Monday, February 21, 2011

BURMA: Getting there

[June 2012 Update: Visa on arrival now available in Myanmar for citizens of 26 countries. For a full list of countries, and required documentation, visit the Myanmar government's website here.]

For a few months last year, entering Myanmar was a piece of cake. The government had decided to re-instate 'visa on arrival', which meant you could show up at the Yangon International Airport and pay $30 to get an instant visa. Then, overnight, visa on arrival was rescinded quietly. So quietly, in fact, that none of the airlines or passengers flying into Yangon the next day knew about the change. Hundreds of fresh-faced foreigners arrived at immigration with their passports open only to be turned around and told to wait (and pay) for the next available flight back to Bangkok.

Though there is speculation about whether visa on arrival will ever return, as of my visit (January 2011) it wasn't on the program. These days, getting into Myanmar can be something of a catch-22: You don't want to book a flight until you're sure you can get a visa - but you can't get a visa until you have booked a plane ticket. The Myanmar government requires a full itinerary, contact number, and proof of purchase of a round-trip plane ticket before they will issue a visa to enter their country.

When I told him that I wanted to come visit him in Yangon, my friend Ara told me that I'd have to fly into Bangkok and spend a day there in order to get a visa to visit Myanmar. I wouldn't be able to get one in Korea. I said "Ok, no problem" and then I promptly forgot about it.

Two weeks before my trip was scheduled to begin, the price of flights to Bankok had skyrocketed, hundreds of dollars more than I was prepared to pay. Air Asia flights to Kuala Lumpur, however, were still  reasonable. 

I had to find out for myself if I could get a Myanmar visa in Korea. I looked up the website for the Myanmar embassy in Seoul and called their office number. A nice Korean lady picked up immediately - the one with an automated voice who tells you when a number has been disconnected. I called the other number. Korean lady again. I sent them an email. (I'll give you one guess how that turned out.)

[UPDATE: The current working number of the Myanmar embassy is 02-790-3186. Thanks Fiona!]

Several days had passed. The longer I waited, the higher prices climbed. 

Eventually I found a travel agent in Seoul that specializes in group trips to Myanmar. (Koreans rarely travel unless they're in a group.) They had a couple of documents on their website about visa applications, so I called them on the off-chance that they would arrange a visa for a foreigner here. I spoke to a guy named Song who said yes - IF the Myanmar Embassy accepted my application, I would be able to get a visa.

So on a Monday morning, with everything riding on two little obnoxious letters, I bought my plane tickets to KL and Yangon, printed out a two-week trip itinerary, wired Song $50, and sent my passport off to Seoul. If everything went according to plan, the visa would be in my passport by 5pm Friday. 

I was cutting it close. My flight was scheduled for Saturday.

I must have texted or called Song every day for news of my visa. The second day he told me not to worry. "We haven't heard anything from the embassy," he said. That was apparently a good thing.

Friday afternoon at 3pm I finally got a text message from him, saying that he had my passport in hand. My visa was secure.

Saturday at 10am - the morning of the flight - I visited his office; a small, cramped room on the 10th floor of a large apartment building near Jongno tower. His secretary answered the door, smiled, and turned to point at a single blue passport sitting alone on a table in the middle of the room. Mine. 


  1. Yikes. If adventure is full of unknowns and stress, then your travel live is indeed an 'adventure'

  2. Anonymous5:41 PM

    Hi please can you send me the telephone number and address of this agency plus the website. Thanks

  3. Anonymous3:25 PM

    Hello. This was encouraging. I would like to know some details about this travel agent you used. Where are they located? What is the contact? or website? I am an American living in Seoul and about to finish my contract in 2 months time. Then I will travel to Myanmar (hopefully).

    Your details and advice will help. Please.

    Thank you.

    Joe K

  4. The company's email is (or at least, it was a year ago!). The agent I dealt with is called G.P. Song.

    I actually have NO idea where they are located anymore. I couldn't have taken you there the next day. Hopefully Song can give you better instructions.

  5. More specific info, which I just found:

    zip code: 110-070
    서울시 종로구 내수동 75번지 용비어천가 314호
    Seoul-si Jongno-gu Naesu-dong 75bun-ji Yongbi-eoncheonga 314

    Tel : 02) 720-1151

    투어미얀마 / 송 경필
    Tour Myanmar / Song Gyeong Pil

  6. Anonymous12:50 AM

    Joe, I contacted this agency a few months back and the guy informed me that as a foreigner you must deal direct with the embassy. Call him though as things are always changing. If you are living in Seoul, it's just as easy to deal direct with the embassy. At the time when I spoke to the Myanmar Embassy in Seoul, they had different visa rules compared to other Myanmar Embassies in other countries. They told me that the visa they issue is only valid for 28 days from date of issue. In other countries, the visa is valid for 3 months from date of issue for a maximum stay of 28 days. At first I thought it was the usual English/Korean translation error, but she told me they had different rules in Korea. Again, she told me things are changing so check again nearer to departure date. Good Luck!

  7. Hey Fiona, thanks for the udpate! Isn't that the story of living in Korea - things change every day! It all depends on who you talk to and what kind of mood they're in :)

    I'm surprised you got through to the Myanmar Embassy in Seoul. Did you get through by phone? What number did you use?

  8. Anonymous4:15 PM

    I am going to Burma at the end of the month. I contacted the Myanmar Embassy (02-790-3186 is the current working number). A woman answered in Korean but she also speaks English. None of the travel agencies dealing with foreigners would do visa processing for Myanmar. I called the agency listed in this blogpost and they had no problem with me being a foreigner.

  9. This is s helpful! Thanks! I'm hoping to go when my contract is up in October. I can't wait! Good to know I'm not the only one having issues with finding visa information.

  10. Hello I'm traveling to Burma in a few weeks, but I'm so confused about the visa issue. I know in June they started allowing visa on arrival again but do we still need to do something prior to arrival? Also I've been trying to contact the embassy in Seoul but all numbers haven't worked. For the number above is there an area code or something because it doesn't go through. Thanks I really appreciate this blog!!

    1:37 PM

  11. Hi Sasha, from the Myanmar government's website it looks like there's nothing you need to prepare in advance, aside from certain documentation about your visit, where you'll be staying, etc. You'll also need two passport photos.

    Visa on arrival isn't available for citizens of every country, though. Make sure you know what the specific requirements are for your own country before you go!

    Also, although it's not yet available (still in beta testing), it looks like Myanmar will soon open up this website [] to apply for a visa online.


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