The vast majority of that cash is spent in KL, which Tourism Malaysia is keen to promote as one of Asia's leading shopping destinations.
But however important the tourist dollars are, the retail industry in KL is principally designed to satisfy the Malaysian obsession with (window) shopping.
Something that visitors will notice fairly quickly is that prices in KL are not cheap by international standards. In fact, many goods are now substantially more expensive than in the United States, Europe and the UK. Much of this is down to the appreciation of the ringgit against the US dollar, the euro and the British pound. Another factor is the lack of any real competition between retailers, which allows big mark-ups on all but the most basic products.
All of which means that the only way to get anything like a bargain in KL these days, on a name brand at least, is with heavy discounting. The good news for tourists and locals alike is that sales occur at regular intervals throughout the year. Although some of the discounts can be very generous, it's always wise to do a quick currency calculation in your head to make sure you are not paying more than you would back home.
Most of KL's retail activity these days is carried out in massive air-con malls, which have become the city's number one leisure destination. The most popular ones include Pavilion KL, Suria KLCC and Mid Valley Megamall. They all offer much the same selection of local and international brands. The pick of the bunch is Pavilion, mainly because of its sense of space.
Smaller, more upmarket malls, like Lot 10, Starhill Gallery, Bangsar Village and Bangsar Shopping Centre, offer a more unusual range of offerings. They also feel much more human in scale than the city's larger shopping centres. This individuality and exclusivity comes at a cost though of generally heftier price tags.
For something completely different, Sungei Wan Plaza and BB Plaza are interlinked old-style malls, which are much easier on the pocket. Their biggest draw is cheap non-branded clothes. For funkier clothes, the small boutiques around Bangsar Village are probably the best bet.
When it comes to electrical goods, KL's biggest hub is Low Yat Plaza. The prices are about as keen as it gets in the city, with some built-in wiggle room for small discounts. But still, do not be surprised if you see the same camera or phone for less money when you get back home.
In terms of books, Kinokuniya in Suria KLCC is one of the foremost book shops in all of Asia, while BookXcess is a great discount store, with an unexpectedly good choice. The latter is based in Amcorp Mall, an old-style retail hub which has the city's best flea market every Sunday. It's a five-minute walk from Taman Jaya LRT station.
If you are looking for a special gift, then Chinatown has the largest concentration of shops with a bit of character. Purple Cane and Wisdom Arts both offer beautifully packaged tea, as well as tea-making paraphernalia. Peter Hoe's two shops (Evolution and Beyond), are crammed full of tasteful gift possibilities, from jewellery to fabrics. The only problem is that most of the stuff is so lovely you will probably want to keep it for yourself.
Bangsar Shopping Centre
285 Jalan Maarof, Bukit Bandaraya
T: (03) 2094 7700
Jalan Telawi 1, Bangsar
T: (03) 2282 1808
111 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang
T: (03) 2148 7411
60, Level 3, Amcorp Mall, 18 Jalan Persiaran Barat, Petaling Jaya
T: (03) 7956 0455
Level 4, Suria KLCC, Jalan Ampang, KLCC
T: (03) 2164 8133
Lot 10 Shopping Centre
50 Jalan Sultan Ismail, Bukit Bintang
Low Yat Plaza
7 Jalan Bintang, Bukit Bintang
T: (03) 2148 3651
Mid Valley Megamall
Mid Valley City, Lingkaran Syed Putra
T: (03) 2938 3333
168 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang
T: (03) 2118 8833
Evolution: 2 Jalan Hang Lekir, Chinatown
Beyond: Second Floor, Lee Rubber Building, 145 Jalan Tun H S Lee, Chinatown, Kuala Lumpur
Purple Cane Tea Shop
11 Jalan Sultan, Chinatown
T: (03) 2031 1877
181 Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang
T: (03) 2782-3855
Sungei Wan Plaza
Jalan Bukit Bintang, Bukit Bintang
T: (03) 2148 6109
Jalan Ampang, KLCC
T: (03) 2382 2828
Wisdom Arts Tea Shop
135 Jalan Tun HS Lee, Chinatown
T: (017) 384 2029
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