Even though you need to pay to enter Johor Bahru from Singapore, these things still make a trip across the causeway worthwhile.
First published on 20 October 2015. Last updated on 3 November 2016.
Sure, most things are cheaper in Johor Bahru but... look at the line at the causeway. However they try to speed it up, you still end up feeling like you could have raised a small child by the time you’re through. Then after the shopping, you need to make your way back again.
From 1 November 2016, it's also gotten more expensive for Singaporeans to enter Johor Bahru. Non-Malaysian registered vehicles entering JB from Singapore now have to pay a S$6.60 toll. And if your car is still around after 10 calendar days, you need to pay a Vehicle Entry Permit (VEP) of S$35 per day. Previously, the VEP was at S$20 per day.
Given the new toll, it’s not always worth the trouble of the trip to Malaysia. But Singaporeans can save a lot of money when you cross the causeway for these things:
1. Over-the-Counter Medicines
Some drugs that require prescriptions here can be bought over-the-counter (OTC) in parts of Malaysia. Some are cheaper in Malaysia by a 30 to 50%. An old example is the Ventolin inhaler used by asthmatics, which is about S$17 in Singapore, but just over S$10 (after currency conversion) in Malaysia.
Other examples are lancets used in diabetics testing kits (around S$35 a box in Singapore, but only around S$20 a box in Malaysia). The Vicks inhaler, an old favourite for blocked noses, can be had for under S$2 in Malaysia (around S$2.50 in Singapore).
In general, if you need a particular kind of medicine or home medical equipment, always check the price in Malaysia first. You might be able to shave 50% off your healthcare costs.
2. Car Servicing
If you want to fit a body kit on your car, change its headlights, or get the seats re-upholstered, Malaysian mechanics are the ones to visit. They often charge 20 to 30% less than their Singaporean counterparts, and the discount may grow if you are a regular. The most famous location for this is Permas Jaya in Johor, a “cluster area” for auto services. There is no formal index of services and prices for this area though, so you should shop around.
Simply cleaning your car is cheaper too. There are manual car wash services that cost as little as S$8 - S$12 in parts of Johor.
It's important to note that Malaysian workshops offer car modification services that are not allowed in Singapore. Do not modify your car without prior approval from your insurer and the Land Transport Authority (LTA). Doing otherwise could be illegal and can void your car insurance.
3. Food and Groceries
Malaysia is definitely cheaper than Singapore for dining, and has been for decades now. A meal in a proper cafe can cost as little as S$15 per head, as opposed to the S$25-35 per head in Singapore.
The same goes for groceries. A can of Coke in a supermarket is still under a Singapore dollar. Through providers like Food World, five kilos of minced beef can be had for under S$60 (it would be near S$90 in Singapore). The prices are even lower if you go to traditional markets.
Optimise your savings by using an overseas credit card that has the best foreign exchange rate. Visa, MasterCard and American Express all have different charges for foreign currency transactions. Currently, the Standard Chartered Unlimited Credit Card is giving 3% rebate on all spend made in foreign currency.
In order to save more, make sure you’re buying with the right card.
4. Prescription Spectacles
If you need a new pair of specs, head to the optometrists at JB City Square or Holiday Plaza to save serious cash. Depending on your grade, the material of the specs, and what kind of lenses you get, you can save anywhere from 30% to 40% on new glasses. If you have the time and patience to compare prices across shops, you can find Ray Ban shades and other designer frames for 30% less than the retail price in Singapore.
Considering that a basic pair at a neighborhood optometrist starts at S$198, and can go way over S$800 for progressive lenses, it's worth crossing the Causeway for specs that will last you years.
5. Dental Care
You're going to want to take care of your teeth, because dental care in Singapore can cost you hundreds of dollars per visit. But if you happen to live up north, it'll be worth crossing the causeway and finding a dentist over at Johor Bahru.
You'll have to shop around to find the right dentist. In general, however, the quality of service and care is comparable to Singapore's. A dental crown costs around RM800 (S$266) compared to S$600 in Singapore, while braces cost RM2,500 - RM3,000 (S$831 - S$998) compared to S$4,000 - S$5,000 in Singapore. Savings this great makes bearing the Causeway traffic completely worth it.
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