MYANMAR (BURMA) VISAS
Key Myanmar tourist visa facts are listed below. For business visa information, go here.
Most foreign nationals require a visa to enter Myanmar. Visa-free travel (for 14 days, or longer in some cases) is permitted for Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, Philippines, Indonesia, Brunei, Cambodia and Laos passport holders.
In addition to getting visas at embassies and consulates, Myanmar has an online e-visa system. It is designed to make the process of application simpler for visitors – particularly those from countries that do not have a Myanmar embassy.
For e-visa applications, go to the official Ministry of Immigration e-visa website. Citizens of 100 countries are eligible for Myanmar e-visas; to see the full list, go here. For a list of Myanmar embassies and consulates around the world, go here.
E-visas are currently only valid for entry at Myanmar’s three main international airports: Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw and overland travel to Myanmar via the Thai-Myanmar border points of Mae Sai/Tachileik, Mae Sot/Myawaddy and Ranong/Kawthaung only (e-visa is not valid for China, India or other Thai entry points).
Due to the sensitive political situation in some border regions, entry and exit via land borders is restricted; there are four Thailand border points that do not need permission for crossings, but China and India require special permits. See arriving and departing over land for more details.
Tourist visas are valid for 28 days, which can be extended by a further 14 days at a cost of US$3 per day (plus a one-off $3 administration fee). It is important to be ready with the correct change at your departure point. Bear in mind that if you overstay, you might encounter some difficulties booking travel and/or hotels in your overstay period, as not all service staff are aware of the overstay allowance.
Do not apply for your visa too early: the period for visa validity (i.e. your Myanmar entry date) may range from one to three months.
Do not apply for your visa too late: embassies and consulates can take two weeks or more to process your application, but this changes from country to country. If you are from a country that does not have a Myanmar embassy or consulate, it will take longer still.
You must have a passport that is valid for at least six months after your departure from Myanmar.
A single entry tourist visa will typically cost around US$50. Depending on which country you are applying from, the application procedures may vary, but it is usually a simple process. Go here to find your local embassy or consulate.
CLIMATE AND WEATHER
Most of Myanmar has a tropical monsoon climate with three seasons:
Cool – November to February is warm to hot during the day and the air is relatively dry.
Hot – March to May is intensely hot in most of the country.
In the cool and hot seasons, you are unlikely to experience any rain.
Rainy – June to October is the monsoon season, with high rainfall. From June to August, rainfall can be constant for long periods of time, particularly on the Bay of Bengal coast and in Yangon and the Irrawaddy Delta. In September and October, the rain is less intense and you will experience more sunshine.
TIMES TO VISIT AND REGIONAL VARIATIONS
The most comfortable time to visit is during the cool season, which is also the least humid time of year and has the clearest air – however, this is also the peak tourist season. If you can put up with the heat and/or rain, then you will find it easier (and often cheaper) to book accommodation outside the cool season, and there will be less crowds at popular destinations.
From February until the beginning of the rainy season, much of the country (particularly north of Yangon) can be dusty and hazy, sometimes hindering long-distance views.
Myanmar is a large country and temperatures can vary significantly. As a general rule, temperatures and humidity become lower at higher altitudes; in Chin State in the west and parts of Shan State in the east, temperatures can get close to freezing, and in the Himalayan far north they may drop below zero.
Monsoon rains are the most persistent in Yangon and the south and west; in the centre of the country, around Mandalay and Bagan, showers will generally be more sporadic in the rainy season (and you are likely to experience more sunshine).
Below is a table showing average temperatures, humidity and sunlight hours for Yangon.
|Month||Average min temp||Average max temp||Relative Humidity||Sunlight hours|
With generally high temperatures in the popular locations around the country, lightweight cotton and linen clothing is recommended for most of the year; warmer clothes may be needed for the evenings, which can sometimes be cool. Even outside the rainy season there can on occasion be downpours, so it is advisable to pack a light raincoat. Travelling to higher altitudes and further north, it is advisable to take warmer clothes, particularly in the cool season, when temperatures can drop significantly.
For advice on culturally sensitive clothing, go to cultural differences.
CULTURAL DIFFERENCES AND ADAPTING TO MYANMAR
As with all countries, Myanmar has its own set of unique cultural traditions and idiosyncrasies. Some of these are fascinating; some require sensitivity; some require the visitor to adjust. But above all they combine to make a nation that is as warm and welcoming as any in the world: locals are almost always keen to help out and make friends.
BUDDHISM AND RELIGIOUS COURTESY
Buddhism is at the heart of Myanmar culture and it permeates private and public life. Most young people spend time in monastic education, and monks and nuns hold a revered place in society: they should not be touched; they always sit at the highest place available (for example at a table or on a bus – which often means on the roof); and they hold privileges such as the freedom of first class travel on public transport, sometimes with their own reserved places.
In some parts of Myanmar, particularly mountainous border areas such as Chin, Kachin and Karen states, Christian belief is deeply held – and often mixed with ancient animist traditions (as with the rest of Myanmar).
Other points of religious courtesy:
Revealing clothing is sometimes frowned upon, although it is increasingly common amongst Myanmar women. But at religious sites, legs and shoulders should always be covered.
Shoes and socks should be removed before entering any shrine, pagoda or monastery. It is also customary to remove shoes before entering private homes and many offices.
The head and feet are important in Myanmar culture, as the highest and lowest points of the body. No one, including children, should be touched on the head. Feet should never be put on tables or used for touching or pointing.
Other social mistakes to avoid:
Myanmar women should not in general be touched by men. If a woman wishes to shake hands, she will offer her hand first.
Couples should avoid public displays of affection.
For weather-appropriate clothing, go to climate and weather.
LIVING, WORKING AND BUSINESS HOURS
Time spent in Myanmar, particularly travelling out of cities, may see earlier mornings and nights than most westerners are used to. Trains and buses are often scheduled as early as 5am – sometimes as their sole departure time. And due to recent poverty and isolation, as well as regular black-outs, nightlife as a concept is only in its infancy in Myanmar – although the bigger cities, in particular Yangon, have a growing number of bars that are open till late. For more information on going out, go to drinking, bars and nightlife.
You may hear religious chanting through the night – this can be beautiful, but can also take some getting used to! And in the early mornings, you can often hear songs and chanting from schools as early as 6am.
Business hours can vary, but in general the following apply:
shops Monday to Saturday 9.30am to 6pm or later; some shops open Sundays
restaurants all week 8am to 9pm
internet cafes all week 9am to 10pm
banks Monday to Friday 9am to 4pm
post offices and other government offices, Monday to Friday 9.30am to 4.30pm. For postal services, go to other useful info.
business office hours Monday to Friday 9am to 5.30pm; some offices open Saturday
OTHER CULTURAL ISSUES AND TALKING POLITICS
When preparing for a trip to Myanmar and travelling around the country, it is important to bear in mind the lack of development. It is a poor, almost entirely cash-based economy with little official banking; large parts of the population do not have direct access to the national electricity grid (which frequently shuts down); and only a small percentage of the population has access to the internet or a fixed telephone line, although these figures are improving. For more information, go to currency, exchange rates and banks, electricity and shortages and telephone and internet.
As with many parts of Southeast Asia, good-natured bargaining and haggling for prices are a big part of Myanmar culture – although you may find that some vendors will bafflingly stick to their guns over silly prices. For advice on tipping and contributions, go to setting your budget.
Pace of life and idiosyncrasies
The lack of development also means is that life in Myanmar exists at a very different pace than it does in most developed countries; people are usually in much less of a hurry, and are more likely to stop to help. This also means that you may have to wait longer to be served – signs of impatience will not be taken well.
As in many parts of Asia, saving face is very important to people in Myanmar. This means raised voices or aggression are not taken well. It also means that if you ask someone a question (for example, directions or the price of an item), they will often give you an answer – even if they have no idea. This comes out of a wish to be helpful, but it is important to bear in mind.
To western eyes, perhaps one of the less appealing Myanmar traits is betel-chewing. This mild intoxicant is used by many males in Myanmar, and results in a reddening and rotting of the teeth and plenty of spitting, resulting in the frequent sight of red blotches on the streets of Myanmar.
Other types of idiosyncratic behaviour may sometimes be displayed that can simply be attributed to Myanmar’s recent history of isolation and corresponding lack of knowledge of the outside world. If this behaviour seems offensive to western eyes, it is rarely, if ever, meant to be. For example, jackets and t-shirts with Nazi swastikas (not the ancient symbol) are popular amongst young men.
As Myanmar undergoes dramatic reform, it is becoming easier to talk openly about politics. Locals happily wave flags for Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party, where until recently this might have landed them in jail. There remain sensitive areas for conversation, such as inter-ethnic and religious conflict, but in general few subjects are taboo. Violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims means that you may well encounter some anti-Muslim sentiment – although on a day-to-day basis, particularly in larger cities, the groups tend to co-exist peaceably.
To find out more about Myanmar, its politics and history, go to about Myanmar.
Although Myanmar is a socially conservative country and homosexuality is still technically illegal, the LGBT community is growing in profile and trouble is unlikely to occur – although of course in more remote parts of the country attitudes may differ, and overt signs of affection may be frowned upon.
Yangon has a growing number of gay-friendly bars and a semi-regular LGBT night called FAB that appears at venues around the city; check local listings for the latest event.
The Taungbyone Nat (spirit) Festival (go to Mandalay for more details) is one of the biggest festivals in Myanmar and attracts large numbers of gay, lesbian and transgender revellers.
For advice for women travelling alone, go to safe travel and security.