The currency is the Malaysian ringgit with the code MYR and the symbol RM.
Exchange rates fluctuate daily but as a rough guide, one ringgit is worth a bit less than 20p. If you change £100, you will get about RM550.
One ringgit is made up of 100 sen and there are coins for 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen, but they’re of low value so you will mostly deal with notes. You’ll notice that the banknotes are particularly colourful, which helps you tell their values apart, along with their different sizes. They’re RM1 (blue), RM5 (green), RM10 (red), RM20 (orange), RM50 (green-blue) and RM100 (purple) banknotes. They show images of flowers, birds and turtles and the face of Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Malaysia’s first supreme head of state who died in 1960. They’re printed on polymer and high-quality paper with modern anti-counterfeiting features.
The word ringgit means ‘jagged’ in Malay and comes from the Spanish silver dollar coins with rough edges which were once used in Malaysia during colonial times.
The best way of getting a good exchange rate is to buy your spending money before you leave the UK. Don’t worry if you don’t have time to get it in advance, as it’s easy to exchange currency in Malaysia and you’ll still get a good rate. There are money counters at the international airports, open even if you land in the middle of the night. Most hotels have money changing services or you can exchange pounds for ringgit at banks and bureaux de change throughout Malaysia.
A safe alternative is to take a prepaid travel card which means you’re protected if things get lost or stolen. You can use it at cash machines, and with chip and pin and credit card readers worldwide, so it’s very convenient. Of course, there are always travellers’ cheques. Few businesses accept them as direct payment today, but they’re still a great way to pick up a bargain exchange rate, and then change back to cash when you need it.
Withdrawing ringgit from a local cash machine is also an option, as there are plenty of ATMs in Kuala Lumpur and tourist resorts. But make sure you’re aware of any charges and limits your bank may have. Some may charge you to withdraw in a foreign country, or in a different currency, so make sure you check before you head out on holiday.
You’ll find that most places in Malaysia take credit cards like Visa and MasterCard, but it’s always useful to take cash for tipping, taxis and for smaller shops and markets.