Myanmar travel guide
Once a pariah state, Myanmar – previously known as Burma – is fast becoming the must-see destination in Southeast Asia, helped by an incredible array of tourist sights: golden stupas as tall as skyscrapers, ancient ruins, fascinating hill tribes, unexplored jungles, peaceful beach resorts, legions of monks, and mesmerising cities made legendary by writers like Rudyard Kipling and George Orwell.
Ruled by a secretive military junta, Burma was closed for decades to the outside world. When it finally opened, travellers were initially restricted to a handful of locations: the magnificent temples of Bagan, the floating villages of Inle Lake, the monasteries of Mandalay, and Yangon, the former capital, with its colonial relics and towering pagodas.
That was then. With the end of the travel boycott called by Aung San Suu Kyi, travellers are queuing up to visit Myanmar, captivated by the idea of seeing what Asia was like before the tourists arrived. Nevertheless, the government still controls where visitors can go and what they can see, and many people have qualms that their tourist dollars help fund the military regime, which stands accused of widespread abuses.
Those who do visit discover a fascinating, and famously friendly culture on the threshold between tradition and modernity. Monasteries are the foundation of Burmese society and even in rapidly expanding Yangon life is focused on Buddhist rituals. The sense of devotion is tangible at the awe-inspiring Shwedagon Paya, which towers over Yangon like an enormous golden pillar.
As Myanmar has opened up to the outside world, travellers have pushed beyond the Bagan-Inle-Mandalay triangle, visiting peaceful outposts like Kalaw, Hsipaw and Kengtung and trekking to remote tribal villages. Smaller numbers make it to the jungles of northern Myanmar or the rain-drenched ports of the far south and west. Myanmar even has its own patch of the Himalaya, accessed from remote Putao in the far north.
Through it all, the mighty Irrawaddy River snakes like a twisting Burmese python, offering some of the most atmospheric river journeys in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, Myanmar remains a controversial destination, promising significant challenges as well as rewarding experiences.
676,578 sq km (261,227 sq miles).
54,363,426 (UN estimate 2016).
83.2 per sq km.
Nay Pyi Taw.
President Htin Kyaw since 2016.
President Htin Kyaw since 2016.
230 volts AC, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins (European-style), three round pins (South African-style) or three square pins (British-style) are used; some hotel sockets can accept multiple types.
Last updated: 10 October 2017
The travel advice summary below is provided by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the UK. ‘We’ refers to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. For their full travel advice, visit www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) advise against all but essential travel to Rakhine State except the southern townships (administrative areas similar to a borough or county) of Kyaukpyu, Ramree, Munaung, Toungup, Thandwe (including the tourist resort of Ngapali) and Gwa.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Shan State (North), except Lashio town (which includes the airport), Kyaukme town, Hsipaw town, and the train line from Mandalay to Lashio.
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Kachin State (except the towns of Myitkyina, Bhamo and Putao) due to continued risk of armed conflict.
Political tension and unrest could happen at short notice. You should avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. Don’t take photographs or videos of the police, demonstrations, military installations or military personnel.
The situation in ethnic states where armed groups operate is volatile. There is ongoing conflict in the north of Shan State, and in Kachin State and there remains the possibility of violent clashes in other ethnic states.
Take particular care in the border areas with Thailand, Laos or China. There were several armed clashes in Karen and Mon States in September 2014 and in Karen State in July 2015. In September 2016 there were increased incidents of armed clashes in Kayin state.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Burma.
There are some parts of the country where British Embassy officials aren’t allowed to travel freely without permission from the Burmese government. The British Embassy’s ability to deliver consular assistance, including in an emergency, may be restricted or delayed in these areas.
Credit and debit cards are increasingly accepted in major tourist areas but some cards don’t work. Check in advance that your card will work.
Most visits are trouble-free.
The most common types of consular assistance are related to lost passports, petty theft and road accidents.
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission.
Safety and security
Burma held parliamentary elections on 8 November 2015. The National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, won a majority of seats and formed a government in April 2016. Burma’s military retains 25% of seats in parliament as well as various other political offices.
Burma has suffered from prolonged internal conflicts, involving a number of non-state armed groups from Burma’s ethnic States. In October 2015 the government signed a National Ceasefire Agreement with 8 (roughly half) of the armed groups. Many others have bilateral ceasefire agreements with the government. There is no formal ceasefire as yet in Kachin State. In northern Shan State, Kokang Self-Administered Zone is not under ceasefire. The possibility of violent clashes remains in all ethnic States including Shan, Rakhine, Chin, Kachin, Kayah, Karen, and Mon.
Following developments in Rakhine State in September 2017, there have been reports of heightened inter-communal tension and isolated violent incidents elsewhere in the country, including central Burma and Rangoon.
Censorship has been significantly eased. New legislation passed by Parliament offers greater freedoms of assembly and movement, and the right to form trade unions.
However, the political situation remains potentially unsettled. Restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, religion, and political activity remain, and foreign nationals have been arrested, imprisoned and deported in the past for criticising the government in public. Avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. Don’t take photographs or videos of the police, any demonstrations, military installations or military personnel.
On 29 January 2017, U Ko Ni, a legal adviser to Burma’s National League for Democracy (NLD), was shot and killed at Rangoon Airport, as was a taxi driver who tried to intervene. Acts like this aren’t common in Burma.
In the past, there have been acts of politically motivated violence around public holidays like Armed Forces Day (27 March) and Martyrs Day (19 July). On other anniversaries, like the 8 August 1988 uprising against the government and the September 2007 protests, you can expect to see an increase in security forces in Rangoon and elsewhere in Burma.
There are no accurate crime statistics, but anecdotal evidence suggests that there have been occasional instances of violent crime against foreigners, including muggings, burglaries and petty thefts. Homes occupied by foreigners and hotels have been targeted in the past. You should take extra care of your belongings and take sensible security precautions at all times.
Local travel – Rakhine State
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Rakhine State except the southern townships (administrative areas similar to a borough or county) of Kyaukpyu, Ramree, Munaung, Toungup, Thandwe (including the tourist resort of Ngapali) and Gwa. This is due to continued tension following serious civil unrest in 2012, and a continued risk of armed conflict and the threat of land mines in the northern areas. There were outbreaks of violence in late 2013 and early 2014. Since March 2015, there have been occasional clashes between ethnic groups and the Burmese military in north Rakhine. On 9 October, 2016 there were attacks on police posts in northern Rakhine state. On 25 August 2017, there were further attacks on police posts in northern Rakhine state, and reports of further violence in the area.
In late August and early September 2017, security operations in northern Rakhine have involved the clearance of villages and mass displacement of populations. There has also been burning and looting of property. There’s a significant risk of intercommunal violence in Rakhine and international NGOs can also be the target of hostility.
Local travel – Kachin State
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to Kachin State (except the towns of Myitkyina, Bhamo and Putao) due to a continued risk of armed conflict there. If you are travelling to Myitkyina, Bhamo and Putao, you should monitor local developments and keep in close contact with your tour operator in case the security situation there changes. The Burmese authorities are currently restricting travel between Myitkyina and Bhamo: travel to and between these two towns is permitted by air only.
Local travel – Shan State
The FCO advise against all but essential travel to northern Shan State (North) except:
- Lashio town centre (which includes the airport)
- Kyaukme town
- Hsipaw town
- the train line (but not the road) from Mandalay to Lashio
Rail travel is likely to be safer than the road. This is because both the Tatmadaw and ethnic armed groups transport men and weapons along the roads but not on the train.
Armed conflict regularly breaks out in the north of Shan State (South). Since October 2016, intense armed clashes have broken out in areas of northern Shan State between various ethnic armed groups and the Myanmar Army. Clashes have occurred in areas such as Muse, Kutkai, Namhsan, Manton and Laukkai townships. If you’re travelling in the area, monitor local media and keep in close contact with your tour operator.
Local travel – border areas
Be particularly vigilant and take extra care in border areas. There is ongoing military activity close to borders with Thailand, Laos and China especially in Shan, Karen, Mon and Kachin States. There are occasional clashes in Karen State (Myawaddy and Kawkareik)) and Mon State (Kyaik Mayaw), and you should seek advice from guides or tour operators before travelling. Land mines also pose a threat in conflict areas. The Burmese government restricts travel to most border areas.
There are a limited number of legal crossing points, but these could close without notice:
- Tachilek (Burma Shan State) – Mae Sai (northern Thailand border)
- KawThoung (Burma Tanintharyi) – Ranong-Kawthoung (southern Thailand border)
- Muse (Burma Shan State) – Ruili (China border)
- Tamu (Burma Chin State) – Morei (India border)
- Myawaddy (Burma Karen State) – Mae Sot (western Thailand border).
Burmese immigration officers may ask to hold your passport until your visit is complete. If you’re forced to leave your passport at immigration, you should contact the British Embassy in Rangoon. Don’t attempt to cross any border illegally or enter restricted areas without the appropriate permissions from the Burmese authorities. Even after getting permission, you may experience difficulties with the local authorities.
Local travel – destinations subject to limitations
The Ministry of Hotels, Tourism and Sport maintains a list of approved destinations. Tourists can visit Rangoon, Mandalay, Bago and Irrawaddy regions without restrictions. Other destinations are subject to limitations (eg access by air or train but not by road). For more information, contact the Burmese Ministry of Tourism.
The FCO can’t offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s unsafe.
In 2010 the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Burma.
A domestic flight carrying a number of tourists crashed in December 2012. You can find a list of recent incidents and accidents on the website of the Aviation Safety Network.
Airlines routinely share flight codes, meaning that airlines sometimes use aircraft from outside their own fleet. Passengers aren’t always advised in advance where this is the case.
Local flight schedules are subject to change without warning. Leave sufficient time in your travel itinerary to accommodate this.
Railway safety standards are significantly below those in the UK.
You can’t use a UK licence or an International Driving Permit to drive in Burma. You must apply for a Myanmar Driving Licence at the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Rangoon.
Overland travel can be hazardous, particularly in the rainy season (May to October). Roads can become impassable and bridges damaged. Travel by road between many areas outside the key destinations of Rangoon, Mandalay, Bago and Irrawaddy regions is restricted. Check with your tour operator or the Ministry of Hotels, Tourism and Sport before travelling.
Road safety standards are significantly lower than in the UK. Under Burmese law, the driver of a car involved in an accident with a pedestrian is always at fault. Many vehicles, including taxis and buses, are in a poor mechanical state, and serious road traffic accidents are common. Although Burma drives on the right, the majority of cars are right hand drive.
FCO staff are advised to avoid travel where possible on the main Mandalay-Naypyitaw-Rangoon road at night, due to bad lighting and poor road surfacing.
Sea and river travel
Seek local advice about where it is safe to swim or dive in the sea. River transport may not meet internationally recognised safety standards and search and rescue facilities may be limited.
During the monsoon season (normally May to October), heavy rains can cause flooding. Check the weather before undertaking any river journey.
Mobile phones and Internet
Burma’s technological infrastructure is improving rapidly and foreign visitors and residents can expect to see significant change in the near future.
International GSM roaming is now available in Burma and all local networks offer 3G. If roaming is enabled, some UK SIM cards will work and coverage is fairly reliable in the main cities. UK mobile service providers may charge especially high prices for roaming in Burma.
Many visitors travel with a spare mobile phone and buy a SIM card when they arrive (approximately 1500 Kyat – about £1). This can then be topped up as needed.
Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Burma. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places visited by foreigners. Previous attacks have targeted government buildings, commercial premises, public transport, festivals, hotels and cinemas. You should take sensible precautions and follow the advice of the local security forces.
On 17 and 20 November 2016, there were 3 small explosions at 2 supermarkets in Rangoon. On 24 November 2016, there were 4 small explosions outside the Immigration Office in Rangoon. No serious injuries were reported.
There were a number of small explosions in Rangoon, Taungoo and Sagaing in October 2013 in which one foreign national was injured. The motivation for these attacks remains unclear.The last large-scale attack occurred in April 2010 when 3 bombs exploded injuring over 170 people celebrating the Burmese (Buddhist) New Year in Rangoon.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
Local laws and customs
Respect religious customs when visiting Buddhist religious sites. Shorts and sleeveless tops will cause offence. You should remove shoes and socks before entering a pagoda or monastery. These and other local customs are explained on this website run by the Burmese government and Burmese Tourist Federation
Under Burmese law, insulting religion is a prosecutable offence. Insulting religion is a broad term, and can include any disrespectful depiction or image (including tattoos) of Buddha or other religious representation, or wearing any tattoo of Buddha anywhere below the waist.
Penalties for drug trafficking range from a minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment and can include the death penalty.
Homosexuality is technically illegal in Burma, although these laws are rarely enforced in practice. In June 2007, a European national was sentenced to 7 years in prison for committing homosexual acts.
Burma is a party to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Over 800 species of animals and plants are banned from international trade and a further 30,000 are strictly controlled by CITES and EU legislation. You should consider the restrictions on the export of endangered species under CITES when deciding whether to buy exotic souvenirs, including those made from turtles.
The information on this page covers the most common types of travel and reflects the UK government’s understanding of the rules currently in place. Unless otherwise stated, this information is for travellers using a full ‘British Citizen’ passport.
The authorities in the country or territory you’re travelling to are responsible for setting and enforcing the rules for entry. If you’re unclear about any aspect of the entry requirements, or you need further reassurance, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
You should also consider checking with your transport provider or travel company to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
You will need to get a visa before you travel. You should apply at the nearest Burmese Embassy or Consulate well in advance of travelling. You can also apply online. For more information about entry requirements, contact the Burmese Embassy.
Your passport should be valid for a minimum period of 6 months from the date of entry into Burma.
Restrictions on entering and exiting Burma at the same border crossing
The restrictions on exiting Burma at the same border crossing from which you entered have been partially relaxed. If you enter Burma through the Tachilek (Burma Shan State), KawThoung (Burma Tanintharyi), Myawaddy (Burma Karen State) or Htee Khee-Sunaron (Burma Dawei District) border crossings you are able to depart via Rangoon or Mandalay International Airport. However, if you enter Burma via the Muse (Burma Shan State) or Tamu (Burma Chin State) border crossings you must exit at the crossing from which you entered.
Recent changes to visa requirements for Thailand may affect travellers wishing to make regular crossings at the land border between Burma and Thailand. for further information.
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are not valid for entry into Burma. However, ETDs are accepted for exit from Burma.
Visit your health professional at least 4 to 6 weeks before your trip to check whether you need any vaccinations or other preventive measures. Country specific information and advice is published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre on the TravelHealthPro website and by NHS (Scotland) on the fitfortravel website. Useful information and advice about healthcare abroad is also available on the NHS Choices website. Information may be listed under either ‘Burma’ or ‘Myanmar’.
Competent medical advice and treatment may not be available outside Rangoon and Mandalay, and any services provided will not be to the standard of those in the UK. Avoid intrusive examinations, including emergency dental work, due to irregular hygiene standards and the danger of infection, particularly by hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS.
Cash payment is often required prior to receiving medical treatment in Burma. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and/or repatriation. The UK Government can’t pay for medical expenses overseas.
Cases of cholera have been reported in some areas of Burma. Poor sanitation and eating contaminated food can increase the risk of diarrhoeal illnesses. Drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.
Japanese Encephalitis is present in Burma. The virus is spread by mosquitoes and can be fatal.
There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in domestic poultry in Burma. While the risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low, you should avoid any contact with domestic, caged or wild birds, and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
Burma is subject to frequent earthquakes and tremors of varying magnitude.
The Earthquake Track website lists recent seismic activity. To learn more about what to do before, during and after an earthquake, see the website of the US Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The cyclone season in Burma normally runs from April to October. You can monitor the progress of tropical cyclones on the website of the World Meteorological Organisation. Floods and landslides may occur. Check local weather reports before travelling, particularly in coastal areas.
See our tropical cyclones page for advice about what to do if you’re caught up in a storm.
You should expect to rely on cash for most of your stay;(preferably US dollars. Visitors bringing in excess of $10,000 (or equivalent) in foreign currency should declare this to Customs on arrival or risk facing imprisonment.
Once in country it’s easy to exchange US dollars into Kyats and exchange rates are generally fair. Due to concerns over counterfeit money, dollars with the letters AB and CB at the start of the serial number (top left-hand corner of the note) aren’t always accepted. Notes with pen marks, folds or tears are also not accepted.
An increasing number of hotels, restaurants and shops now accept credit and debit cards, but there’s widespread distrust of electronic payment and banking. If you intend to pay for hotels or restaurants with a credit or debit card, you should phone ahead and confirm that this will be possible. Many vendors will charge a high service fee for paying by card.
ATMs are now widely available but aren’t always reliable and you should monitor your transactions regularly. Western Union operates for inward transfer of funds via Burmese banks.
Travel advice help and support
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) in London on 020 7008 1500 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can’t provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can’t offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCO travel advice
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.