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Navigating Kuala Lumpur International Airport: What to expect on arrival
8 min read
Updated on May 21, 2024

This is part of the Been There, Done That series, where our expert globetrotters travel the world to get the insights and information you need for a seamless travel experience.

As your plane descends towards Kuala Lumpur International Airport (KLIA), lush greenery carpets the landscape below. A vibrant mosaic of planted banana trees offers a glimpse into Malaysia's vibrant agriculture, the source of the fresh ingredients that lend such flavor to the country's renowned cuisine.

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Passengers view a jungle scene while disembarking the plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. |iVisa

Before touchdown, flight attendants will perform a routine cabin spray with insecticide. While this may seem unusual, it's a necessary step to safeguard Malaysia's delicate ecosystem from the potential threat of harmful insects. So, breathe easy – it's all part of ensuring you have the opportunity to experience all Malaysia has to offer.

First impressions: A tropical welcome

As you disembark your plane at Kuala Lumpur International Airport, you will find yourself immersed in the sights and sounds of tropical Malaysia.

Adorning the hallway's walls from the plane to the airport are jungle sounds and lush greenery, creating a feeling you’ve touched down in a bustling ecosystem before you enter the airport.

Navigating arrivals

Kuala Lumpur International Airport welcomes almost 50 million passengers annually, making it one of Asia's busiest airports. The good news is that despite the many passengers heading towards immigration along with you, international passengers disembark directly at the international terminal and wait to catch a plane out of Malaysia.

This means that restrooms and snack options are available right when you get off the plane; there is no need to pass through immigration first.

Using these facilities may be a good idea, as getting to and through immigration can take some time.

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Signs guide Kuala Lumpur International Airport passengers towards immigration and baggage claim. |iVisa

While making your way from the terminal to immigration, you might feel slightly confused and disoriented as you follow the signs of immigration and international transfers.

The airport layout involves a wrap-around section that could create the impression you're heading in the wrong direction or back where you came from.

Don't worry! Follow the clear English signage, and you'll be back on track. This might involve passing through the airport's busy departures central area before heading towards immigration control.

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Sign points passengers in the correct direction for immigration and customs. |iVisa

A warm Malaysian greeting

After navigating the arrival area, you'll descend an escalator and be greeted by friendly Malaysian staff in sashes to assist you. They will also offer refreshing welcome drinks, including coffee and lychee lemonade.

I opted for the lychee lemonade and proceeded toward the dedicated bus terminal for a quick transfer to the separate immigration terminal. The entire journey takes just a couple of minutes.

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Passengers are greeted with a welcome beverage at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

Before immigration: Your one-stop destination for city essentials

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Passengers enter a long hallway towards immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

Once you exit the transfer bus and before reaching immigration, you'll find a convenient one-stop area within the long arrivals hallway before you pass through immigration, which differs from many other international airports that frequently have these services after immigration and customs. You can handle several essential pre-immigration tasks here:

  • Telecommunication services: Major telecommunication companies have kiosks selling prepaid SIM cards. These cards provide internet access and allow you to make calls within Malaysia.
  • ATMs: Multiple ATMs can withdraw Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) using your debit card. Fill me in
    Photo: ATMs in the Arrivals Hall of Kuala Lumpur International Airport. | iVisa
  • Currency Exchange: Several money changers offer competitive rates to convert your foreign currency to MYR. There are few currency exchange businesses within the city, so if you opt for an exchange, do it here. Purchasing a SIM card before immigration offers several advantages. It eliminates the hassle of searching for a provider after clearing customs. All three airport vendors are reputable and offer similar pricing. The purchase process is quick and requires only your passport and form of payment.

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Travelers purchase SIM cards for cell connection before immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

Be aware that once you pass through immigration, you won't be able to return to this area for a SIM card. If you miss this step before you pass through immigration, you must consider these alternatives: purchasing an eSIM or a SIM card in the city.

Note that prices for an eSIM or buying a SIM in the city may be higher, and you must navigate the city to a telecommunication company without a cell connection, so it is best not to miss this area.

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Passengers walk past money exchange counters before immigration at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

Carrying cash is recommended in Malaysia. While credit cards are widely accepted, some local restaurants and street food vendors are cash-only. Not having cash in hand may mean missing out on some of Malaysia's best food.

Withdrawing cash here before immigration at an ATM or one of the money exchange counters ensures you don't miss out on these culinary experiences. If you miss this area, don’t worry; there are additional exchange counters and ATMs once you pass through immigration and customs.

Immigration: Everyone must fill out an electronic form

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A sign with a QR code to fill out necessary immigration forms sits outside of immigration counters at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

After ensuring you have a working SIM card and cash for your initial Malaysian adventures, proceed to the immigration area. If you're an e-passport holder from Australia, USA, UK, Korea, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Japan, Germany, or Brunei, consider using the Malaysia Autogate for a faster process. Up to thirty days before your trip, simply [pre-register online] (/malaysia/digital-arrival-card).

If you don’t fill it out in advance, no worries; there is a QR code just before immigration where you can scan and fill out the necessary forms. Once that is in hand, you can proceed to the Malaysia autogate and scan your passport to enter the country.

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Signs guide passengers to their appropriate immigration gates at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

For all other nationalities, you must fill out an [immigration form] (/malaysia/digital-arrival-card). Still, instead of using one of the automated gates, you will go to an immigration officer for a short interview before being allowed to enter Malaysia.

Following immigration, you'll encounter two duty-free stores offering luxury items. While tempting, consider waiting to purchase necessities until you reach the city center, where you will find better deals and essential products.

Baggage claim: Be prepared to wait

Emerging from immigration, you'll find yourself in the large, bustling baggage claim hall. Locate your flight number on the large screens posted throughout the hall, keeping an eye out for the alternative codes section that will occasionally flash if you fly with a partner airline.

For example, if you booked your flight on Delta but flew with your partner airline, Air Korea, your flight information might be listed under Air Korea’s code instead of Delta’s.

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Passengers wait for their baggage at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

The baggage carousels are quite large, so it's wise to find the designated unloading point for your flight and pick a spot nearby to quickly grab your luggage. Be prepared to wait as Kuala Lumpur International Airport handles many passengers and international flights daily.

If your bag is missing after waiting until your flight code has cleared from your baggage claim, meaning they are no longer offloading bags for your flight, you may proceed to the KLIA Lost and Found Centre, which is on Level 2 of the main terminal building.

Passing through customs: A breeze

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Passengers passing through customs and into the arrivals and departures hall at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

Unlike most airports, you'll breeze through customs without any screenings. However, don't forget to declare any items following [Malaysian government regulations] (https://www.customs.gov.my/ms/pages/utama.aspx). Failure to comply could result in penalties. The airport does occasional screenings, so be prepared to open and show your luggage if you are stopped.

Arrivals hall: Grab a snack

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Travelers wait to grab a coffee at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

From the baggage claim area, you'll enter the expansive arrival and departure hall. Here, you'll find various restaurants, cafes, and convenience stores offering refreshments before venturing into Kuala Lumpur.

Considering Kuala Lumpur International Airport is almost 40 miles from the city center, and traffic can push travel time to over an hour and a half, it's a good idea to use this opportunity to grab a bite and use the restroom before your onward journey.

Transportation: Get ready for a long ride

You have several options to reach your Kuala Lumpur city center destination. Taxis were plentiful, and the drivers were pleasant. If you prefer a prearranged ride, head to the designated taxi counter on the far left side of the hall to book a taxi.

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Travelers wait on the first floor for a Grab rideshare into the city at Kuala Lumpur International Airport. |iVisa

Alternatively, you can book with the ridesharing app Grab, the region's equivalent of Uber. Simply use the app to book a ride directly from the arrivals hall.

Grab pick-ups occur on the ground floor, separate from the arrivals floor, which is also the third-floor taxi pick-up zone. Use one of the conveniently located escalators throughout the hall to make your way to floor one.

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Travelers purchase their train tickets to Kuala Lumpur City Centre at Kuala Lumpur International Airport floor 1 |iVisa

For a speedy and comfortable journey, consider the [KLIA Ekspres train] (https://www.kliaekspres.com/products-fares/klia-ekspres/). This express option has just one stop at KL City Air Terminal (KL CAT) in KL Sentral, delivering you to the city center in a mere 28 minutes.

While the price (around RM55 for a one-way adult ticket) is comparable to a Grab ride, the KLIA Ekspres is much quicker and offers digital entertainment, wheelchair accessibility, and luggage racks. Upon arrival at KL City Air Terminal in the center of Kuala Lumpur, you can seamlessly connect to the city metro or hop on a Grab taxi to reach your final destination.

Remember, Kuala Lumpur International Airport sits almost 40 miles from the city center, and traffic can easily extend travel time beyond an hour and a half. Factoring this in, the KLIA Ekspres might be a great choice, especially if you're eager to settle into your hotel after a long flight.

You can read more about traveling to Malaysia here:

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