For years, visitors to Southeast Asia have overlooked Burma as a potential travel destination. Instead Thailand, Laos and Cambodia among others have won the majority of the tourist dollars. Now, however, it looks like all that could be set to change thanks to changes in both the political situation in Myanmar as well as a new streamlined visa application process.
Myanmar – also known as Burma – has long been avoided by most tourists. It has suffered from a military dictatorship and repeated infighting between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. As a result the Foreign Office has generally dissuaded travel there due to concerns over personal safety. And while Human Rights Watch still classes their human rights situation as ‘poor’, greater political stability is now opening up Myanmar to more adventurous travellers for the first time in decades.
Originally a British colony, Burma rebranded itself as ‘Myanmar’ upon gaining independence in the 1980’s. Today there still seems to be some uncertainty as to the most accurate name for the country. In practise both names are used. It seems even the local government are uncertain; while they are far more likely to refer to their own country as Myanmar, the national anthem still refers to it as ‘Burma’.
For those looking to follow in President Obama’s footsteps and visit the country for the very first time, Myanmar’s new eVisa system is good news. It enables citizens from 43 specially-chosen countries to apply for their visa online rather than having to go through the otherwise lengthy and impractical older system.
Getting your visa online involves a relatively painless four step process.
To being with you’ll need to apply online, filling in all the required information including uploading a passport photograph of yourself taken in the last 3 months. Next, confirm your information and pay the non-refundable $50 application fee using your credit card.
Upon successful submission you receive an email almost immediately to confirm receipt of your information. This should be followed, within 5 days, by an official letter of approval sent to your email address.
All you need do is then print out your visa approval and ensure you have it signed on arrival in Myanmar.
Those considering applying for an electronic visa in order to gain entry to Myanmar should be aware of the limitations. Most notably, these visa are only valid for travellers arriving at the main Yangon International Airport. That means that those individuals planning to enter the country by road – or courtesy of another airport – will still need to apply for their visa in the old manner.
In addition it is worth noting that on entry in the country your passport will need to have at least six months until its expiry. Those failing to meet Myanmar’s requirements may be refused entry to the country and sent home on the next available flight.