We needed to be in Singapore to apply for our 60 Day Indonesian Tourist Visa. Although flights are cheap and in abundance from pretty much anywhere in SE Asia, accommodation is not. As we started searching for a hotel or hostel, we soon realised that staying in Singapore would be way out of our budget. So we had to rethink our plans and opted to travel from the city of Johor Bahru to Singapore instead.
Johor Bahru VS Singapore
Johor Bahru (often referred to as JB) isn’t exactly on the typical tourist radar. Sitting on the Southern tip of Malaysia, the capital city of the state of Johor serves as a gateway to Singapore.
Due to Singapores expensive nature, many people choose to live in JB but commute across the border daily to work or study. Singaporeans on the other hand, are regular weekend visitors to Johor Bahru as they hop across to enjoy lower cost fuel, food and shopping. So as far as we knew, JB would be a cheaper alternative to Singapore.
Why we chose to stay in Johor Bahru
We’d heard that we ‘might’ be able to obtain the 60 Day Tourist Visa at the Indonesian Consulate in Johor Bahru, so we took our chances. If we weren’t able to get the visa there, it would still be possible to reach the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore with relative ease.
Much cheaper accommodation
Hotels on offer in Johor Bahru were significantly cheaper and better value than anything we could find in Singapore. We stayed at the Baguss Hotel & Serviced Apartments and paid 55 ringgit per night. This included an ample breakfast, AC, WiFi and an extremely well equipped, large and comfortable room. Perfect for a week-long stay!
A word of warning – the Malaysian Government have recently laid on a new tourism tax for hoteliers and ask 10 ringgit extra per night on top of what you have paid for the room. We found this out the hard way at check-in. Make sure you read the (very) small print when booking online and be prepared to pay in cash on arrival.
Great food, cheap prices
Although Singapore is known for its famous Hawker Centres, we’d heard that Johor Bahru also offered a thriving food scene. As soon as we arrived, this was evident and we were super excited to get stuck in!
Right around the corner from our hotel was a street packed full of mouth-watering local restaurants serving up a mixture of Indian and Chinese cuisine.
With its huge tandoors on the street plus Roti Canai and Tandoori Chicken to die for, we could have happily eaten here every day. Prices were extremely affordable at no more than 7-10 ringgit for two persons, including a delicious Kopi Cham (iced tea and coffee mix) which is a must-try when in Malaysia!
Getting around in Johor Bahru
For us, most amenities were within walking distance. But if you need to go further afield, the cheapest and easiest way to get around is by using the app Grab. Simply book a car online which arrives within minutes and pay your driver in cash. A 10 minute journey shouldn’t cost more than around 5 ringgit, which is significantly cheaper than the standard metered taxis.
Getting from Johor Bahru to Singapore
It wasn’t possible to apply for the 60 Day Tourist Visa at the Indonesian Consulate in JB (subscribe for a separate post on this subject coming soon!) So we put Plan B into action and crossed the border from Johor Bahru to Singapore for a ‘life admin’ day trip!
What is the cheapest way?
There are several ways of getting from Johor Bahru to Singapore, however we opted for the cheapest mode of transport which the majority of local workers use. The public bus from the main terminal hub in Johor Bahru – JB Sentral.
Get there early
We arrived at JB Sentral in the early hours of the morning, 5am. It was already heaving with people. In order to cross the border, you have to go through two immigration checkpoints – one at JB Sentral in Malaysia and another at Woodlands CIQ in Singapore. They are open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
It is a well known fact that the entire process of crossing the border can take up to two hours – not because of distance, but due to the sheer volume of people travelling. So if you need to be somewhere, leave yourself plenty of time!
Don’t forget your passport!
Since you are crossing the border into another country, you will need your passport. This is required when travelling to and from Johor Bahru to Singapore. Immigration in both JB and Singapore is well organised despite the very long queues, and there are a lot of counters available.
The bus journey across the causeway
Once you have passed the first immigration checkpoint in Malaysia at JB Sentral, you will reach the bus terminal.
The bus costs SGD $1.30 – $1.80 for a single journey. There are various routes to choose from which take you to different bus interchanges and MRT stations, but don’t get too hung up on the details – They all go to Singapore.
We chose one of the coaches, it was packed so we had to stand, but the journey over the bridge took no more than 30 minutes (although traffic is back to back) and we were dropped at the Woodlands CIQ Immigration checkpoint.
Arriving into Singapore
After passing through the second immigration checkpoint at Woodlands CIQ, you can take the very easy to use MRT trains directly into Singapore. We recommend buying an EZ Link contactless travel card which is the simplest way to get around. It can be used on MRT, LRT trains and buses – This includes your return journey back to JB.
Top tip – Bring Singapore Dollars with you! We weren’t able to buy a train or bus ticket with our Malaysian Ringgit and had to find a cash machine
A pleasure to travel
Singapore is an incredibly easy place to navigate. The MRT is clean, efficient, air conditioned and fast! All signs and announcements are in English so it’s near impossible to get lost. And if you do, just ask someone! We found everyone to be incredibly helpful and friendly.
One day in Singapore
In between organising our visa, we took in the sights and sounds of the city such as dining at delicious Hawker Centres, visiting the beautiful Botanical Gardens, strolling around Clarkes Quay and Fort Canning Park.
Singapore is also a great place to pick up cheap electronics. After spending much of our time in remote places, this little trip gave us an opportunity to stock up on a few necessary items ahead of our future travels.
Back to Johor Bahru
The return journey from Singapore to Johor Bahru is exactly the same process. The Woodlands Bus Terminal was slightly more complicated to navigate so look out for the guys in orange high vis jackets – they will help point you in the right direction and make sure you get on the correct bus.
We left the city at around 6.30pm which was the rush hour peak, so the queues through immigration at Woodlands CIQ were particularly long. All in all, the journey back took about 2 hours.
Budget travel hacks
The entire experience of travelling from Johor Bahru to Singapore was stress free, interesting and relatively straightforward. If you want or need to go to Singapore but are travelling on a strict budget, then we highly recommend this process.
There are regular flights to Johor Bahru from across SE Asia, so this is a great alternative to staying in Singapore itself, if you don’t wish to break the bank!
Have any of you crossed the border from Johor Bahru to Singapore? What are your budget travel hacks? We’d love to hear your tips and tricks in the comments below 🙂