A guide to tax free shopping in Malaysia

The tourist centres of Malaysia aim to cater for tastes of all kinds, with sports culture and relaxation being the top draws, but one area that is continually being expanded and improved upon is shopping – and especially duty free shopping.

Oddly, however, I need to start by explaining the difference between “duty free” and “free of duty”, as this can confuse you otherwise. It did me, at first, to be honest.

“Duty free” goods are those exempted from import duty only in designated shopping zones in Malaysia, whilst items which are designated as “free duty” products are goods that are free from import duty – and these are available nationwide, all year round.

Currently there are over 300 items in the country that are totally exempt from tax, so there are already plenty of opportunities to grab bargains, but, amazingly for a devoted shopper like myself, I can reveal that there are plans to expand this even further – so that all goods fall into this category and Malaysia can become “the duty free shopping destination”.

Let’s start with a list of the places where you can shop and not pay any duties and then we’ll take a look at some of my favourites.

Duty Free:

• Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA)

• Bayan Lepas International Airport (Penang)

• Langkawi International

• Airport (Kedah)

• Kota Kinabalu International Airport (Sabah)

• Kuching International Airport (Sarawak)

Duty Free Ports:

• Port Klang (Selangor)

• Tanjung Belungkur (Johor)

• Pengkalan Kubur (Kelantan)

Free Duty Goods shops are clearly signed throughout:

• Kuala Lumpur

• Georgetown (Penang)
• Melaka

• Kuching (Sarawak)

• Johor Bahru (Johor)

Border Towns with Free Duty shops:

• Padang Besar (Perlis)

• Bukit Kayu Hitam (Kedah)
• Pengkalan Hulu (Perak)

• Rantau Panjang (Kelantan)
• Kuala Baram (Sarawak)

Domestic Designated Duty Free Islands:

• Langkawi

• Labuan

• Tioman

I tend to favour Langkawi for my duty free shopping and recommend that you head to Kuah town in the central district of the island. I’ll never forget my first sight of row upon row of stores selling electronic gadgets, household goods, branded products, cosmetics and fragrances, chocolates, cigarettes and liquor, all at prices which made me think that I’d miscalculated the exchange rate!

All jewellery at tax free prices. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

I would also recommend that you take a stroll along to the Langkawi Mall, the Fair Shopping Complex and the Jetty Point Duty Free Complex, as these tend to compete very hard with each other on price.

If you’re looking for more “touristy” items, like crafts, delicacies and clothes, in addition to the usual duty free merchandise, head down to the tourist beaches of Cenang and Tengah.

For items like pewter, crystals and glassware, I recommend the duty free mall next to the Langkawi Underwater World or the smaller outlets at the Oriental Village. I love my Burberry raincoats and Mont Blanc pens for example, and always buy these in the outlet inside the KLIA airport.

Cities such as Kuala Lumpur pride themselves upon their retail experiences and designer outlets such as those in the extraordinary region of Bukit Bintang have taken 10 of the 28 malls available, while the Suria KLCC at the Petronas Towers boasts an extraordinary and unbelievable range of top names from Jimmy Choo and Prada to Gucci and Versace. Yes, these are expensive, but they are still at a lower cost here than anywhere else I have seen.

Fashion Walk Shopping Centre. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

Malaysia has always been welcoming of foreign custom and this is clear in the convenience and opportunities that are offered when shopping in any of the countries great retail-friendly shops and malls.

The worlds’ largest choice of silks? Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

The local currency is the Ringgit (RM) and is still fondly referred to as the Malaysian Dollar by some – and currently the exchange rate against the US Dollar and British Pound means that you get a lot of RM for your money.

In addition to this, the country also accepts a number of Western credit cards and is full of ATMs to give you easy access to your money.

If all of Malaysia becomes tax free it will allow increase retail-based tourism significantly in the region. This is certainly the aim of the Malaysian government and the main reason why this concept of a blanket tax exemption is given such high regard.

The thought behind expanding this duty-free tag to cover all goods is that not only will it increase tourist spending by offering more chances for appealing deals, it will also boost the economy and GNI by an impressive RM9 billion.

Beautiful designer clothing at duty free prices. Pic: Tourism Malaysia.

The premier shopping destination of the future?

In short, tax-free shopping across the country will not only make the goods more accessible at more appealing prices, it will also enhance the image of the country for prospective visitors because this combination of bargains, top names and the unique experiences of the Malaysian complexes is something that cannot be experienced anywhere else.

If all these proposals go ahead and the rest of Malaysia follows the examples of the designer stores in Kuala Lumpur and the duty free centres of Langkawi then this Asian nation really could become a world-class shopping destination and I for one will be even more delighted!