Malaysian money matters for the Canadian traveler and expat

Because money is always a big deal and I’ve had to deal with a lot of money issues here. I thought I would share a practical post about it.

Here is some information that you will not likely find in a guidebook. Most of this geared towards Canadians coming here to travel/live temporarily as an expat.

ATM’s

  • Nearly all big banks will charge you a transaction fee (probably $5) when you withdraw from a Malaysian ATM
  • Malaysian banks will not charge you a fee for using their ATM but each bank will give you different exchange rates. I have found the best bank to withdraw money from is RHB/Easybank for the CAD. Other banks like Maybank, CIMB and Heong Long all seem to offer substantially worse exchange rates. Obviously if this is a one time thing this may not be a big deal to you but if you are like me continually taking out hundreds of dollars every month, it can add up
  • I have been told there is a premium TD bank account that gives you free international ATM withdrawals. I believe you need to keep at least $5000 in your account to qualify for the free (it could be more). I think the monthly fee is upwards of $20/month. Look into it if it’s something you are interested in
  • The cheapest bank card to use from Canada is ING Direct (now known as Tangerine). Withdrawal fee is only $2 as opposed to $5. You can get a free checking account to obtain your ATM card with them
  • US accounts may not be accessible via your ATM card – so it’s best to carry CAD in your current checking account

Exchanging Money

  • CAD is easily exchanged at any of the money changers in town. When you arrive at the airport, change a little bit (maybe $30-$50) at the airport to get yourself into town. Change the rest of your money at money changers. Banks can change cash easily enough too, just shop around for the rates
  • Another important note, this country generally likes big bills (some other SEA countries like small bills – so this can be a bit annoying) This means that they may have different rates for different bills, $50/$100 may command a higher exchange rate compared to anything lower. This was apparent in KK. Make sure your bills are clean or they may not accept them.
  • If you can get ahold of USD at par, then hold onto USD for your travels here. USD is still a preferred currency and will almost always command a higher rate than the CAD.
  • The best place to get MYR is at the money changers at MidValley mall. I wouldn’t go there specifically unless you were changing thousands of dollars. Otherwise just do it where it’s convenient. The money changers are on the lower ground floor. Just look for the queue.

Credit Cards and Traveler’s Cheques

  • Big stores will almost always accept major credit cards. Exchange rates will be worse than ATM rates so I do not prefer to use CCs unless I have no choice
  • Be aware of credit card fraud specially when using your card at smaller retailers
    Travel Cheques can be exchanged at some bank money changers. Small operation money changers will not take them. It is not as easy to change traveler’s cheques in Malaysia compared to countries like Thailand and Vietnam. You will get a higher rate than the posted cash rate for TC’s though.
  • For those that aren’t familiar with traveler’s cheques, they were essentially cheques that can be cancelled should you ever lose them. So unlike cash, there is some security behind it. I previously banked at BMO and they offered free traveler’s cheques in the major currencies (CAD,USD and EURO). I always pick some up when I go backpacking

Other tips

  • It’s best not to keep a huge balance in your chequing account where you withdraw money. Mainly because…if you are ever in a situation where your card is stolen or god forbid, you are being forced to empty your account (e.g. robbery), you don’t want to be losing everything you have
  • Remember to call your bank/cc company regarding your travels so they don’t freeze your card for out of country usage
  • If you are travelling for about a week, bring most of your money in cash (CAD/USD). If you are going for a longer period of time e.g a few weeks to months, I usually go for a split such as this (50% cash, 30% TC’s, 20% in my bank account , bring at least 1 CC). There will always be a time when one method is more convenient/better than another.
Bring all types of money: cash, traveler's cheques, credit cards

Bring all types of money: cash, traveler’s cheques, credit cards

-TUS