You can’t visit Sabah if you’re Nigerian

“Please be informed that the Nigerian nationals are not allowed to enter Sabah state for the purpose of TOURISM.

Under the current regulations Nigerians are only allowed to enter the state for three purposes only:

1. Visiting family members (Husband/Wife/Children/In-law);
2. Strictly on (an) official visit.
3. Attending meeting/seminar/conferences in Sabah.

An approval to visit Sabah must be made through the Sabah State Secretary office in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah before coming to Sabah.”

That’s the response I received recently from the Department of Immigration Malaysia Sabah Branch (Office of Federal Secretary Sabah Prime Minister’s Department) to my application for more information.

Department of Immigration Malaysia Sabah Branch, Other expats, Nigerians, Visit Sabah, expats, Malaysia

I’m supposed to be visiting the state next year with my company on a trip to climb Mt Kinabalu. Totally legitimate reason (“official visit”), if you ask me. But, maybe I’m biased because I’m doing the travelling.

It occurred to me that entering the state might be a problem based on stories I’ve heard from others, but I always felt that it applied to some people. Not me. Maybe if the immigration officials see that I’m an “expat” here, they’ll allow me in, like that time in 2016.

Quick reminder

The post by Al Ibrahim was on the top of my Instagram feed. In his post, he describes how he was held at the immigration point in Kota Kinabalu after (also) visiting with colleagues for a company trip.

How, after many minutes of questioning and being told that Nigerians were not allowed into the state, he was escorted back on the plane and sent back to Kuala Lumpur.

What he doesn’t say is that, during that entire time, his passport was withheld by the immigration officials while in Kota Kinabalu, the airline officials while on the plane and the KL immigration officials when he got back to KL.

He got his passport many minutes after he landed. He talks about this and more in our upcoming podcast.

That’s when I seriously started to understand that I might not make it to Kota Kinabalu with the rest of my colleagues in 2018.

That was then…


The first time I went to Kota Kinabalu was in February 2011. I visited, went island hopping on the amazingly beautiful beaches, got on the plane and came back to Kuala Lumpur. Nothing special happened.

The last time I went to Kota Kinabalu was in February 2016. I was on an assignment with a previous employer and I was going to interview someone for one of the Malaysian government ministries.

It was supposed to be slightly uncomfortable. Fly in there in the morning, have the interview around noonish and then fly back to KL in the evening.

It also seemed straightforward until I was “held” back at the immigration counter when we arrived at the Kota Kinabalu airport. My colleague, a local—the photographer—was already through and heading out of the airport for a smoke.

Meanwhile, I was getting the usual questions. What are you here for? What do you do in KL? How long are you here for? Now that I think about it, it seems like they were relatively more lenient with me then.

At least compared with Al who joked that they’re getting stricter every year. I agree.

My colleague retraced his steps when he realized I wasn’t behind him. At that point, I was telling them to call my employer, call my contact at the government ministry that we were there for, or better yet, call the Datuk I was there to interview.

My colleague was already explaining to them in Bahasa. We were just there to do a job and we’ll be out the same day. And we gave them the contacts.

About 10 minutes later, the immigration officials stamped my passport, allowing me up to three days stay. We told them we only had one day there. They said that was in case we changed our minds or an emergency.

Official visit unlikely

I don’t think I’ll be allowed into Kota Kinabalu in 2018. I’ll probably just pass anyway, even if they give me permission to go, just to protest?

Apart from the obvious fact that there are select nationalities not allowed to enter the state for tourism, the problem is that there’s no information anywhere about this.

No information that you should apply for a pass at the “Sabah State Secretary office in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.” Or information that Nigerians are not allowed in except for the reasons stated in the email. Or that there are other nationalities that are not allowed in either.

Also, the email says, “An approval to visit Sabah must be made through the Sabah State Secretary office in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah before coming to Sabah.” All things being equal, that means I have to be in Sabah before coming to Sabah?

Also, what constitutes an “Official Visit?” Does a company trip constitute a valid “official visit?”

I’m still waiting for information about how I can apply for a pass to visit. I’ll update this post as soon as I get more information.

Have you had a similar experience? Let’s hear you in the comments section.

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