|Still current at: 07 January 2011
Updated: 13 December 2010
This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the Travel Summary and the Safety and Security - Political Situation section (release of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi). The overall level of the advice has not changed; there are no restrictions in place in Burma.
(see travel advice legal disclaimer)
Safety and Security - Terrorism
There is a general threat from terrorism in Burma. If you are visiting or are resident in Burma, you should exercise caution in public places and ensure that you are comfortable with, and regularly review your own and your family's security arrangements. Attacks could be indiscriminate, including in places frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.
Past targets have included commercial interests, public transport and places tourists may visit. On 15 April 2010, there were three bomb explosions during festivities at Kandawgyi Lake, in central Rangoon. At least 10 people were killed and 170 injured. This incident was the worst of its kind since May 2005 when explosions in two shopping centres and a trade fair killed at least 23 people and injured more than 150.
Other recent incidents include:
See our terrorism abroad page.
Safety and Security - Crime
There are no accurate crime statistics, but anecdotal evidence suggests that muggings, burglaries and petty thefts in Rangoon have increased as the economic situation has deteriorated. Expatriate homes and hotels have been targeted in the past. You should take extra care of your belongings.
There have been occasional instances of violent crime against foreigners. Take sensible security precautions at all times.
See our victims of crime abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local travel
Exercise caution if travelling to border areas in Burma, particularly those referred to above. The Burmese government restricts travel to most border areas. There are a limited number of legal crossing points, but these could close without notice:
You must exit Burma at the same border crossing from which you entered, and Burmese immigration officers may request to hold your passport until your visit is complete. Do not attempt to cross any border illegally or enter restricted areas without the appropriate permissions from the Burmese authorities. Be particularly vigilant if travelling to border areas. There is ongoing military activity close to borders with Thailand, Laos and China especially in Northern and Southern Shan, Karen and Kachin States.
Land mines also pose a threat in several areas. British Embassy officials are not allowed to travel freely outside Rangoon without prior permission of the Burmese government, except to a limited number of destinations. Consular assistance in an emergency may therefore be restricted or delayed. You may only go to officially designated tourist areas. You need prior permission from the tourism authorities for treks to remote parts of the country. However, tourists have experienced difficulties with the authorities even after obtaining such permission.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Air Travel
Evidence suggests that the domestic airline, Myanmar Airways, does not always comply with international safety standards. On 6 June 2009, a Myanmar Airways aircraft skidded off the runway at Sittwe Airport, injuring three. Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) staff have been advised to avoid flying with Myanmar Airways. You should also be aware that on 19 February 2008 an Air Bagan aircraft was severely damaged after overshooting the runway at Putao airport.
The domestic airline Myanmar Airways should not be confused with Myanmar Airways International (MAI), which operates across South East Asia.
Local flight schedules are subject to change without warning and you should leave sufficient time in your travel itinerary to accommodate this. On occasion Burmese domestic airlines use aircraft from outside their own fleet, including those belonging to Myanmar Airways. Passengers are not advised in advance where this is the case.
The EU has published a list of air carriers that are subject to an operating ban or restrictions within the European Community. More information can be found one the European Commission website.
See airline security.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Rail Travel
Railway equipment is decrepit; fatal rail crashes occur, although they may not always be reported.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Road Travel
British or International Driving Licences are not recognised in Burma. You must apply for a Myanmar Driving License at the Department for Road Transport and Administration in Rangoon.
Many buses in Burma run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG). In September, several people were injured when gas cylinders exploded on a bus in Rangoon.
Overland travel can be hazardous, particularly in the rainy season (May to October). Roads can become impassable and bridges damaged.
Under Burmese law, the driver of a car involved in an accident with a pedestrian is always at fault. Road safety awareness, among both drivers and pedestrians, barely exists. Many vehicles, including taxis, are in a poor mechanical state. Although Burma drives on the right, the majority of cars are right hand drive, which can make driving hazardous.
See our driving abroad page.
Safety and Security - Local Travel - Sea and river travel
Ensure that you ask for and follow carefully local advice about where it is safe to swim or dive in the sea. River transport may not conform to internationally recognised safety standards. Be aware that search and rescue facilities are unlikely to meet international standards.
During the monsoon season (normally May to October), heavy rains can cause flooding. Check the weather before undertaking any river journey.
Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s release on Saturday 13 November at the end of her latest period of house arrest drew large crowds of jubilant supporters. Security forces will be on increased alert over the next few months. You should exercise caution, avoid any demonstrations and large gatherings and avoid taking photographs or videos of the military, the police or demonstrations.
Burma’s first elections in 20 years took place on 7 November. The military regime-backed party, the USDP, claimed a landslide victory. But there are reports of widespread electoral fraud and voter intimidation, and some opposition parties have expressed anger at the process. The political situation appears now to be calmer, though there is still some uncertainty as the country waits for the new government to be formed, which should happen within 90 days of the election.
In September 2007, protests led by Buddhist monks against the government took place in cities across Burma. There were violent clashes between protestors and the security forces. The security forces used violence, tear gas and gunshots to disperse the crowds and there were a number of fatalities, including a foreign journalist, and numerous injuries.
There have been no large protests against the government since 2007, however, the political situation continues to remain unsettled and you should continue to avoid all demonstrations and large gatherings. It is illegal to protest or form assemblies of people in Burma.
There are also stringent restrictions on freedom of speech, movement, religion, and political activity. Foreign nationals have been arrested, imprisoned and deported for distributing pro-democracy literature or criticising the regime in public. Attempts to visit the home of Daw Aung Sung Suu Kyi or the offices of her National League for Democracy party could attract unwelcome attention from the authorities. Do not take photographs of military installations or personnel.
People visiting or resident in Burma, should exercise caution in public places and ensure that you are comfortable with, and regularly review your own and your family's security arrangements. In the past, there have been acts of politically motivated violence around public holidays such as Armed Forces Day (27 March) and Martyrs Day (19 July) as these have the potential to turn violent. These dates, and other anniversaries, such as that of the 8 August 1988 uprising against the government and the September 2007 protests usually see a significant increase in security forces in Rangoon and elsewhere in Burma.
Fighting between the Burmese army and ethnic militia broke out recently on the Thai/Burma border. Thousands of refugees crossed the border into Thailand to escape the conflict. There are reports that many refugees are returning home but the situation remains in flux.
A Burmese military offensive took place in Northern Shan State in September 2009. The situation remains stable, but tense and many civilians in Northern Shan and Kachin States fear that there may be further fighting over the coming year, despite the fact that cease-fires have been in place for two decades.
Respect religious custom when visiting Buddhist religious sites – shorts and sleeveless tops will cause offence and shoes and socks should be removed before entering a pagoda or monastery.
Penalties for drug trafficking range from a minimum sentence of 15 years imprisonment and can include the death penalty.
Homosexuality is illegal in Burma. In June 2007, a European National was sentenced to seven years in prison for committing homosexual acts.
See our your trip page.
Entry Requirements - Visa Requirements
A visa is required to visit Burma. Visa on arrival was suspended from 1 September 2010. British nationals should apply for a visa in advance at the nearest Burmese embassy or Consulate before travelling.
Any queries on entry requirements should be directed to the nearest Burmese Embassy not to the British Embassy in Rangoon.
Entry Requirements - Passport Validity
Ensure that your passport has sufficient validity (over six months) before travelling.
Entry Requirements - Travelling with Children
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country. They may want to see birth certificates, a letter of consent from the other parent or some evidence as to your responsibility for the child. As far as we are aware the Burmese immigration authorities do not normally ask to see such evidence, but if you have concerns please check with the nearest Burmese Embassy.
Routine medical advice and treatment can be obtained in Rangoon and Mandalay, but elsewhere you should not assume that competent advice and treatment is available. Up-front cash payment is often required prior to receiving medical treatment in Burma. Intrusive examinations, including emergency dental work, should be avoided due to irregular hygiene standards and the danger of infection, particularly by hepatitis B and C and HIV/AIDS.
Dengue and malaria occur in Burma. Mosquitoes transmit these diseases. There are no vaccinations against these diseases, but there are preventative measures that you can take, as advised on the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) website. Visit your GP to discuss malaria prevention tablets.
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. If you suffer from diarrhoea during a visit to Burma, seek immediate medical attention.
In the 2008 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 240,000 adults aged 15 or over in Burma were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at around 0.7% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%. You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. See our HIV and AIDS page.
Seek medical advice before travelling to Burma and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
See our travel health and eat and drink safely pages.
Health - Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)
There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in domestic poultry in Burma (most recently in February 2010). There have been no confirmed human deaths in Burma, but a case of Avian Influenza infecting a human was confirmed in December 2007.
The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low. As a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
You should read this advice in conjunction with Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which gives more detailed advice and information.
The cyclone season in Burma normally runs from April to October. Floods and landslides may occur. Cyclone Giri struck Burma on 22 October causing extensive damage in Burma’s Northern Rakhine state near Sittwe, with estimates of over 250,000 people being affected.
Cyclone Nargis, which struck Burma in May 2008, killed nearly 130,000 and the damage it caused still affects movement in the Irrawaddy Delta.
See our tropical cyclones page.
Take out comprehensive travel and medical insurance, which includes air evacuation by a recognised carrier before travelling. Check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all activities you want to undertake. See our travel insurance page.
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then see our When things go wrong page.
General - Replacement passports
The British Embassy in Rangoon does not issue passports and, before setting off, ensure that your passport has sufficient validity (over six months) and a plentiful supply of unused pages. Carry photocopies of your passport at all times.
Passports for British nationals in South East Asian countries are issued at the British Consulate-General in Hong Kong. For details visit http://ukinhongkong.fco.gov.uk
In an emergency the Embassy can issue an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) upon receipt of the fee and mandatory supporting documents.
General - Registering with the British Embassy
If you intend to stay in Burma for over a month, register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.
General - Mobile phones
International GSM roaming is not available in Burma.
General - On arrival/departure
expect to have your baggage searched and/or x-rayed on arrival. You must declare any foreign currency over US $2,000; failure to do so may result in imprisonment. A departure tax of 10 US Dollars/FEC (Foreign Exchange Certificate) is payable when you check in for your departure flight.
General - Money
There are no ATMs in Burma. Credit cards and travellers' cheques are rarely accepted in Burma. One or two major hotels in Rangoon do accept credit cards, but this is subject to change. If you wish to pay by credit card, you should check with your hotel or tour operator. You should bring enough US Dollars to fund your stay. Because of concerns over counterfeit money, US Dollars with the letters AB and CB at the start of the serial number (top left-hand corner of note) are not always accepted. Notes should be in good condition, those with pen marks or tears are not always accepted.
General - Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)
Burma is a party to the CITES. Visitors should therefore be aware of the restrictions placed on the export of endangered species by CITES, particularly when deciding whether to buy exotic souvenirs such as those made from turtles. Over 800 species of animals and plants are currently banned from international trade and a further 30,000 are strictly controlled by CITES and EU legislation. Further information is available on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITIES) website.
General - Consular Assistance Statistics
Around 6,300 British tourists visited Burma in 2009 (Burmese Central Statistical Organisation figures). Most visits are trouble-free. Five British nationals required consular assistance in Burma in the period 01 April 2009 – 31 March 2010 for the following types of incident; three advice and self help; one lost or stolen passport and one financial transaction.