Burma (Myanmar)

Latest update

This Advice was last issued on Wednesday, 09 April 2014.   It contains new information in the Summary and under Local travel (Burma's Water Festival (Thingyan) and New Year will be celebrated from 12 April 21 April 2014. Travellers should be aware of the increased risk of accidents and the closure of commercial and government services during this period). We continue to advise Australians to exercise a high degree of caution in Burma overall due to the uncertain security situation and possibility of further civil unrest.

Burma overall

Kachin State and Rakhine State (except resort areas at Ngapali Beach)

Areas bordering China, Laos, Thailand and India

Summary

  • We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Burma overall due to the uncertain security situation and possibility of further civil unrest.
  • Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
  • We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to Rakhine State, including the capital Sittwe and areas near Ngapali Beach, given serious civil unrest and ongoing tensions. If travelling to Ngapali Beach exercise a high degree of caution.
  • Burma’s Water Festival (Thingyan) and New Year will be celebrated from 12 April – 21 April 2014. Travellers should be mindful of the increased risk of accidents, including road accidents, caused by large unruly crowds. Travellers should exercise a high degree of caution during the festival. In 2010 three explosions occurred at a Thingyan pavilion killing ten people and injuring dozens more. Shops, restaurants, banks and government offices all close for Thingyan. Australians should take this into account when planning their travel.
  • Bomb attacks have taken place in major cities across Burma, including in Rangoon (Yangon), Mandalay, and Nay Pyi Taw. A number of attacks have occurred or have been planned in areas frequented by tourists and expatriates. Further attacks could occur at any time.
  • Protests and organised assemblies of people are now permitted with prior permission. Local authorities have only limited experience in dealing with legal protests and may not always respond predictably. You should avoid all demonstrations and street rallies as they may turn violent. You should avoid taking photographs of demonstrations, the military or police as this may not be tolerated by authorities.
  • We strongly advise you not to travel to the areas bordering China, Laos, Thailand and India, including the authorised land border crossings in these areas. Armed groups operate in these areas and there is an ongoing risk of ethnic conflict, banditry and unmarked landmines. In 2012 and early 2013, intense fighting was reported in areas of northern Shan State and Kachin State.
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Entry and exit

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of The Republic of the Union of Myanmar for the most up to date information.

Travel to and within Burma is strictly controlled by government authorities.

Travel to or from Burma by land border crossing is possible, but is restricted to a limited number of crossing points, which are within the area in which we advise against travel. These are:

  • Tachilek (Shan State)-Mae Sai (Thailand border)
  • Muse (Shan State)-Ruili (China border)
  • Kawthoung (Tanintharyi)-Ranong (Thailand border)

We strongly advise you to not use these land border crossings due to the risk of armed conflict, banditry and unmarked landmines in border regions.

If, despite our advice, you decide to use these land border crossings, you must obtain permission to use these land border transit points prior to travel through a government authorised tour company, which will obtain the required permits from the Ministry of Hotel and Tourism. Travel by road within Burma to and from these land border crossings is subject to restrictions. See under Local travel for details.

Customs regulations are restrictive and strictly enforced. In the past, customs authorities have been sensitive about the entry of communications and information technology equipment, such as laptop computers. We recommend travellers who intend to bring such equipment into the country seek the latest available advice from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

Customs officials may hold undeclared items for collection upon departure.

Travellers report that customs authorities closely search luggage on arrival and departure.

Customs officials strictly limit what is brought into the country. There are strict rules governing the export of local gems. You can seek further advice regarding import and export from the nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

Foreign currency in excess of US$10,000 must be declared upon arrival. Failure to do so could result in imprisonment.

Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.

Safety and security

Civil unrest/political tension

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Burma because of the uncertain security situation and the possibility of civil unrest. Pay close attention to your personal security at all times and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.

Acts of political violence can occur. Bomb attacks have taken place in major cities in Burma, including in Rangoon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw. Attacks have occurred or have been planned in public areas frequented by tourists and expatriates, including shopping centres, supermarkets, restaurants, markets, hotels, transportation hubs, and on public transport, including taxis. Further attacks could occur at any time.

Recent reported attacks include:

  • On 15 October 2013, bomb explosions occurred at a guesthouse and a pagoda in Sagaing Township in Sagaing Region.
  • On 14 October 2013, a bomb explosion in a room at the Traders Hotel in Rangoon resulted in injuries to a foreign national.
  • On 13 October 2013, an explosion in Thaketa Township in Rangoon reportedly injured two people.
  • On 12 October 2013, a bomb explosion occurred at Saw Bwa Gyi Gone bus station in Insein Township in Rangoon.
  • On 11 October 2013, a bomb explosion in Taungoo Township in Bago Region reportedly killed two people and injured another person.
  • On 21 July 2013, a minor explosion in a car park near a religious ceremony in Mandalay reportedly injured four people.
  • On 30 June 2013, an explosion on the main road in Pyin Oo Lwin in Mandalay Region injured three people.

Protests and organised assemblies of people are now permitted with prior permission. Local authorities have only limited experience in dealing with legal protests and may not always respond predictably. You should avoid protests and demonstrations as they may become violent. You should also avoid areas cordoned off by security forces. You should avoid taking photographs of demonstrations, the military or police as this may not be tolerated by authorities.

In the past, there have been incidents of politically motivated violence, resulting in casualties, on or around public holidays such as Armed Forces Day (27 March), the Water Festival (Thingyan) and Burmese New Year (both in April) and Martyrs Day (19 July). Other significant events, including the anniversary of the 1988 uprising (8 August) and the anniversary of demonstrations led by monks to protest for political reform (26 September) have traditionally seen an increase of police and security forces in Rangoon and elsewhere in the country.

Ngapali Beach: We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution when travelling to resort areas at Ngapali Beach in Rakhine State. If you choose to travel to Ngapali Beach we strongly encourage you fly directly to the resort area. We advise you to reconsider your need to visit the nearby town of Thandwe due to civil unrest in that area. You should monitor local developments in case the security situation changes.

Remainder of Rakhine State: We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to the remainder Rakhine State, including the capital Sittwe, due to the risk of further serious civil unrest. In late March 2014, there were violent protests directed against the staff and offices of international organisations in Sittwe, Rakhine State. A curfew remains in place in parts of Rakhine State. Tensions remain and further violence is possible.

Violent clashes in central and northern Rakhine State between Muslim and Buddhist communities have led to widespread displacement and segregation. In mid-2012, authorities announced a curfew across much of Rakhine (including the state capital of Sittwe and popular tourist destination Mrauk-U) and sent additional security personnel to the area in response to inter-communal violence and the burning of homes. Curfew times vary between townships and can change at short notice.

Northern Shan State and Kachin State: In 2012 and early 2013, intense fighting was reported in areas of northern Shan State and Kachin State. We advise you to reconsider your need to travel to these areas given current and ongoing risk of conflict.

China, Laos, Thailand and India border areas: We strongly advise you not to travel to the areas bordering China, Laos, Thailand and India, including the authorised land border crossings in these areas. Armed groups operate in these areas and there is an ongoing risk of ethnic conflict, banditry and unmarked landmines.

If, despite our strong advice to the contrary, you decide to visit these areas you should familiarise yourself with local curfews and travel restrictions .

Terrorism

We continue to receive reports that terrorist elements in the region are planning attacks that could take place in any location within Burma, including Rangoon.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General advice to Australian travellers.

Crime

There is a risk of crime, such as mugging, petty theft and burglary. There have also been incidents of violent crime directed against foreigners. Local law enforcement officials have a limited capacity to respond to or prevent crime.

Money and valuables

Before you go, you should consider how you are going to access your money. You should bring enough cash to cover your expenses for the duration of your stay. There are a small number of automatic teller machines (ATMs) in Rangoon which are connected to the international banking system and accept foreign cards and provide cash advances on credit/debit cards. International money transfers are now available through numerous banks in Rangoon. Reports of customer complaints resulting from technical problems with newly introduced ATMs are common. Travellers who choose to use ATMs in Burma should monitor their transaction records.

You should be aware that banks, money changers and commercial establishments in Burma occasionally refuse foreign currency on the basis of reports of counterfeit currency in circulation. US currency is widely accepted at commercial establishments, but notes with marks, folds creases or tears are not accepted. Other foreign currencies and travellers' cheques are rarely (if at all) accepted for payment at hotels or for the purchase of goods or services, including airline tickets. Credit cards are accepted in a very limited number of establishments in Burma.

Foreign currency (US dollars, Singapore dollars and Euros) can be exchanged for local currency, the Myanmar Kyat (MMK). There is no legal way to change Australian dollars to MMK.

It is illegal to exchange money except through authorised money changers, which can be found in Rangoon’s (Yangon’s) Mingalardon airport, at banks and in government stores.

Make two photocopies of valuable documents such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.

While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.

As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.

You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.

Local travel

Water Festival (Thingyan) and New Year 2014

Burma’s Water Festival (Thingyan) and New Year will be celebrated from 12 April – 21 April 2014. Travellers should be mindful of the increased risk of accidents, including road accidents, caused by large unruly crowds. Travellers should exercise a high degree of caution during the festival. In 2010 three explosions occurred at a Thingyan pavilion killing ten people and injuring dozens more. Shops, restaurants, banks and government offices all close for Thingyan. Australians should take this into account when planning their travel.

Other information on local travel

Unmarked landmines are a danger in parts of Burma, particularly in the border areas.

Foreigners are frequently required to present their passport and visa to authorities, including for domestic air and rail travel and when staying at hotels.

Travel within Burma is restricted to officially designated tourist areas. There are limitations on how travellers can access some destinations. You can minimise delays and disruption by obtaining official permission from the Ministry of Tourism before travelling outside Rangoon.

Given the Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar’s restrictions on the travel of Australian Embassy officials, providing emergency consular assistance to travellers in remote areas may be restricted or delayed.

It is illegal to drive in Burma without a valid Burmese driver’s licence. Driving in Burma may be dangerous because of aggressive driving practices, poorly maintained vehicles and roads, livestock and pedestrians on the road and the lack of street lighting. It is common practice for pedestrians to walk on roads. A driver involved in an accident with a pedestrian is always regarded to be at fault and is likely to be detained. It is illegal to leave the scene of an accident. It is illegal to drive in Burma on an Australian or International Driving licence. You must hold a valid Burmese licence to drive. For further advice, see our road travel page.

Public transportation within Burma, including air, river and rail travel, often does not meet international safety standards. Fatal accidents have occurred. Search and rescue assistance may be limited.

The safety standards you might expect of service providers, such as hotels, restaurants, retail outlets, transport and tour operators, including for adventure activities, are not always met. If you intend on participating in adventure activities, you should check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy.

Internet service is unreliable and not readily available in many parts of Burma. The telephone network is unreliable and limited to cities and large towns. It is difficult and costly to make international calls. International GSM roaming is not available and only local SIM cards will operate in Burma. It is not possible to send text messages from Australia to mobile phones inside Burma.

Airline safety

The safety record of domestic airlines is not publicly available, nor is information on the oversight of maintenance standards of domestic airlines by local authorities. This lack of transparency raises concerns about airline safety. In 2010, the International Civil Aviation Organisation conducted a safety audit. You should be aware that airlines operating in Burma sometimes use aircraft from outside their own fleet. Passengers are not advised in advance when this is the case.

There have been a number of accidents involving airlines:

  • In May 2013, a Myanma Airways plane overran the runway when landing at Monghsat Airport. Two passengers were injured and the plane sustained damage to its landing gear and engine.
  • In December 2012, an Air Bagan flight crash landed and caught fire at Heho Airport (Inle Lake). Several passengers were injured and two people died as a result of the incident.
  • In February 2012, an Air KBZ plane crash landed at Thandwe (Ngapali beach) airport. While the plane was severely damaged, no passengers were injured.
  • In June 2009, a Myanma Airways flight slid off the runway at Sittwe Airport. The plane was severely damaged and three people were injured.
  • In March 2008, an Air Bagan flight from Rangoon to the resort area of Ngapali in Rakhine State experienced a significant mid-air engine problem which required the aircraft to return to Rangoon. The aircraft was reportedly on loan from Myanma Airways.
  • In February 2008, an Air Bagan aircraft was severely damaged during an aborted take-off from Putao in northern Kachin State.

Please refer to our air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.

Laws

When you are in Burma, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Australian consular officers do not always receive timely notification of the detention, arrest or deportation of Australian citizens in Burma. If you are arrested or jailed, you should request immediate contact with the Australian Embassy.

Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the death penalty. The death penalty may also apply for other serious offences, including murder and treason.

Homosexual acts are illegal. Penalties include fines and imprisonment for up to ten years. See our LGBTI travellers page.

Photographing military personnel and installations is illegal.

It is illegal to enter and exit Burma with religious materials. It is illegal to preach or to distribute religious materials without written approval from authorities.

It is illegal to drive in Burma on an Australian or International Driving Licence. You must hold a valid local driving licence.

It is illegal to leave the scene of an accident.

Customs regulations on prohibited imports and exports are often unclear and can change. You should seek further advice regarding import and export from your nearest Embassy or Consulate of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Local customs

People in Burma are deeply respectful of their religious and cultural traditions. Visitors should remove shoes and socks before entering religious buildings and compounds. Wearing short-sleeved garments and shorts is not common and may cause offence, especially when visiting Buddhist pagodas.

There are conservative standards of dress and behaviour and you should take care not to offend. If in doubt, seek local advice.

It is considered seriously offensive to touch or pat a child or adult on the top of the head.

Information for dual nationals

The Government of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of Australian officials to provide consular services to Australian/Burmese dual nationals who are arrested or detained. We strongly advise you to travel on your Australian passport at all times.

Our Dual nationals page provides further information for dual nationals.

Health

We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.

It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

The standard of medical facilities in Burma is extremely limited, particularly outside Rangoon. You should avoid any surgical procedures, (including dental work) due to the danger of infection, including hepatitis and HIV/AIDS, from unsterile dental and medical instruments. Up-front cash payment is required prior to receiving treatment. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to a destination with the appropriate facilities (usually Bangkok, Singapore or Australia) would be necessary. In certain serious cases private hospitals are not permitted to accept foreign patients. Medivac costs would be in excess of $A25,000.

The mosquito-borne diseases malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya fever and Japanese encephalitis are endemic in Burma. We recommend you consider taking prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof .

The mosquito-borne disease Japanese encephalitis is found throughout many regions of North, South and South-East Asia and Papua New Guinea. A Japanese encephalitis vaccine is registered for use and is currently available in Australia. For further details please consult your travel health doctor.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, typhoid, rabies and tuberculosis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.

Avian influenza In December 2007, the World Health Organization (WHO) confirmed Burma's first human case of avian influenza in a remote area of eastern Shan State. Australians intending to travel to Burma should discuss the risk of avian influenza with their doctor as part of their routine pre-travel health checks. See our health page and Avian Influenza bulletin for further information on influenza.

Where to get help

In Burma, you can obtain consular assistance from the:

Australian Embassy, Rangoon

88 Strand Road
Rangoon, Burma
Telephone: (95 1) 251 810
Facsimile: (95 1) 246 159
Email: austembassy.yangon@dfat.gov.au

If you are travelling to Burma, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.

In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The monsoon season extends from June to October. Heavy rains can cause flooding and landslides. Severe weather can often precede the monsoon season.

Cyclones can occur between April and October. In the event of a tropical cyclone or typhoon, monitor local media reports and follow the instructions of local emergency officials. You can check the latest information at the India Meteorological Department website. You should identify your local shelter if one is available. In some areas, adequate shelter from a severe cyclone may not be available. If you are staying in a hotel, you should familiarise yourself with evacuation plans. For further information, see our severe weather page.

Most of Burma is in a zone of significant earthquake risk. Earthquakes have in the past caused damage to a number of major cities in Burma, including Rangoon. Our Earthquakes bulletin provides further information on travel in earthquake prone areas.

All oceanic regions of the world can experience tsunamis, but in the Indian and Pacific Oceans there is a more frequent occurrence of large, destructive tsunamis because of the many large earthquakes along major tectonic plate boundaries and ocean trenches. See the Tsunami Awareness brochure.

Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service. If a natural disaster occurs, travellers should follow instructions from local authorities, monitor media and weather reports, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

For parents

For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with children page.



While every care has been taken in preparing this information, neither the Australian Government nor its agents or employees, including any member of Australia's diplomatic and consular staff abroad, can accept liability for any injury, loss or damage arising in respect of any statement contained herein.

Maps are presented for information only. The department accepts no responsibility for errors or omission of any geographic feature. Nomenclature and territorial boundaries may not necessarily reflect Australian Government policy.