I cleared the JB customs e-gate in 20 minutes but not all machines appear to be working properly

Do the gates work? Yes. Do the gates need work? Also yes.

Matthias Ang | March 24, 2023, 04:48 PM

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By now, you might probably have heard about the introduction of the automated gates at the checkpoint to Johor Bahru, and how Singaporeans can also use them.

This involves submitting a copy of the Malaysia Digital Arrival Card (MDAC) at least three days prior to arrival, and verifying your biometric data at the immigration counter if you are a first-time user.

You might also have heard about how Singaporeans claimed that they still faced trouble at the e-gates despite having already registered.

A DAP State Assemblyman for Johor, Andrew Chen Kah Eng, even blamed unregistered Singaporeans as the cause of worsening congestion at the checkpoint.

So, does the e-gate actually work? Here's what this writer found out when he tested the system over the weekend of Mar. 18 and 19.

Registering for the MDAC on the day of departure

I only submitted a copy of the MDAC on the day I was due to depart.

As per what I knew, when I entered Johor Bahru via the Causeway at about 7pm, I told the Malaysian immigration and customs officer that I had registered for the e-gate.

It appeared that my information had been successfully registered in the system, as I was told by the officer that I could use the e-gate upon my departure from Johor Bahru.

He also wrote MDAC above the chop on my passport.

So far, so good.

Photo by Matthias Ang

E-gate showed an error despite displaying my passport details

On Mar. 19, I left Johor Bahru at 5pm with a friend, who is also a Singaporean.

Both of us joined separate queues for the e-gates.

The digital signboards for the e-gates indicated that it could be used by holders of both Singaporean and Malaysian passports.

Initially, I assumed I would take an hour given that the queue looked like this:

Photo by Matthias Ang

Photo by Matthias Ang

However, the queue moved quickly and in 15 minutes, it was my turn to pass through the e-gate.

The first time I inserted my passport, the machine said it had an error retrieving my information, and asked me to rejoin the queue for the immigration counter.

I tried again.

This time, my passport number and my name appeared on the screen but the machine still gave the same error message.

A third try still yielded the same results.

I was feeling anxious at this point and it did not help that I was told off by the person behind me that the queue is for Malaysian passports only, and that I should rejoin the queue for the immigration counter, despite the signboard clearly indicating otherwise.

Fortunately, my friend was in the queue beside me, and I decided to join him instead.

The elderly Malay uncle who was behind my friend also encouraged me to try again and added, "It should be fine."

This time, inserting my passport into the machine worked. The camera appeared to scan my face in almost an instant and in less than a minute I was on the other side.

When I turned back to thank the man behind my friend, he gave a thumbs-up sign.

The entire process had taken about 20 minutes.

Not all of the automated gates appear to be working properly

Following the incident, I could definitely see why several Singaporeans claimed that they ended up having to waste an extra hour to queue for the immigration counter, despite registering for the e-gate.

It appears that not all of the machines at the checkpoints work evenly and if you are travelling by yourself, rejoining the queue for the counter seems like the best course of action by that point, given that spending another 15 minutes queuing for another gate seems like a gamble.

Perhaps time will tell if such issues are eventually ironed out, but for now, if you intend to use the e-gate, it is perhaps best that you travel in a group so that each of you can take different queues, in case one of the machines fails to read your passport.

What about re-entering JB?

According to the Immigration Department of Malaysia, you can use the e-gates for both your arrival to and departure from Johor Bahru on subsequent visits.

However, you are still required to submit an online copy of the MDAC.

Source: Photo via Jabatan Imigresen Malaysia/Facebook
However, a colleague shared with me, that following her initial visit where she registered for the e-gate, she no longer submits the MDAC whenever she heads to Johor Bahru.

Thus far, she has not encountered any issues in using the e-gate.

In my case, given my experience, I doubt I will be travelling into Malaysia by myself anytime soon. But out of an abundance of caution, I am still going to continue submitting an online copy of the MDAC.

Just in case.

Top photos by Matthias Ang