning and caution, you can easily access cash and make purchases during your trip. Just a little tip: Check out the fintech solutions and put some cash there (maybe 20 Dollars), so you always have a little extra for a much needed ride home or to rehydrate in the heat.