Is Kuala Lumpur safe for tourists?

KL is fairly safe for tourists

Kuala Lumpur is the bustling capital city of Malaysia. Famous for its famous landmarks such as the Petronas twin towers and exotic cuisine, Kuala Lumpur is sure to captivate you and leave you breathless in every way possible.

But, is personal safety and security an issue that you should be worried about during your stay?

In general, Kuala Lumpur is a very welcoming and safe place for tourists. While there are small scams and some petty theft in the city, they are few and far between.

If you’re planning to visit Kuala Lumpur during vacation it’s best to familiarize yourself with a few basic tips before you arrive to ensure your stay is safe and enjoyable.

Also, it’s a good idea that you pack appropriately and only bring what you need for your trip to Kuala Lumpur.

Things you should look out for in KL

Taxi Drivers

Traveling in a local taxi can indeed be convenient for tourists visiting KL. You get to travel wherever you want in a cozy airconditioned vehicle instead of fighting for a seat on an overcrowded bus or train that never arrives on time.

However, taxis in Kuala Lumpur are among the worst in Asia.

Instead of charging you based on the meter, most taxi drivers will charge you an inflated price, usually trying to get you to agree to the price before getting into the car.

Even when they do use the meters, they’ll often purposely take a longer route just to wind up a few extra ringgit.

But KL is definitely not the only place in the world where this stuff takes place. It’s common in many parts of the world and is also true here.

Tips and tricks for using taxis

If you’re looking to travel by taxi, I would recommend you to try Grab (it’s the Asian version of Uber). The fare is fixed and depends on what time of day it is and how far you’re traveling.

All you need to do is download the Grab app, register and you’re ready to travel without fear of getting ripped off.

Avoid peak periods for cheaper fares – during peak hours the fares become higher.

Pickpockets and snatch theft

Like in many Asian countries, there are thieves in KL looking for opportunities to make a quick score from an unsuspecting person – sometimes a tourist.

Pickpocketing usually occurs in packed areas of Kuala Lumpur and on public transportation rush hour.

You should also be aware of snatch thieves on motorcycles looking to grab handbags or phones and make a quick getaway.

If you’re a victim of one of these crimes it’s probably wise to just let go of your bag or phone and seek assistance from the police. You need to keep in mind that the people committing the crime may be very poor, desperate and potentially dangerous. These are not the types of people that you want to have a violent confrontation with.

One good way to mitigate the risks of getting pickpocketed is to only take what you need each time you leave your hotel for the day. To read a definitive guide on exactly how much money you’ll need, check out my other article on how much money to bring to Kuala Lumpur.

Tips and tricks to avoid bag snatchers

Keep your wallet in a safe and out of reach at all times and avoid bringing too much cash anywhere you go.

If you do need to bring that much cash it’s wise to keep some in your wallet and some cash tucked away in another pocket or two and less-obvious to potential attackers.

If you’re walking near the road with a phone in your hand or a handbag on your shoulder, take an extra step away from the road and position your phone / bag away from the road so that your body is between your item and any passing traffic.

I have heard of several incidents where phones were snatched out of people’s hands mid-phone call or handbags were stolen while the owner was violently pulled to the ground. If you’re talking on the phone, hold your phone in the hand that is farthest away from the road.

These situations are no joke, so do your best to never position a valuable item within arms reach of passing traffic and be especially aware of any approaching motorbikes.

Fake Monks

It’s not very common that you find real monks asking for charity donations in Malaysia.

If you do come across one it’s best to avoid them as they’re usually fake and part of a scam syndicate in trying to con people out of their hard earned money.

Tips to avoid fake monks

If one approaches you just politely decline their request.

However, some of them can be pretty persistent so be patient and don’t raise your voice or become rude. Remember that you are actually dealing with a potentially dangerous con artist. After a while they will leave you alone and move on to the next group of people.

Safety tips for KL tourists

Before you leave for Malaysia there are a couple of things that you should prepare in advance to ensure a pleasant trip.

  • Make sure all of your hotel bookings, flight tickets and travel visas are all valid
  • Note down important emergency numbers like your country’s embassy number in KL, bank phone numbers, credit card company contact info and Malaysia’s emergency number (999 or 112)
  • Make photocopies of all your identification documents that you are bringing along and keep one copy in your luggage just in case you lose your original documents.
  • If you are bringing a huge lump sum of cash it’s best to not put everything in one basket, split it up into different places if you can.

When you arrive in Kuala Lumpur

  • Do not leave all your valuables, Identification documents and jewelry unattended in your hotel room. If you must, just keep them in the safe box provided and make sure you remember the passcode.
  • Avoid walking down poorly-lit roads or streets at night
  • Do not wear anything over the top expensive that will attract snatch thieves attention (don’t bring too much bling to KL or you may be asking for trouble)
  • Be alert to your surroundings at all times
  • When you’re withdrawing money, cover the pin pad with your hands when you’re entering your pin code and have a quick scout of the surrounding area to see if anyone might be watching you
  • Try not to withdraw one big lump sum at one go, and if you do, don’t flash your cash around even if it’s in a bank

Safety tips for female tourists

Malaysia is generally a safe place for women traveling alone.

However, taking some precaution won’t do you any harm. You have to keep in mind that Malaysia is a Muslim country, so do expect differences in culture.

Violent crimes against female tourists are rare, but ladies may find some disapproval if they wear clothing that is too revealing.

Men are generally OK to dress like they are at the beach, but ladies are usually expected to cover up a bit more.

General advice to stay safe in KL

  • Try not to wear overly revealing clothes anywhere you go, be respectful of the local culture
  • Do not to wear expensive jewelry especially if you’re out alone at night
  • Always wear proper footwear like shoes or sneakers (high heels are not suitable for walking in certain parts of the city)
  • Never keep a huge amount of money with you, its always good to leave some behind and just bring whatever you need to get you through the day.
  • Use your credit/debit card if you have to make purchases that cost a lot of money (never use cash for significant purchases if you can avoid it)
  • Try not to go into any toilets that aren’t busy and always look around for any cameras or peeping toms.
  • Public toilets in Malaysia are not exceptionally clean so remember to bring a packet of tissue paper and disinfectant wipe just in case.
  • Take precaution when taking an elevator alone (there have been cases where women were robbed or molested while in the lift alone).
  • When you’re at the nightclub, never leave your drinks unattended.
  • Never drink drinks that have been left unattended
  • If you’re taking a cab alone especially during the night, sit at the back of the passenger seat
  • Try not to catch the cab alone during the night 
  • If you are confronted by someone with a weapon, don’t try to fight, just give them what they want

Final thoughts on KL safety

Overall, KL is a safe place, but you need to use some common sense.

Remember that in a city of almost 8 million people there are MANY people who are very poor and living in a state of desperation.

There are occasional horror stories of people being held at knifepoint in the middle of the afternoon while walking down the street and being forced to hand over valuables, or isolated incidents of people being violently attacked while using ATM’s, but these are rare and I don’t want to scare you unnecessarily.

Don’t flash your cash or valuables, walk an extra step away from the road than you usually would, always be aware of your surroundings and you’ll be able to focus on taking selfies and eating delicious food.

And let’s be honest – that’s the real reason you came right?

In all seriousness, if you’re coming up short on good ideas for things to do in KL, you have to read my other article. It’s got dozens of interesting and unique ideas for things to do and you’ll get to experience a lot of things that only locals know about.

Marty Spargo

I first visited Malaysia as a tourist in 2004 and frequently returned for short visits over the next decade or more before moving to Kuala Lumpur to live in 2018. I live and work in KL, but remember what it's like to see the city for the first time as a tourist, so I try to create helpful articles with that in mind. You can read my full bio here.

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