The mysteries of the Myanmar E Visa plus Myanmar travel info & how to apply for a Myanmar / Burma Visa in Chiang Mai, Thailand (As of 12.01.2013)
After speaking with my Burmese mother extensively about her returning to Myanmar after 44 years from her homeland, we decided to start researching and organising Visas and flights.
My Mother Irma El-haj preparing for her return to Burma
Hours of sifting through blogs and web pages turned up lots of conflicting information about the Visa application process for Myanmar. So we decided to start contacting tour operators in Chiang Mai for more Myanmar travel info.
What happened next resulted in more confusion. One tour operator told us that as of June 2012 we could now obtain a Visa on arrival when we enter Yangon and no longer had to worry about the lengthy application process. The Second tour operator told us that we still needed to send our passports to the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok to get an official Tourist Visa stuck inside before we travelled.
Confused by the conflicting information we went to the Air Asia office in Chiang Mai to book our flights and asked them what the procedure was. They gave us a link to the Myanmar E-Visa application government website- https://www.myanmarevisa.gov.mm/ where it is said that tourists can now apply online and pay by credit card. After 3 days you will receive an approval letter that you take with you to obtain your visa on arrival in Yangon which sounded great, except for the fact that the website wasn’t working. This led to further hours of research which eventually led us to the Myanmar E-Visa Facebook Page- https://www.facebook.com/pages/Myanmareasenet/270445326354301 where countless people had been complaining that the E-Visa was not working with little to no response. Some travellers had even booked flights to Yangon and got refused boarding because of the new VOA info, thinking that the Visa on arrival was the same system as Thailand.
Time was running out and there seemed to be no way to get the Myanmar E-Visa. So we went to the tour operators P&P Travel in Chiang Mai, located on Tha Pae Road a few doors down from ‘Taste from Heaven’ Vegetarian Restaurant. They took our passports and we paid a fee of 2500 Baht each for them to send our passports to the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok. There, somebody they employ takes the application forms and your passports and waits in the queues at the embassy. They get the visa approved and pasted into your passport and sent back to Chiang Mai. The process took 7 days exactly and was very safe and professional. We were now each in possession of a 28 day Tourist Visa.
My Mothers Social Visa
Sacha & I flew to Myanmar on November 16th 2012 and since then until now (12.01.2013) we have kept track of the E-Visa situation and it seems nothing has changed. The E-Visa & Visa on Arrival is not currently available for general tourists. The Burmese / Myanmar Embassy was the only working option for us to get our 28 Day Tourist Visa.
Special Note about Visas
If you put on your Visa application form that you are staying with locals rather than a hotel, you will be asked to apply for a Social Visa which costs a little more. Also the locals that you stay with can sometimes be penalized for allowing you to stay and can be subjected to government fees. To avoid this, we googled the address of a random hotel and put that on our form. There were no questions asked.
Local Yangon Apartment
My mother was forced to apply for a Social Visa because she used to be a Burmese citizen years ago. Even though she has never owned a Burmese passport and is a British citizen with a British Passport.
Flights to Myanmar
Because we live in Chiang Mai we had to book 4 separate flights to complete our trip to Yangon. Chiang Mai to Bangkok domestic and then Bangkok to Yangon, then the same combination for the return to Chiang Mai.
We used Air Asia and the total cost came to £190 per person. This was including just one 20kg checked in case that we shared and an individual carry on per person. Air Asia charges 500 Baht per case for 20kg check in luggage and more for heavier bags.
We were advised by friends to leave a large time delay between flights because Air Asia is notorious for delaying flights. Which means you would miss your connecting flights.
What Money to take to Myanmar
Many people told us to take perfectly clean, unfolded U.S Dollars to Myanmar in Mint condition. The reason for this is because there are dozens of money changers in the Bogyoke Aung San market that will exchange the clean bills into the Burmese currency of Kyats. (Pronounced Chaats)
We were told that the people of Myanmar accept the U.S Dollar everywhere so Kyats wouldn’t be necessary. But we found that every person we dealt with would mainly accept Kyats and rarely wanted the Dollar bills we brought with us. Unless it was a hotel or to pay for an excursion.
So our advice would be to take the clean USD with you but find a money changer asap so that you can get Kyats in your hand (not at Yangon airport though). The people of Myanmar prefer their own currency despite what I was told.
We had a local family exchange our USD at their personal bank for us. But as that isn’t an option for many here is what we would advise.
Where to Exchange US Dollars to Kyats
*** This section has ammended info below
We would advise against exchanging dollars to Myanmar kyats at Yangon Airport. Your Guest house or the Bogyoke Aung San market will offer you a much better rate that isn’t government leeched.
At your guest house or hotel they will give you better exchange rates for $50 and $100 bills. We had a lot of small bills on us and the exchangers didn’t like that. Sometimes not taking the notes at all.
Be aware of Touts by the roadside offering amazing rates, they will rush you to count your bills and most likely cheat you out of some of your money. Only use them if you have no other option and make sure to take care when counting even if under pressure. The Burmese Currency can sometimes be dirty and difficult to count; So choose somewhere that will allow for you to count your bills safely and without pressure.
Towards the back of Bogyoke Aung San Market: There are plenty of money traders that allow you the time you need to count the bills you’ve bought and contemplate the exchange rates. The vendors here and everywhere in Yangon are very picky about the condition of your dollars and will give a better exchange on larger bills.
Dollar Bills must be in absolute Mint condition, no markings, folds, bends, tears or blemish whatsoever. Put them in a rock hard case and handle them with care when in Myanmar. They also need to be from the year 2006 or later without the CB in the serial number on the bills.
The exchange rate varies daily so exchanging larger amounts when you find a good deal is recommended. When we were in Myanmar November 2012 the rate was 860 Kyat to 1 USD.
Remember there are currently no ATM’s in Yangon so make sure you enter the country with enough US Dollars to cover your entire trip. $100 and $50 bills will get the best exchange rate, but make sure you keep a supply of $20′s and $10′s as well. Don’t make the mistake we did and bring hundreds of $1 & $5 bills.
*** Edited Note – advised by beyondcrowds.com
1. Despite what we had read and been told from outside the country, the airport offered the same exchange rate as the official money changer, a solid 854kt/$. We were offered exchange rates up to 900 kt/$ by street changers, but the best we actually got was 870 kt/$ and it was sketch city. As in, I’d never do it again. The changers behind the market might be better. To my eye, the locals are now using the official money changers (the place was packed with locals when it opened at 10 am). The other benefit, the official money changers don’t care about serial numbers or slight folds on the US bills.
2. International ATMs (i.e., VISA, not MasterCard) opened up in Yangon on January 1. Wooo! We saw them strip the paper off. We even saw ATM open up in Nyaung Shwe (January … 12?), which we promptly used to extract some kyat! 🙂
Photographic / Video Equipment in Myanmar
Several sources had told us to be cautious about bringing our expensive camera equipment into Myanmar, saying that professional photography and video work was prohibited without licenses and permission. We had no intention of shooting professionally for profit but the equipment we carry with us for personal use might have been hard to justify. However we had no problem what so ever with immigration, the police or military. Obviously exercise caution with expensive equipment and avoid pointing a professional over sized telephoto lens at a soldier. But we managed to shoot great footage without issue.
Companies we used
243-245 Thapae Rd
– Jmayel El-haj