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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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?

Written by: Stephenie Harrison

In another life, I moved from Toronto, Canada to Nashville, TN to pursue my doctoral degree in Psychology. That chapter of my life is now finished, but I did earn the right to demand you call me Dr. Steph (though I respond just as well to plain old Steph). I am an avid reader whose book collection is rivaled only by my many pairs of cute shoes. I also like to knit, hold impromptu karaoke parties, and try new and unusual foods. Generally not all at the same time. I also really love to learn languages, which may explain why I took 3 years of Latin in highschool. I'm turning over a new leaf, so instead of looking forward, I'm going to work on enjoying the present, so the country I'm most looking forward to is whichever one we're in right now!

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Read comments (12)

  1. November 6, 2013 at 1:31 pm
    Nov. 6, '13

    Border crossings are usually such a hassle and inconvenient…glad you guys found a good one!
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..Snakes, Spiders and Scorpions – Jungle Life on Roatan

    • November 17, 2013 at 10:24 pm
      Nov. 17, '13

      For the most part we have found that border crossings are pretty laid back and hassle free here in Asia, but I definitely think this one might have taken the cake in terms of ease and lack of stress!

  2. November 6, 2013 at 1:46 pm
    Nov. 6, '13

    Wow, that really does seem painless and easy. Nice step by step. =)
    Nicole | The Wondernuts recently posted..Wednesday’s Wonder: Watermelon

    • November 17, 2013 at 10:31 pm
      Nov. 17, '13

      It was so easy and really cheap—I’m glad that we didn’t bother getting one of the expensive tourist buses and hopefully this guide will encourage other people to just use this option as well instead!

  3. November 6, 2013 at 4:24 pm
    Nov. 6, '13

    I was in Malaysia, but sadly never made it to Singapore. If would have been traveling this route I would have loved to find this! Sometimes you really need a cheap long distance trip to make up for some comfy ones every now and then 🙂
    Jessica Wray recently posted..A Food Intervention with Madrid Food Tours

    • November 17, 2013 at 10:38 pm
      Nov. 17, '13

      Honestly, given how close Singapore & Malaysia are, this wasn’t even that much of a long-distance trip! We’ve surely traveled much farther within most countries than we did to simply exit Singapore! I’m actually surprised that most people don’t plan to visit both places when they stop over in one country since getting between the two couldn’t be easier; maybe next time you’ll make it to the Lion city!

  4. November 12, 2013 at 2:04 pm
    Nov. 12, '13

    I tend to agree with Rika…
    You might find this little tale amusing. It was one of those days that I was surprised I survived…
    Colleen Brynn recently posted..Don’t Ask Me When I Go

    • November 17, 2013 at 10:42 pm
      Nov. 17, '13

      Somehow I am not surprised to hear that crossing a border with Russia is not the easiest thing in the world… 😉 But at least you lived to tell the tale! (And what a tale it was!)

  5. Haseeb
    February 22, 2015 at 4:29 am
    Feb. 22, '15

    Hello Steph,

    I don’t have Singapore visa, but I do have multiple entry Malaysia Visa.

    Kindly advise if it is hassle free and easy to get Singapore visa for 2 3 days at Malaysian border?

    Also suggest both options: (By land and by Air)

    Thanks and cheers.

    • February 24, 2015 at 12:10 pm
      Feb. 24, '15

      Hi Haseeb—We’ve responded to this in an email, but whether or not you need a Singapore visa really depends on your passport. If you need a visa for Malaysia, you will probably need one for Singapore, but we can only talk about our own experiences traveling on Canadian and American passports. Best to check with your local embassy or the Singapore immigration website to verify. We are not aware of Singapore visas being issued on arrival if they are required, but this wasn’t an issue for us so we can’t say for sure.

  6. January 20, 2017 at 1:18 pm
    Jan. 20, '17

    Hi Dr. Steph, I am Cyril from philippines and I do have visa-free passport on given asian countries. Your article knocked my curiosity as next month, me and my friends will have few days tour in bali indonesia. Thus, we will have a connecting flight stop over kuala lumpur, malaysia for 15hrs before heading back Bali trip. I would just like to slice an advice, can we possibly visit singapore for few hours then go back malaysia again with our situation? Are there any legal process we need to take before trying this visit? Shall we buy tap cards in malaysia and we could also use it in singapore? Fun fact; we just wanna take some photos in singapore then go back. Mischevously, we are just hitting our shells up finding even more exciting asian tour IF POSSIBLE.

  7. September 24, 2018 at 1:10 am
    Sep. 24, '18

    thanx for sharing this most important information

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