Life on the Malaysian Roads

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“Sorry I’m late, traffic was bad,” is an excuse that you’re likely to hear while working in the urban centres of Malaysia. Often, it’s just bad time management although the morning and evening traffic snarls are known to make a lot of drivers fume. While the Malaysian government is working hard at improving the public transport system, especially in Kuala Lumpur, the benefits will probably not be seen for a few years yet. As a result, many companies help expats out by supplying a company car, and the following tips should help you get into the driver’s seat.

In order to drive in Malaysia, you must have a valid driving license: Either a Malaysian driving license, a foreign driving license or an international driving permit.

However, it must be noted that foreign driving licenses may only be valid for a few months. As a result, if you are staying in Malaysia for a longer period, you may want to convert your foreign driving license to a Malaysian license.

If you are lucky enough to come from one of the countries with which Malaysia has a bilateral agreement, your license can be converted automatically. Otherwise, you will have to write an appeal to the Director of the Road Transport Department for an automatic conversion. (In the possibility you fail the appeal, you will have to sit for a practical test!)

The full list of steps required to convert your license can be found at http://www.

While car air conditioning helps, blocking out the harsh rays of the midday sun by installing window tints will also greatly help you cope with the tropical heat. However, care must be taken when doing so.

The existing rules for tinting, as set by the Road Transport Department, call for a maximum of 70% light penetration for the front windscreen and 50% light penetration for the rear and side view windows, except for senior government officials – such as the chief judge, high-ranking police and army personnel – who are exempted from this rule.

A good vehicle workshop will be able to advise you whether the tint you are asking for is within the legal limit, although most will happily accede to a request for a darker tint if requested. However, please note that if you are stopped by the traffic authorities for having too dark a tint, you will be the one at fault, and not the workshop that applied the tint.

One of the more frustrating aspects of driving in Malaysian cities is that it’s not always obvious to know where and how to park. Parking is only legal either on private land or on clearly marked spaces in public areas. Private parking areas are usually clearly marked as such, and it’s clear where and when you can pay. At the very least, you’re not usually allowed to leave without paying!

On the other hand, the method of paying for public parking is dependent on the local council. For example, in most of KLand PJ, you buy a ticket from a machine by the side of the road and display your ticket on the dashboard. In Penang, however, you may be approached by a parking attendant on a bicycle.


You may be tempted to follow some of the locals and just park illegally, but be warned that it’s a bit of a lottery, and you may get a summons for your attempt to “fit in”!

In short, if it’s not obvious where and how you should pay for parking, it’s safest to ask a local passerby to help you out.

Malaysia follows similar road laws to that of the United Kingdom as cars drive forward on the left lane, with the driver’s seat constructed on the right hand side of the vehicle. Officially, there isn’t much difference in the laws of the road either.

However, the ugly side of driving in Malaysia sometimes does rear its head and it’s every man for himself out there on the roads! Quite frequently you will find that people overtake on the left-hand side, cars will sometimes try to nip into the main road to take advantage of your hesitation approaching a junction and ‘yellow’ can signal ‘press on the accelerator’.

Yet, the paradox is that most Malaysian drivers do acknowledge other drivers and their indicator lights, and will allow you to go first – even if they don’t necessarily slow down to open up more space for it.

The key to surviving life on the Malaysian roads is to practice defensive driving with lots of confidence. Be aware of the cars around you and the fact some may switch lanes without signaling first. But if you stay in your lane and signal when you want to change, you can be certain the other drivers will respect your way.

Drivers are quite easy to find through friends, recommendations or advertisements. They represent a good solution for those who want to avoid the stress of driving, or unfamiliar with the roads in Malaysia. Moreover, it can also represent an economic solution for couples sharing a car. The salary for experienced drivers usually starts at RM1,000 and can rise up to RM2,000.

Although most of the time your car will be used to travel to work and errands in the city, it is worth your time to occasionally drive out and discover the rest of the country. So much of Malaysia’s beauty is only a short car drive away, and can be more rewarding than an uninspiring plane flight.

Highways connect all corners of Peninsular Malaysia, and the longest drive is only a few hours to reach most destinations. However, you can easily double that if you stop to savour the sights, sounds and tastes of the country – something that will be well worth your time.

Source: The Expat Septemeber 2011 
This article has been edited for
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