Thousands cross Singapore-Malaysia land borders after 2-year closure, some turned away due to lack of documents

Travellers at the bus concourse in Woodlands Checkpoint on April 1, 2022.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

SINGAPORE - Thousands have crossed the land borders between Singapore and Malaysia since they reopened close to midnight on Friday (April 1).

Travellers were also able to take a new shuttle bus service between the checkpoints in Woodlands and Johor Baru run by Malaysian bus operator Causeway Link.

The first bus left at 6am from Malaysia and 6.30am from Woodlands. The last bus from Johor Baru is at 10pm and the last bus from Woodlands will leave at 10.30pm.

At about 7.30am on Friday, there were close to a hundred people in the queue at Woodlands for the bus service, which costs $2 per trip from Singapore and RM2 (S$0.65) from Malaysia.

Causeway Link had said in a Facebook post on Thursday night that the shuttle bus service will run daily at 15-minute intervals between the two checkpoints, depending on traffic and custom clearance conditions.

It said travellers using the service can pay only in cash and reminded passengers to prepare exact change.

A spokesman for the company told ST last night that it has gotten approval to run the service in order to cater to the expected crowd.

The firm has prepared six buses to ply the cross-border route and it will add more if there is congestion, the spokesman added.

For many who made the trip on foot or by car or motorbike, it was smooth sailing, although some were turned away at the checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas because they did not have all the required documents.

After the initial rush, traffic slowed considerably after about 3am

It was fairly quiet at the two checkpoints when The Straits Times arrived at about 6am.

At the Causeway, travellers were seen arriving in dribs and drabs. At Tuas Second Link, there were fewer than 10 motorcyclists and a few cars at the departure hall between 6am and 6.30am.

Around half of the motorcyclists at Tuas had to turn back, some of them due to expired or invalid vehicle entry permits.

Among those who made the early morning trip was Ms Tupang Isa, 39, for whom the reopening was an emotional experience.

A day after the borders were shut on March 17, 2020, to curb the spread of Covid-19, her mother died and the Malaysian had to miss her last moments, she told ST as she teared up.

"It is my day off today so I'm crossing over to settle some matters in Johor Baru," said the housekeeper.

Mr Loh Pui Loong, 44, who works as a cleaner at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, said there were only three or four people at the checkpoint in Johor Baru when he crossed the border at about 5am.

"I decided to start early because I was afraid there would be a lot of people entering Singapore. But there was no one there, so clearing customs was very quick," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Vijay Manogaran, 34, also walked over from Malaysia to Singapore in the early hours on Friday. 

"It feels like it is back to normal, like how it was two years ago," he said.

Travellers waiting at the bus concourse at Woodlands Checkpoint on April 1, 2022. PHOTO: The Straits Times

Mr Manpreet Raj Singh, 28, headed straight to the checkpoint after knocking off from work.

The technician said he was planning to surprise his girlfriend of three years, who he has not seen for two years, and visit his mother.

"I'm very happy. I think I will cry when I see them later," he said.

Mr Singh, who used to commute between Johor Baru and Singapore daily before the pandemic, hopes he will be able to do so again now that the land borders are fully open.

On Friday, travellers were also able to take a new shuttle bus service between the checkpoints in Woodlands and Johor Baru run by Malaysian bus operator Causeway Link.

The first bus left at 6am from Malaysia and 6.30am from Woodlands. The last bus from Johor Baru is at 10pm and the last bus from Woodlands will leave at 10.30pm.

At about 7.30am on Friday, there were close to a hundred people in the queue in Woodlands for the bus service, which costs $2 per trip from Singapore and RM2 (65 Singapore cents) from Malaysia.

Causeway Link had said in a Facebook post on Thursday night that the shuttle bus service will run daily at 15-minute intervals between the two checkpoints, depending on traffic and Customs clearance conditions.

It said travellers using the service can pay only in cash and reminded passengers to prepare exact change.

A spokesman for the company told ST last night that it has gotten approval to run the service to cater to the expected crowd.

The firm has prepared six buses to ply the cross-border route and it will add more if there is congestion, the spokesman added.

After midnight, thousands streamed across the checkpoints in Woodlands and Tuas, based on ST's observations.

Cars tooted their horns as they drove into the complex, while people on foot clapped and cheered before the jubilant mood quickly settled into one of business as usual of clearing immigration checks.

The border had been closed since March 17, 2020. 

This article was first published in The Straits TimesPermission is required for reproduction.