When I travel, I always prepare for the worst in terms of immigration procedures. I double-check the documents I need and read travel blogs or ask travellers about their first-hand experiences visiting the countries I plan to go to. In addition, I arrive at the airport hours before I need to be there, to give myself a chance to retrieve any extra documents I have somehow missed.

So far, I have been lucky and have not suffered much. I have always shown up at the airport and in respective countries with the correct visas and immigration documents. But I have still faced my fair share of discriminatory encounters.

Malaysia Land Border Crossing: Some Experiences with Border Control

For example, during a work trip to France, my first international trip, I was detained for two hours, along with two of my colleagues, who were also first-time travellers.

We were questioned about our stay and the officials insisted on speaking with our managers both in Lagos and in Paris. And in Seychelles, I and all other black (African) travellers on my flight were singled out for extra scrutiny. On both occasions, I was allowed into the country.

The truth is that I always expect this kind of behaviour; I consider it a right of passage as a Nigerian traveller. When this discrimination does not happen, I am pleasantly surprised and when it does, I shrug it as “one of those things”. Since I always travel with the right document, I do not ever expect to be deported. Detained and questioned? Yes. Deported and denied entry? No!

Malaysia Land Border Crossing: Entry Refusal

But this is exactly what happened to me at the land border between Singapore and Malaysia. Despite holding a valid visa to Malaysia, I was told, rather blatantly, that Africans were not allowed to enter the country via this border. It doesn’t get more racist than that!

The series of events that followed were quite unfortunate. First, an officer confiscated my passport and led me to a room where other officers asked about the purpose of my visit. I explained but it would appear that the concept of a solo Nigerian traveller, just exploring for the sake of it was inconceivable.

When I asked which official website or documentation supported this discriminatory treatment, an officer said to me “The problem with you Africans, is that you are intelligent but you don’t read”. Um, thanks? But also, what?!!

The problem with you Africans, is that you are intelligent but you don’t read.

Malaysian Immigration Officer

Moving on from this very weird and contradictory statement, the first officer I encountered pointed out a dark and empty tunnel and asked me to walk through it to meet her on the other side. It felt sinister but I arrived at the other side without any issues and she led me to another office, where I was kept waiting for the next two hours. This was about 10 pm.

Occasionally, someone would come out to speak to me. They would flip through the pages of my passport while asking again about the purpose of my trip. I held onto a glimmer of hope that they would realize their misdeeds, put me on another bus (mine had since left, along with my favourite hat), we would laugh awkwardly about the situation and I’d be sent on my merry way.

Malaysia Land Border Crossing: Back to the Singapore Border

That did not happen. Instead, after two hours, another officer informed me yet again, that I would be denied entry and escorted me to a bus stop to catch a bus back to the Singapore border. It was only then that he handed me my passport and a letter of denial.

As if this was not bad enough, I had to pay the bus fare! Of all the things that happened that night, this and my lost hat upset me the most! Lol

On the somewhat bright side of things, the Singapore Immigration Officers seemed sympathetic to my plight and that gave me some comfort. I made my way back into the country and then to the airport using the efficient Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) trains.

When I saw the Qatar Airways desk, I contemplated asking if it was possible to switch my flight from Kuala Lumpur so I could fly back home immediately, instead of spending another week in the region. Mark convinced me to book a ticket to Kuala Lumpur instead and if I was also denied entry there, I could just come home.

Taking the Jetstar Flight from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur

I ended up booking an inexpensive ticket with Jetstar and arrived in Kuala Lumpur after a smooth one-hour flight. (This was after spending the night in an airport chair). Luckily, this time around, after a series of questions and confirmations with his superiors, the Immigration Officer let me into the country.

KLCC Park Suria Kuala Lumpur Malaysia Land Border Crossing
Malaysia Land Border Crossing: Not welcoming to Nigerian Travellers

The deed had been done though and by the time I arrived in the city, I was left uninspired to explore and could only count down the days until I returned to Nairobi. My travel plans had been heavily disrupted. I had planned to spend 2 days in Penang and 3 days in Kuala Lumpur but the journey to Penang no longer seemed worth it to me. And so I remained in Kuala Lumpur for the entirety of my time.

At this point, I should thank the reservations team at JEN Penang Georgetown by Shangri-La for their excellent customer service and support during this ordeal. First, they agreed to modify my booking by a day, before eventually agreeing to cancel and waive the cancellation fees.

Malaysia Land Border Crossing: Not all bad in Kuala Lumpur

I guess one can say that it wasn’t all bad. During my stay in Kuala Lumpur, I encountered very friendly and helpful residents and visited some stunning places. However, it is the experience at the border that overwhelmingly defines Malaysia in my mind.

I often dream of revisiting many countries I have been to but only a work trip could bring me back to Malaysia. The experience at the land border left a bitter taste in my mouth, and as a result, it is not a country I will remember with much fondness.

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  1. This is absolutely ridiculous, so sorry you went through that πŸ™

  2. I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. My brother in law lived in Malaysian for some years, and he would always tell us how the immigration officers treated Nigerians. I didn’t like Malaysia because of that.

  3. Always try humor. When my entry into Malaysia from Singapore was questioned by border control I explained I would need to stay at her home since my Malaysian hotel reservation would be forfeited. I said it with a smile. She laughed, stamped the passport and that was it! Humor wins the day!

  4. I am so so so sorry you went through this AmaraπŸ«‚πŸ«‚πŸ«‚

  5. The unfortunate part of being Nigerian (African).
    Sorry about your experience.