Travellers in Kuala Lumpur have no real reason to worry as the city is generally very safe. As with any bustling metropolis of a comparable size, it does have its criminal element but keeping safe in Kuala Lumpur is no major headache. Violent crime is minimal and generally crime and safety risks in Kuala Lumpur consist of a few minor scams. Guns and firearm ownership is very tightly restricted and public drunkenness is prohibited, reducing petty vandalism and violence.
It is far more likely that thoughtless visitors could offend the sensitivities of local people through provocative dressing, overt public displays of affection or profanities than come to any harm themselves. Malaysian law requires that foreigners carry their passport with them at all times as spot checks are carried out for illegal immigrants. If you are worried about losing this prize document then at least carry a photocopy on you instead. The emergency services telephone number is 999.
Kuala Lumpur safety advice
Here is an overview of some issues concerning safety in Kuala Lumpur you may encounter as a tourist. This list is not supposed to scare potential visitors as the city is generally very safe.
Buses: safety on Kuala Lumpur buses can be a problem as they tend to hurtle around corners at a fair rate and suddenly come to a stop. This can be an issue for pedestrians getting in their path or passengers who are not securely clinging on. Be careful on buses in KL especially when disembarking.
Construction: there is a great deal of construction work being carried in the city which can pose a problem for keeping safe in Kuala Lumpur. Safety laws in Malaysia are not as strictly applied as in the West so watch out for overhead loads that could topple or loose scaffolding.
Credit card fraud: this continues to be problematic in Malaysia despite chip cards and enhanced technology tackling this particular type of fraud to some degree. Keep an close eye on your bank and credit cards and retain all receipts in case something strange crops up and you need to clarify things with your bank. If dining at your hotel, try to charge your meal to the room and then pay for everything at the end, thus avoiding multiple transactions.
Drugs: do not do drugs in Kuala Lumpur. If caught you may receive the death penalty or, if extremely lucky, just several decades in a prison hellhole. It’s not uncommon to be offered drugs in clubs and bars and to smell the odd joint in budget guesthouses. But if you are caught with drugs in your system (mandatory urine tests are conducted in police raids on nightspots) you will most likely be deported from the country and prohibited from returning.
Motorcycles: staying safe in Kuala Lumpur traffic, as in other cities in Southeast Aisa, can be a struggle. Extra care should be taken when crossing the street and expect the unexpected. Rules of the road are not as strictly applied here as back home meaning that there is often a danger of sudden U-turns or strange manoeuvres causing an accident. A recent study commissioned by City Hall to look into traffic safety in Kuala Lumpur found that over 50 per cent of all serious and fatal traffic accidents in the region involved motorcycles.
Street crime: visitors should always try to remain alert when walking at night, especially if it is late and they have had a few drinks. Muggers and pickpockets in Kuala Lumpur will pray on easy targets such as wasted tourists. Snatch thieves use motorcycles or lean out of the windows of fast-moving cars to whip bags of female travellers’ shoulders.
Pay particular care when waiting at traffic junctions or walking near the end of streets. It is generally worth staying out of deserted alleys and dimly-lit streets as muggings with knives and occasionally firearms have been reported. CCTV covers most of the downtown area these days but the chances of having your possessions returned are slim.
Scams: scams in Kuala Lumpur are rare but there is an old one doing the rounds recently that has been going on for years. Travellers are approached by someone in the street who tells them that their relative or friend is going to your homeland as a student and wants some information about what it is like to live there.
They ask you to accompany them back to their house to speak to the friend/relative, but he is nowhere to be seen when you arrive. Then the scam artist asks you to wait while they search out their friend. In the meantime you are invited to a game of cards with a friendly ‘uncle’ and end up losing heavily and not being allowed to leave if you don’t cough up.
Taxis: taxis in Kuala Lumpur are generally safe but often refuse to use the meter with inflated prices being charged. If your taxi driver doesn’t want to use a meter he is breaking the law so take another or fix a price beforehand. It may be worth asking a local for an estimate of how much a particular journey should cost beforehand.
If you are staying at a luxury hotel then it may be better to give the name of a shopping centre nearby, or your bargaining job may become significantly harder. And be careful of counterfeit banknotes given (especially high denominations such as RM50) given out in change.
If you suspect a bad note then hold it to the light and check there is a continuous silver strip. But the surefire way to avoid these situation is to always have some small notes on your person when getting into the taxis in the firstplace and keep an eye on what the driver is up to.
Haze: every year from June to October workers on the farmland surrounding Kuala Lumpur conducts its annual slash and burn. The Malaysian west coast is usually badly affected and the entire city is blanketed with thick smoke with visibility reduced to just one or two kilometres. If you have respiratory problems or difficulty breathing it might be best to avoid visiting during these months.
Women alone: the safety of women travellers in Kuala Lumpur is not generally a major problem but there are a few common sense tips worth being aware of. Although KL is predominantly more cosmopolitan than other parts of Malaysia, this is still an Islamic society so wearing skimpy clothes will draw attention, especially during the day when it is still rather taboo.
Likewise, ostentatious displays of wealth like heavy jewellery is to be avoided, especially if travelling alone. Be careful of wearing platform shoes or high heels on the uneven city pavements as tripping and sprained ankles are common. There have been some reported cases of perverts and ‘Peeping Toms’ in Malaysian toilets so keep a look out for cameras or strange characters.