COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Burma (Myanmar) is a developing agrarian country emerging from decades of rule by an authoritarian military regime. Elections in November 2010 led to a peaceful transition to a civilian government headed by President Thein Sein. Under President Thein Sein, the Government of Burma has initiated a series of political and economic reforms which have resulted in a substantial opening of the long-isolated country. These reforms have included the release of many political prisoners, preliminary peace agreements with some armed ethnic groups, greater freedom of the press, and parliamentary by-elections in 2012 in which pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her opposition party won a landslide victory and seats in parliament.
After a long period of isolation, Burma has started to encourage tourism. As a foreigner, you can expect to pay more than locals do for accommodations, domestic airfares, and entry to tourist sites. Tourist facilities in Rangoon, Bagan, Ngapali Beach, Inle Lake, and Mandalay are superior to tourist facilities in other parts of the country, where they are limited or nonexistent.
SMART TRAVELER ENROLLMENT PROGRAM (STEP) / EMBASSY LOCATION: If you are going to live in or visit Burma, please take the time to tell our Embassy about your trip. If you enroll, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements. By enrolling, you will also help your friends and family get in touch with you in an emergency. Here’s the link to the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program.
Local Embassy information is available below and at the Department of State’s list of embassies and consulates.U.S. Embassy Rangoon
110 University Avenue
The Consular Section is open from 8:00 am to 5:00 pm, with non-emergency American Citizens Services from 2:00 to 3:30 pm, Monday through Friday except on U.S. and Burmese holidays.
Telephone: (95-1) 536-509 ext. 4240
After-hours Emergency Numbers: (95-1) 536-509 ext. 4014 or 09-512-4330
ENTRY/EXIT REQUIREMENTS: The Government of Burma strictly controls travel to, from, and within Burma. You must have a valid passport with at least six months remaining validity and a visa to enter Burma. You should apply for your visa at a Burmese embassy or consulate abroad before you arrive in Burma. In Burma, you will be required to show your passport with a valid visa at all airports, train stations, and hotels. Security checkpoints are common outside of tourist areas.
On June 1, 2012, the Government of Burma announced a visas-on-arrival program in order to facilitate investment in the country. More information about the program can be found on the Embassy of Burma’s website: http://www.mewashingtondc.com/visa_form_7_en.php. Please be aware that the rules regarding this relatively new program are complex and not fully codified. While certain classes of business travelers have reportedly been able to obtain visas on arrival under this program, Burmese Immigration Officials have refused entry to some travelers who believed they were eligible to enter the country without a visa. Until the Government of Burma further defines the program’s qualifications, travelers are advised not to consider the visas-on-arrival program a viable alternative to a visa.
Please also note that the visa-on-arrival program is not intended for tourists seeking tourist visas. Some local tour agencies prepare visa applications for tourists for a fee before the tourists arrive at Yangon International Airport. Tourists with pre-arranged visa applications must obtain authorization from the Burmese Ministry of Immigration in order to get a visa upon arrival.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission from the absent parent(s) or legal guardian for the child's travel. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may help you with entry/departure.
You can get information about entry requirements as well as other information from the Embassy of Burma’ swebsite. The Embassy is located at 2300 S Street NW, Washington, D.C. 20008. Telephone: 202-332-4350. The Permanent Mission of Burma to the UN is located at 10 East 77th St., New York, NY 10021. Telephone: 212-535-1311 or 212-744-1271. Fax: 212-744-1290.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Burma.
You can find general information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction on our website. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
THREATS TO SAFETY AND SECURITY: Over a period of years, Burma has experienced sporadic bombing attacks, primarily targeting government buildings and vehicles. In January 2013, improvised explosive devices (IED) were used in three attacks in Kachin State. In June 2011, bombings targeted a variety of local facilities, including government offices, public restrooms, a public phone booth, markets, and in one instance a train traveling from Mandalay to Rangoon. In April 2010, a series of explosions among a crowd of revelers at a Water Festival celebration in Rangoon killed at least ten people and wounded as many as 170. There is no indication that these attacks targeted U.S. citizens or U.S. interests.
Conflicts between the government and various ethnic minority groups continue in a number of border regions in Burma, and anti-personnel landmines in some border areas pose an additional danger. Occasional fighting between government forces and various rebel groups has occurred in Chin State and Sagaing Division near India and along Burma's Kachin, Shan, Mon, Kayah, and Karen State’s borders with China and Thailand. From time to time, the governments of Burma and Thailand have closed the border between the two nations on short notice. Recent military actions in Kachin State by the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) and the Burmese Army have endangered the lives of civilians.
Sectarian violence in Rakhine State in June and October 2012 reportedly left many people dead and displaced thousands of others. The violence also resulted in demonstrations in Rangoon and elsewhere.
In light of these incidents, you should exercise caution in public places at all times. Be alert to your surroundings and the presence of unattended packages or bags or suspicious objects/activity in public areas. Furthermore, avoid crowded public places, such as large public gatherings, demonstrations, and any areas cordoned off by security forces; problems can develop quickly. Even demonstrations that are meant to be peaceful can become violent and unpredictable. While in Burma, you should closely follow media reports and public information about the security situation in Burma. Given the Government of Burma's restrictions on travel by U.S. diplomats, U.S. Government assistance to U.S. citizens affected by incidents in remote areas of Burma may be difficult.
Stay up to date by:
CRIME: Crime rates in Burma, especially toward foreigners, are lower than those of many other countries in the region. Nevertheless, the crime rate has been increasing. Violent crime against foreigners is rare.
Don’t buy counterfeit and pirated goods, even if they are widely available. Not only are the bootlegs illegal in the United States, but if you purchase them, you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the U.S. Embassy. We can:
There is no equivalent number to the “911” emergency line in Burma.
Please see our information on victims of crime, including possible victim compensation programs in the United States.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Burma, you are subject to its laws, even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different than our own. It is illegal to take pictures of Burmese officials and of certain buildings, such as military installations and government buildings. There are also some things that might be legal in Burma, but still illegal in the United States. You can be prosecuted under U.S. law if you buy pirated goods. Engaging in sexual conduct with children or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States.
While in Burma, you should carry your U.S. passport or a photocopy of passport data and visa pages at all times so that if you are questioned by Burmese officials, you will have proof of your U.S. citizenship readily available. It is important to remember, however, that your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution for violating local laws.
Some foreigners have been denied even minimal rights in criminal proceedings in Burma, especially when suspected of engaging in political activity of any type. This includes, but is not limited to, denial of access to an attorney, denial of access to court records, and denial of family and consular visits. Although the current civilian government has repealed some of the laws that prohibited people from exercising many of the rights that U.S. citizens enjoy in the United States – including the freedoms of assembly and speech – there are still many laws on the books that criminalize things that are not illegal in the United States. For example, Burmese law forbids Burmese citizens from possessing dual nationality.
Under the Burmese Motor Vehicle Act of 1964, driving while intoxicated is punishable by either six months in jail, or a 500 kyat (equivalent to USD 50 cents) fine, or both.
Based on the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations and customary international law, if you are arrested in Burma, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the U.S. Embassy.
Accessibility: While in Burma, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what they find in the United States. Roads and sidewalks are often extremely difficult to cross even in the best of circumstances. Ramps or handicapped-accessible facilities do not exist even in Rangoon and other areas popular with tourists. Individuals confined to wheelchairs or those with other physical ailments should be prepared to face difficulties throughout Burma.
Photography: Do not photograph or videotape the military or police, or anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest such as bridges, airfields, government buildings, or government vehicles. Burmese authorities might interpret these actions as provocative and may question and/or arrest you.
Foreigner Travel within Burma: Burmese authorities require that hotels and guesthouses furnish information about the identities and activities of their foreign guests. Burmese who interact with foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions to Burmese authorities. Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance, and you should assume your actions, such as meeting with Burmese citizens, particularly in public spaces like hotel lobbies, rooms, and restaurants, are being monitored. You should assume that telephones (including cell phones), internet use, and fax machines are monitored and that your personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
You will not generally be required to obtain advance permission to travel to the main tourist areas of Mandalay and the surrounding area, Bagan, Inle Lake, Ngapali, and other beach resorts. However, some tourists traveling to places where permission is not expressly required have reported delays due to questioning by local security personnel. Additionally, the Burmese government restricts access to some areas of the country on an ad-hoc basis, stating it cannot guarantee the safety of foreigners. If you plan to travel in Burma, you should check with Burmese tourism authorities to see whether travel to specific destinations is permitted. Even if the Burmese authorities allow travel to specific destinations in Burma, you may not be safe traveling in those areas.
Wherever you travel in Burma, you should be careful to respect the differences between the culture and customs of the United States and Burma.
Dual Nationals: According to officials at the Burmese Embassy in Washington D.C., Burmese citizens will automatically lose their Burmese citizenship when they obtain another country’s citizenship. Burmese authorities reportedly require former Burmese citizens to inform the Burmese government about their acquisition of U.S. citizenship and the change of address associated with their move to the United States, and to surrender their Burmese nationality. They also demand relinquishment of any National Registration Card or National Scrutiny Card, which is evidence of Burmese citizenship. On occasion, Burmese authorities have detained and pursued criminal proceedings against Burmese-Americans who have returned to Burma on U.S. passports and who have had in their possession evidence of Burmese citizenship, such as a National Registration Card. If you have U.S. citizenship and have not surrendered your Burmese citizenship, you should check with the nearest Burmese embassy prior to your travel to Burma to be sure you are not at risk of arrest if you travel to Burma.
Customs Regulations: Customs regulations in Burma are restrictive and strictly enforced. Customs authorities closely search travelers’ luggage upon their arrival and departure from Burma. It is illegal to enter or exit Burma with items such as firearms, religious materials, pornography, antiquities, medications, business equipment, currency, gems, ivory, and other restricted items. On several occasions in the past two decades, foreigners have been detained, searched, and imprisoned for attempting to take restricted items out of the country.
Customs officials also limit the items that can be brought into the country. Travelers who do not declare dutiable items on the Customs declaration form can be fined and their items confiscated. The Burmese government has never provided a complete list of prohibited import items. For information on restricted items for import into Burma and specific customs’ requirements, please contact the nearest Burmese embassy (Embassy of the Union of the Republic of Myanmar), the Embassy of Burma in Washington, D.C., or the Permanent Mission of Burma to the United Nations in New York.
Import Prohibition: The importation into the United States of jadeite and rubies mined or extracted from Burma, as well as articles of jewelry containing them, remains prohibited. It is important to know that this prohibition extends even to those gems purchased in third countries if they were originally mined in or extracted from Burma. Due to labor and human rights concerns, the Administration restricts specific activities and actors that contribute to human rights abuses or undermine Burma’s democratic reform process. in certain sectors.
Computers, Internet, and Email: The Burmese government carefully controls and monitors all internet use in Burma and restricts internet access through software-based censorship. Cyber cafes and larger hotels provide internet services. All emails are subject to monitoring by Burmese security services.
Telephone and Electricity: Telephone service is poor in Rangoon and other major cities and non-existent in many areas. Calling the United States from Burma is difficult and extremely expensive. Though electrical service has improved since the 2010 elections, it is still sporadic, particularly in the hot months of March, April and May when demand for air conditioning often overburdens the modest capacity of the electrical infrastructure. Many hotels and restaurants have gas-powered generators to provide electricity during periodic blackouts.
Consular Notification and Access: Should an emergency arise involving the detention of a U.S. citizen, especially outside of Rangoon, U.S. Embassy personnel may not be able to assist quickly. Though the Embassy’s relationship with Burmese authorities has improved, law enforcement officials do not routinely notify the U.S. Embassy of the arrest of U.S. citizens and prison officials on occasion obstruct regular access by U.S. consular officers to U.S. citizen detainees. If you are arrested or detained, you should request immediate contact with the U.S. Embassy. Please carry your U.S. passport with you at all times, so that if questioned by local officials, you have proof of identity and U.S. citizenship readily available.
Currency: Though the Burmese economy is rapidly modernizing, Burmese banks and merchants still rarely accept travelers’ checks or credit cards. With the recent lifting of U.S. sanctions in financial services, Burmese banks are only just beginning to offer ATM and money transfer services. Reports of customer complaints resulting from technical problems with ATM machines and faulty withdrawals are common. U.S. citizen travelers who choose to use ATMs in Burma should carefully scrutinize online banking records to ensure that transactions are registered accurately. Notwithstanding these new financial services, U.S. citizen travelers should still enter the country with enough cash to cover all expenses, including unexpected ones as Burmese businesses rarely are able to accept credit cards and traveler’s checks are not accepted by banks. (See “Currency” and “U.S. Treasury Sanctions” below.) Read the Department of State’s Background Notes on Burma for additional information.
In January 2013, Western Union introduced money transfer services in seven Burmese banks. The seven Burmese banks involved in the partnership are Kanbawza Bank, First Private Bank, Myanmar Oriental Bank, Cooperative Bank, United Amara Bank, Myanmar Apex Bank, and the Myanmar Livestock and Fisheries Development Bank.
Although moneychangers sometimes approach travelers with an offer to change dollars into Burmese kyat at the market rate, it is illegal to exchange currency except at authorized locations such as the airport, banks and government stores. It is also illegal for Burmese to possess foreign currency without a permit. Foreigners are required to use U.S. dollars or other hard currency for the payment of plane tickets, train tickets, and most hotels bills. Please be sure to bring pristine bills, as most establishments will not accept torn, folded or old U.S. currency. Burmese kyats are accepted for nearly all other transactions.
U.S. Treasury Sanctions: In July and September 2012, the U.S. Department of Treasury eased sanctions against investment in and financial services to Burma and lifted proscriptions against importing most Burmese items into the United States. For specific information, contact the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page,via OFAC's Info-by-Fax service at 202-622-0077, or by phone toll-free at 1-800-540-6322.
MEDICAL FACILITIES AND HEALTH INFORMATION: We highly recommend that you share your travel plans with your doctor so that you can best prepare for the endemic health-related challenges that confront travelers in Burma. Most medical facilities in Burma are inadequate for even routine medical care. There are very few medical personnel in Burma who are trained to U.S. standards. You should also know that, in an emergency, you would likely need to be medically evacuated to a hospital outside Burma. Medical evacuation from Burma is expensive and is transacted in cash. We strongly urge all travelers to secure medical evacuation insurance before coming to Burma. Most pharmaceuticals on sale in Burma have been smuggled into the country, and many are counterfeit or adulterated. Travelers should consider Burmese pharmaceuticals generally unsafe to use and should accordingly bring adequate supplies of their medications for the duration of their stay in Burma. All travelers are advised to bring a complete and detailed list of regularly used medicine, and dosages, in case of an emergency. HIV/AIDS is widespread among high-risk populations, such as prostitutes and illegal drug users. Malaria, dengue fever, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and other infectious diseases are endemic in many parts of the country.
In early 2006 throughout 2007, and again in early 2010, brief avian influenza outbreaks resulted in the death of domestic poultry and some wild birds. In December 2007, the World Health Organization and Burmese Ministry of Health confirmed Burma’s first case of human infection with the H5N1 avian influenza virus. If you travel to Burma and other South Asian countries affected by avian influenza, we caution you to avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any other surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. There were no reported human cases on H5N1 in Burma during the 2010 outbreaks.
You can find information on vaccinations, and other health precautions, on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information. For information about avian influenza (H5N1), please see the U.S. Department of State’s Avian Influenza Fact Sheet.
Tuberculosis is an increasingly serious health concern in Burma. For further information, please consult the CDC's information on TB.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: You can’t assume your insurance will go with you when you travel. It’s very important to find out before you leave whether or not your medical insurance will cover you overseas. You need to ask your insurance company two questions:
In many places, doctors and hospitals still expect payment in cash at the time of service. Your regular U.S. health insurance may not cover doctors’ and hospital visits in other countries. If your policy doesn’t go with you when you travel, you should take out another one for your trip. For more information, please see our medical insurance overseas page.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Burma is provided for your general reference only, and may not be accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Rangoon's main roads are generally in poor condition. Traffic in the capital has increased rapidly, resulting in traffic congestion during morning and early evening rush hours. Some roads are in serious disrepair. Slow-moving vehicles, bicycles, animals, and heavy pedestrian traffic create numerous hazards for drivers on Rangoon's streets. If you drive in Burma, you must remain extremely alert to avoid hitting pedestrians.
Most roads outside of Rangoon consist of one to two lanes and are potholed, often unpaved, and unlit at night. Many of the truck drivers traveling from China to Rangoon are believed to drive under the influence of methamphetamines and other stimulants. Drunken and/or drugged drivers are also common on the roads during the four-day Buddhist water festival in mid-April. Driving at night is particularly dangerous. Few streets are adequately lit. Most Burmese drivers do not turn on their headlights until the sky is completely dark; many do not use headlights at all. Many bicyclists use no lights or reflectors.
Vehicular traffic moves on the right side, as in the United States; however, a majority of vehicles have the steering wheel positioned on the right. The “right of way” concept is generally respected, but military convoys and motorcades always have precedence. Most vehicle accidents are settled between the parties on site, with the party at fault paying the damages. In the event of an accident with a pedestrian, the driver is always considered to be at fault and subject to fines or arrest, regardless of the circumstances. Accidents that require an investigation are concluded quickly and rarely result in criminal prosecution. There is no roadside assistance, and ambulances are not available. Vehicles generally do not have seat belts. Child car seats are also not available.
Please see the Criminal Penalty section above for information on penalties for DUI/DWI
Please refer to our Road Safety page for more information.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Burma, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Burma’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards. The safety records of Burma's domestic airlines are not open to the public, nor is public information available concerning the Burma government’s oversight of domestic airlines. These factors raise concerns about aviation safety for all Burmese domestic air carriers.
Further information may be found on the FAA safety assessment page.
* * *
This replaces the Country Specific Information for Burma dated March 26, 2013, to update the sections on Threats to Safety and Security, Criminal Penalties, Special Circumstances, and Traffic Safety and Road Conditions.