With record numbers heading to Myanmar since the relaxation of international sanctions, Visa has developed a top tips guide for those visiting and keen to make the most of their stay in Asia’s newest destination.
Myanmar’s limited infrastructure can pose challenges for even the most savvy of travellers, with international mobile roaming services that are patchy at best, and foreign currency that is often rejected if it isn’t in perfect condition. Myanmar isn’t yet the sort of place you can fly in to, hop into a cab and hope you can figure things out on the go.
“In a cash-based economy like Myanmar, even frequent travellers may need to adjust some of their usual travel habits,” says Caroline Ada, Visa country manager New Zealand and South Pacific. “These practical steps cover everything from hiring cars to obtaining local currency through ATMs, and are designed to ensure that travellers who want to get the most out of their journey are well prepared.”
TIP #1 – CHECK TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS
Contact the Myanmar embassy in your country for details about travel visa requirements. Visa-on-arrival is available with a proper invitation letter from a local firm and is limited to a select group of countries.
TIP #2 – REGISTER TRAVEL DETAILS WITH YOUR EMBASSY
Letting your government know you are planning to visit any foreign country is good practice. For Myanmar, register your travel and contact details at your country’s embassy in Myanmar so that they can contact you in case of an emergency.
TIP #3 – GET TRAVEL INSURANCE
Make sure you have comprehensive travel insurance that covers treatment in Myanmar and medical evacuation out of the country in case of emergency as repatriation can be very expensive. Also, speak to your doctor about your travels and seek advice on any vaccinations you may need, especially if you’re expecting to visit rural areas.
TIP #4 – BRING COPIES OF YOUR TRAVEL DOCUMENTS
Make sure to have a spare photocopy of your passport particulars, travel insurance policy, emergency contact numbers, travel visas and other important particulars on hand in case you need them. Keep these in your hotel safe and don’t forget to leave a copy with a friend or relative back home.
TIP #5 – BRING NEW, CRISP AND CLEAN NOTES
Most purchases in Myanmar are done in cash with local currency and some foreign currency, with U.S. dollars being the preferred foreign currency. Most shops and money changers accept U.S. currency, but bills are frequently rejected if they are blemished, creased, torn, damaged or old.
TIP #6 – BRING YOUR VISA CARDS
Instead of carrying large amounts of cash with you throughout your journey, ATMs offer convenient access to local currency if you need it. Visa and other international cards can now be used at ATMs in cities across Myanmar, including Yangon, Bagan, Nyaung Shwe (the gateway to Inle Lake), and others*.
Also, Visa cards started being accepted in early 2013 at merchant locations such as hotels and restaurants, and are becoming more widely accepted.
TIP #7 – PLAN YOUR CURRENCY EXCHANGE
If you need to exchange money for U.S. dollars or local currency in Myanmar, money changers in airports tend to give more competitive rates than those in city centers. However, exchange rates of smaller notes such as $10 can sometimes be lower than those of $50 bills. Local banks do offer competitive rates, although local branches and exchange counters are not widely available yet.
TIP #8 – INFORM YOUR BANK
It’s a good practice to tell your bank before you go overseas. If you’re going to Myanmar, let them know as it’s a new destination for many tourists, and banks may block any transactions that seem unusual.
The last thing you want is to be without access to money and having to call your bank from downtown Yangon!
TIP #9 – GET A LOCAL SIM CARD
Most likely you won’t be able to make or receive phone calls on your international roaming plan. SIM cards for international or some local calls are available for rent or sale at Yangon International Airport. Enquire at Tourist Information once you’ve cleared customs.
Of course, you should check with your mobile service provider before leaving to make sure your phone can accept foreign SIM cards.
TIP #10 – PRE-BOOK A CAR
Taxis at the airport are available, although the condition of the cars in a newly open market like Myanmar can var y. However, there are several airport transfer services that are available and reasonably priced. A quick Internet search for car service companies will turn up several results, for which pre-booking is recommended.