If You Go - Possibly Useful Information for Myanmar (Burma)


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Asia » Burma
February 17th 2017
Published: February 17th 2017
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unloading cargounloading cargounloading cargo

on the Ayerwaddy River, Bagan
So much of what I found as I was researching my trip to Myanmar was out of date or incorrect. Things in Myanmar are changing very quickly; this information was correct as of December 2016.

- By the way, the US still calls this country “Burma” on its websites. I expect this will change in the near future. In an interview while I was there, the US Ambassador was asked when the US was going to start calling the country Myanmar. The ambassador replied that he expected that would happen soon, but, you know, there are lot of forms.

Visa

You can now get a visa for Myanmar online. The cost for a tourist visa is US$50, payable with Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or JCB. The application is simple, and you will get your visa letter within three business days.

In addition to the visa, your passport must be valid for an additional six months, and you must have an onward or return air ticket. For more information, go to the Myanmar Ministry of Tourism website. You can find more info at moip.gov.mm

- Note that the charge will show up as “Galaluz PTE. LTD.” on your credit card statement. The government of Myanmar uses this company to process the payments for visas.

Medical

I rely on the CDC website for updated info. In addition to the routine vaccinations, they suggest getting a polio booster dose if you haven’t had one as an adult. As someone who remembers polio before the Salk vaccine was widely available, I got my booster shot a couple of years ago.

Zika and malaria are present in Myanmar, making it pretty important to avoid mosquito bites. I also took an anti-malarial preventative. Both doxycycline and atovaquone/proguanil are listed as antimalarials on the CDC website. I chose the atovaquone – with my doctor’s blessing – because doxycycline is an antibiotic, and those tend to upset my stomach.

For over-the-counter needs, there are pharmacies and clinics in Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. When I asked for Band-Aids in a pharmacy, I was asked how many I wanted, rather than being sold a pre-packaged amount. Most of them do not have the familiar green cross indicating a pharmacy on their signs. It’s helpful if you have someone with you who can translate.

Credit Cards and Money

The United State only relaxed its sanctions on certain financial transactions within Myanmar in May of 2016, and lifted sanctions completely in October of 2016. Prior to that, using a credit card with any business in Myanmar was next to impossible. The few places where I was able to use a credit card – like paying for a visa online – payments were processed through a bank in Thailand or Singapore.

I called my credit card companies before I started my trip (always a good idea.) I had some interesting conversations with customer service reps. The lady from Barclays Bank immediately told me I wouldn’t be able to use my card, and I was happy to find out before my trip rather than in the middle of it.

I next called American Express, who told me it shouldn’t be a problem. Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve been told a number of times “It shouldn’t be a problem,” when it turned out to be a huge problem. I explained about the sanctions that had recently been lifted, and asked her to double check, which she did. I didn’t use my Amex card, but I think I could have.

The one card that worked reliably was my Chase Visa, co-branded with United Airlines. No foreign transaction fees, either. I have another Visa card, issued though a different bank and I got a different answer from them every time I called as to whether I would be able to use my card, and that was also true of my debit card.

The Myanmar kyat is not a convertible currency. Spend all your kyat before you leave, or change them into another currency at the Yangon Airport. I was able to convert my kyat into Singapore dollars at a reasonable rate.

The best exchange rate information I’ve found is at xe.com. They also have a free app.

ATMs

When checking online for ATM locations, check the date on the information, it’s very possible that it is outdated.

I saw a lot of ATMs, but I didn’t see many people using them. In fact, make that I didn’t see anybody using them. I don’t know if they didn’t work, if they were out of money, or if people just didn’t trust them.

ATMs are available at Bogyoke Market, Schwedagon Pagoda, the Yangon Airport, and just about every bank.

At Yangon Airport

After baggage claim but before customs, the money change booths are to your left, as are the ATMs. All the major Burmese banks have counters here, and their exchange rates are comparable with the Foreign Exchange Market rates. It appears that they do not charge a commission or fee.

Right after you exit customs, there is a taxi starter stand. You tell them where you want to go, and they will arrange it with the driver, as well as settle on a price. The airport is quite a ways out of town and the traffic is horrendous. I paid 7,000 kyat, or about US$ 5.15, at the then current exchange rates.

Flights within Myanmar

All flights within Myanmar are on domestic airlines. I finally gave up in frustration trying to book tickets myself, and resorted to using a local travel agent – Peace House Travel in Yangon. They processed my credit card payment through a bank in Thailand with no problem, and were very patient with me answering my questions.

When flying with a Burmese airline, bring your patience, a sense of humor, and maybe a snack. The airline representative will do their absolute best to make sure you get on the right plane at the right time; you are given a color coded sticker to wear on your shirt which tells them what flight you are on. It is not unusual for your flight to be delayed by several hours, so don’t schedule a close connection in Yangon.

Cellular Data

My cell service provider here in the US (Verizon) charges an absolutely ridiculous amount of money for an international data plan. I found it to be much more cost effective to buy a SIM card in Yangon. The two biggest telecom companies are Telenor and Ooredoo. They both have kiosks – right next to each other - in Dagon Center in Yangon.

I bought a SIM card from Telenor with 4GB of data for less than half the cost of 100MG of data from my US provider.


Additional photos below
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18th February 2017

Useful!
Very useful information Karen. I will keep your blog handy when I plan to travel Myanmar. I am from Canada, so visa rules may be different...I'll check when the time comes. Strange, I didn't know that US still calls it Burma. Although I must say, it's easier to spell/pronounce Burma than Myanmar, but one must respect the sentiment of a country. Thanks for the info, kind of Lonely Planet style, I must say:)
18th February 2017

You're welcome
Glad to be of service. One of my pet peeves is guide books and websites that don't provide up-to-date information. I'm sure some of the info in this entry will be out of date in a year or so. Another thing you should check on is the state of the conflicts going on in the north. Most guide books don't mention it at all, but I would hate to stumble into the middle of a war zone. (It might make for a good story, though!)
20th February 2017

Outdated information
All travel guides are out dated and that is why we prefer to get information from bloggers on this website. Bloggers always give current information. Unbelievable that you can get a visa on line. When went through quite a bit to get ours while we were out on the road. When we were there 2012 there were no ATMs and you had to come armed with cash. As you say things are changing quickly.
20th February 2017

Outdated
One of my frustrations is that many websites do not show when they were last updated. Even the website of the Burmese Ministry of Hotels and Tourism is showing an outdated entrance fee for Bagan.
20th February 2017
pagoda detail

Lovely
Amazing detail
22nd February 2017

when we go
Thanks for the useful information. we are hoping to go next year.
22nd February 2017

Thanks!
Thank you for your kind words.
29th May 2017

Headed to Myanmar in September...
Thanks for the useful information, Karen! I'm headed to Myanmar in September as part of what I'm calling my Midlife Crisis Flashpacking Trip :-). Would you recommend any of the hotels you stayed at? I'm also unsure whether to risk carrying cash or rely on ATMs that may not work. Any advice on this front?
29th May 2017

Hotels
I stayed at the Hotel Accord in Yangon, and would happily stay there again. It is clean, and the staff is pleasant and helpful - and English speaking. It is a bit outside the center of town, but is an easy walk to Dagon Center and just a bit further to Schwedagon Pagoda. If you don't want to walk as far as Bogyoke Market and the center of town, the taxi is inexpensive, and the staff at the hotel will negotiate one for you, and tell you a fair price for the return. It's kind of nice to be in a non-tourist neighborhood. In Bagan I stayed at the Thante Hotel in Nyaung U, which is sometimes called Old Bagan. The rooms are big and clean, and the staff is fantastic. The manager even put on a barbecue on New Year's Eve, just so the guests wouldn't feel lonely at the start of the New Year. They also arranged an English speaking guide for me for a day. Again, you are away from the tourist district, but close to the local market were people actually live and work. As far as money, I only used cash. I changed money at the airport in Yangon, and the exchange rate was fair. There are ATMs all around, but I never tried to use one. Other than your hotel, most places are not set up to take credit cards. By the way, Myanmar is HOT. Every place I stayed had air conditioning, but some hostels may not. Hope this helps, and feel free to ask any other questions that may come up.
15th July 2017

Credits cards
Thanks for the heads up on the credit cards. Barclays and Citibank both informed me I cannot use my cards there....
15th July 2017

Possibly Useful Info
Glad to help. Since you have done quite a bit of travelling, you probably already know this, but make sure your immunizations are up-to-date, including tetanus, diphtheria, and hepatitis A & B. People tend to forget the common ones.

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