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A Quick Guide to... Living and Working in Myanmar

Posted by: Kathie Higginson

So you’re considering a move to Myanmar? Well, of course it depends where you’ve lived, but the chances are you’ll encounter a few more issues moving to Myanmar than you have when setting up elsewhere in the world. We’re here to offer a few first handy hints to get you started.

It’s likely you’re going to be moving to Yangon – no longer the nation’s capital city but the city which still serves as Myanmar’s most important commercial centre. The newly built capital city is Naypyidaw, which switched over back in 2006 but whose population still stands at around a quarter of Yangon’s 5.2 million people.

Myanmar is rich in gems, oil, natural gas and other resources – and has in recent years opened itself up to foreign investment. So it’s no great surprise that Myanmar – formerly Burma – is now home to more expatriate workers than ever before…

Currency: Burmese kyat (MMK), divided into 100 Pyas
Emergency Services: 192

Know the basics
Do not refer to Myanmar as Burma. Most people speak Burmese, but there are hundreds of different dialects spoken. The major religion is Buddhism, with 88% of the population in the 2014 census.

A cash economy
In Yangon, the entire rent for the full length of the lease usually needs to be paid upfront (and often in cash!) which of course can prove quite prohibitively expensive, so hopefully your employer will be offering a package which includes accommodation. Ensure that any US Dollars you’re changing to Kyat are in perfect condition, as strange but true: money changers will often refuse to accept even slightly damaged notes, or at least at the same exchange rate. It's worth keeping some US Dollars on you for any tourist attractions during your downtime, as they often request payment in USD. You’ll also be heavily reliant on cash, as many locals still don’t even have bank accounts.

Use the right agency

If you do have to find your own accommodation, look for recommendations on agents who know the needs of expats. You’ll pay handsomely for a nice place though, particularly if you want to live amongst other expats – a supply crunch has pushed up rents. Some expats even live in hotels.

Lower your expectations

You won’t get the internet speeds you’ve become used to expecting in other parts of the world – so if possible, try to download any large files before you enter the country, or whilst holidaying elsewhere. WiFi is patchy at best, not to mention expensive to set up, so many rely on 3G internet access via their smartphone. What’s more, the electricity supply is patchy and as most apartment’s water tanks depend on electricity, when your electricity goes you’ll also find yourself without running water. If you opt for a serviced apartment, they’re likely to have a generator – but make sure you check this before you sign up!

Get involved in the business community
Do contact your Chamber of Commerce – the largest and most active of these are the Australian, American, French and British and these provide an invaluable business community to help out with a range of problems. There is an active expat community, but it’s not as large as the ones in many other major expat destinations – the bars and restaurants near the larger hotels Downtown tend to be where they hang out of an evening.

70 day visa
Foreigners in Myanmar must leave the country and return every 70 days, which can be a pain but realistically there are plenty of options for neighbouring countries – Myanmar borders India, Bangladesh, Laos and Thailand, but you’ll probably find Thailand the easiest place to deal with anything logistically!

Stay Safe
Strictly speaking, Myanmar is a safe country. The vast majority of areas that you as a foreigner will enter are ranked as very safe in terms of personal security. The things you’ll need to be aware of are more poorly maintained roads and pavements, and be sure not to travel to any border areas which may be deemed unsafe – although roads to these locations which have checkpoints.

Dress Respectfully
Many in Myanmar are quite conservative and locals often wear traditional dress (longyi for men, htamein for women – which both look like sarongs). Although you shouldn’t have any trouble, it’s probably wise to keep your knees and shoulders covered. Equally, women are often advised to avoid physical contact with monks, but you can go ahead and chat with them by all means!

Getting Around
Public transport in Yangon is fairly poor, and hopefully your employer will have provided a car as part of your package – otherwise the vast majority of expats rely on taxis. You should be aware that they aren’t metered, so it’s a good idea to work out roughly what the journey should cost before you travel, as fares can be more expensive for foreigners.

The Government hospitals in Myanmar aren’t as good as you can expect in the west and many expats rely on private healthcare. In Yangon, there are several but the most widely used are Asia Royal Clinic, Bahosi Medical Centre and Shwegondaing Specialist Center. There aren’t any companies in Myanmar offering comprehensive medical insurance, however international companies abroad are able to cover local treatment and medivac – hopefully this should be included as part of your package!

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