Driving in Brunei Part One: Getting a Car

Before we came to Brunei, one of my biggest concerns was driving.  I had never driven in another country, and had only regularly driven one (great) car.  I am a fine driver, but not super confident.  Plus, in my pre-research, there were quite a few references to “taking your life in your hands” on the road, and other such implications that it wasn’t going to be quite as calm and easy as New Zealand.  I had visions of the hectic and crowded roads of Asia that you see and hear about (and that you find in places like India and Vietnam).   So when I arrived, I was very pleasantly surprised to find that the roads were actually pretty similar to New Zealand roads.  We drive on the left in both places, and as far as I can tell the rules are basically the same (I should probably know that more definitely than I do).  There might be a few more people tailgating and overtaking here, but I am definitely not scared to drive.

(And yes, I  know that if I had really thought about the fact that there are only 30,000ish people in Kuala Belait and half of them are expats, I would probably have realised that things wouldn’t be too crazy.  But being a bit nervous about an international move doesn’t lend itself to clear thinking!)

All that said, getting out on the roads of Brunei has still been a bit of an interesting experience, so I thought I’d do a few posts on it. And what’s the first step of getting out on the road?  Getting a car!

Me walking along the road we live on.  Note the distinct lack of traffic and scariness!

Me walking along the road we live on. Note the distinct lack of traffic and scariness!

There are two main ways to get a car.  Renting a vehicle, or buying.  Neither way is particularly cheap, but there are bargains to be found either way (which was important to The Engineer and me – we are both pretty stingy car buyers).  We have actually done both.

1. Renting

Renting a car was our only option when we first arrived (and in fact for at least 6 months after), because you need to have fully completed immigration and have an Identity Card (IC) in order to buy one.  Through a few bureaucratic glitches, we didn’t get our ICs until 6 months after I arrived.  So we rented for quite a while.  It was easy, and we didn’t have to deal with anything much, which was quite nice!

Renting isn’t cheap though.  We paid $400/month to rent our car, and that was definitely at the cheapest end of the spectrum.  We actually had a couple of different cars from our rental dude.  Both silver sedans, both pretty boring, both met our needs.  When The Engineer rang to sort it out, he got something delivered to him quickly and easily.  The process was very simple.  We didn’t even sign a lengthy agreement or anything, just paid and went (that could have been a mistake, but fortunately didn’t actually present any issues).

One thing to note if you’re renting: get a letter from the owner of the car to say you’re allowed to drive it.  You need this for crossing the border.  And you definitely want to cross the border.

2. Buying

After a while the cost of renting started to seem a little crazy.  So once we had ICs sorted, we decided it was time to buy.  Buying is a little more complicated than renting, but still not a very difficult process.  (Although I have to admit that The Engineer did all of the paperwork for the buying process, so he might be better qualified to talk about difficulties).

We didn’t even look at buying new or from a dealer, so I can’t tell you anything about that.  But the private secondhand market is quite interesting in Brunei.  There are a lot of quite flash and quite expensive SUVs and high end cars around.  There are also a fair few old clangers with a LOT of miles on the clock.  What is harder to find is something in between, which (unfortunately) is what we were after.  The most popular option is the Toyota Vios, and they seem to hold their value very well (which pushed them a bit out of our desired price range). We kept our eye out on various Facebook Buy and Sell pages, and on the side of the road sales, and eventually found another silver sedan to add to our collection.  This one is a 2004 Ford Focus, which seemed to fit the bill for a good price (expect to pay $5000ish for a reasonable 10-year old car).

Once we found the car and agreed to a price, there were just three steps:

  1. Exchange with the previous owner (we paid, got the blue ownership papers, and signed an informal contract of the agreement).
  2. Transfer insurance (requires a visit to the insurance office, and some forms to be completed by the previous and new owners – would be easiest to complete these forms at exchange).
  3. Transfer ownership at the Land Transport Office (requires copies of the car ownership papers, ICs of previous and new owners, and a small fee.  For older cars there is also an inspection).

And basically, that’s it.  It’s not quite as simple as the same process in New Zealand, but it really wasn’t a big deal.  And once those three steps are done, the car is yours and you can get on the road.

That is of course, as long as you have a driver’s licence.  Which is what I will talk about in Part Two…




3 thoughts on “Driving in Brunei Part One: Getting a Car

  1. James says:

    Hi, thank you for this article. Lots of good info. Really appreciate it. I too have decided to buy a new car here being an expat. Realistically, how long would it take for me to transfer the ownership? Can you please kindly go into detail about this? Thanks in advance!


    • jenn says:

      Hi. The ownership transfer doesn’t take long. But waiting might! You might even luck out and buy from someone who will do the transfer for you. Basically, it’s a matter of transferring insurance, and then visiting land transport to transfer ownership. Pretty easy!


  2. Tommy says:

    What company did you use to rent your car? Could you share, I’m having trouble finding options cheaper than Hertz (1000 usd per month)


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