Laws in Borneo
The following advice is intended to provide a brief outline of any laws in the desination country that are directly applicable to travelling there. This is not intended to be exhaustive or complete and laws do change from time to time so we strongly advise visiting the UK Foreign Office website and checking for their current advice.
In general the laws of any country will be based on the same values as at home but significant differences can be present subject to the prevailing cultural, religious and political environment in the country. These four basic factors can be your main guide to how to act in unfamiliar situations. If you are any doubt as to what to do in a given situation it is usually possible to identify the "safest" fallback option and go with it. For example, not buying something, not taking a photo of a government building etc.
This information should also be read in conjunction with our relevant pages dealing with Cultural Awareness and Visa Requirements.
Note: Borneo as an island is made up of three parts belonging to three different countries; Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. Laws and customs are similar but there are differences that you may need to be aware of if you visit different areas.
Malaysia is a multicultural but predominantly Islamic country. You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultural or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas. You should also dress modestly in conservative and rural areas, and when visiting places of worship.
If you are a Muslim you should be aware that you may also be subject to local Shari'a law.
Homosexual acts are illegal.
There are severe penalties for all drug offences in Malaysia: trafficking (defined here as the possession of a certain quantity of drugs) incurs a mandatory death penalty; possession incurs a custodial sentence and possible whipping. This includes the possession of or trafficking in Amphetamine-type stimulants.
You could be asked to take a urine test on arrival in Malaysia if you are suspected of having used drugs before your visit. Should the test prove positive, you could be referred for rehabilitation treatment or be deported.
The importation of unlicensed firearms and ammunition into Malaysia is prohibited. Possession can carry the death penalty.
You should respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times and be aware of your actions to ensure that they do not offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan or if you intend to visit religious areas.
You should be aware of offending Islamic sensitivities. Westerners have occasionally been harassed by fundamentalists in bars and nightclubs, particularly around major Islamic holidays such as Ramadan.
Do not get involved with illegal drugs. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of such drugs are serious offences in Indonesia. Those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty, usually after a protracted and expensive legal process. Police often raid locations (particularly in Bali) known to be frequented by foreigners, and may require an individual to take a urine or blood test where they have reasonable suspicion that drugs have been taken. Drug use or the possession of even small amounts of drugs such as marijuana or ecstasy can lead to prison sentences longer than four years. Convicted traffickers or users of hard drugs such as cocaine or heroin face the death penalty in Indonesia.
Gambling is illegal in Indonesia. There have been cases where tourists have fallen victim to organised gambling gangs, resulting in the loss of large amounts of money.
You must show evidence of your identity if it is requested by, for example, the Police. You should carry photocopies of the relevant pages of your passport and your arrival card to avoid losing the original, which should be kept in a safe place.
Local laws reflect the fact that Brunei is an Islamic country. You should dress modestly and respect local traditions, customs, laws and religions at all times. You should be aware of your actions and take care not to offend other cultures or religious beliefs, especially during the holy month of Ramadan, or if you intend to visit religious areas.
Possession of pornographic material is illegal.
Homosexual activity is illegal.
Any public criticism of His Majesty The Sultan or other members of the Bruneian Royal Family is discouraged.
There are severe penalties for all drug offences in Brunei including, in some cases, the death penalty. You should not become involved with drugs of any kind. The legal system in Brunei is partly based on Sharia law and can, in certain circumstances, apply to non-Muslims including visitors. Other crimes may attract canning and lengthy prison sentences.
The sale of alcohol in Brunei is prohibited. Non-Muslims over 17 years of age may import duty free, two bottles of wine or spirits and twelve cans of beer on entry into Brunei, but must declare them to Customs on arrival. There must be at least a 48-hour gap between each import. Keep the Customs slip in case of inspection. For a list of other prohibited and restricted items, please visit the Royal Customs and Excise Department’s website.
Visitors should be aware that smoking is prohibited in certain public places, including shopping and eating areas, bus stops and stations and government buildings. Offenders may be fined for breaking this law.