Getting Cash in Malaysia

We have probably spent a good third of our time in Malaysia just trying to get cash out of ATMs and Banks. In doing our initial research, I had read it’s very easy to use US ATM cards at ATMs throughout the world to get cash in local currency; always best to do so at a big bank in a large city like Kuala Lumpur. However, this does not seem to be the case in Malaysia.

When we got to Johor, the first task for us was to get Malaysian Ringet. I had tried 4 or 5 different ATMs without any luck. I even tried using our 2 credit cards at some ATMs to get cash advances… no luck. We ended up walking into a UOB (United Overseas Bank)  and asked to get a cash advance on one of our newer credit cards. Everyone I spoke to insisted I try the ATM again; “are you sure you have funds?”, “are you choosing the correct account?”, “are you keying in your 6-digit PIN?”. Ahhhh… 6-digit PIN? We have 4-digit PIN’s in US. “Oh, that shouldn’t be a problem”. (WRONG as it turns out).

We were able to get cash at that UOB in Johor at the teller with my passport and credit card as a cash advance. We wrote it off as a one-time issue. Perhaps my banks hadn’t gotten my travel notices that we were moving into Malaysia from Singapore. Also with trying so many times, perhaps my cards got blocked after trying the first 2 ATMs. Perhaps those first 2 ATMs just didn’t work anyway.

Our last day in KL we needed to get more cash. Again I tried various ATMs with various cards. Again no luck. Hence we used our US cash and exchanged it (see previous post about Kuala Lumpur Day 3). I had even called all my banks. Sure enough there were blocks on my cards. AND, one of my banks even had a note on file stating that US bank cards will NOT work in Malaysia due to (1) different banking systems and (2) fraud issues.

After a day in Penang, we again needed more cash. This time I went straight into a bank with my credit card and a passport. However, this time the first bank I walked into said “sorry, you must go to an international bank. Try HSBC”. The next 2 banks I walked into, both international banks, said “sorry, we stopped doing cash advances last month unless you have our credit card.” OK, last chance… there’s a Citibank branch on the north coast of Penang. We walked. I asked about cash advance… “No no no, try the ATM. I help you.”

Me: “But it won’t work. I’ve tried for days. Malaysia is on a different system and requires 6-digit PINs”.

Citibank: “No no no… try again. I help you”.

Card #1: FAIL

Card #2: SUCCESS!!!!!! FINALLY!!!!!

And now we’re leaving Malaysia. I did a bit more research and confirmed my findings about getting cash in Malaysia and also confirmed we shouldn’t (shouldn’t) have any issues in Thailand.

If you plan on traveling to Malaysia, make sure you have cash before arriving and use money exchangers instead. Wish we knew that ahead of time.

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