For such a small country, Singapore offers an astounding number of ways to enter and exit the country; if traveling to neighboring Malaysia, you can fly, drive a car, take a train, take a ferry boat, take a private bus, take a public bus, or even walk! Having taken our fair share of flights since arriving in Asia (the only country we hadn’t flown into thus far was China) and with a little money left on our transit cards, we decided to try for our cheapest international travel day to date and entered Malaysia using nothing but public transportation.
We were a little daunted at the prospect because all the information we read online suggested that we would have to switch buses several times in order to reach the border city of Johor Baru in Malaysia. Despite this being true, reaching Malaysia using public transportation is actually quite easy and painless; you don’t have to be a local with a firm grasp of Bahasa Malysia in order to take the trip, an EZ-LINK card with a few dollars let on it will suffice.
To help any other budget travelers out there who would like to make the trip themselves, we’ve put together this handy step-by-step guide of what we did:
- Take the train to Kranji MRT station and head upstairs to the bus platforms. You should look for bus CW1 or SBS170, though the signs where the buses park will clearly state their destination—you want a bus that is headed for Larkin Bus Terminal/Johor Baru. Tap your EZ-LINK card when entering the bus.
- From Kranji, the ride to Woodlands (Singapore Immigration) takes about 15 minutes. When you exit the bus, tap your card. Enter the building and pass through immigration where you will officially be logged as having left Singapore. Go downstairs and get back on the bus (either the CW1, CW2 or 170), tapping your card when entering.
- You will now ride a short distance to Malaysian immigration. When you arrive outside of Malaysian immigration, follow the same procedure as before: tap your card when exiting the bus and follow the signs to the arrivals hall where you will fill out an immigration card. We were processed quickly and painlessly—within 10 minutes we each had 90-day visas stamped into our passport (free of charge), no questions asked.
- Head back downstairs and catch the CW1/CW2/170 one final time, and tapping your card upon entering the bus. This will take you all the way to Larkin Bus Terminal where you can then transfer to private buses that will take you anywhere in Malaysia. There are ATMs that accept international cards at Larkin so you can easily take out local currency (Malaysian ringgit) here; there is no need to exchange cash or get in advance of your arrival.
Note: Because so many buses between Malaysia and Singapore ply this route, you will not necessarily be getting on and off the same bus every time so make sure you bring all of your belongings with you!
Although we had to get on and off the bus several times before arriving in Malaysia, we found taking the public bus into Malaysia was very straight-forward. The signage was very clear and it was never difficult to find the bus outside of each immigration point. The only time we ever really head to wait and it was a little more confusing was after we had gone through Malaysian immigration. There were several bus stops outside heading to Johor Baru and Larkin, however we just looked for the sign for the 170 and checked with one of the attendants and all was well.
From Kranji station, you can easily make it to Larkin bus terminal in Malaysia in under an hour. Taking a private/tourist bus from downtown Singapore probably wouldn’t have gotten us to or through immigration much faster than taking the public bus did. Taking the private bus does have the added convenience of you not having to search for a bus at Larkin Terminal after you pass through Malaysian immigration as you will instead be driven to the heart of Johor Baru or various other Malaysian cities, however given how easy it was to secure a bus at Larkin, we would not recommend this route for several reasons:
1) Direct buses originating in Singapore tend to only head to a limited number of popular Malaysian destinations. If you are hoping to start your trip off the beaten path, you will be out of luck. Our first stop in Malaysia was a little city called Muar and while we had no problem finding a bus heading there within 15 minutes of arriving at Larkin, despite talking to over 10 bus companies in Singapore, not a single one went there.
2) Even if you are going to one of Malaysia’s more commonly visited cities, Singapore is more expensive than Malaysia (hence the large number of Singaporeans who cross the border to go shopping!) so the bus ticket you purchase in Singapore will cost far more than if you catch a bus at Larkin. Our tickets for the 3-hour journey on a posh KKKL bus were just 15MYR (~$5US) per person!
Crossing the border between Singapore and Malaysia was so simple and cost-effective that Tony & I would happily undertake the journey again in a heartbeat, and we see no reason why other travelers shouldn’t elect to do the same. The only stumbling block I could see is if you did not have an EZ-LINK card, although from Kranji, you can apparently pay a cash fare of S$1.30 to reach Larkin. In our case, because we were simply using up money we had put on our EZ-LINK cards and budgeted for several days earlier (that we wouldn’t have been able to get back anyway), it felt like we had crossed the border for free. The only way we could have possibly done it cheaper would have been if we had walked!
Many long-term budget travelers recommend sticking around places longer and traveling slow because transportation days (especially when moving between countries) are without fail more expensive than the days when you stay put. Our border hop from Singapore to Malaysia just goes to show that for every rule, there is an exception!
Tell us: Have you ever used public transportation to enter or exit a country? What tricks have you used to keep your transport costs low?