While backpacking through Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam, we met many people who planned to move on to Burma (renamed Myanmar in 1989). After some quality time on the beaches of Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, we were excited to return to backpackers' territory.
We had a few small hiccups in the process of applying and receiving our visas so let me share the story for any travelers looking to visit this country.
It's a pretty simple process that ended up being less hassle than a Vietnamese visa or Laos land-entry, but they're much less experienced with tourism since the floodgates only opened in 2011. There are a few kinks in the system to be aware of. Maybe our story can help you with the process:
Step 1: eVisa Application
First step is to get an eVisa. Do this before you book your flight, because there's a 50USD non-refundable application fee. It's unlikely, but if they reject your application and you already booked a flight, that's two non-refundable fees you paid.
Go to the official Ministry of Immigration website to apply for your visa. Don't do it through an agency. The official application process is very fast, with most people receiving approval within 1-3 days. So anyone promising to expidite it is just taking you for some money.
Be sure to read the Tourist Visa requirements for Myanmar. They're pretty ordinary; you basically need a digital passport photo, a major credit card to pay, and a passport which is valid for at least 6 months after your actual date of entry (NOT the date of eVisa application). There's also a list of the 100 countries who can receive a visa. That's a lot less than many countries so double check to find your passport on the list!
Make sure to pick your port of entry carefully. You have to enter at the airport you pick, so shop around for airline tickets before submitting your application. Yangon often has cheaper tickets than the other two since it handles the bulk of tourist entries.
Step 2: Check for approval on the website
This was one step we got snagged on. Upon submitting the applications for myself and Karin, we instantly got a confirmation email with the transaction and application IDs in them. The emails came so fast that we assumed another would be sent upon approval. So we waited several days for a follow-up email before getting antsy.
Problem is, that's not how it works. The email very unceremoniously told us that "you may use your Application number included in email to check the status of your Application at our website" — not "must" or "should" — however that is the process. You have to check manually each day, then download the approval document when you see your approved/declined status. No follow-up email will be sent even if you do get approved.
We waited six days before finally breaking down to check our status, which said approved and reported that the approval date was the same day of our application. Doh!
Step 3: Print the approval letter
Once we had the PDFs, we asked the front desk of our hostel if we could print the letters and they graciously let us borrow their printer. You might have to find an internet café or print shop otherwise. We were in Malaysia which is very posh by SE Asia's standards. Depending on where you are, simply printing a document could be an adventure!
Note that this is not a visa, simply an application approval. You ultimately have to stand at the immigration desk and get your passport stamped before you're 100% certain you're getting a visa. We haven't heard of anyone getting denied, but this approval letter is only a step towards your goal, not the end result.
Here's what the letter looks like. I blacked out the confidential bits on mine:
Step 4: Book inbound and outbound flights
The letter has three hard requirements to be granted a visa upon arrival:
- Have a passport with at least 6 months validity
- Have sufficient funds for the period of stay in Myanmar, and
- Have confirmed onward / return air ticket(s).
We did buy an outward flight as we'd heard from others that they were advised to do the same, but at the immigration desk it never came up. If you wanted to live dangerously, feel free to buy a one-way and leave your plans open, but be warned that it's grounds for rejecting your application, and then you have to hop on a plane and go back where you came from. That can be complicated if you came from a single-entry visa country (e.g. Vietnam), so beware!
Step 5: Flying and customs
When you apply for the visa, you must pick one of three international airports as your entry point. Make sure you book a flight that uses the same airport listed on your approval letter.
We were required to produce approval letters before boarding our flight operated by AirAsia. They must fly you back if you have to return, so they won't let you on the plane without your papers.
The flight was mostly uneventful save for the fact that it felt more like a local bus. People walking against the stream of traffic as we boarded, standing during take-off, spitting betel nut into the aisles during the flight, opening overhead bins during landing and taxi, trampling each other to leave the plane the moment the seatbelt sign was off... it was the most hectic crowd I've ever seen on a plane.
Maybe it was because of the 4 hour delay ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Anyway, during the flight you'll receive customs forms. Don't bring the usual stuff: drugs, fruits, loads of money, live chickens, etc. The visa number described on the forms is called your Approval Number on the eVisa Approval. Aside from that the form was straightforward.
Your departure card is the left section of the second form (the section containing the word "NOTICE"). Hold onto this piece of paper until you are stamped out of the country. In other countries (e.g. Thailand, Singapore) we ask the immigration staff staple it into our passports, but Burmese immigration did not do this for us. So just hold onto that paper no matter what!
Step 6: Enjoy Burma!
It's a wonderful, bustling country filled with delightful people. It will certainly be different than most countries you've been to so hang on and enjoy the ride!
If you happen to be in Bangkok, you can go directly to the Myanmar embassy and get a visa in person (you'll have to leave your passport with them for a few days). Though it's a bit more work to physically go in person, the embassy-issued visa lets you cross land borders in addition to airport immigration, avoiding costly flights and allowing more flexibility in your travel.