Crossing the Malaysia-Singapore border by land for the first time can be quite stressful and unnerving.If you plan to maximise your trip in the Southern tip of Southeast Asia, it is possible to cross from Malaysia to Singapore by land. Alternately, if you fly into Singapore and plan a trip to Malaysia, adventure is just a 5-hour bus ride away. Cross-border trips from either side of the causeway often cause people panic, especially if it is their first time doing a overland crossing. However, there is really nothing to fear, especially if you know that your travel documents are secure and complete, and that, obviously, you are not going there for any other reason than travel tourism . The entire process should not take more than an hour. One thing you do need to know is that though the process is relatively hassle-free and painless, it is very important to be alert and present throughout the entire ordeal.
Quick disclaimer: this post is sadly devoid of any photos as photography is not allowed during the entire border process and I didn’t want to attempt to break the law. Also, this guide is just based on my experience, and every single crossing might be different. Use this as a general guide. Your particular experience might be a lot different, though I have personally crossed the border about 4 times already, and I can say from experience that these tips are rooted in a private ipk
Here are some tips to get you through your first Malaysia-Singapore border crossing via bus:
Tip 1: Know your bus number
The border crossing process will take you through several procedures, and when you reach the border stops at either side, you will be getting off the bus. In most, if not all cases, you will and you should be going back to the same bus. Take note of your bus number, plate number, and sure, maybe the colour. It will help you as you frantically search for your bus after you go through the Immigration line at either end of the causeway. Most of the people on your bus will either be Singaporean or Malaysian, and the bus will only wait for about an hour in most cases (based on different accounts). Singaporeans and Malaysians just zoom through the process as they just scan their passports without any trouble. We, however, have to go through the actual Immigration lane and do the usual screening. Just present your passport, get it done, sneak in a quick pee break, and then start looking for your bus immediately. I cannot stress this enough.In the SG side of the border, there is actually an automatic sign that flashes which bay your bus is supposed to go into. Make sure you are in the correct bus. It sounds pretty simple but it can be a little confusing. Don’t waste time dilly-dallying around after you go through the screening. Buses also go through a search at the border, and when they do go through, they go to a parking lot terminal where they wait for passengers to go back in to resume the trip. So yes, please take a picture or note down the bus number and the plate number.
Tip 2: Know when to get off the bus
Expect that you will be alighting the bus twice. Think about immigration crossings as an Exit and Entry (well, they technically are). Upon exit, the Immigration will check your Passport and affix your departure stamp. Know that every time you go into a country, you will have to have both an entry pass and and exit stamp. If you’re coming off the bus from either side, the first stop is the EXIT from either countries. Then, after you get your exit stamp, you go back in the bus, the bus crosses the causeway/bridge, and you will have to get off again at the next stop in the receiving border, this time for your ENTRY. This is an incoming customs check (entry/receiving countries are responsible for scanning bags and luggage for declared or non-declared items). Usually, this is where they ask for your purpose, duration of stay, where you are staying, and other required routine questions, so aside from your passport, bring other supporting documents most especially a return ticket or a ticket to your next destination. It helps if you have everything screenshot on your phone, or if you have them printed out, placed in one file folder just in case they ask for them. Present your passport to get an entry stamp, and go through customs (usually through the NOTHING TO DECLARE gate/zone). Then, come out the other end and run like hell to the carpark and look for your bus. Depending on the volume of buses crossing the border, you might have to wait a little bit for your bus to clear the inspections (they get inspected, too) but otherwise, your bus will normally be waiting at the other end.
Tip 3: Know what to bring
During the Exit check, you will be needing nothing but your valuables and your passport + travel documents. You will be asked by the bus driver to leave your bags, because someone from the border patrol will go into the bus and do an inspection. Obviously, do not leave anything valuable. I usually leave my 40L backpack or wheelie luggage in the undercarriage compartment anyway, so I would only have either a small rucksack or laptop bag with my laptop, camera, phone, and money in it. This is so that you can go through the process as fast as possible. It can get really stressful, as Malaysians and Singaporeans usually run through the gates and make it through in no time at all. However, the rest are made to go through the individual gates to reckon with the Immigration Officers. After the exit stamps, you will go back to the bus and resume with the journey.
At the Entry, you will be asked to bring your bags. Grab your stuff and line up immediately at the Immigration Officer counter to get your entry stamp, and then go through Customs check. Usually, the Nothing to Declare is your safest bet. You will have to read the immigration policies as to what you can and cannot bring into the country. If you are a backpacker on vacation, chances are these won’t even apply to you. However, stuff that you usually need to declare are goods for business or trade, and especially large amounts of cash that exceed the allowable limit. If you go through the Nothing to Declare lane, they will put your luggage through an X-ray scanner and then in most cases, they will just let you through without anything much else. Again, if you are not carrying anything illegal, this should not be scary at all.
WARNING WARNING!!! Be aware that Singapore has strict laws that may or may not make sense to foreigners. For instance, everyone should know that chewing gum is illegal and only a small, reasonable amount for personal consumption is allowed. Don’t be tempted to bring a big pack if your friends in Singapore ask. That would be pretty stupid. They don’t normally hassle tourists about this, but be ready to ditch the gum and throw it in the trash if they tell you to do so. Their country, their rules.
To recap what we have so far, the process is as follows:
Singapore to Malaysia:
Get off at the Woodlands border end >> Get Singaporean exit stamp from Immigration Officer >> go back to the bus >> bus crosses the causeway >> get off at the Johor side for entry >> present passport for Malaysian Entry stamp >> go through customs check >> go back to the bus.
Malaysia to Singapore:
Get off the bus at the Johor border stop >> Get Malaysian Exit stamp from Immigration Officer >> go back to the bus >> bus crosses the causeway >> Get off at the Singapore side >> present passport for Singaporean entry >> go through customs check >> back to the bus.
Tip 4: Befriend your seatmate
On many occasions, I was the only Filipino or ASEAN person in the bus, and it helped that I made friends with my seatmates who were Singaporeans or Malaysians. Get to know your seatmate, and tell them specifically that you would appreciate it if they could tell the driver if you aren’t back yet. Drivers are normally very accommodating and they understand that the process is more difficult for those who are not Malaysian or Singaporean. However, it helps to have someone alert the driver if you’re not back within a reasonable time.
Tip 5: Coordinate with your driver and conductor
Like in Tip 4, always tell the driver that you are not Singaporean or Malaysian. Then, they will know to wait a bit for you in case the queue at the Other Passports lanes are long or if you get held for questioning by the Immigration Officer. This has never happened to me personally, but I’ve witnessed someone getting pulled aside. It took about 15-20 minutes of questioning until she was allowed to resume and go through.
Tip 6: Doze off only when you have cleared the border
Do not sleep! Do not wear your headphones! Listen and keep an eye out for quick announcements.
It is tempting to doze off and sleep but you do have to be quick and alert during the process. If you are coming from KL, the trip from the city to the border at Johor is about 2-3 hours, so you will have plenty of time to rest. From Singapore, it is usually just an hour or so from Beach Road (where buses usually depart from). However, if your bus is approaching the border, make sure to have your wits about you and that you are alert and fully present.
Tip 7: Line up in the ASEAN lane
As mentioned, Singaporeans and Malaysians go through a special lane where they just scan their passports, that’s why they usually go through the process way faster than everybody else. Look for signs that say OTHER PASSPORT. That means anything other than Singaporean or Malaysian. Queue and wait for your turn, and follow all procedure and rules such as no hats/caps and especially, no photography or videotaping. This is no time to be shooting an Instagram story.
Tip 8: Be alert at all times
Generally, you will have nothing to be scared about. Just make sure you have all your documents ready, and that you are paying attention to what is going on. It is important to always make it your mission to find your bus and make sure you are on the right one. Also, always keep an eye out for your valuables and make sure you do not lose anything or leave anything behind.
BONUS TIP: I’ve crossed the border multiple times and I’ve tried several bus lines throughout the years. In my opinion, they are all pretty much the same. You can expect the same quality seats and service, and I think the fairly reasonably priced ones are good enough. No need to pay extra for those premium buses; the cheaper ones have plenty of legroom. I normally book my tickets via Busonlineticket.com, and I have no particular recommendations for a particular bus line. What I do is, I just book the one with my desired time of departure and don’t mind the condition of the bus very much. As long as it gets the job done!
So there you go, folks! Everything should be smooth sailing if you have your documents and other supporting information ready. With that being said, always follow rules in any foreign country, and make sure you keep your calm and never be aggressive if things don’t go as smoothly. I have never been held back, nor do I know anyone who has been held back at Immigration at either Malaysian side or Singaporean side, but if they have a few clarifications, just keep calm and answer their questions as honestly as possible. Do not argue with the Immigration Officer, and just make sure that you are reasonable, composed, and friendly.