The Pre-Move Scavenger Hunt

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So you’ve decided to move to Malaysia! Once you’ve completed your happy-dance, you’re going to need to prepare for the move by asking some strange questions, like: Can I get replacement kiteboard fins there? (Fat chance!) Rubbing alcohol? (Yes, but it’s called something different). Deodorant? (You’re in luck… if you like to smell like a teenage boy). Or my dog’s favorite treats: petrified bull dongs? (You’re on your own there, buddy).

While KL and Penang have lots of shiny malls where you’ll be able to find most of the comforts you’ve grown used to at home, there are probably a few of your favorite things you can’t get here. This is especially important for items that Malaysia won’t allow into the country via mail. Like that anti-wrinkle cream you love so much – Customs will confiscate it. (Hmm, is this why Malaysian government officials have such supple skin?)

Here’s a super helpful tip: before your house-hunting trip out here, make a list of your must-haves and hit up the stores to see if they carry them. Here are some basic categories to help get you started:

– Your special facial cleanser
– Moisturizers
– Your fave cosmetics (Sephora is here, so you’re probably covered)

Hair tamers
– Your favorite shampoo and conditioner (unless “Bawang Ladies Hair” is the brand you rock)
– Styling goop

Body crap
– Your particular brand of contact lenses (I found out – after our move – that mine aren’t carried in Malaysia. Damn it!)
– That brand of dental floss, toothpaste or whiteners that you love so much
– Insect repellant wipes (you can thank me later for this)
– Antiperspirant/deodorant. (You’d think that for such a hot country, the selection wouldn’t be so abysmal, but it is)

Random things
– Supplements
– Pet-related items
– Special comfort foods, obscure ingredients or weird spices
– Specialty sports equipment parts/accessories
– Large water glasses (It’s hot here and you’ll probably be guzzling water. I hit up 14 shops in search of glasses that would hold more than one gulp worth, but no luck. Desperate and perpetually dehydrated, I seriously started eyeing vases as potential candidates.)

“Oh that’s okay, I’ll just have Amazon or my friend mail me my favorite shampoo, Calcium pills and lip gloss,” you say. Well, have fun beating your head against a wall at Customs when you try to go and pick up your package! After a 1-2 hour long wait, you will be informed that you may have to pay a tax of up to 50% of the cost of the item, and if those items happen to be cosmetics, skincare, hair care or supplements, they will be confiscated. Yep, that’s right – as I found out the hard way, the Malaysian government doesn’t allow these items shipped into the country. Apparently the promise of shinier, frizz-free hair is a threat to national security. But you can bring the items with you in your suitcase, so stock up before you move.

My checklist sent me on a fun scavenger hunt all over Penang: pet shops, spice markets, the pharmacy, grocery stores. I found most of our “necessities” (smoked Spanish paprika is essential for survival, right?!) but had to buy some of our favorite things in bulk from the US and stuff them into our surfboard bags when we moved. Like: my husband’s beloved Blistex lip ointment, without which his lips would shrivel up and fall off his face (or so he tells me); *real* vanilla extract; white popcorn (fellow popcorn aficionados will understand the culinary atrocity of yellow kernels); and Fancy Feast Gravy Lovers canned cat food for exceedingly spoiled house cats who are convinced they will wither and die without gravy.

If you’re preparing for your move now and weren’t able to check the stores in Malaysia for some of your must-have items, post a message here and I’ll let you know if I’ve seen it here, or will try to find it for you. I hope your move is smooth and you settle in quickly!

Don't worry, you don't have to pack your dried fish lips or pickled sea cucumbers - we've gotcha covered!

Don’t worry, you don’t have to pack your dried fish lips or pickled sea cucumbers – Malaysia’s gotcha covered!

10 thoughts on “The Pre-Move Scavenger Hunt

  1. Hi Cimeron,
    What a super blog – I’ve only just dipped my toe into some of your posts, but with our move date to Penang fast approaching, will make sure I’ve read them all. I did have to laugh at your scavenger hunt and have, on the advice on our predecessors, already started stockpiling things I cannot do without.
    However, a question – if things like face cream are confiscated by Customs when posted, would they not do the same to things sent with ones international movers, or indeed in my bags on arrival at the airport?
    Looking forward to your thoughts.


    • Very exciting that you’re moving here! It’s a great place to live. If you need any help or have any questions, feel free to ask. So as for the facial creams and things, they don’t bother checking those when you bring them in on your suitcases on your flight. I don’t know if you’ll be able to ship them with the relocation company though – ours prohibited us from shipping any foods, liquids and perishable items.

      Oh, one other thing that you should bring are car seats if you have kids. Apparently they are very hard to find here.

      Let me know if you have any other questions! 🙂


      • Thanks Cimeron – on shipping “foods, liquids and perishables” … is that the shipping company, or the customs chaps in Malaysia do you think? We can get a few things round our shipping company if sneekie.


      • For us, it was the shipping company’s rules restricting the shipment of these things. But I’m not sure if those rules were put in place to comply with Malaysian Customs regulations, or just to discourage rats, spills and other other mishaps. I tried to sneak some vitamins in our shipping container, but it got nabbed by someone along the way. But I’ve never had any trouble loading up our suitcases with supplies whenever we take a trip back to the states – Customs at the airport has never batted an eye.


  2. Hey! I found the equivalent of rubbing alcohol in bulk at Georgetown Pharmacy. You need to ask for surgical spirits. They will sell you a gallon – but we took an empty water bottle and paid a fraction of the price.


  3. We always end up bringing over cotton sheets and towels from Melbourne to Penang.

    I’ve only ever been able to find polyester/cotton sheets in Penang, which are not really all that suited to hot weather…


  4. You can get rubbing alcohol from Lazada now!!! And Cimeron is right about the arm pit juice. I’d step over my own mother for a Mennon Speed Stick!!

    My wife and I have found that our shopping “treasure hunts” can actually be quite fun. Just don’t be in a hurry or get frustrated.

    If anyone knows where I can get proper martini glasses, the first round in on me:)


    • Hi Ali. Congratulations on your decision to move to Penang! Yes, we still live here and love it. Very glad to hear that my stories are helping you out and making you laugh. 🙂 I’ve been too busy with work and travel to post anything for a while, but maybe I’ll be able to resume posting in the future. Hope your move here is smooth!


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