How to Get from Malaysia’s Kota Kinabalu Airport to City Centre ✈️

Plane over Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia

Are you travelling to Malaysian Borneo? Then you’re likely to arrive at Kota Kinabalu International Airport! The major flight hub for international arrivals, Kota Kinabalu Airport, affectionately nicknamed KK Airport or KKIA, is located in the northern region of Sabah, a popular jumping-off point for adventures in Borneo. 

Unfortunately for us travellers, airports everywhere are different and you need to get the lay of the land to avoid getting ripped off when you arrive. I’ve flown in and out of Kota Kinabalu more times than I care to count and can help you with your own experience, from getting your visa on arrival to making your way from KK airport to the city. 

Related: (opens in new tab)

Kota Kinabalu Airport Guide (BKI) ✈️

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Kota Kinabalu International Airport 🛬

Kota Kinabalu International Airport (IATA code BKI) is located in Sabah, the northern state of Malaysian Borneo. BKI is located around 8 km from the city centre.

Airport Kota Kinabalu
Kota Kinabalu Airport is one of the busiest in Malaysia.

Kota Kinabalu International Airport is one of the busiest transport centres in Malaysia and acts as the main gateway to Borneo. As well as a destination in its own right, Kota Kinabalu is a popular transfer hub for those travelling further afield to destinations such as Sandakan or Kudat

A range of airlines service flights to and from Kota Kinabalu Airport, including Malaysia Airlines, MASwings and AirAsia. There are two terminals at Kota Kinabalu International. 

Visa on Arrival at KK International Airport 🛂

Most travellers entering Malaysia will be exempt from getting a visa and will have 90 days to explore the country. You can see whether your nationality requires you to arrange a visa in advance here

Visa on Arrival (VOA) is available at Kota Kinabalu International Airport for some travellers. However, this is only relevant if you’re flying into KKIA from another country. If you’re travelling from Peninsula Malaysia, your visa will have been arranged when you entered the country. The visa extends to both Western Malaysia and Peninsula Malaysia.  

Flying into Kota Kinabalu
Flying into KK from KL was quick and easy!

Be aware that if you have travelled from Peninsula Malaysia, you will likely get another stamp that says ‘entered Sabah on [date]’. This is not a new visa and does not reset your current entry stamp. Your time allowance is from the date you entered the country and received your visa exemption, no matter where in the country this was. It doesn’t matter whether you entered Sabah the same day or a month later. 

Onward Travel in Malaysia 🛫

Travellers are not officially required to provide proof of onward travel when entering Malaysia. However, there is still a chance that you could be asked. Those entering Malaysia are more commonly asked about onward travel out of the country at airports, rather than land borders. If you want to be on the safe side, make sure you have a flight booked out of Malaysian Borneo or arrange an onward ticket in advance to avoid getting caught out if you have no fixed plans!

“When I flew into Kota Kinabalu from Bangkok, I was asked to show proof of onward travel prior to boarding the flight. From what I gathered, everyone in the same queue as me was asked but it is really just luck of the draw!”

Tim Ashdown, Writer at South East Asia Backpacker 

If you don’t have a flight booked you can rent a ticket from an onward travel website. This is usually done for a small fee and is a great way to get around the rule if you don’t have a fixed Sabah itinerary yet. 

Air Asia plane
Travellers may be asked for proof of onward travel.

Getting from Kota Kinabalu International Airport to the City Centre ➡️

There are a few ways to travel from Kota Kinabalu International Airport to the city centre. It takes around 20 minutes to make the journey, however, this does vary slightly depending on the method of transport that you chose and how long you have to wait. 

1. Bus 🚌

The airport bus leaves roughly every 45 minutes from Level 1. You can buy your ticket for the bus inside the airport. A ticket is approximately 5MYR per person (around $1USD). The bus service operates from 7:30 to 20:15. 

This is the cheapest way to get from Kota Kinabalu Airport to downtown, however, it is also one of the most time-consuming ways to travel there, with a journey time of around 25-30 minutes, not counting how long you may need to wait for the bus to arrive. 

2. Taxi 🚕

Taxis to the city centre are available from both terminals. You can book your taxi using the coupon system that is in operation at Level 1 of the airport. The journey costs around 30MYR which is a set price. As you would expect, taxis are available around the clock so they are the best option if you are flying during antisocial hours. 

3. Ride-hailing 🚙

Ever since Malaysia’s Uber alternatives burst onto the scene, they have changed the face of travel around the country. Grab is the most popular app throughout Malaysia and is used regularly in Kota Kinabalu. 

The Grab pick-up point outside Kota Kinabalu Airport.

It is possible to book a Grab car to pick you up and take you to the city centre. This costs around 17MYR (approx. $3.60USD) but does depend on the time of day and availability of drivers. There is a designated area to wait for ride-hailing pick-ups (left out of Level 1), ask a member of staff if you need help figuring out where to go. 

To use Grab when you arrive at KK, make sure you have a working SIM card in your phone. Check out this article for our list of the best Malaysian SIM cards for travellers. There are stands selling tourist SIMs at KKIA. 

4. Car Rental 🚗

Some travellers like to rent a car when they visit Borneo. Many places can be difficult to access using public transportation so a car provides a way to easily reach more far-flung destinations. The cheapest place to rent a car in Kota Kinabalu is KKIA. 

Numerous companies offer car rental services from the airport, including Hertz, KKIA Car Rental, Avis and Europcar. Car rental costs around 180MYR per day (approx. $39USD). You can arrange your rental car using a service like Rent Cars before your arrival.

5. Airport Transfer 🚐

If you’d rather not dedicate brain space to how you will travel from Kota Kinabalu Airport to your destination, you can always arrange pick-up with a company like Welcome Pickups. They offer private transport options with a local English-speaking driver before you travel, taking the stress out of your arrival.

Arriving at Kota Kinabalu Airport and getting to the city doesn’t have to be a stressful process. With a bit of knowledge about the arrival process and the transport options available from the airport, you’ll be able to breeze through immigration and start exploring KK in no time at all!


🙏 Mohammed Faredzuan Bin Sudi
🙏 Tim Ashdown | Writer at South East Asia Backpacker 
🙏 Staff at Level 1, KKIA

Sheree Hooker | Editor @ South East Asia Backpacker + Winging The World

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind Winging The World, a blog designed to show that even the most useless of us can travel. Follow Sheree’s adventures as she blunders around the globe, falling into squat toilets, getting into cars with machete men and running away from angry peacocks. In recent years, Sheree has also taken on the role of editor at South East Asia Backpacker.

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