Myanmar Visa? 5 Essential Travel Tips, Before You Get to the Airport.
Myanmar (Burma) is shaping up as one of the hot travel destinations for 2012. Getting a Myanmar Visa is important, but a visa is not the only consideration before you travel to this exotic land. Soon after exiting the airport, you will quickly realise you’re not in Karachi any more. No, really, you’re not even in Kansas, Dorothy. This isn’t like travelling to Thailand, Bali, or one of the more beaten South East Asian tourist trails. Myanmar is….different.
Until recently, Myanmar effectively had a closed-door policy to tourism. No visa for you! Even today, economic sanctions and domestic problems continue to strongly affect daily life. Yet, an optimist would say that Myanmar is showing the first signs of being re-born, or at least, moving into a new era. Myanmar is a spectacular country to visit, with an authenticity unlike any other. But, before you jump on the plane, there are some essential tips you need to know before heading to the exotic destination, of Myanmar.
1. You will Need a Visa for Myanmar. This is How to Get One. PS, They Look Amazing.
The good news- if you’re in Bangkok, you’re in luck. The most common way to fly into Yangon (Rangoon), the capital city of Myanmar, is via Bangkok. The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok is easy to find. Most taxi drivers will know where it is. You can also catch the sky-train, but maybe save that for the return journey, just incase you get lost (time is of the essence here!). The application process for a Myanmar tourist visa is straight-forward, if you keep these tips in mind:
- The Myanmar embassy in Bangkok opens at 9am. If you show up past 10am, you risk being refused for that day. Be there at 8am, and have a chat with other travellers in-line.
- The application for a Myanmar tourist visa, at the Bangkok embassy, is a same-day service.
- The juicy tip: The entrance to the Myanmar embassy is on the small side street. Take a short walk down this street, walking away from the main street. Now, look for a sign on the right that says “photos, copies, visas”. Down a small lane-way, on your right, is a small shop that will do everything for you, so that you get your Myanmar tourist visa smoothly. They have visa application forms. They will take your photos. They go through this everyday, and will assist you. The cost is minimal, and is 100% worth it. I have personally used this service, and strongly recommend it.
- After you have visited the shop, head back to the embassy, line up, wait for opening, line up again inside (not for long!) hand in the completed forms, your passport, and the visa fee (in Thai Baht, it was about $40 US).
- Your passport, complete with the best looking Visa you will ever see, will be ready for collection later that day. They will tell you what time, probably about 3.30pm
If you’re not in Bangkok, my suggestion is, get to Bangkok. It’s a spectacular city. If you can’t make it to Bangkok, contact your closest Myanmar embassy. The process is much less painful than it was in the past, and unless you list your occupation as “investigative journalist”, “liberator of peoples”, or “democratic warrior”, the whole process will be a relatively painless proposition.
2. In Myanmar, Cash is King.
There are no ATM’s in Myanmar. Zero. Credit Cards are not accepted, almost anywhere. From Yangon (Rangoon) to Mandalay, your plastic card has no place here. You really do need to take cash with you. However, that’s not as simple as it sounds…
- US dollars are the only currency that matters in Myanmar. Try to calculate how many US dollars as you think you will need, and take them with you to Myanmar.
- Crucially, those US dollars: must be new, must not be folded, must not be dirty, must not have any writing or other markings on them, and preferably, will be large bills (hundreds). If your cash shows signs of wear, money changers may not accept them in Myanmar. You need local currency, as almost everywhere you go, US dollars are not accepted. Exceptions include some hotels, and entry fees to temples.
- Don’t change money at the Yangon International Airport (*update, 1 Feb 2012 – see comments for new info). In Myanmar, they take “rip off exchange rate” to a whole ‘nother level. You will be able to pay for an airport taxi with US dollars, and then change some money at your Hotel or in the city.
- Hotels, and large supermarkets, are great places to change money. You might not get the absolute best rate, but it will be reasonable. Shop around for rates! This will give you a reasonable idea of what the best exchange rate is. It never hurts to ask!
- Additionally, take a range of small US dollar bills. A whole stack of small bills. 10’s, 5’s, and 1’s. This will help in paying temple entry fees, and paying people who are happy to accept US dollars, such as some taxi drivers.
- The local currency, the “Kyat”, is pronounced “chat”. Easy.
3. Take a Flashlight or Torch to Myanmar.
You will be carrying around huge wads of local Kyat’s, and possibly huge wad’s of US dollars, late at night, in the city, in the dark. This is very dangerous, but not for the reason you are thinking. It’s the sidewalks (footpaths) – they’re the worst sidewalks of any major city on the entire planet. It looks like an earthquake or two had run through town, and nobody bothered to clean up.
There are deep holes and large cracks everywhere. The sidewalks, are the most dangerous aspect of Myanmar’s crumbling (and yet beautifully decayed) colonial-era cities. Add to that the severe lack of street lighting, and falling into these cavernous ruins could ruin your vacation.
The solution is simple. Take a torch. Take it everywhere you go. I should point out, “petty” street crime, such as muggings, is practically non-existent in Myanmar’s cities. I saw many people carrying large wads of local cash, you’ll be fine.
4. Print Out Every Myanmar Reservation or Booking You Have Made, Including Your Airline Ticket. Print, as in, on Paper.
I had an in-depth discussion with the AirAsia duty manager, as I was leaving Yangon International Airport. There is a small fee that you will need to pay, if you don’t have your booking printed. I was enquiring about the purpose of the fee, as it didn’t seem standard AirAsia practice. Cut a long story short, if you don’t have your flight booking printed, the staff may find it incredibly difficult to check you in. You’re in for a long wait. The Internet in Myanmar varies between slow and non-existent, so there is often no simple way for the staff to confirm you actually have a ticket! This could lead to an hour or more of delay.
The same goes for Hotel bookings, for the same reason. We have all become used to service providers being able to verify bookings by quickly checking online. Not necessarily so, in Myanmar. Frequently, the Internet is down for the entire country, for days at a time. Which possibly means, no way to verify your booking. If you made the online booking recently before your arrival, details may not have yet reached the Hotel. So take it back old school. Print everything. Print everything twice.
That’s the skinny. Myanmar is truly an amazing country.
And one day soon, it will be over-run with tourists, that’s a promise.
*Finally – Myanmar, Burma, Rangon/Yangoon? This remains a contested issue. My choice of using “Myanmar” represents no opinions on any domestic matters. The name, to me, doesn’t matter. What does matter is human rights. Several locals said to me ” we don’t care what name you use, just tell more people to come here”. I agree.
Embassy of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in Bangkok
Address : 132, SATHORN NUA ROAD, BANGKOK 10500
Tel : (662) 233-2237, 234-4698, 233-7250, 234 4789,237 7744
Fax : (233) 236-6898 firstname.lastname@example.org
38 thoughts on “Myanmar Visa? 5 Essential Travel Tips, Before You Get to the Airport.”
Some great tips, but the information about changing money is out of date. As of October 2011, the government is allowing the official money changers to change money at the “going rate”. The official money changes in Yangon INTL airport now offer the BEST rates that you’ll find.The new changes haven’t spread to too many places outside of Yangon yet, but it’s supposed to soon (for example in Bagan you still need to deal with the black market changers).
All of this from my month there in Nov 2011.
Thanks for the update Mark, I left Myanmar in October. I did notice that the black market was still the predominant way to exchange currency, even in Yangon. Hope you got some great photos, Myanmar is an incredibly photogenic country.
Hi Nate – awesome post, with a comic slant. Reading with a smile. I was there in December 2011 and sadly didn’t meet Uncle Tin. :p
As with Mark Olwick’s comment, the money exchangers are more common now. The a/port rate is quite good, just as good as in the cities. Most restaurants and bars will take US$ and will quite easily convert to Myanmar Kyatts – of course at a higher rate.
Credit cards are still NO GO – the only use is if booking accommodation online
Thanks! Good to get confirmation on the airport exchange rate, a definiate change for the better! Yes, I should have pointed out, I did check out some exchange rates at a hotel bar, and the rate was pretty terrible. As you point out, it’s an option, but not a great one.
Hopefully, you can meet the amazing Uncle Tin one day ;)
What a helpful post!!! Imagine a country without an ATM????? Hard to believe for this techno head!!!!
Hey, how did I miss this comment from Tracey?!
Thanks Tracey, yes, it’s pretty incredible – no ATM’s! Remember those days in Australia? I do….
PS – I noticed the sign “Visa on Arrival” at the Yangon International Airport. Apparently it is a very new thing. To date, I don’t know of anyone who went to Burma without getting a visa first.
Yes, it would be a big risk arriving without a visa, at this point in time. I don’t know of any examples where general tourists have been given a visa-on-arrival. Maybe the sign is an indication there are plans afoot to implement this process? I hope so.
FYI: Visa on arrival is available now: http://www.myanmarvisa.com/ but only for certain countries. Myanmar just announced plans to implement an e-visa system as well. Details here: http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/world/2012-01/31/c_131384920.htm
Thanks for the links Mark. It looks like Myanmar is doing the right thing for tourism. Yet another reason to go back NOW, before the hordes arrive (and, they will arrive!).
Loved your post! Yangon is actually one of my favourite cities and the people are some of the friendliest I’ve met anywhere in the world. Honestly, one of my biggest fears when I was there was tripping on the crumbling sidewalk and breaking my ankle. I’ve never seen anything like it. Walking around at night is a challenge all on its own – one wrong step and you could fall into a manhole.
I know *exactly* what you mean! There’s not much to be worried about in Yangon, its a beautiful city, low crime, good food…but watch out for those sidewalks…
(TAKE A TORCH!)
Wanted to thank Yomadic for the tip on Ooo Tin in Yangon. We booked him for a day in his 1960’s VW van. Awesome day. Thanks. :)
Hey! No problem Luke, glad you enjoyed the company of Ooo Tin (Uncle Tin), and his oh-so-cool VW.
Hey Nate, loving your website and tips!
Heading to Burma on Sunday and would live to catch up with Uncle Tin, would you be able to provide his number?
Thank you and enjoy your travels
Hi Nate, just read your lovely post. And also VISA card could be able to use in Myanmar in near future. :)
Wow, that’s great news – it will make life a lot easier, especially for foreigners.
I was in Yangon a couple of years ago and was getting 89,000 Kyat to $100usd. I changed my money with a dealer buried inside Scotts markets which appeared to a accurate going rate. Historically I have found any airport or hotel rates to be inferior, sometimes significantly.
That’s the way it is Neil – the “street” rate is the best rate.
For the visa it requires you to know someone in burma to put down as your guarantor, what happens if i dont know anyone who lives there? and it says to write down the address of the place I am staying at, however my friend and I have not booked anywhere yet, is it essential that I do? Thanks,
Hi Rowan, I didn’t need any guarantor, and although I had a hotel booking, I was not asked to provide any evidence of this. I’m not an expert – this is just my experience.
Hi Nate, thanks for the great post!
I know you put up this article quite some time ago, do you think it’s mostly still valid?
Hey Ry – yes, from what I understand, mostly still valid.
i am planing a long trip to asia in a few months.i would like to visit myanmar but i am a unsure about how long i can stay in the country with a tourist visa.i also heard about having to pay for a new visa each time entering a different province.if anyone have an answer to that feel free ……………..thanks
ATMs have opened in Burma — only recently open to international debit cards! Also, visa on arrival available for tourists flying on Myanmar Air — but I’m told that’s the only allowance.
Thanks for the update Genevieve, very useful to know.
DO NOT buy any gemstones in Myanmar even through a reputable place unless you can charge it on your credit card and dispute it incase it’s a fraud. There are so many places in Myanmar that sells beautiful stones but most likely you are going to end up with glass filled stones. You are better off buying in the US with certification papers.
Hi, I read your blog like every week. Yoour story-telling styoe is witty, keep it
I just submit my visa application and will get it in Monday in Jakarta..
I will arrive in Rangoon on March 26 morning but will spend more days in bagan and Mandalay..
No ATM in Rangoon made me think about bring more cash as i never did it before when i travel out of my country
Thank you for your tips here and i like your website
Hello, Robert, thank so much for all this info, I am completely confused as how to entere Myanmar and I wanted to ask Tari if her process worked. I am in Bali and some people say I have to go to Jakarta and others say and agent and others say just to take two photos. I have Italian passport. I also wanted to ask for “Uncel Tin´s” information since I already signed in :) I would really love to do a tour with him.
Thanks so much
I really can’t offer too much in the way of visa advice! However, I may have missed your email – could you shoot me another one and I’ll forward Uncle Tin’s information.
I think for visa processing has to be done in Jakarta. I have a friend who live in Yangon now and he was living in Bali before, he always submit and take visa in Jakarta.
Actually is just simple process but unfortunately it isnt online, so you need to fill it up the form in a tiny room (green door), bring two photos and pay 300,000 Rupiah for visa (tourist visa)
I submitted the form on friday morning and picked up on monday morning..
I like Myanmar and 9 days wasnt enough for 3 cities, for sure i will be back soon next year for more cities.
Transportation in Yangoon, Bagan and Mandalay been done by online from Jakarta and I got excellent services with AirCon van in 3 cities with good drivers.
Flight from Yangon to Bagan by Air Mandalay, hotels, even bus from Bagan to Mandalay done by internet from jakarta..
Good luck for visa process…
Another documents for visa, sorry i forgot to write are a letter from where you work and copy of your hotel reservation
Thanks so much for all the info I will try to book a tour and transport in advance, but it has been hard finding all that info from Bali. :) Do you recommend Mandalay as a place I need to go? Can I go by car?
Thank you again
Mandalay is a nice old city and foods was yummy
You will like it and i was flying back from Mandalay with Air Aisa to Bangkok
From Bagan to Mandalay is about 6hrs with one stop rest area, bus with AC too..
You can email me to Lemonteabrand@gmail.com if u want more info about my excellent transportation service i had in 3 cities..
Hope you have a great trip as i had it wonderful
Hi Sofia, I am going to Yangon this Sunday. Do I need to apply visa on arrival? My trip only 4 days 3 nights. Is it compulsory to apply or I can just enter like Thailand, Vietnam?
Visa on arrival can be done, but fee is higher than applied visa..
Hi there – enjoyed your blog a lot. Attempting to get to Yangon with my family including three kids but even in modern 2015 ran into visa problems – “visa on arrival” isn’t “visa on arrival” as in our guide book. It is “apply on line and wait several days”, hopefully so we can get “visa on arrival” when we arrive. We discovered this when trying to board our flight so had to ditch 5 tickets and buy tickets to somewhere else. It takes three days to get the visa according to the govt site and so far that has been accurate – we have the first one through, waiting for the others which we filled in a few hours later.
Would love the contacts of Uncle Tin, hoping we’ll get our visas through.