An airport is an airport, right? I thought the same thing until I had to navigate airports in Malaysia and Borneo. When you fly from one state/province to another in Malaysia, you must always pass through immigration. I have never experienced this in any country I have travelled to. You are still in the same country, but have to go through immigration each time you enter or leave a different state/province.
I also suspect that there has not been a mass influx of tourists through these airports as the signage is not very tourist friendly. For example, if you are going through security in the Kota Kinabalu airport, there are actually two security areas. One for flying to other parts of Malaysia (as well as international flights) and another area if you are flying within the same state (Sabah). As a tourist, I can’t say I always know what cities are in what states in Malaysia. Now, I look it up on Google first before going to the airport (their airport WIFI is not very reliable – my experience is that it did not work at all at the airport) just so I can figure out what security area I am supposed to go to.
The same signage is not tourist friendly for when you land in the airports and need to figure out if you have to go through immigration or not (as there are two luggage claim areas…so, if you choose the wrong immigration area, your suitcase will not be waiting for you at the carousel). In my case, the security people automatically assumed that I was flying to Singapore because it is the normal tourist track and tried to push me towards that immigration area (my beacon white skin is always a tip off that I am not a local), even when you try explaining that you are flying within Sabah (thank you Google).
It’s not the end of the world – just plan a few more minutes in your itinerary to accommodate the time needed to go through immigration and be sure to look up what state you are flying to prior to going to the airport.
- Do check what Malaysian state/province you are flying to (Sarawak, Sabah, etc.) as you’ll need this info in order to navigate the airport gates.
- Do give yourself a few extra minutes to go through immigration – even if you are flying within Malaysia. Remember – this is a process for all internal flights in Malaysia.