After decades of political and economic isolation, Myanmar’s economy has been growing rapidly. More than 50 million potential customers and a strategic location between the two most populous countries, India and China, make Myanmar a very promising investment opportunity. This is evidenced by the massive establishment of subsidiaries of multinational companies and banks.
Doing business in Myanmar needs special skills. A lot of patience and building trust through friendly relationships would be two primary qualities. Attempting to fast-track your business may lead to unpleasantness and frustration, and disregarding local customs could be considered offensive! You may need to meet the concerned people a few times before a comfortable environment is created and you can finalize a matter. At times, if things move fast, you may consider yourself fortunate.
Myanmar culture is unique in that it is one of multiple ethnicities. Though the country was isolated, the colonial history left a few familiar customs of the English. If one is looking to do business in Myanmar, one would find it quite different from starting off elsewhere, but start you can!
First off, introducing yourself with a business card is a common practice. Ideally you could use both hands to accept a card and with a slight bow of the head, too. It would be wise to spend a few moments looking at the card, acknowledging that you respect the gesture. Normally this exchange follows a handshake between businessmen. However, offering your hand to a businesswoman is not very acceptable unless she does so herself.
As with the rest of Asia, hospitality runs deep in Myanmar’s culture. The hotel industry is relatively new here because tradition implies that you stay with relatives or close friends when you travel to other parts of the land. Exchanging gifts and favors is common practice and helps build a strong relationship. Connecting with the right kind of people can be essential, as references play a vital role in securing deals. One of the ways to improve networking is through golf, as it is a popular game connecting business people.
Generally, from a business point of view, society is becoming freer with the reforms being implemented in the country. Hardcore censorship of the press has given way to freedom of the press, and self-expression has gathered steam. Public gatherings have fewer restrictions and trade unions are being recognized.
FINANCE AND INFRASTRUCTURE
It would be appropriate to say that Myanmar’s financial systems as well as general infrastructure are entrenched in a different era. The long years of isolation and poverty show in the inconsistent electricity supply and transportation systems. Banks have only recently started operating electronically and transfers of funds to foreign accounts are only just being accepted. International mobile phone roaming is mostly facilitated.
The outlook however, seems to be changing fast with reforms and the lifting of sanctions. In 2012, the World Bank opened an office in Myanmar, facilitating the return of international financial organizations. The Asian Development Bank too has opened its offices, and almost 30 other international banks have followed suit. The Myanmar Securities Exchange Centre has also been established.
LANGUAGE AND CLOTHING
English is a language you can converse in due to residual colonialism. Outside of Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw, however, knowledge of Burmese would be helpful.
As a businessman, you would be comfortable wearing local clothing for formal occasions. Generally a collarless shirt and lyongi or sarong are worn. You may also wear western tops along with the lyongi. Women could wear a blouse or dress with a lyongi. However, as a foreigner, you may wear a suit or even a shirt and trousers for business meetings. Businesswomen would be advised to avoid clothing that could show their shoulders or legs! It is common practice to take off your footwear when you enter an office.
Business people heading to Myanmar may apply for two types of visas- Single Entry Visa and Multiple Entry Visa.
The Single Entry Visa is valid for a stay of 70 days in the country. Processing is quite simple and fast as well. Today, it is also possible to get a 70-days e-visa for business.
The Multiple Entry Visa is valid for a stay of six months or one year. Typically a Multiple Entry Visa is awarded only after you have procured at least 3 single entry visas. However there could be exceptions that may be considered independently, on a case to case basis. Unlike Single Entry e-visas, Multiple Entry Visas are processed only manually.
A precondition for both these types of visas is that you receive an invitation sent by a registered company or a government body from inside Myanmar, clearly stating the purpose of your visit. The cost of visas may vary in different countries and the Multiple Entry Visas are considerably more expensive than the Single Entry Visas.
If you need to extend your stay, it can be done at the rate of 3 dollars per day, but must be used inside of 3 months of issue.
On a short visit to explore business opportunities, you may use a tourist visa as it requires no invitation. These are easier to obtain online as e-visas and they are valid for a 28 day stay in Myanmar, again extendable at 3 dollars a day.
SOME IMPORTANT VISA FACTS
- most foreigners need a visa to arrive in Myanmar. However, visitors from Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Cambodia, Philippines and Laos are allowed a 14 day visa-free visit.
- entry/exit over land may be restricted in some of the border areas due to sensitive political climates.
- your passport must be valid for a minimum of six months from the date of your entry into Myanmar.