Myanmar Visa on Arrival – Warning

yangon-international-airport

You may have heard about the new visa on arrival for Myanmar. Citizens of a number of countries, including the USA, may qualify. You will find information and an application on the Myanmar government web site (seems to be a dead link more often than not!) and embassy web sites. (Here is a PDF from the Myanmar government but it is hosted on a government website that might make your malicious site warnings pop up. Sheesh.) One can even see a big booth right at the entry to immigration with big signs that read VISA ON ARRIVAL.

My advice? Don’t even think about it! Officially, it is possible to get a visa on arrival in Myanmar (depending on your nationality). Americans are on the OK list. HOWEVER, at this point it is so incredibly unreliable and could result in a travel disaster (being turned away upon arrival and forced to fly back to your departure city) that I cannot recommend it. “Some say” it is only for business visas which require letters of invitation and the like, but the online listing from the Myanmar government listed it for tourists as well. (Though now it appears to have been changed to only business visas, workshop/conference/event attendees, and transit visas. Some travel services such as www.myanmarvisaonline.com offer to do it for you in 12 business days (!) for about $75… with no guarantee the visa will be approved (naturally, how could they guarantee that?). For another $10 they can rush it by an unknown amount of time. It all sounds a bit dodgy to me, though we know some travelers have done it. [Confirmed: another traveler, from Malaysia, used http://www.myanmarvisaonline.com for a pre-arranged tourist visa to Myanmar (technically not a visa on arrival) and paid roughly $75 and had no problems. July 2013]

But visa on arrival in Burma is proving to be unreliable. An example: attendees to a recent event sponsored by the US government arrived in Yangon airport with official letters of invitation. The immigration officer in charge at the airport nearly turned them away. Despite having an official contact within the US embassy, the applicants were expected to provide a phone number for immigration to call. They had arrived outside of business hours, but fortunately they had the contact’s personal cell phone number. The officer still refused to grant entry until he could speak to a Myanmar contact. Fortunately, the American contact could provide another personal number of a co-worker so they were able to get in touch with someone (actually a lower ranking person within the institution, but Myanmar citizenship trumped title in this case.)

The success rate for visa on arrival in Yangon is so unreliable that most airlines won’t let you board from your departure city if you do not have a valid Myanmar visa already in your passport. If you are lucky, you can convince them that you will receive the visa on arrival, but then you are still faced with a very sketchy chance of getting in once you are in Yangon.

At this point, despite the stated existence of a Myanmar Visa on Arrival program, it is highly recommended you get a visa from the embassy or consulate in your home country, or in a connection country. (A great option for this is to get a visa at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok where you can get a visa in 1-2 business days or pay an express fee to get a same-day visa.)

If you insist on trying the visa on arrival, be sure you have a letter of invitation and all the recommended documentation you see on the official web site. Be sure you have a contact number from the authority inviting you, and be sure that contact person is Burmese and that you have an after-hours phone number to reach that person if you are arriving outside office hours. But again, I do not recommend this option.

Read more Myanmar Travel Tips here on The Mad Traveler.

28 thoughts on “Myanmar Visa on Arrival – Warning

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  • February 17, 2013 at 4:27 am
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    Thank you Kevin for sharing this piece of information. I am headed to Burma in a couple of months and this warning comes in very handy as even I was following the e-visa and VOA closely.

    Reply
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  • February 18, 2013 at 1:05 am
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    I agree with you, Kevin. Anyway, when I got to the airport, in Yangon, last november I saw a couple of guys that didn’ t know they needed Visa (Yes!) so they applied straight in the VOA and they got Tourist Visa on arrival. Anyway. I agree that is much better to entry with a valid Visa. It’ s kind of a lottery if you show up there without a Visa.

    Reply
    • February 18, 2013 at 3:55 am
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      Didn’t know they needed one – wow. Lottery is the best way to describe it. I wonder why they are doing it this way? Hopefully it becomes a sure thing soon. And why not?

      Reply
  • February 22, 2013 at 9:05 am
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    I wrote a book about visas for US citizens, and in that I included the information to not trust the VOA. I was hoping that with it becoming more open, tourism increasing, etc., they would fix it, but alas it still seems like it’s a bad idea to rely on it. Thanks for the info!

    Reply
    • February 22, 2013 at 9:39 am
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      It rather pisses me off. It’s like a dirty trick. Either you give it or you don’t. And I also understand what a crapshoot it is for foreigners — students and tourists and the like — to apply for a visa to my own country (USA) and drop $200+ on the process and interview often not receiving clear reasons if they are rejected. And as we have seen, border agents can still screw with you there when you show up if they want to make their own independent judgment. Immigration issues make me testy. 🙂

      Reply
  • April 3, 2013 at 11:24 am
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    VOA is strictly for business visa. Never show up in the airport without a visa, agreed so much. If you do not have time to apply for your Myanmar visa in the embassy, you can try the pre-arranged visa on arrival – it is at least with less risk, knowing some agents are going to pick you up at the Myanmar airport and help you with the clearance.

    Pin

    http://www.evisaasia.com/myanmar-visa

    Reply
    • April 3, 2013 at 2:30 pm
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      Yes, this is what we hear, but the official website tells us that ALL types of visa can do VOA. And experience tells us that even business is not a guarantee. Get it ahead of time, for sure.

      Reply
      • June 21, 2013 at 1:14 pm
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        VOA is strictly for business, they have a very long list of document requirements that you have to produce (about 12-15 items).

        Reply
      • December 3, 2013 at 6:14 am
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        Kevin, you are right. Visa on arrival is for ALL types of visa. Rules have been relaxed recently. However an online application for clearance is required. What happens usually is; you apply through an online agent who will help you get the clearance, once approve you will receive an approval letter, with that approval letter you can apply for VOA once you land in Myanmar. As usual even with a valid visa governments of many still reserve their right to reject you from entering the country.

        Reply
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  • June 20, 2013 at 12:14 am
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    embassy in bkk is the easiest way to go. just get there early and push ahead of all the agency guys 🙂 enjoy, burma is so worth it and an amazing beautiful place

    Reply
  • June 26, 2013 at 1:17 pm
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    I arrived to Yangon airport on June 13 2013 at 9pm without a visa or anything pre-registered, pre-arranged etc. but the arrival card which I filled in 5 minutes before landing

    I went to one of the approx. 10 Visa on Arrival counters – no need to line up.

    A friendly lady asked me for:
    – passport (my nationality is Austrian)
    – invitation letter from our Myanmar business partner
    – company registration of our Myanmar business partner
    – airline ticket
    – picture
    – USD 50 visa fee

    Three staff members worked on my visa … they even filled out the form for me.
    I only knew the name of my hotel but did not have a booking confirmation with further details – they filled in these details for me too – amazing.

    5-10 minutes after arrival I already left the airport with a 70 days business visa.
    I can hardly remember any other visa on arrival procedure this convenient and fast.

    Reply
    • June 26, 2013 at 1:30 pm
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      That is nothing short of amazing. And a good sign that perhaps the procedure is finally catching up with the stated policy. Thanks for sharing that!

      Reply
  • July 4, 2013 at 12:53 pm
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    Last year I applied my visa via http://www.myanmarvisaonline.com. The service was prompt, the agent sent me the visa approval letter. I was able to board Airasia from Kuala Lumpur to Yangon without any problem. I manage to collect my visa on airport as well. Everything was smooth, unlike what you describe in this article.

    Oh, I forgot to mention I am Malaysian. Not sure if the citizenship makes any difference though.

    Reply
    • July 4, 2013 at 1:05 pm
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      Thank you for that information. Can you tell us how much you paid for the service? And this was a tourist visa, correct?

      Reply
  • November 6, 2013 at 3:00 am
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    We had a client come in to Yangon via VOA as a last resort recently and it worked! He even manage to get his boss from the US in via VOA.

    VOA is working fine now at Yangon Airport for BUSINESS VISA application only. We now recommend all our clients to come into Yangon via VOA if they are in a hurry – we used to recommend them to stop by Bangkok to get a business visa from the Myanmar Embassy and they lose 3 days on their travel time straight away.

    The things to keep in mind is this:
    1) it is meant for Business Visa application and NOT TOURIST VISA!
    2) Port of entry must be Yangon or Mandalay Airport
    3) Your flight should land during normal working hours and not public holidays or after working hours where the VOA counter may not be manned
    4) Only certain nationalities qualify to use VOA see http://www.mofa.gov.mm/?page_id=418
    5) You need a letter of invitation from your sponsoring company which should be a legally registered Myanmar company. The sponsoring company should provide their company name, address, telephone & mobile number of their staff in the Yangon office that speaks Burmese as the immigration may check if they think that your letter of invitation is fake. There are some online travel visa agencies that claimed to be able to give you a legitimate invitation letter – but 90% of these agencies are operating outside Myanmar as the broadband internet is better there and even if they have an office in Yangon most are not legally registered as a company so as to avoid paying tax. This is where a lot of the bad experience from VOA comes from.
    6) You need a copy of the Certificate of Incorporation from the sponsor company as the immigration officer at the VOA counter will ask for it
    7) You need to pay US$50 (clean crisp bill) for your business visa application.

    VOA is working fine but you need to have the right documentation to get through. For those that like to spend 3 days in Bangkok on company account – please ignore this info.

    For those that need to fly on short notice to Yangon on business – all you need is the proper invitation letter to apply for VOA – and you will be able to get on the plane bound for Yangon and through to VOA counter immigration at Yangon Airport, get your business visa and off for your meeting.

    Reply
  • December 7, 2013 at 1:31 pm
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    Hi Kevin, All,

    I’m planning to visit Myanmar in mid-JAN’14. Unfortunately I cannot send my passport to the consulate as I currently work in Dubai and I need it with me. Do you have any feedback from Polish citizens who tried VOA? Any success stories? 🙂

    Reply
  • June 18, 2014 at 10:52 am
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    I was banking on VOA and it did not work for me. I had a round trip ticket for Singapore to Yangon with Tiger Air, and when I got to the check in counter they asked to see a letter of invitation. I insisted that it was not necessary for tourist visas, and I even pleaded with a manger, but they denied me boarding the flight. I’m really upset, I have friends there I was hoping to visit but a gamble this is, and here is someone dealt a losing hand. Bummer. My advice, sort a visa beforehand or have a letter of invitation if you are flying to Myanmar.

    Reply
  • January 6, 2015 at 7:28 am
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    i was applying visa on arrival on http://www.myanmar-visa.org , after processing fill up here n there it says i have to pay USD 120 straight away and then i get the notification email that i have to pay another usd 30 to get the stamp on arrival. confusing now, why they charge me lot of only for VOA. is it a scam or ?? advise please

    Reply
    • January 6, 2015 at 2:22 pm
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      Sorry, to be clearer, it sounds like they are overcharging you, but it may still result in a VOA. what documentation did they send you?

      Reply
  • January 5, 2016 at 11:18 pm
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    Thank Kevin for sharing this information. We are planning to visit Myanmar for
    the first time. I know Laos and Cambodia had allowed to visa at their airports up on
    arrival and the airlines from Bangkok never asked if we had a visa ready before
    boarding their airplanes. Vietnam is the same like Myanmar, we have to make sure we got visa approval. It makes sense…

    Reply

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