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  • Writer's pictureRick

SG-JB Crossing: 14 Tips to Go Through Customs Faster (2023)


Queuing at JB Custom

Going through Singapore-Johor customs via Woodlands Checkpoint to Johor Bahru is a breeze to me since I cross the border about 2~4 times a month. The frequent trips allowed me to observe the flow of people across the border and find ways to save time. I have a number of little "tricks" and applied them to my advantage whenever I go over the border for breathers.

I am sharing these tips here to help others and also to help myself — if everyone can get through the customs faster, there will be lesser queuing time for everyone, including you and me.

Note that these tips are for travellers who visit West Malaysia, especially the southern regions, from Singapore using public buses. If you drive and are wasting time in traffic congestions at the border, read on and decide if it will be easier for you to go over without your car for a change.

PART 1: Going to Malaysia

#1. Avoid Peak Hours

If you choose to cross the border during peak hours, the longest time spent will be waiting in queues, either for buses or in the immigration halls. Traffic jams on the Causeway and roads leading to the border checkpoints in either directions can hold up public buses too.


During peak hours and peak travel seasons, most of the tips in this post may be applicable but they will not be able to reduce long queuing time — which can be 2~4 hours or even longer. So, do avoid peak hours if you do not want to be held up for long hours at the border-crossing.




#2. Skip Kranji MRT Station


To most people crossing the border, Kranji MRT Station is a convenient start-off point with SBS Transit Service 170X and Causeway Link CW1 ferrying passengers to Woodlands Checkpoint directly from the station. At the bus-stop opposite Kranji Station, SBS Transit Service 160/170/170X will also ferry passengers directly to the checkpoint via different routes.


In addition, SMRT Service 178 also stops at the bus-stop before heading to Woodlands Train Checkpoint. Service 170 will stop at Woodlands Train Checkpoint too.



During peak hours, the queues for both Service 170X and CW1 can snake around Kranji Station, sometimes taking hours just to board the buses. When the buses are stuck in heavy congestions between Johor Bahru (starting on the highway leading to JB CIQ) and Kranji Station, there can be no-shows of the buses for 30 minutes or more.


It will be better if you can use any of the other border-crossing bus services to travel from your place of residence to Woodlands Checkpoint and skip queuing at Kranji MRT Station during peak hours. Alternatively, head to Woodlands Train Checkpoint and walk over to the departure hall of Woodlands Checkpoint.




#3. Use Woodlands-Johor Shuttle Train


Apart from using bus services to Johor, a shuttle train service is also available. Known as KTM Shuttle Tebrau, the train service transits between JB Sentral, in Johor Bahru, and Woodlands Train Checkpoint only. The 5-minute train journey offers a better way to skirt around any congestions on the Causeway, especially during peak hours.


Note: Using the shuttle train service during off-peak periods may take longer time to cross the border than using bus services. The shuttle service will save time only when peak-period congestion is anticipated on the Causeway.


The ticket per person from Woodlands to JB Sentral is around S$5 and from JB Sentral to Woodlands is RM5. Tickets may be booked in advanced. However, train services follow a fixed time-table and is less flexible than using touch-and-go bus services. Pre-booking of tickets both to Malaysia and back for peak periods needs to be done several months in advance. Tickets for Friday nights and Saturday mornings to Johor Bahru and Sunday nights to Singapore are usually sold out within minutes when they are available.


Train schedules can be found on KTMB mobile app or at KTMB website.



At Woodlands Checkpoint, you will probably be using the enhanced-Immigration Automated Clearance System (eIACS) if you hold a biometric passport that is registered with the Singapore Immigration & Checkpoint Authority (ICA website) — the following 3 tips will apply to you.

(As photographs are not allowed to be taken in the immigration clearance areas, do try to picture the scenario as I try my best to describe them.)

#4. Use Automated Gantries Further to the Sides

For those who are familiar with Woodlands Checkpoint, the manned immigration counters are situated in the centre of both the arrival and departure halls. The automated clearance systems (ACS or "gantries") are located to the left when you enter the halls. The newly-installed gantries on the right side of the halls will be operational during peak hours.


Using the ACS to go through immigration checks is faster than using manual clearance, which is usually for foreigners, non-registered or non-biometric passport holders and those with issues using the ACS.

On the left side of the hall, Singapore passport holders are dedicated two gantries nearer to the manual immigration counters. Most Singaporeans will head for these gantries — mistaking that Singapore passport holders can use only those two gantries and also having to walk lesser — and often resulting in longer queues.

To go through the ACS faster, use the gantries for "Singapore, Singapore PR and Malaysia Passport", which are just beside the "Singapore Passport Only" gantries further to the left. The queues are usually shorter during non-peak hours and there are more gantries — each gantry will have its own queue.


The newer gantries on the right side of the halls are for Singapore, Singapore PR and long-term pass holders. In the departure hall, there is one single queue served by 10 gantries. In the arrival hall, one queue is served by 6~7 gantries, with 2~3 gantries reserved for foreigners on social visits.


However, you have to play it by ear. If the queue on the right side of the hall is very long — especially when there are more Singapore / Singapore PR / long-term pass holders crossing the border than Malaysia passport holders — the left side of the hall may have shorter queues.

#5. Wait, Insert & Press Down to Scan Passport

Most people do not know how the ACS works — just observe how many times people have to re-scan their passports and holding up the queues. To go through the first machine, the automated passport scanner, fast, remember these:

1. Wait until you are told to insert your passport, then do so. This allows the sensors to be activated before you insert your passport into the slot and trigger the scanning process. If you insert too early, the scanner may not be triggered and result in a short delay. However, this is trivial as the person in front usually takes longer to clear the ACS.

2. Press down the personal particulars page of the passport to make it flush against the screen to facilitate the scanning process. Don't just insert and leave it there as any gaps will allow light to infiltrate and interfere with the scanner. If the scan fails, you will be asked to re-scan your passport or go queue at a manual clearance counter — which will cost you more time. So, do press down your passport for the scanner to read your data clearly.


#6. Understand the New Biometric Machines

The second machine is the biometric scanners. On the left side of the hall, the bio-scanner will first scan your iris and facial features, if both scans failed, you will be required to scan your thumbprint as secondary identification.

1. You will be asked to look at the camera first. If you wear a mask, remove it (don't just pull down the mask as it may still be covering some features on your face). There are footprints mark on the ground to indicate where you should stand. Do not stand too close to the scanner or lean forward, otherwise, the scanner will instruct you to "step back". Try opening your eyes wider without using your fingers. Do not put on coloured or patterned contact lenses. If the iris and facial scanners passed, you will be through the gantry in no time.


2. If the primary scanning failed, you will be prompted to scan your thumbprint. Wait until you are told to put your right thumb on the scanner before doing so.

3. Remember which thumb you used when registering with ICA. Thumbprints on left and right thumbs are different. I had seen a girl failed twice at the machine before realising she should be using her left thumb.

On a side note, when registering with ICA or applying for your new passport, do use your right thumb — it will be less awkward at the thumbprint scanner, which will be on your right side.


Note that on the right side of the hall, the newer bio-scanners are different. They will scan your right thumbprint first before scanning your iris and facial features. Regardless of the machine in use, follow the instructions on the display.

#7. Queue at the Left Lane (if taking Service 160 / 170 / 170X / SMRT 950)

After clearing Woodlands Immigration, head to the bus bays below the checkpoint. All the queuing lanes for SBS Transit Service 160 / 170 / 170X and SMRT 950 will board the next SBS Transit / SMRT bus that comes along. The left lane will board the bus via the front entrance and the two right lanes via the rear entrance. When long queues are formed at all the lanes during peak hours, there will be a slight difference — the queue on the left lane may be shorter since it is the only queue boarding via the front entrance.

Queuing for Bus 160 & 170

At Johor Bahru Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex (JB CIQ),


Update March 2023: If you are using the new MACS 2.0 auto-gates for immigration clearance or intend to use it, skip Tip #8 and #9. For more information on using the auto-gates, check out the post below.



#8. Go for Immigration Counters in Back Row

The immigration counters in Johor Bahru CIQ are arranged in two rows. The counters in the front row will have one queue per counter. The counters in the back row will have one queue to two counters. Being in the back row, the queues will have additional 8-10 people in each queue when all queues seem equal from behind.


Queuing for the back-row counters will be faster provided both counters are manned. However, you have to play by ear as the factors contributing to fast clearance may change any time, i.e the number of officers on duty, the crowd and the composition of the queue (we will discuss the last factor in Tip #9).

1. During peak hours, especially on weekends, all the counters may be manned. It will be faster to queue for the dual-counters in the back row. At times, the officers may leave their posts during changing of shifts or washroom breaks, it may take several minutes but stay in the queue. You will regret jumping to another queue once another officer takes over.

JB Custom during peak hours

2. During off-peak hours, not all counters will be manned. So the back-row counters may not be serviced by two officers — open your eyes and check. However, queues should be rather short during off-peak hours so it should be OK to stay put in a queue unless other queues are shorter.

3. When the arrival/departure hall is not very crowded, the back-row counters will usually be single-manned. If all the queues seem to be of the same length when seen from behind, go for the front-row counters. There may be 8-10 more people in the back-row counter queues — you should be able to do a quick count.

Do get your passport ready before your turn at the immigration counter. Because of long queuing time, some people got too carried away by their chatting or playing with mobile phones that they started searching for their passports in front of the customs officers. You can really see the officers frown — I have seen that twice.

#9. Avoid Queues with Many Foreigners

There is no Visa-on-Arrival for foreigners at JB CIQ (via Woodlands) — it is available at the second link (via Tuas) for visitors of selected nations only, but not many foreigners realised this. Foreigners without valid visa will get stuck at the immigration counters and will be sent back to Singapore. This little episode will make the officer-on-duty leave the counter to escort the foreigner(s) to the service counter to the rear.

If the foreigners have valid visa, they will be required to scan their fingerprints and will be asked some questions. It will take extra time for each foreigner. When there are a number of them in a queue, especially from a tour group, it will be better to change to another queue.

Apart from foreign travellers, there are also those on Singapore work permits who did not bring along their work permits when going over, those with passport expiring in less than 6 months and other entry issues. They will usually hold up the queue.

This tip may be a little hard to apply unless you can identify them. There was once I queued right behind a group of 12 students, when I heard them spoke Japanese, I switched to another queue that was slightly longer. And sure enough, after I cleared the immigration check, the first student in the group was still answering the questions hurled by the customs officer — language barrier added some delays too.

Malaysia passport holders are advised to use the "Malaysia Passport" counters dedicated for them for speedier clearance since they are not required to scan their fingerprints. Singaporeans entering Malaysia are foreigners too, so the "All Passports" queues will usually be slower due to the need to do fingerprint scanning.

On a side note, avoid cutting queues in Johor Bahru CIQ. The long waiting time do get on the nerves of some people and causes frustrations. There were cases where people in the back of queues would walk up to queue-cutters and shout in their faces, causing embarrassments — unglamorous as it may be, this has became the most effective means to shame queue-cutters. So, don't cut queue, many eyes will be on you — some people may even be hoping to watch another "shouting drama".


#10. Don't Use Towed or Big Luggage

After passing through Malaysia immigration checks, the next station will be the luggage checks. Travellers with towed or big luggage will be required to go through the X-ray scanner. If all goes well, you will be held up by a couple of minutes. But if you are requested to open your luggage for further inspection, it will take up longer time.

Unless it is really necessary to bring a towed or big luggage, try to reduce the things to bring over and carry just a small backpack for a 1-2 days' trip. If you are going for shopping, you can bring along tote bags or backpacks instead of a towed luggage that will be subjected to scrutiny even though it may be empty.

After the luggage check station, you are through the customs. Enjoy your trip in Malaysia until it is time to go through the customs again on the way back.



PART 2: Returning to Singapore

The tips above (except #7, #9 and #10) will be applicable on the way back to Singapore. And some extra tips for entering Singapore at Woodlands Checkpoint here:

#11. Don't Wear Metallic Objects on your Body

Going into Singapore, everyone will be required to go through metal detector gates and all belongings will be X-rayed regardless of luggage sizes.

Frequent travellers will know not to wear watches and belts with metal buckles, or coins in pockets and wallets, when going through customs checks at airports and border crossings. Metallic objects will trigger metal detectors and the officer-on-duty will require you to go back, empty everything and walk through the detector again or he/she will scan you manually. This will result in delays.

The simplest thing to do is to dump everything on your person and in your pockets into your backpack or luggage for X-raying, regardless if they are metallic or not, and walk through the metal detector. If need be, use a belt with no metal parts, especially steel, or wear something that uses drawstring or does not require a belt. Ladies should avoid wearing clothes that have metallic accessories sewed on.

Heeding all these advices, you will be through the body checks in one pass.

#12. Keep your Purchase Receipts

Coming into Singapore, you will need to pay a 8% Goods & Service Tax (GST) if the total value of your purchases exceeds S$100 for less than 48 hours in Malaysia (Singapore Customs website). The GST is only on the amount that exceeds S$100.


If you buy a lot of items or some expensive items, like watches, jewellery, cosmetics, etc, do keep your receipts for tax purpose. Voluntarily declare for taxing at the Customs Tax Payment Office if you know you need to pay GST. A faster way will be to pay the tax using the Customs@SG web application before arriving at the checkpoint and show the e-receipt to excise officers when requested (more info).

Otherwise, keep your purchase receipts as proof to show the excise officer that you did not exceed the allowed quota when asked. This will expedite the process and save you a lot of time.

Do not assume that you will be excused from paying tax if you "lost" your receipts for expensive goods. All items will be verified against the excise database system and tax will be computed based on the recorded prices. If the items you bought are priced lower than the recorded prices, you have no receipts to proof otherwise.

So, do keep your receipts for faster clearance and unnecessary taxation. It is better to be prepared and "declare for tax when in doubt".

#13. Declare Any Alcohols Before Baggage Checks

There is no duty-free concession for alcohol at the border-crossings between Singapore and Johor, so all alcohols are taxable. Declaring alcoholic goods is a must without demand — if alcohol is found in your baggage without declaration, you will be slapped with a fine plus applicable taxes. So, do segregate any alcohols from other belongings and declare them via the red channels before going through the baggage checks.

Consequently, any bottles that resemble alcohol bottles may also be picked up as "probable" alcoholic products at the X-ray stations. Items such as cooking sauces or drinks in large glass bottles, sparkling juices in wine bottles, multiple canned drinks, etc, always result in bag checks by customs officers. So, do prepare these items for ready inspection instead of waiting for the officer to ask you to open up your baggage and empty everything.

Other than alcohol-bottle-lookalikes, objects that look like weapons, such as guns or sharp blades, cigarette packs, chewing gums, etc, are all likely to result in delays too.

#14. Skip Bus Service 170 (if going to Kranji Station)

If you are going to Kranji MRT Station during off-peak hours, queue at the lane for Bus Service 170X. There are separate lanes for Service 160 (to Jurong East) and Service 170 (to Queen Street). However, all 3 lanes will board the next bus (160/170/170X) that comes along for those who are going to Kranji MRT Station.

The 3 bus services will call at Kranji MRT Station with one difference — Service 160 and 170X will head directly to the station while Service 170 will make a loop around the old Woodlands Centre (additional 10-20 minutes depending on traffic conditions) before going to Kranji Station. Skip Service 170 if you want to reach Kranji MRT Station sooner during off-peak hours.


In addition, the queue in the Service 160 lane will board via the front entrance and queues in Service 170/170X lanes will board via the rear entrance. If the queue for Service 160 is too long, go to the lane for Service 170X, it is usually shorter and easier to board the buses because most people will not want to take the longer walk.

During peak hours or when there are traffic congestions on the Causeway, board any buses that come along — for all you know, the next bus may be more than 30 minutes or hours away in the congestion. Alternatively, walk over to Woodlands Train Checkpoint and exit from there. You can take Service 170 to Kranji MRT Station, or other services to other destinations, at the bus stop outside the train checkpoint.



Above are the tips that I have been using to get through Singapore-Johor customs without wasting time since 2017 and they are still applicable after the border reopened on 1st April 2022. Do use them to your advantage and alway play by ears. Also, help yourself by helping others to get through faster, share this post with them.


99,676 views9 comments

9 Comments


Guest
Sep 30, 2023

Hi is there a one litre alcohol exemption for bringing in alcohol during land crossings from sg to JB?

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Rick
Rick
Oct 03, 2023
Replying to

On a side note, there is NO duty-free exemption for bringing alcohol from Malaysia to Singapore. More info: https://www.customs.gov.sg/individuals/going-through-customs/arrivals/duty-free-concession-and-gst-relief/

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Guest
Aug 13, 2023

hi, you mentioned in the article that its possible to walk from woodlands train checkpoint to woodlands checkpoint departure hall. how do we go about doing that? subsequently, would that mean we would be able to cross and take the public buses across the causeway? Thanks!

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Rick
Rick
Aug 15, 2023
Replying to

Hi, at Woodlands Train Checkpoint, use the lift or escalator to get to the waiting point for the train. Continue along the passageway to the arrival hall of Woodlands Checkpoint, you can't go in there, continue along the passage way to the departure hall. Try it once and you will get a hang for it.

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Guest
Jun 20, 2023

hi are these gantries the same as the e-gates? do we need to submit a copy of the Malaysia Digital Arrival Card (MDAC) at least three days prior to arrival?

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Rick
Rick
Jul 04, 2023
Replying to

You will need to register at the manual counter for the first time after filling up the MDAC. After that, it will be just fill up MDAC and go via the e-gates.

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