If you’re planning to travel to Malaysia, you may be wondering where to get cash for your trip.
Malaysian currency - the Ringgit - isn’t as readily available on the international markets as other major currencies. This may make it hard to get a good exchange rate.
Thankfully, you don’t need to buy an especially large amount ahead of time. There are plenty of ATMs in Malaysia’s main tourist areas, all of which offer excellent rates. Topping up your cash reserves is as easy as making a withdrawal from the nearest ATM.
Here’s what you need to know about using ATMs in Malaysia.
ATMs are plentiful in Malaysia’s main cities. You’ll find them at the airport, near bank branches, on the main shopping streets, in shopping malls, at petrol stations and at bus stations. Maybank is Malaysia’s largest bank, and it has the largest ATM network in the country. Maybank ATMs are instantly recognisable by their distinctive black and yellow colour scheme.
For security reasons, not all ATMs in Malaysia operate 24 hours a day. Maybank’s online ATM locator lets you search specifically for 24-hour ATMs. You can also look for the nearest ATM using ATM Locator Malaysia, a free iPhone and Android app.
ATMs are less common once you leave the main cities and tourist areas. You’re also less likely to find places that accept credit cards. If you’re planning to travel to rural areas, keep this in mind and withdraw enough cash beforehand.
Your home bank can confirm whether your card will work in Malaysia. You should also advise them of the dates you’ll be away. This avoids the risk of your transactions being flagged as suspicious and your card blocked.
Most Malaysian ATMs accept MasterCard (Cirrus and Maestro) and Visa (Plus) cards. Check whether the ATM displays your card network’s logo before using it. Alternatively, use Visa’s online locator or MasterCard’s online locator to find the closest one.
Malaysian ATMs have some unique characteristics you need to be aware of:
- Chip-and-pin technology has only been introduced in Malaysia in 2016, and it’s still being rolled out. Make sure your card has a magnetic stripe on the back, as you may have trouble finding ATMs that accept chip-and-pin only cards.
- Malaysian banks use six-digit, rather than four-digit PINs. You can usually turn your four-digit PIN into a six-digit one by adding two zeros to the front of the number. However, do confirm this with your bank.
- Malaysian ATMs have both per transaction and daily withdrawal limits. These vary from bank to bank, but are usually in the region of RM1500 per transaction and RM3000 per day. The per transaction limit may be lower after midnight, for security reasons.
- The majority of ATMs only dispense RM10 and RM50 notes. Bear in mind that you can only withdraw combinations of these notes.
Your bank back home may charge you an ATM withdrawal fee and a foreign exchange fee per transaction. These charges and their exact amounts should be listed in your bank’s terms and conditions.
Malaysian banks don’t usually charge foreigners to use ATMs. If an ATM levies a surcharge, you’ll be warned of this before you complete the transaction.
Don’t forget to always perform transactions in Ringgit. This ensures your withdrawal is made at the mid-market rate. If you choose to perform the transaction in your home currency, the ATM will make up an unfavourable exchange rate using Dynamic Currency Conversion.
You can avoid ATM fees in a number of ways.
Malaysian banks don’t participate in the Global ATM Alliance.
That said, it’s common for banks all over the world to partner with foreign banks to give their customers a better service whilst abroad. Ask your bank whether it has an arrangement with a Malaysian bank, as this may mean you can use its ATMs without paying a withdrawal fee.
Citibank and HSBC both have an ATM network in Malaysia. Citibank customers can use its worldwide network of ATMs free of charge. HSBC similarly offers worldwide fee-free access to its ATMs, but only to Advance and Premier customers.
Some cards carry lower foreign transaction and withdrawal fees than others, making them a better choice if you’re planning to use them abroad. Some banks - Charles Schwab and Metro Bank, for example - don’t charge any foreign usage fees at all.
Debit card withdrawals are often cheaper than credit card withdrawals. Credit card companies treat ATM withdrawals as cash advances, and they’ll charge interest on the amount.
If you have a bank account in Malaysia, or know someone who does, use TransferWise to make the transfer ahead of time and save even more. Not only does TransferWise use the real mid-market exchange rates to convert your money (which almost always beats the banks), but since your currency is received and sent via local banking systems in both your home country and in Malaysia, all those nasty international fees magically disappear. Give it a try.