Myanmar Visa on Arrival – Warning

yangon-international-airport

You may have heard about the new visa on arrival for Myanmar. Citizens of a number of countries, including the USA, may qualify. You will find information and an application on the Myanmar government web site (seems to be a dead link more often than not!) and embassy web sites. (Here is a PDF from the Myanmar government but it is hosted on a government website that might make your malicious site warnings pop up. Sheesh.) One can even see a big booth right at the entry to immigration with big signs that read VISA ON ARRIVAL.

My advice? Don’t even think about it! Officially, it is possible to get a visa on arrival in Myanmar (depending on your nationality). Americans are on the OK list. HOWEVER, at this point it is so incredibly unreliable and could result in a travel disaster (being turned away upon arrival and forced to fly back to your departure city) that I cannot recommend it. “Some say” it is only for business visas which require letters of invitation and the like, but the online listing from the Myanmar government listed it for tourists as well. (Though now it appears to have been changed to only business visas, workshop/conference/event attendees, and transit visas. Some travel services such as www.myanmarvisaonline.com offer to do it for you in 12 business days (!) for about $75… with no guarantee the visa will be approved (naturally, how could they guarantee that?). For another $10 they can rush it by an unknown amount of time. It all sounds a bit dodgy to me, though we know some travelers have done it. [Confirmed: another traveler, from Malaysia, used http://www.myanmarvisaonline.com for a pre-arranged tourist visa to Myanmar (technically not a visa on arrival) and paid roughly $75 and had no problems. July 2013]

But visa on arrival in Burma is proving to be unreliable. An example: attendees to a recent event sponsored by the US government arrived in Yangon airport with official letters of invitation. The immigration officer in charge at the airport nearly turned them away. Despite having an official contact within the US embassy, the applicants were expected to provide a phone number for immigration to call. They had arrived outside of business hours, but fortunately they had the contact’s personal cell phone number. The officer still refused to grant entry until he could speak to a Myanmar contact. Fortunately, the American contact could provide another personal number of a co-worker so they were able to get in touch with someone (actually a lower ranking person within the institution, but Myanmar citizenship trumped title in this case.)

The success rate for visa on arrival in Yangon is so unreliable that most airlines won’t let you board from your departure city if you do not have a valid Myanmar visa already in your passport. If you are lucky, you can convince them that you will receive the visa on arrival, but then you are still faced with a very sketchy chance of getting in once you are in Yangon.

At this point, despite the stated existence of a Myanmar Visa on Arrival program, it is highly recommended you get a visa from the embassy or consulate in your home country, or in a connection country. (A great option for this is to get a visa at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok where you can get a visa in 1-2 business days or pay an express fee to get a same-day visa.)

If you insist on trying the visa on arrival, be sure you have a letter of invitation and all the recommended documentation you see on the official web site. Be sure you have a contact number from the authority inviting you, and be sure that contact person is Burmese and that you have an after-hours phone number to reach that person if you are arriving outside office hours. But again, I do not recommend this option.

Read more Myanmar Travel Tips here on The Mad Traveler.