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XYZ Consular Info: Burma

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XYZ Consular Info: Burma

Burma (Myanmar) Consular Information Sheet
U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520
May 6, 2002
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Burma (Myanmar) is a developing, agrarian country ruled by a military regime. The country's political situation is relatively volatile as the military government suppresses expression of opposition to its rule.
The country has begun to encourage tourism after a long period of isolation. Foreigners can expect to pay at least five times more than locals do for hotels, airfare, and entry to tourist sites. Tourist facilities in the capital of Rangoon, Bagan, Taunggyi, and Mandalay are adequate, but they are very limited in most other areas of the country.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: Travel to, from and within Burma is strictly controlled by the Government of Burma. A passport and visa are required. Travelers are required to show their passports with valid visas at airports, train stations and hotels. There are frequent security roadblocks on all roads in Burma and at immigration checkpoints, even on domestic air flights.
Upon entry into Burma, tourists are required to exchange a minimum of $200 (US) for foreign exchange certificates (FEC). The FEC office is located between immigration and customs at the airport. The face value of the FEC, issued in denominations from one to $20 equivalents, is equal to the US dollar, but its actual value fluctuates. Any amount over $200 (US) may be exchanged back to US dollars; the first $200 (US) cannot be exchanged back into US dollars. These procedures are subject to change without notice.
The military government rarely issues visas to journalists, and several journalists traveling to Burma on tourist visas have been denied entry. Journalists, and tourists mistaken for journalists, have been harassed. Some journalists have had film and notes confiscated upon leaving the country.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
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 UN, 10 East 77th St., New York, NY 10021 (212-535-1311). Overseas, inquiries may be made at the nearest embassy or consulate of Burma (Myanmar).
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have been caught up in the Burmese Government's suppression of the democratic opposition. U.S. citizens 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.
U.S. Embassy officials are not allowed to travel outside Rangoon without the permission of the Burmese Government. Therefore, it may be difficult to assist U.S. citizens quickly should an emergency arise.
The Burmese authorities have announced that terrorist groups operate within the city limits of Rangoon. A small incendiary device exploded at a downtown pagoda in 1996, and other bomb devices were reportedly found by Burmese authorities in 1999 and 2000. The military government tightened security around the international airport in Rangoon after two RPG devices were discovered near the airport in early 2002.
Burma experienced major political unrest in 1988 when the military regime jailed and/or killed an undetermined number of Burmese democracy activists. In 1990, the military government refused to recognize the results of an election that 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.
For the last decade, there has been sporadic anti-government insurgent activity in various locations, such as an attack on a natural gas pipeline in the Tenasserim Division and bomb attacks against family members of senior military officials in Rangoon. Chin and Rakhine states and the Thai-Burma border area in Burma's southern Shan, Mon, and Karen states have been the scenes of occasional fighting between government forces and various insurgent groups. In February 2001, several people were killed and some tourists left stranded during shelling and cross-border gunfire in the town of Tachileik, Shan State. The Thai government has, from time to time, closed the border with Burma due to increases in insurgent activity.
FOREIGNER TRAVEL WITHIN BURMA: 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.
Travelers to the main tourist areas of Bagan, Inle Lake and the Mandalay area are not generally required to obtain advance permission. However, some tourists traveling to places where permission is not expressly required have reported delays due to questioning by local security personnel. Additionally, the military government restricts access to some areas of the country on an ad hoc basis. Those planning to travel in Burma should check with Burmese tourism authorities to see if travel to specific destinations is permitted. Even if travel is allowed, it may not be safe. Reportedly, ten of the fourteen Burmese states and divisions are polluted with anti-personnel land mines.
CRIME: National crime statistics are unreliable, but street crime appears to be increasing in Burma. There have been reports of vehicle hijackings and home invasion robberies. With the increase of the drug trade in Burma, individuals carrying automatic weapons on the street are not uncommon.
The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to local police and the U.S. Embassy. US citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," to promote a 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 US Embassy in Rangoon.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities in Burma are inadequate for even routine medical care. There are few trained medical personnel because the universities were closed for several years and have only recently reopened.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges Americans to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, U.S. citizens should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the United States may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have found it to be life-saving when a medical emergency has occurred. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Some insurers will only authorize payment for medical evacuations performed by companies with whom they have pre-existing agreements. Due to the unusual political situation in Burma, not all medevac companies can operate freely here. Medevac companies connected to the government can operate freely and effectively, while unconnected companies cannot. Precious time has been lost during medical emergencies while unconnected medevac companies tried to negotiate with the government for permission to land their air ambulances. Please look for an insurer that has pre-existing arrangements with a medevac company that has a proven record operating in Burma.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available via the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Common drugs for sale, such as insulin, are often adulterated products and unsafe to use. HIV/AIDS is rampant in the country, as are malaria, tuberculosis, and hepatitis. Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) hot line for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at: http://www.cdc.gov/.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Burma is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
--Safety of Public Transportation Poor
--Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance Fair to Poor
--Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance Poor
--Availability of Roadside Assistance Poor
The Burmese Ministry of Transportation is responsible for roads outside the major cities. City authorities are responsible for roads in the major metropolitan areas.
Rangoon's main roads are generally fair to poor. Traffic in the capital is increasing rapidly, but serious congestion is still uncommon. Many roads, even major thoroughfares, are in a state of serious disrepair. Heavy seasonal rains and insufficient drainage cause street flooding and the steady deterioration of the roads. Slow-moving vehicles, bicycles, animals, and heavy pedestrian traffic create numerous hazards for drivers on Rangoon's streets. Most roads outside of Rangoon are one lane and a half, pot-holed, and unlit at night.
Drivers must remain extremely alert to avoid hitting pedestrians. Judging from the frequency with which pedestrians jump in front of moving vehicles, it appears that they have no regard for their own safety. In fact, though, most Burmese have never driven a car and are under the impression that drivers are in complete control of their vehicles. Pedestrians do not fully appreciate the risks they take in walking in front of cars and darting into traffic.
Driving at night is dangerous. Few, if any, streets are adequately lit. Most Burmese drivers do not turn on their headlights until the sky is completely dark; many do not use headlights at all. Many people ride bicycles at night with no lights or reflectors.
Vehicles are required to drive on the right side, as in the United States. However, over 80 percent of the vehicles in use have the steering wheel on the right, as in Great Britain, adding a complication to the dangerous driving situation in Burma. The speed limit in the area of schools is posted at 48 kph, or about 30 mph. There are no other speed limits posted in Burma. The 'right of way' concept is generally respected with the exception that military convoys and motorcades take precedence. Right turns on a red light are permitted.
Most vehicle accidents are generally settled between the parties with the party at fault paying the damages. Accidents that require an investigation are concluded quickly and rarely result in criminal prosecution.
There is no roadside assistance, and ambulances are not available.
Truck drivers traversing from China to Rangoon are known to be frequently under the influence of methamphetamine-spiked beetlenuts. Drunken and/or drugged drivers are common on the roads during the four-day water festival of early Spring.
There are no seat belt laws, and functioning seat belts are not generally found in vehicles. Child car seats are also not required and not available in Burma.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the United States and Burma, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has not assessed Burma's Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards. For further information, travelers may contact the U.S. Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873 or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa.
The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone(618) 229-4801.
Due to general safety concerns regarding Myanmar Airways, including two fatal air crashes in 1998, the U.S. Embassy has advised its employees to avoid travel on this carrier whenever possible.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Customs regulations are restrictive and strictly enforced. Travelers have reported that their luggage is closely searched upon arrival and departure by Customs authorities. It is illegal to take many items, including antiques, out of Burma. Foreigners have been detained, searched and imprisoned for attempting to take Burmese gems out of the country. Customs officials also strictly limit what is brought into the country. However, the military government can not or will not provide a complete listing of prohibited imports. The military government restricts access to outside information. Newspapers are censored for articles unfavorable to the military government. Any publications that could be viewed as pro-democracy and/or anti-junta will be confiscated. Travelers have also reported problems bringing in high-tech electronic devices and equipment, from toys to computers. It is advisable to contact 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 UN, 10 East 77th St., New York, NY 10021 (212-535-1311) for specific information regarding customs requirements.
Computers, internet, and email: The military government has banned general Internet use in Burma. As of February 2002, Internet connections are illegal except to the government and a few favored businesses. It is illegal to own an unregistered modem in Burma, and tourists have had their laptop computers taken and held at the airport until their departure. Limited E-mail service is available at some large hotels. All e-mails are read by military intelligence. It is very expensive to send photographs via e-mail. One foreign visitor was presented a bill for $2,000.00 U.S. dollars after transmitting one photograph via a major hotel's e-mail system.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: 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.
Some foreigners have been denied even minimal rights in criminal proceedings in Burma, especially if suspected of engaging in political activity of any type. This includes, but is not limited to, denial of access to an attorney, to court records, and family and consular visits. The criminal justice system is under the control of the military junta, which orders maximum sentences for all offenses. Torture has been reported in Burmese jails, and in 2000, a foreigner was tortured so that he would surrender his personal possessions to his jailers.
CONSULAR ACCESS: U.S. consular officers do not always receive timely notification of the detention, arrest, or deportation of U.S. citizens. In addition, the Burmese government has on occasion refused to give U.S. Embassy consular officers access to arrested/detained U.S. citizens. U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained should request immediate contact with the U.S. Embassy. U.S. citizens are encouraged to carry their U.S. passports with them at all times, so that, if questioned by local officials, proof of identity and U.S. citizenship is readily available.
CURRENCY: Credit cards are not generally accepted in Burma. Most merchants, restaurants, travel and tour companies, airlines, and hotels accept only cash. A few large international hotels in Rangoon and Mandalay accept some, but not all, major credit cards. There are no automatic cash machines in the country to access currency from overseas, and it is not possible to cash a personal check drawn on a foreign bank.
Although moneychangers sometimes approach travelers to offer to change dollars into Burmese Kyat at the market rate, it is illegal to exchange currency except at authorized locations such as the airport, banks and government stores.
Foreigners are required to use Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) for the payment of plane tickets, train tickets and most hotels. Burmese Kyat are accepted for most other transactions. It is possible to purchase FEC with some credit cards at the Myanmar Foreign Trade Bank in Rangoon or any place that exchanges foreign currency.
PHOTOGRAPHY: Photographing people in uniform or any military installation is prohibited by Burmese authorities, and it could lead to arrest or the confiscation of cameras and film. Also, please avoid photographing power plants and bridges.
TELEPHONE SERVICES: Telephone services are poor in Rangoon and other major cities, and they are non-existent in many areas. Calling the United States from Burma is difficult and expensive (from $4.50 to $12.00 per minute, depending on location.)
U.S. GOVERNMENT ECONOMIC SANCTIONS AGAINST BURMA: US Presidential Executive Order 13047 of May 20, 1997, prohibits new investment in Burma. For additional information, please contact the U.S. Department of the Treasury, Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) home page on the Internet at http://www.ustreas.gov/treasury/services/fac/fac.html or via OFAC's Info-by-fax service at (202) 622-0077.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html. Additional questions may be addressed to the appropriate country officer of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Children's Issues, SA-22, 2201 C St., N.W., Washington, D.C., telephone (202) 736-7000, fax (202) 312-9743.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: US citizens living in or visiting Burma are encouraged to register at the Consular Section and obtain updated information on travel and security within Burma. The Consular Section is located at 114 University Avenue, Rangoon; telephone (95-1) 538-038; e-mail rangooninfo@state.gov. Please note that the Consular Section is not located at the U.S. Embassy. The Embassy is located at 581 Merchant Street, Rangoon, telephone (95-1)256-019 and (95-1)256-016; fax (95-1)256-018.
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This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated November 28, 2000, to update sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, and Medical Insurance.