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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Burma (Myanmar)

Burma (Myanmar) - Consular Information Sheet
November 28, 2000

COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Burma (Myanmar) is a developing, agrarian country ruled by a military regime. The country's political situation is relatively volatile because the military government suppresses expression of opposition to its rule. The capital is Rangoon.

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 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 visa at airports, train stations and hotels. There are frequent security roadblocks on all roads and immigration checkpoints in Burma, even on domestic air flights.

Upon entry into Burma, tourists are required to exchange a minimum of $200 (U.S.) for Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC). The FEC office is located between Immigration and Customs. The face value of the FEC, issued in denominations from one to 20 dollar equivalents, is equal to the U.S. dollar, but its actual value fluctuates. Any amount over $200 (U.S.) may be exchanged back to U.S. dollars. The first $200 (U.S.) cannot be exchanged back into U.S. 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.

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, telephone 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.

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 election 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.

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-Burma 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.

TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN BURMA: Burmese authorities require that hotels and guesthouses 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.

Unrestricted travel exists to the main tourist areas of Pagan, Inle Lake and the Mandalay area. 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 is permitted. However, some tourists traveling to places where permission is not expressly required have reported delays due to questioning by local security personnel. Reportedly, 10 of the 14 Burmese states and divisions are polluted with anti-personnel land mines.

CRIME INFORMATION: Street crime is becoming more common 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. U.S. citizens can refer to the Department of State's pamphlet, 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.

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 recently reopened. Common drugs for sale, such as insulin, are often adulterated products and unsafe to use. HIV/AIDS is rampant in the country, as is malaria and hepatitis. Hospital and medical services are available in Rangoon; elsewhere, medical care is limited.

MEDICAL INSURANCE: 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. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. Travelers are strongly encouraged to purchase international medical evacuation insurance before traveling to Burma. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost thousands of dollars or more. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas may face extreme difficulties.

Please check with your own insurance company to confirm whether your policy applies overseas, including provision for medical evacuation. Serious medical problems requiring hospitalization and/or medical evacuation to the United States can cost tens of thousands of dollars. Please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas hospital or doctor, 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.

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.

OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via 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: Fair
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Good
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 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 Rangoon’s streets. Most roads outside Rangoon are one lane and a half, pot-holed, and unlighted at night.

Driving at night is dangerous. Burmese drivers do not turn on their headlights until the sky is dark, thereby adding another danger to driving at twilight.

Vehicles are required to drive on the right side of the road, 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 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 in most parts of the country.

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 generally are not found in vehicles. Child care 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 (FAA) has not assessed Burma’s Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards for oversight of Burma’s air carrier operations.

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. 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.

The military government restricts access to outside information. Newspapers are censored for articles unfavorable to the military government, and Internet access is illegal. Travelers have reported that their luggage is closely searched upon arrival and departure by immigration authorities.

Computers, internet, and e-mail: As of September 2000, Internet connections are illegal except to the government and a few 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. E-mail 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 (U.S.) 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, 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: Not all major credit cards can be used in Burma, and generally only large international hotels in Rangoon and Mandalay accept them. 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.

Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC) are required by foreigners 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.

ECONOMIC SANCTIONS: U.S. Presidential Executive Order 13047 of May 20, 1997, prohibits new investment in Burma. For specific information, please visit 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 OFAC’s Info-by-Fax service at 202-622-0077.

PHOTOGRAPHY: Taking photographs of people in uniform or any military installation is discouraged by Burmese authorities, and it could lead to arrest or the confiscation of cameras and film.

TELEPHONE SERVICES: Telephone services are poor in Rangoon and other major cities and non-existent in some other areas.

CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction issues, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone (202) 736-7000.

REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens 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 U.S. Embassy is located at 581 Merchant Street, Rangoon, tel. (95-1) 282055 and (95-1) 282182; fax (95-1) 280409.

This replaces the Consular Information Sheet dated September 14, 1999 to update sections on Country Description, Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Crime Information, Medical Facilities, Criminal Penalties, Consular Access, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Aviation Safety Oversight, Customs Regulations, to add a section on Computers, Internet and E-Mail, and to delete Y2K Information.

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