Travelling to Malaysia by car? Read this first.
(Updated: May 2019)
Malaysia is one of Singaporeans’ favourite holiday destination thanks to its proximity, its rich and savoury food that we’re all familiar with, and most importantly –– the favourable exchange rate. Whether it is a quick day trip over the causeway or a longer journey to Melaka, Penang, or even Kuala Lumpur, this guide is here to help you prepare for the journey.
Before The Trip
Get your vehicle ready
Check your passport
Get data roaming
Get your vehicle ready
Starting from October 2019, all vehicles entering Malaysia are required to have a Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP). This has been an ongoing project that is finally set to go live, so if you’re planning a road trip to Malaysia from Q4 2019 onwards, you’ve to get your vehicle installed with the VEP.
To get the VEP, register online via the official VEP website, and then, head to one of the four designated centres in Johor Bahru (JB) to collect the special Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tag –– Gelang Patah Southbound R&R, Plaza Angsana Open Carpark, Pandan RnR, and Lima Kedai Toll Plaza.
You’ll also need a Touch ‘n Go card, which is used to pay the toll fees when you get around Malaysia. The card is available in major shopping centres around JB, but if you’re crossing for the first time and do not have a card, you can either get it from second-hand sellers on Carousell or at Tuas Checkpoint. More information about the Touch ‘n Go card can be found in this guide.
Lastly, ensure that your fuel tank is at least three-quarters full before leaving Singapore. Otherwise, you might be stopped by the Singapore customs and made to turn back to refuel. You should see plenty of signs along the expressways, on the way to the customs, so there is no excuse to “forget” about your fuel level.
Check your passport
This applies for any overseas trip: Make sure your passport has at least six months validity before you leave. People have managed to cross the Singapore-Malaysia customs even when their passports expire in less than six months, but it is highly advisable to adhere to the rules because Singapore’s customs officers can deny your exit if you have less than six months validity, which would make it a wasted trip.
Change SGD to MYR
Most shopping malls around Malaysia will have money changers and their rates are actually very attractive, sometimes better than the money changers in Singapore. This is due to the higher demand of Singapore Dollar (SGD) given how it has been consistently stronger against the Malaysian Ringgit (MYR) in the past years. Nonetheless, it is important to prepare some MYR in advance as many roadside stalls and shops outside of the shopping centres do not accept any form of wireless payment.
Get mobile data
Mobile data is extremely important for you to make calls and also for road navigation in Malaysia. Data roaming charges are relatively cheap but you’ll have to activate roaming services with your telco in advance.
Data roaming charges to Malaysia:
Circles ($1.50/100MB, no expiry), M1 ($10/month, uses your local data limit), MyRepublic ($6/GB, valid for 30 days), Singtel ($5/GB, valid for 30 days), Starhub ($5/GB, valid for 3 days). Alternatively, if you’re a frequent traveler to JB, do consider getting yourself a local SIM card, which is available at most shopping malls.
If you’re driving a rental car you should check with the rental company to see if the car is approved for travel into Malaysia. Most rental companies would inform you of the permissibility and there is usually a daily rate for your time spent in Malaysia. Do not try to drive into Malaysia without letting the rental company know because their cars are installed with GPS trackers, so they will know if you “secretly” travelled out of Singapore.
Lastly, remember to bring along your driver’s license, and to check for your Touch ‘n Go card just before you go.
During The Trip
Navigating around Malaysia
Toll gates and rest stops
Is it safe to drive to Malaysia? This is a concern that deters many Singaporeans and foreigners from driving up to Malaysia. There have been many horror stories about robberies and stolen cars, but generally, this can happen if you plan to drive around anywhere else in the world.
Tips to ensure personal safety:
Plan your route before you leave.
Always lock your car when you are away.
Never leave valuables in the car, especially your mobile phones, cash card, or your bags. Even if your bags do not contain valuables, they would attract thieves.
Park the car in a hotel or secured private parking space if you are planning to park overnight.
Use a steering wheel lock to secure your parked car.
Install a GPS tracking system to your trace car should it be hijacked.
If possible, do not come out of your car to settle any road disputes; drive off to the nearest police station instead.
You should definitely set up a GPS system, at least on Google Maps, to help you navigate around Malaysia. Having said that, do not be overly reliant on the GPS as they often recommend the “shortest” path, which might mean taking small side roads that might get you stuck in a traffic jam.
An alternative to Google Maps would be Waze, which is a user-updated map that is commonly used by locals, so you get real-time updates on traffic conditions and incidents.
If you are unsure or lost, find a rest stop or service station to halt and recalibrate your route. Never stop on the emergency lane of the expressways; it is extremely dangerous. If you miss an exit, do not panic, and just drive till the next available exit.
Toll gates and rest stops
You’ll need to pay toll fees to use the highway, which is where your Touch ‘n Go card comes in handy. You can also use it to pay for parking at most electronic carparks.
Do note that you’re required to pay parking fees as long as you’re parking in official parking lots. This is either done on the parking meters, or using parking coupons that you can buy from convenience stores. Tip: Parking in JB is free on Fridays.
Do plan your petrol refuels and monitor your fuel gauge carefully as some stretches of road will not have a petrol station for over 40 km. There will also be Rest & Relax (R&R) pit stops where you can stop for food and toilet breaks. Choose to stop at popular and crowded pit stops to avoid being singled out and targeted by robbers.
If you’re planning to drive to Malaysia, the most important check is your equipment check i.e. your car. Make sure that your car tyres are well inflated, all the oil levels are sufficient, and that you’ve recovery equipment in your car.
You never know when you might run over a nail and the tyres puncture. Have your emergency numbers in place, and if you’re a member of Automobile Association of Singapore (AA), they do have a handy number to call to have your car towed back to Singapore. Alternatively, you might want to route yourself to the nearest car workshop for a fix.
There are many things that can go wrong when travelling overseas, and that is when a travel insurance can cover for these unexpected incidents. It might be the loss of your valuables or accidental incurrence of medical bills. In the event of a serious accident, a travel insurance can cover emergency medical evacuation and overseas hospital expenses.
Many Singaporeans neglect travel insurance if they are making just a day trip to JB, but do consider paying a small premium, or getting an annual plan if you frequent Malaysia, because this small amount can be a lifesaver if you do get into an accident in Malaysia.
To sum it up, remember that it is always good to plan ahead for your trip. If you are going out or coming back to Singapore on a weekend, a public holiday, or during the school holidays, expect jams of over three hours at both Woodland and Tuas customs!
Enjoy and have a fun road trip!