What you need to know before you decide whether to do a visa run or apply for a visa extension.
Many people arrive in Malaysia and fall in love with the food, the people, the weather and the landscape and want to stay longer than their first visa allows. They then turn to trying to find ways to get that to happen. Unfortunately Malaysia doesn’t have particular guidelines about their visa return requirements like for example in the Schengen Region for the EU where it’s 90 days in 180 days. This leads to all sorts of rumours and stress, and sometimes people being left stranded with no quick fix.
So here’s what we know…
There are two ways to stay in Malaysia on a Short Term Social Visit Pass longer than 90 days. You either have to leave the country for a period of time, or you have to get an official extension. You could overstay but that may result in fines, imprisonment and never being allowed back into Malaysia (which would be awful!) so we won’t consider that as a reasonable option.
In years gone past it was apparently very common for visitors to spend 90 days in Malaysia and then do a day trip into Thailand or Singapore and then come back and be reissued with another 90 day Short Term Social Visit Pass. They could often do this for years at a time with no questions being asked at the border. This then progressed to leaving Malaysia for maybe a week or even two weeks at a stretch, again with no questions being asked.
In recent years Malaysia has questioned more and more the intentions of travellers who enter and leave regularly and whether they may actually be setting up home in Malaysia without the correct visas. This has led to travellers try to work out the system so they can stay for significant periods of time without getting themselves into trouble.
As far as we can ascertain the government themselves have not released any guidelines about what are the dos and don’ts. Some of the rumours and suggestions we have come across include:
- You can probably only do 2-3 ‘visa runs’ before you will be denied entry to Malaysia for a period of (undefined) time
- You can no longer just go to Thailand or Singapore for just a day or two more than once
- If you leave between day 80 and 90 of your social visa pass you should leave the country for a minimum of 7 days if not 14 days
- You should have your next exit flight/trip booked in case you are asked to provide evidence of forward travel
- That if you leave through particular immigration controls you are more or less likely to be questioned eg. KL when it is really busy
Some stories we have read and heard about include:
- A mother being denied re-entry after a land crossing to Thailand but her husband and children were accepted. She was given 7 days to plead her case, ultimately she was successful
- A woman being denied re-entry at the airport after being in Vietnam for 3 weeks.
- Several people being given a 7 day entry visa to conclude their personal business and collect their things
We are unable to validate most of the claims, so we are unable to provide advice about what you do and whether you will be able to easily re-enter Malaysia.
Another way that we had heard of but not really considered initially was going to the immigration department for an extension. Apparently you can request an extension once and it is meant to be for special circumstances. You need to attend an immigration office, take evidence of your onward travel and the reason you are requesting an extension.
Problems we’ve read about this:
- Some immigration offices process visa extensions and some don’t
- There is a cost involved
- There are stories of it taking people 1-2 days to get it processed. We heard about one guy who arrived around midday and waited all afternoon for his name to get called. At close of business, they told him to return again the next day as it hadn’t been completed
- Travellers may have to come up with a story about why they want to stay longer
- Having to get involved with the bureaucracy of the Malaysian Government
- It seems like it might be a very complicated process
Hint: We’ve done both!
On our first trip here we spent 77 days in Kuala Lumpur and Penang on our 90 day Short Term Social Visit Visa before heading to Thailand for 11 days. On our exit Chris was questioned about the length of his stay so far in Malaysia, but we were not questioned on our return. We exited and re-entered through Penang International, and flew to Bangkok where we did some house sitting. We had forward travel planned for a bus trip from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore (that we didn’t end up taking) only a few days later that we could show if we were asked.
For our second stay here we were really undecided about what our plans going forward would be, we love Malaysia but I started to get more and more stressed about the thought of being denied re-entry after a trip out. We started looking at going to Vietnam or Thailand for a longer trip of about 30 days so hopefully it would be less of an issue and we could come back and perhaps spend 90 days in Langkawi.
We took our time deciding what to do, and ended up deciding to take a 3 month house sitting assignment in the UK but it didn’t start until almost a month after our visa expired. Due to circumstances we had very special visitors (my kids!!) arriving the day our visa expired, leaving 2 weeks later. We were in a real conundrum on what visa option to take.
I unfortunately injured myself which would have made a trip earlier a hassle so we were left less than two weeks to make a decision. We posted on a local expats Facebook group to get advice but while everyone had some great advice and were open with their experiences it just seemed too questionable to head over the border via land for 1-3 days. I was petrified that we wouldn’t be allowed back into the country and that we would have several thousand dollars in wasted airfares and we wouldn’t be able to collect our belongings.
With that in mind we decided to try the visa extension route at the immigration office and it ended up being the best choice we could have made. The staff were helpful, polite and efficient and the staff we spoke to spoke English very well so communication was easy. It was also just as cost effective to go there as it would have been to catch a bus from Penang to Thailand for a day trip, and much cheaper than spending several days out of the country.
However part of why it was so easy for us is that members of the Facebook group previously mentioned were helpful in providing details, and we did some googling beforehand. We only had one thing that we could have had better which was to photocopy particular pages of our passport, which meant we had to leave the office and go to a shop next door, get that done and then come back and get into line.
We did get there a little later than we had hoped, 8 am instead of 7:30 am when it opens, due to traffic. So bare that in mind when you plan your trip.
In all the process for us took about 2 hours and 15 minutes from start to finish, much better than the all day minimum we were expecting.
To help make it easier for those who want to do the same as us at the Penang (Butterworth) Immigration Office in future we have put together a brief list of things you can do to make the process smooth for you.
Of course processes may change, and you may be asked for other documents depending on your particular circumstances. For instance we took copies of my kids flight details as evidence of why we were requesting an extension, but they weren’t asked for this time.
Here’s what you need to know…
- Download this form and fill it in to the best of your ability for each person applying for the visa extension
- There is no place for it, but put your local phone number on the page somewhere
- Print out copies of your onward travel documents. Screenshots or documents on your phone will not be enough. To make it easier, highlight or underline the exit dates, where you will be heading and your name/s.
- Photocopy the page of your passport where your photo and details are for each person applying
- Photocopy the page of your passport where your most recent Malaysia stamp is (make sure it can be read easily) for each person applying
- The office opens at 7:30 am, get there by 7:30 if you can, but definitely before 8:30am when we noticed it started to get really busy and the line was really long and you could be there all day (and the following day!)
- Go to the second floor in the building and head to the visas waiting room, it is the room on the left as you face the front wall/road
- Go to the first window and tell them you want to apply for a visa extension.
Here’s what happened next…
- Showed the officer all our documents and she asked a few questions like why we wanted to extend. We did have some issues with the leaving date and our names a couple of times, so we would definitely highlight/underline those details if we have to do it again.
- We were missing the photocopies of the passport pages so we had to leave and find a shop to do that for us. Thankfully we found a helpful officer outside who directed us to a shop nearby.
- We headed back to the office and handed our documents over again. We were seen by a second officer who asked similar questions as the first including the confusion over leaving dates, where we were going and our names. We were given a number and asked to sit, by this stage there was about 6 groups of people in front of us.
- Not long after our number was called and we handed in our forms to another officer who asked a couple of questions including getting us to put our contact details on the form. Again we were asked to sit. Now the room was completely full.
- After another hour or so our names got called to the cashier and we got excited thinking that it was over pretty quickly and painlessly. We paid but didn’t get our passports back, or even told whether we had been approved!
- After about another 30 minute wait one of the officers came out with a huge stack of passports and started calling peoples names, and yay we were called.
Total time invested was 2 hours 15 minutes.
Total cost for two visa extensions was 200 MYR, so 100 MYR each.
Even though we only asked for 17 days our visa was extended for a full 90 days, and is more than just a stamp. It notes that it is a visa extension, so you probably can’t do that too often.
Remember this is just what worked for us and what we learnt from doing both avenues. We are not suggesting that this information is set in stone or that if you apply you will be granted an extension or you would be denied at the border for entry. Every person has different circumstances. We would love to hear your experiences of how you extended your time in Malaysia using the Short Term Social Visa Pass.
Hello Rachael – an excellent and very informative post, can I just check if there was a reason you went to Butterworth immigration rather than George Town immigration department?
We’ve just arrived in Malaysia via KL for 6 weeks and my hubby got a 90 day stamp and for some reason I got a 30 day stamp – and I didn’t check before I left the counter at the airport.
We have onward tickets to Vietnam on 16 March so would love to avoid going to Thailand specially for a visa run if possible and if I can apply for extension in either Butterworth or George Town. I noticed on Google maps there is an immigation office in both places. As we are currently in Penang – neither would be a problem. Just thought I would check with you. Thank you Marcelle
Glad you liked it and yes it certainly was much easier than going a visa run!
At the time we needed our extension (July 2018), the one in George Town only did Malaysian passports and not visa renewals.
This may change in the future, so might be best to try and call them to see if they have started doing it.
All the best!
Hi Rachel, my spouse is a British citizen . He needs to extend his visa , the first application was done in Langkawi . Can we get the extension application done in KL, or do we have to return to Langkawi ? We were told by my hubby’s office administrators that we need to get it done in Langkawi as the files are at KDN LGK . It would be very convenient for us to get it done at Putrajaya as we are based in KL. Appreciate your reply.
I am a Filipino and only given a month to stay in Malaysia and though I have been there thrice with no issues, I am planning to stay longer this time. I am a Manager for an Australian company which gives me the benefit of working remotely. My boyfriend who’s a European will be working back in Malaysia next month and we have decided that I will be coming along with him, we are not married nor engaged. My dilemma is I am not sure if visiting him for three months would be enough reason to ask for a longer visa. The plan is to stay in a hotel for a few days then find an apartment which may affect the paperwork requirements. And oh, I will apply for the visa here before I go. Would like to seek advice if possible.
I’m a New Zealander. I’m planning to travel to malaysia on next couple of months. My visa will be granted 90 days. But i’m planning to stay longer than this. For this issues i planed to travel other country before my 90 days visa expired. I will leaved malaysia about 25 days.after 25 days i’m planning to come back to malaysia, will they give me another 90 days visa? Please throw some light.
Thanks in advanced.
I don’t see why they wouldn’t grant you another one, especially if it’s just the first time… if you’ve been out 3 or 4 times then I’d be concerned if they’d grant another one. We’ve heard that they if they won’t give another one, then you might get 7 days so you can go in, get your things (if you have any) and leave again. Things were tightening things up when we were there last year, both with the MM2H visa as well as the number of times they allow people to re-enter. One thing that is certain, is that there is not consistency with the ways things are done… talk to other ex-pats when you get there and see what they’re doing
Great info..my question is…is the visitor pass you extended the one that you get on arrival the 90 days one? (or do I need to apply for anything before arriving? – I have a Canadian passport) Thanks!
Sorry for the late reply (it got lost amongst all the spam)
We got the initial 90-day visa when we first arrived in KL, then after 77 days we flew from Penang to Bangkok (which I got questioned about when exiting Malaysia, that it was very close to the 90 days! What the?). After 11 days, we went back to Penang and got a new 90-day visa no problem. It was at the end of that visa that we requested the extension. When they approved it, we found that they had put another 90-day visa stamp in our passports, even though we had only requested 2 weeks on the form.
Also, we didn’t apply for anything before we arrived in Malaysia.
Here’s a useful web page for you, being Canadian…
Hope this helps!
Hi Dear. Im Ann a Philippine passport holder. Currently I am here in China working as an English Teacher. I am planning to visit KL Malaysia on December and I want to stay there for 1 month and half. My husband is working in KL. I want to know if what are the things I should need to bring and other documents. Thank you
Saved as a favorite, I like your web site!
First, thank you! This is the BEST information I could find anywhere regarding extending our stay in Malaysia!
Question. We are planning to stay in Malaysia for 90 days ( we can leave sooner if we need to ) but want to extend for about 45 more days. Since this would be our first extension do you think we could do a border run to Singapore ( stay a couple of nights ) then return by taxi? Or do you recommend we try for an extension like you did?
We are Americans currently in KL.
Glad you liked it, George!
Obviously this is not legal advice, and while we were there in 2018 things were tightening up especially with land crossings to Singapore and Thailand for a few days.
Maybe you’re able to leave Malaysia around the 50-60 day mark, then return and you can use the full 90 days on the other end? That might look better than leaving on the 89th day.
Plus being your first visa run you’ll also be more likely to be allowed a 2nd 90-day visit.
I would like to know what to say to immigration officers if they ask me about the reason of extension..can I tell them that I just want to stay more in Malaysia because I didn’t complete my tourism …..my Visa is expiring next week
This is the only info i could find on visa extension. It sounds easy.
I have been in malaysia for nearly 90 days and i do not want to leave, because everything is locked down.
I hope my local office can do my extension. Lumut.
Thanks Steve! Glad you found it informative.
Yes, it was easy when wee did it, but that was almost 2 years ago now.
Everything has changed with Covid-19 and each country is handling things differently.
We’re under curfew in Sri Lanka and luckily they’ve extended all tourist visas again for another month, so we don’t have to go in to the office in Colombo for an extension.
Make sure you join FB expat groups there as that can be a great source of information from others in the same boat
that imigrasi renewal office in Colombo is a nightmare.
Took us 8 hours to get one.
I’m stuck with similar situation and don’t want to leave malaysia due to lock down. Could you please update me your extension experience and what documents are needed?
You can whatapps me or contact me via email too.
This is excellent information , thank you! I do have a question:
You listed “Print out copies of your onward travel documents.” Did you mean your original return tickets for the date you were supposed to leave prior to the extension, or were they tickets for when you wanted to leave (i.e. the extended date). Thanks again for providing such good information!
Thanks Rebecca, glad you thought it was helpful.
We took our flight details in for the extended date with us.