Burma (Myanmar) is a developing, agrarian country ruled by a military regime. The country has begun to encourage tourism after a long period of isolation. Tourist facilities in Rangoon, Bagan, Taunggyi and Mandalay are adequate but are very limited in most of the rest of the country. The country's political situation is relatively volatile as the military government suppresses expression of opposition to its rule.
Travel to and within Burma is strictly controlled by the Government of Burma. A passport and visa are required. Tourist visas are issued for package/group tours as well as to foreign individual tourists ("FITS") for stays of up to four weeks. "FITS" must exchange a minimum of U.S. dollars 300 for dollar-denominated foreign exchange certificates (FEC) upon arrival. The military government rarely issues journalist visas and several journalists traveling to Burma on tourist visas have been denied entry. Information about entry requirements as well as other information may be obtained from the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar, 2300 S Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, telephone 202-332-9044/6, or the Permanent Mission of Myanmar to the U.N. 10 East 77th St., New York, N.Y. 10021 (212-535-1311). Overseas inquiries may be made at the nearest embassy or consulate of Burma (Myanmar).
Burma experienced major political unrest in 1988 when an undetermined number of Burmese democracy activists were jailed or killed by the government. The military government refused to recognize elections results in 1990, which the opposition won overwhelmingly. Burma experienced major student demonstrations in 1996, and demonstrations occurred in August and September of 1998. Popular unrest and violence continue to be possible. U.S. citizens traveling in Burma should exercise caution and check with the U.S. Embassy for an update on the current situation. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry their U.S. passports or photocopies of passport data and photo pages at all times so that, if questioned by Burmese officials, proof of U.S. citizenship is readily available.
Travel to the main tourist areas of Pagan, Inle Lake and the Mandalay area is routine. Travel to nearly all other parts of Burma is permitted, although transportation is difficult. Those planning to travel to more remote areas should contact the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon and/or Burmese authorities to ensure that they can travel to their intended destination. Some tourists traveling to places where permission is not expressly required have reported delays due to questioning by local security personnel.
In 1995 there was one reported guerrilla attack by Karen insurgents in the vicinity of the Yadana natural gas pipeline, Tenasserim Division. There are reports that future attacks on the pipeline may be contemplated.
In December 1996 two bomb explosions occurred at the Kaba Aye Pagoda in Rangoon. There have also been bomb attacks against family members of senior military officials, and against trains. The Thai-Burmese border area in Southern Shan, Mon, Karen, Karenni, Chin and Rakhine states have been the scene of occasional fighting between government forces and various insurgent groups.
Foreigners, including Americans, have been caught up in the Burmese Governmentís suppression of the democratic opposition. Americans have been detained, arrested, tried and deported for, among other activities, distributing pro-democracy literature, photographing sites and activities, and visiting the homes and offices of Burmese pro-democracy leaders. Burmese authorities have warned U.S. Embassy officials that future offenders of these vague, unspecified restrictions will be jailed in lieu of deportation.
Burmese authorities require that hotels and guest houses furnish information about the identities and activities of their foreign guests. Burmese who interact with foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions to the Burmese government.
The military government restricts access to outside information. Newspapers are censored for articles unfavorable to the military government, and Internet access is illegal. Tourists have had laptop computers with modems confiscated and held at the airport until their departure. Some journalists have been briefly detained, searched, had film and notes confiscated, and have been deported. Travelers have reported that their luggage is closely searched upon arrival and departure by immigration authorities.
Telephone services are poor in Rangoon and other major cities and non-existent in some other areas. U.S. Embassy officials are not allowed to travel outside Rangoon without the permission of the Burmese Government. It may, therefore, be difficult to assist U.S. citizens quickly should an emergency arise.
Security in tourist areas is generally good. The level of violent crime and crime against property is low. There are occasional reports of pickpocketing. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and the U.S. Embassy. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's A Safe Trip Abroad to promote a more trouble-free journey. The pamphlet is available by mail from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov or at the U.S. Embassy in Rangoon.
Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars. Hospital and medical services are available in Rangoon; elsewhere, medical care is limited. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services, and U.S. medical insurance is not always valid outside the United States. U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States.
Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties. Check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor, or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death. Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov and autofax service at 202-647-3000.
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions which differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Burma is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Safety of Public Transportation: good
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: good
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: poor
Rangoonís main roads are generally good. Traffic in the capital is increasing rapidly but serious congestion is still rare. Slow-moving vehicles, bicycles, and heavy pedestrian traffic create numerous hazards for drivers on Rangoonís streets. However, there are few good highways connecting Burmaís major cities; most in-country travel must be accomplished by air. Travel between Mandalay and Rangoon is possible by land, but deteriorated roads and reckless driving make the trip potentially dangerous. Trains are uncomfortable and not always punctual.
While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and may not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Burma are strict and convicted offenders can expect stiff jail terms, fines and even the death penalty.
U.S. Presidential Executive Order 13047 of May 20, 1997, prohibits new investment in Burma. For specific information, contact the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.treas.gov/ofac/, or via OFACís Info-by-Fax service at 202-622-0077.
Americans living or in or visiting Burma are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy and obtain updated information on travel and security within the country from the Embassy. The Embassy is located at 581 Merchant Street, Rangoon, tel. (95-1) 282055 and (95-1) 282182; fax (95-1) 280409.