Getting back to Malaysia during Covid is not as simple as just hopping on a plane and flying there like you could (with an American passport) back in January 2020.
With the U.S. being so open and easy with Covid, I thought I’d shed some light on what getting back to Malaysia entails in the time of the virus.
Strict COVID Entry Rules
The rules on who can enter Malaysia are always changing but have finally started to relax since 2020. Right now, tourists cannot enter. This might change in 2022. It’s pretty much the case for all Asian countries right now (and has been since March 2020).
Malaysians have not even been allowed to leave Malaysia except in particular circumstances. This seems to finally be easing up as well.
Foreign workers, diplomats, spouses, and students (excluding UK and India) are allowed to enter but you need an invitation from the government to get in.
From April until August I was working to secure a student visa. Once my student status was confirmed, I then had to apply with the Education Ministry. Then the Department of Immigration. This took two and a half months of me checking the app every day (and a ‘frustration trip’ to Mexico) to see if my status had progressed at all (I was told it would take 4-6 weeks).
I was a bit worried because back in April I had to sign a document at immigration saying I “overstayed” my last visa in Malaysia (even though I was given permission to stay due to the covid emergency). The officer said it was just a formality but since this is completely unprecedented in immigration history, I was nervous it was going to come back to bite me and that I was blacklisted or something.
Finally, I got the happy news that my paperwork was approved. I never actually got the visa. I was just given “permission to enter Malaysia.” To enter I needed: two official government letters stating I was a student and that I was allowed to enter, my passport, proof of vaccination, an RT-PCR covid test taken within 72 hours prior to my flight, and proof of quarantine.
Even if you are vaccinated, you still have to quarantine when you enter Malaysia.
Applying For Quarantine
Lucky for me, Malaysia has relaxed its quarantine procedures drastically in the last few months. Before, you had to quarantine in a hotel for 14 days. The hotel packages were quite expensive (close to $100/night). Ouch.
But right before my flight, they changed the rules. Vaccinated travels only have to quarantine for seven days and can do so at home if they have an apartment.
I still had my apartment back in Kuala Lumpur so I applied to stay there. I couldn’t apply without proof of a ticket so I had to do all this a week before my flight. The first day I applied, the website was broken. Luckily the next day, I tried again and got approved within 24 hours. Finally, something easy!
Getting a PCR test in Chicago worried me. I don’t have health insurance in the U.S. and looking through the reviews of the free testing sites in Chicago, a lot of people were complaining they were not getting their results back within 3 days (and that would mean I wouldn’t be allowed on my flight).
I ended up going to a private place and getting it done for free thanks to the CARE act. Basically, anyone uninsured is entitled to a vaccine/Covid testing for free in the U.S. Amazing!
The private clinic had my PCR test processed within 24 hours which was a huge relief! When I left Malaysia, my test became available one hour before the lab closed the day of my flight so it was quite the nail-biter.
*A note, it is extremely expensive for me to get health insurance in the U.S. and since I don’t live there, it seems a bit silly to be paying hundreds of dollars a month for a service I would rarely use. This summer was a bit of an exception but I wasn’t planning to stay so long.
To enter Malaysia, you are required to download the MySejahtera app which essentially tracks all your Covid health info. If you are not vaccinated, you essentially cannot exist here. You can only go to restaurants, gyms, etc… with proof of vaccine through this app.
Getting your vaccine status uploaded in the app is a sinch if you got vaccinated in Malaysia. But I wasn’t vaccinated in Malaysia; all I had from the CDC is a very unofficial-looking handwritten card.
It took me three weeks of unsuccessful attempts and multiple application help tickets before my vaccine status was finally updated a few days before my flight!
Of course, a day after my vaccine status turned from “not vaccinated” to “vaccinated” it turned back to “not vaccinated.”
It’s fixed now. But all of these things required a lot of meditative breathing and long walks.
I’m hoping people are starting to understand why this was such a stressful process for me. There were so many moving parts (I won’t even get into the fact I was also balancing all this with the fact my home quarantine was due to end a day before I needed to move out of my apartment, getting a new apartment, and working my job) and the information never seemed 100% secure. I was getting all this information from various people, websites, and general hearsay.
When I got to the airport in Chicago at 11:30 pm, the line to check-in was long since Qatar Airways needed to check that everyone had the correct Covid procedures to their final destinations. We were all going to different places after our layover in Qatar.
It seemed Mexico was the easiest (you don’t even need a Covid test to enter) and some places like Nepal weren’t too strict (proof of vaccine and a negative PCR test taken within the last 72 hours).
When it was my turn and they asked my final destination, I said “Malaysia” and the girl at the counter looked like she was going to cry. She no joke said, “No no no please no!” She had to call a supervisor over because they were so unsure about what documents were needed and if I had all the right things.
Airlines are required by law to make sure you have all the documents you need to enter a country. If I show up in Malaysia without a letter of invitation, for example, I will be deported and the airline will get fined.
So, the fact the airline (finally) approved me felt like a good sign that I actually wouldn’t have any problems coming to Malaysia (but I was still a little nervous as this is all a brave new world of international travel now).
My first leg of the flight was nearly 14 hours but I had an entire row to myself (everyone did–the perks of Covid travel). I managed to lay down and get a few hours of sleep. Plus, I think the male flight attendant had a crush on me because he kept coming over to joke with me and brought me (and only me) a bunch of free Kitkats and other little snacks.
This process is so long and complicated that I had to break it into two sections. To know about my home quarantine journey, check out Part II!