Stuck in Paradise

Living under the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia as a Tourist

Hello and welcome back to my blog. In this one, I want to address the elephant in the room – we are stuck! In paradise – but stuck! After 7 weeks on the island of Langkawi I think it is official to say, that we are not still here because it is our personal choice. 3 countries, 10 cities/islands,  adventures, diving certificate, beaches, cocktails, animal wildlife, snorkeling, shooting videos, experiencing something new every day.. that was our intention, but it didn’t go to plan.

We were lucky enough to experience 3 weeks without the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia and were able to see Kuala Lumpur, Penang and Langkawi when everything was still normal. However, after almost 7 weeks on one island, living under certain restrictions, I thought I would give a little bit of an insight, what it really looks like to live under the MCO in Malaysia and to be stuck in a foreign country. 

I have been asked quite a lot of questions regarding this topic especially on instagram. Check out my IG account if you want to follow me around on a day by day base, where I post stories and pictures on our daily life (_gingersjourney_). Would love to see you there! As always, the blog covers my view of things and it can not be spoken in a generalized way.

Empty streets and places, Pantai Cenang, which is supposed to be the most touristic area on Langkawi completely deserted. It feels almost like a ghost town. 

Frequently asked question on our life under the Movement Control Order (MCO) in Malaysia

Do we feel safe? 

This question has a clear answer: Yes! There hasn’t been a second where I felt unsafe for whatever reason. There were hardly any cases of Covid on Langkawi and whole Kedah is a green zone for weeks now (no new infections). In fact, Malaysia hasn’t really faced high numbers of Covid infections nor a high mortality rate comparing to other countries, considering the mortality rate of Covid 19 is in general very very low. I deliberately do not write numbers of infections or death rates in the answer, because the situation, like everywhere else, can change constantly. However, a strong yes to the question if we feel safe in Malaysia as tourists during the pandemic.

What is the current situation and what are the exact measures executed in Malaysia? 

We are currently in phase 4 of the MCO (30/04/2020) which is a slightly slightly relaxed form of the measures taken beforehand. I am not going to cite any law or regulation but talk about measures that have been affecting us in the last couple of weeks. 

The majority of restaurants are closed, due to lack of business, and only a few are still operating for take-away only. Delivery services like Grab food or Foodpanda are working quite well. Bars are completely closed. Everything defined as essential service like medical care, supermarkets or pharmacies remain open with reduced working hours. 

People are advised to stay at home and only go out for essential shopping. So far only one person was allowed to go out. However, since yesterday, two people from the same household are allowed to walk or drive somewhere together. Public places, like beaches or parks, are closed. If these regulations are violated, you either have to pay a fine or you can get up to 6 months in prison. Social distancing and increased hygiene measures is strongly advised by the prime minister. Mass gatherings are prohibited in general (also for religious reasons), which has a special impact on local people this time as there is Ramadan going on at the moment. 

Domestic and international travel is restricted to a minimum. Foreigners are allowed to stay or leave the country if possible, however, nobody can enter the country for now nor execute any interstate travel. The red zones within the country are under Enhanced Movement control order, e.g. Kuala Lumpur, where some people aren’t allowed to leave their building.

The military and police presence is very high in this country. Roadblocks, police checks, and strict punishments are common.

Are surrounding countries affected as well? Is traveling somewhere else an option? 

Almost every country in southeast Asia (Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines) closed their borders. Traveling to another country is not an option. As soon, as you leave Malaysia as a tourist, you are not allowed to re-enter. I have read around the news about people, leaving for another country, being rejected for immigration, and have not been allowed to re-enter Malaysia. However, I cannot tell how much truth is behind these stories on social media. We decided, that it is definitely not worth the risk of trying to go somewhere else, and getting stuck in an airport.

Is our VISA affected and how long are we allowed to stay? 

As Austrians, we have the luck of a “Visa on Arrival” which allows us to stay for 90 days in the country. However, measures have been taken, that tourist being stuck in Malaysia, can extend their stay until the MCO gets lifted with no further issues.

Why didn’t you take one of the repatriation flights? 

This is a question I have been asked a lot. We have decided not to take the immediate return flight, as we have never felt unsafe. A hasty departure, just to be at home in the lockdown was not an option for us. Besides, it must be stressed that this would not have been possible just like that. The repatriation flights would have started from Kuala Lumpur, but it would not have been possible to get to Kuala Lumpur in this short time, because of the limited travel possibilities. Also the repatriation flights were comparing pretty expensive, and to this point in time we still had our confirmed flight back to Munich end of May.

What are our options to return to our home country: Flight cancellations, airlines, and other struggles

Now we come to the most mentally exhausting aspect of the journey: airlines, flights, and cancellations. In the beginning, mid-March, we thought we are pretty safe with our flight leaving the end of May, however, this has changed. Our first flight on May 27th has been canceled and rebooked to the 17th of May due to restrictions at our transit airport Abu Dhabi. There are only flights leaving from Abu Dhabi international airport executed by Etihad airways, bringing people back to their respective home countries. However, people staying in other countries besides the UAE are left out. Transit in Abu Dhabi is currently not allowed, and people who stay elsewhere do not get any alternatives from the airline. I do understand they have to follow certain rules and restrictions, however, I feel like they should take into account, people staying elsewhere besides the UAE. 

There are currently no flights planned for the whole month of May and June for Etihad Airways, but we have taken all measures to get a flight back with Qatar Airways, as they are the only ones willing to bring people back. 

What is the situation like for locals in your eyes and how does it affect the country? 

Rising unemployment rates, a decline in economic development, and domestic violence are issues in Malaysia according to the news. However, the government tries to support affected people in different ways. More and more restaurants and businesses seem to shut down around us over time, as people are running out of work. 

However, Malaysians seem to feel safe and follow the rules given by the government, at least in our surroundings. Nevertheless, yesterday it has been announced that more than 20.000 people have already been imprisoned for violating the rules of MCO.

What are the biggest struggles you had to face? 

The biggest struggle for myself has been the constant change of plans. It is mentally very challenging when you are constantly hanging in the air and it is decided from outside when, how, and where the situation changes. Reading the news permanently and following the development in a country where you don´t speak the language is very challenging. 

Being stuck in one place, for weeks (reaching months) which is not your home, far away from your family and friends, is very different. We are trying to make the best out of the situation by studying and using the time we have but it is not always possible to keep your mind in a positive state. Especially because it is constantly clear to you how much you could have just experienced if the situation was different. 

We are lucky to stay in a great hotel including western standards (hot water, nice bathroom, a cupboard, etc.) and a pool which helps a lot. However, we were lucky enough to change accommodation just before the lockdown as we had to fight rats during the night at our previous accommodation. 

Adjusting to the situation and the so-called “new normal” in Malaysia is especially hard sometimes because there is not much that distracts you from the ongoing problems. Keeping myself busy has helped a lot. If you are interested in how I kept myself motivated, you might wanna read the Blog Post on Home Quarantine Inspiration.


I hope this was an interesting read for you on Malaysia’s approach to fight the pandemic and how it affected us. Let me know in the comments down below what the current state is in your country, I would be eager to know. Finally, I can only say, we are all in this together and hopefully, it will be over soon! Stay safe and healthy!

Update May 1st: The Prime Minister announced a loosening of the MCO for the whole country. However, 3 states opted out of the new conditional MCO, including Kedah where we stay. Until May 5th it will be decided if and how the state of Kedah will implement the new rules. Stay tuned!

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