Malaysia consists of two distinct regions: the Peninsular sector and East Malaysia. It is a country slowly becoming industrialized. It relies on exports such as electronics. Its currency consists of sen and ringgits. This is as system in which 100 sens equals 1 ringgit or Malayan dollar. It is symbolized the letters MYR.
Malayan currency only dates back to the 15th century. Prior to this, Chinese coins had been in limited circulation. The Muzaffar Shah, Sultan of Malacca (1446 to 1459) struck several small tin pieces. The inscription was in Arabic and included the Sultan’s name and titles. Malaysia also had some familiarity with the Indian of Bengal coins.
The 15th century also saw the arrival of the Portuguese. They captured Malacca and ended the local minting. They did, however, issue the first European coin in South East Asia under the First Portuguese Governor, D’Albuquerque. These tin coins issued in the name of the King of Portugal, had a cross and globe design. A further tissue followed in 1517 with the arms of Portugal on the obverse.
Between 1615 and 1641, Portugal produced tin and silver coins. These lasted until Malacca fell to the Dutch East India Company. The Dutch used coins in Malaysia similar to those issued for Java. Not until Britain obtained the port cities in the early 19th century did the coinage alter.
In another part of Malaysia, the Sultanates issued Islamic coins during the 16th century. The Sultanate of Johore, the sultans of Kedah, Kelantan, Patani and Treagganu all issued their own coins. Many were in gold and tin. There were different coins for some of the provinces in the traditional Chinese style or Arabic with central square or round holes. In the 19th century, Chinese merchants in the provinces preferred to use their own coins of tin and lead with a central hole. The most unusual coins during this period, were the “hat” coins. These ingots were stylized squares in the shape of a hat. The inscriptions were in Arabic and Chinese, the issues came from Pahang.
British Malay introduced Spanish Pieces-of-Eight, the silver Spanish 8-reales. The British East India Company also imported Indian rupees in silver and copper coins from Calcutta. These came from the British Royal Mint in 1810, 1825 and 1828. All coins bore the company’s arms. In Penang, however, large tin tokens came out for local use. In the Strait Settlements of the early 19th century, British East India company coinage thrived. In 1845, bronze coins with the portrait of Queen Victoria made the rounds. In 1862, the words “India-Straits” appeared on the money. This was followed by the inscription of “Straits Settlements” in 1871. Spanish silver still circulated to be joined by Japanese coinage and American silver dollars. The first British made dollar did not appear until 1895, lasting only to 1903. At this point, specific coinage for the Straits Settlements made its first appearance.
The currency continued to change in terms of region and ruler during the rest of the 19th century. In 1938, the Malaysian Currency Commission appeared to try to create uniformity. Coins for the British Straits Settlements and the Malaysian Sultanates continued to circulate until WWII. After the invasion of Japan, the official coin became that of the conquerors. Only after WWII and the defeat of Japan, did the currency begin to normalize under a unified Malay State.
Until 1956, however, Malaysia had a joint currency with British Borneo. Even after independence, the coin continued to feature Queen Elizabeth. This lasted until 1961. The new currency did not appear until around 1967. It was in sen and ringgits, the Malaysian dollar. The ringitt replaced the Borneo dollar on par.
Today the currency of Malaysia comes in both notes and coins. Coins number 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen. Banknotes come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 ringgits.
Obtaining Malaysian Ringgits
You can exchange your own currency for Malaysian dollars or ringgits in various locations. Banks are one source. Moneychangers are another. They have two advantages over banks. The exchange rate at moneychangers may be better than the bank. The availability of moneychangers is higher. The rates are variable for both, so check in advance. You can also turn to ATMs or AMBs. There is a problem. You can only find them in the major cities in shopping malls, outside banks and attached to banks.
Protecting Your Currency
Instances of violent crime are not common against tourists. Petty crime is prevalent. This is particularly true in such tourist regions as the airport where snatch-and-grab is common. Beware of motorcyclists coming up and grabbing purses. Be sure to implement the usual precautions regarding currency and other valuables.
Using Your Malaysian Ringgits.
The Malaysian ringgit is legal tender throughout the country. In certain instances, cash may be the only way you can purchase items. In markets and outdoor malls, you may need the local money. Use it to buy the famed objects of pewter, silver and brass. Purchase Songket – the cloth of gold in elaborate patterns. You can also use it to buy hand woven textiles, hats and baskets as well as wooden totems.
Travel Tips and Warnings
- Weather may be a factor in the timing of any visit.
- If you decide to take a ship, be aware there are instances of pirate attacks and armed robbery occurring in the Strait of Malacca and in the waters between Sabah and southern Philippines.
- One important thing to note: This country has one of the highest rates of credit card fraud globally.
- Beware of the health risks of dengue, malaria, altitude sickness, typhoid and hepatitis.
- Be sure to visit the communal dwelling of the Longhouses in Sarawak.
- Go to Brunei’s only national park, the Ulu Temburong Park. It is ideal for canopy walking and trekking.
- Head for Chinese dominated Georgetown.
- Cruise through the pristine jungles of Sungai Kinabatangan with its orangutans and monkeys.
- Dive at Palau Sipaden or spend a day at the beaches of the various islands.
- Visit the tea plantations of the Cameron Highlands or wander its jungle trails.
- See macaques at the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.
South East Asian country of Malaysia is a vast entity of jungle
becoming an industrialized nation. It faces the challenge of
deforestation and pollution as well as criticisms for major human
rights abuses while striving to increase its tourist base.
For factual information and data, go to www.gov.my. For travel information, see www.tourism.gov.my.
Current currency: ringgit
100 sens equal 1 ringgit
Coins: 5, 10, 20 and 50 sen
Banknotes: 1, 5, 10, 50 and 100 ringgits