Brunei Darussalam – Guide for Travellers

Brunei, officially known as Brunei Darussalam, is a small country in Borneo. Known for its vast oil fields, Brunei is famous for being one of the richest countries in the world. Some travellers bash it for being a sterile show country with little culture. Others adore it, going as far as to call it an under-visited gem in Southeast Asia. If you’re planning to visit, this guide will tell you everything you need to know, from what to do and how to get around. 


INTRODUCTION | Backpacking Brunei

  • Currency: Brunei dollar 
  • Capital city: Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB)
  • Population: 450,000 
  • Main religion: Islam
  • Main language: Standard Malay and Brunei Malay
  • Telephone code: +673
  • Time: GMT +7 hours
  • Emergency numbers: Ambulance, 991, Police, 993, Fire & Rescue, 995, Search & Rescue, 998

You’ll love Brunei if… 

  • You don’t like to follow the crowd. You like to make up your own mind about a place rather than listen to hearsay. 
  • You like Singapore and Hong Kong. The cosmopolitan city vibe is strong in Brunei’s capital, Bandar Seri Begawan. 
  • You’re a fan of Islamic architecture. The country is home to a range of intricately decorated mosques which are open to the public.
  • You’re a mid-range traveller. Brunei is one of the most expensive countries in Southeast Asia but a visit doesn’t have to break the bank. Still, if you’re on an extended trip on a shoestring budget, it probably isn’t the place for you. 
  • You adore nature. Sprawling jungles may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of a country famous for oil but forest covers 81% of the total land area.

WHEN TO GO | The Best Time to Visit Brunei

The best time to visit Brunei is from March to October. This is the dry season which offers warm sunny days and less humidity. If you’re looking for a bit of culture, time your visit with National Day on 23rd February or Hari Raya, also known as Eid al Fitr. For three days at the end of Ramadan, the Sultan opens his palace to the public – an incredible opportunity to get a peek into the world’s largest royal residence. 

November to February marks the rainy season. During this time, thunderstorms are common and flooding also occurs. If you want to journey into the rainforest to see wildlife, you should avoid the rainy season as the animals will venture deeper into the forest, making them harder to spot. 


VISAS | Do I Need a Visa for Brunei?

Visa exemption is offered to citizens of selected countries including the US, UK and many countries in the EU. Those who require a visa will need to apply at the nearest Brunei consulate. As of 9th Feb 2023, foreigners are required to register for the ‘E-Arrival Card’ online prior to arrival. Read more about Brunei entry requirements here. 

Brunei does not allow visa extensions. However, there are currently no rules against doing border runs. The nearby city of Miri in Malaysian Borneo is the most common place to do a border run from Brunei. There are severe penalties for overstaying your visa in Brunei. Penalties include fines, imprisonment and even whipping. 


HEALTH | Vaccines and Malaria Tablets for Brunei

Do I Need Vaccines to Travel to Brunei?

Travellers heading to Brunei should make sure they are up-to-date with their primary vaccine courses and boosters. This includes the vaccinations for Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Hepatitis A and B, as well as Tetanus, are also recommended. 

Do I Need Malaria Tablets for Brunei?

Antimalarials are not usually recommended for travellers heading to Brunei. However, travellers are encouraged to practice bite avoidance to avoid malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases such as Dengue Fever. 


SAFETY | Is Brunei Safe? 

Brunei is a very safe country and serious crime is rare. Pickpocketing in tourist areas can still happen so you are advised to refrain from flashing your valuables and keep your passport safe. Driving in Brunei is much safer than in other countries in Southeast Asia and the roads are generally in good condition. 


WHAT TO PACK | What Should I Pack for a Trip to Brunei?

You may have heard that Sharia Law has been enacted in Brunei. While this is true to an extent, it is not enforced with strict abandon and as such, shouldn’t cause too much concern for travellers. 

While you will naturally see women wearing the burka, it is also common to see non-Muslim women carelessly strutting around in short shorts – something you may not have expected!

Despite this, you should dress modestly in Brunei to be respectful of local customs and avoid getting yourself into hot water. Make sure you cover your knees and shoulders. Tourists are not expected to wear head coverings (unless they are attending specific formal events). Bear in mind that you will be refused entry into a mosque if you are inappropriately dressed. 

Brunei is a hot country so to avoid overheating, it is recommended to don long linen trousers or a skirt to stay cool. The sun can be relentless too so make sure to pack your suncream to avoid getting burnt! 


FLIGHTS | Airports and Airlines in Brunei

Brunei’s only airport, Brunei International, is located less than 15 minutes from downtown Bandar Seri Begawan, the capital. The best way to get from the airport to the city centre is either by using Dart (the local ride-hailing app) or by hopping on a public bus. The latter will cost around $2BND (approx. $1.50USD).  Royal Brunei Airlines is the national airline. 


LANGUAGE | – Standard Malay and Brunei Malay

While Standard Malay is the official language of Brunei, Brunei Malay, also known as Melayu Brunei, is much more widely spoken. English is also widely spoken by Bruneians, making it an easy place for Western travellers to explore. 


COMMUNICATION | Phone and Internet in Brunei

WiFi is readily available at most accommodation options and phone network coverage has expanded a lot in recent years. SIM cards are helpful for travellers looking to stay connected. A Progesif Tourist SIM is the best option for backpackers. You can find out more about SIM cards in Brunei here.


BUDGET | How Much Does It Cost to Backpack Brunei?

The official currency of Brunei is the Bruneian dollar. It is pegged to the Singapore dollar which is also accepted as legal tender throughout the country. Note that you’ll likely be given local Brunei dollars back as change. 

While travelling in Brunei is more expensive than many countries in Southeast Asia, it doesn’t have to break the bank. Below, we’ve included some estimates of daily costs to give you an idea of how much you’re likely to spend. 

The recommended daily budget below is just an estimate for the average traveller. It is possible to spend much less than this in Brunei if you are thrifty, stick to walking or public transport, cook your own meals and stay in very budget accommodation. 

Recommended daily budget – $60USD per person

👉 Read More: Brunei Budget Guide


Cost of Accommodation in Brunei

Accommodation in Brunei is likely to be your biggest expense. High-quality budget options are fairly limited, even in the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. Despite this, there are options for those on a shoestring, with accommodation starting at around $15USD per night, just don’t expect this money to get you the comfort you may be used to in other Southeast Asian countries!

As for how much you can spend at the top end, there really is no limit! Brunei is a country that knows how to do luxury so there are plenty of options when it comes to high-class lodgings. If you have a bit more to spend, you can get a lot for your money here and there are even 7-star hotels on offer! 

On average, you’re likely to be looking at somewhere between $30-50USD per night for a double room. The cheaper end of this may require you to use shared facilities. 


Cost of Food in Brunei

Food in Brunei is not as expensive as you may think. There are plenty of ways to eat on the cheap – stick to the local cuisine, cook your own food (if possible) and eat at the markets. In particular, the Gadong night market offers a range of tasty, filling meals for a steal of a price. At the night market, most dishes are only a couple of Brunei dollars each.

In a local restaurant, you’ll pay slightly more, on average between $5-10BND (approx. $3.50-7.50USD) a meal, depending on what you order. Even in the more expensive restaurants (think hipster and a range of imported ingredients) you’re unlikely to pay more than you would in western Europe and the US. 

While you’re in Brunei, you should absolutely try the national dish ambuyat. Made with sago palm, this gloopy starch is eaten with a range of sides, including dried fish, stir-fried vegetables and slow-cooked meats. A number of restaurants in Brunei serve ambuyat sets, ideal for those trying the dish for the very first time.

Good to Know!

As with all Muslim countries, Friday is the day of worship and most establishments are closed on this day. Alcohol is illegal in Brunei, so you will not be able to purchase it in shops. It’s a bit of a pain when you fancy a beer but a good way to keep costs down! 

The tap water in Brunei is okay to drink in Bandar Seri Begawan but if you’re heading out of the capital you’ll need to buy bottled water – which adds up and is terrible for the environment – or bring your own water filter bottle. While the initial outlay of this can be a bit steep, you’ll definitely save money in the long run!


Cost of Activities in Brunei

The good news about travel in Brunei is that most of the main attractions are free. This includes the Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque, Jame’Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque and Kampong Ayer. 

Museums are generally cheap for foreigners with the Royal Regalia Museum costing around $5BND (approx. $3.50USD) and the Brunei Maritime Museum costing around $3BND (approx. $2USD).

Boat trips in Bandar Seri Begawan begin at around $10BND per person (approx. $7.50USD) which will take you around Kampong Ayer, the water village. Those wanting to travel further afield to incorporate a trip to the mangroves should expect to pay approximately $40-45BND (approx. $30-33USD) for two people. 


TRANSPORT | Getting Around Brunei

Public buses run from the outskirts of Bandar Seri Begawan to the city centre and cost less than $1BND per person (approx. $0.70USD). Water taxis to Kampong Ayer are commonly used by locals and tourists alike, also costing around $1BND each. Public transport infrastructure is lacking outside of the BSB, largely because Bruneiens prefer to travel by car. In fact, Brunei maintains one of the highest car ownership rates in the world!

If you want to explore outside of the capital, you may like to rent a car. Nearly all the cars are automatic and the rental cost is around $75BND (approx. $55USD) a day. The big advantage to renting a car in Brunei is that fuel is incredibly cheap as it is subsidised by the government. 

The ride-hailing app of choice in Brunei is called Dart and it is easy to sign up for an account. Drivers are generally courteous and friendly, however, this mode of transport can be costly for short journeys, with a starting price of $5BND (approx. $3.50USD). There is an additional airport surcharge of $3BND (approx. $2USD). 


THINGS TO DO | Top 5 Things to Do in Brunei

1. Visit a Water Village

Kampong Ayer is the largest stilted settlement in the world. Comprised of around 40 villages connected by boardwalks, a visit here offers a fascinating insight into the lives of local people. Taxi boats will take tourists over for around $1BND per person and there is a visitor centre which explains more about the history and evolution of this cultural site. 

It is well worth getting a tour of Kampong Ayer from one of the boatmen, they whip around the stilts with an astounding level of precision and skill. Keep your eyes peeled for crocodiles and don’t stick your hands out of the boat – just in case! 

2. Step Inside the World’s Largest Royal Palace

In keeping with the wealth and splendour that Brunei is known for, its capital Bandar Seri Begawan, is home to the largest royal residence in the world, Istana Nurul Iman. This grand palace is home to the 29th Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah and his family. 

The palace is not open to the public, except for three days during the Hari Raya celebrations at Ramadan when anyone can queue to enter and meet a member of the royal family. It is crazy busy and the queues get long but hey, it is sure to be a unique experience! Read more about one traveller’s experience visiting Istana Nural Iman here. 

3. Spot Proboscis Monkeys 

Easily recognisable for its long and phallic-looking nose, the proboscis monkey is endemic to the island of Borneo. While the biggest population of these monkeys is in the Sabah region close to the Kinabatagan River, they can also be spotted in  Brunei. 

Mangrove boat trips leave the centre of Bandar Seri Begawan and offer travellers the opportunity to spot these rare primates in their natural habitat. If you are planning on doing a boat trip around Kampong Ayer, opt for a combined tour which includes the mangroves – it’s cheaper than doing them separately! 

4. Visit Some of the World’s Most Pristine Rainforest

If you are in search of sprawling rainforest, Brunei is one of the best places in the world to find it. Over 80% of the country is covered in jungle and, of that, an estimated 59% is primary forest. Ulu Temburong National Park, known as the ‘Green Jewel of Borneo’ is the most famous gateway to the rainforest and can be visited on organised trips from the capital Bandar Seri Begawan. 

Spanning 50,000 hectares, the rainforest is home to a myriad of exotic wildlife. Trips usually combine adventure activities such as biking, abseiling or rock climbing and offer visitors to opportunity to learn about the indigenous communities that have long called the forests home. 

5. Photograph Some of the Most Beautiful Mosques in the World

There is no doubt that Brunei is an aesthetically stunning country. Undoubtedly one of the cleanest and greenest countries in Southeast Asia, it is the intricate Islamic architecture that really makes it stand out. If you’re a photographer, you’ll adore Brunei with its towering minarets and opulent domes. 

There are mosques scattered all over the country but you absolutely shouldn’t miss Omar Ali Saifuddien Mosque and Jame’ Asr Hassanil Bolkiah Mosque (both in BSB). Non-Muslims are permitted to enter if they are dressed correctly and visit outside of prayer times.


Contributors: 

South East Asia Backpacker is a ‘travel diary for everyone’. This article has been written with the help of backpackers and local experts. We would like to thank…

🙏 Tim Ashdown | Writer at South East Asia Backpacker
🙏 Pauline | Find Me Logistics
🙏  Kevin Watson Tsai | @thetravelguyshops
🙏 Adrian | South East Asia Backpacker Community Member
🙏 Jordan Morrison | Contributor at South East Asia Backpacker 

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

Sheree is the awkward British wanderluster behind wingingtheworld.com, a travel 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.

Find her on: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Pinterest

4 thoughts on “Brunei Darussalam – Guide for Travellers”

  1. Lol just because its cheap doesn’t mean its worth going to. Sometimes i think to truly appreciate a place you need to spend more time there. It is one of the safest places in the world to travel to so easy enough to get around, but the city just doesn’t have much going for it unless you head out of the main areas.

  2. It’s a nice place once you get out of the city, not worth going just for a weekend though.

  3. Franco Joe Giovanardi

    I had to spend hours at Brunei airport for a connection. Was hoping to find some good duty free shopping but shops where few and very much uninteresting..

  4. Fabien Vuillerey

    Calls for a boycott against hotels belonging to the Sultan of Brunei, the Meurice and Plaza Athénée in Paris, causing mass cancellations in these institutions. Brunei has decreed early May the application of Islamic law.

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