No, really, I’m transiting Myanmar without a visa


This is the room where I sat for an hour, more or less stuck while waiting to figure out if I’d get out of Yangon. No passport (the agents took it from me), no refreshments and no idea how long I was going to be there or if the agents actually understood what I was doing. Not the most relaxing hour of my life, to say the least. And just getting to that point wasn’t so easy.

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I did my research before the trip regarding the transit process at RGN and I was pretty sure that I didn’t need a visa. Alas, the Thai Airways check-in agent at BKK had a different view of the situation. She started flipping through my passport, looking for my visa. I knew there wasn’t one there and told her such. At that point she was pretty much ready to send me away; I was not happy. Her version of the rules said transit without visa was only valid if remaining on the same plane passing through RGN; changing planes was not valid. I protested strongly (even though I wasn’t actually 100% certain I was correct) and she walked away from the counter, carrying my passport with her. About 15 minutes later – mostly spent by me pacing back and forth in the premium check-in area trying to figure out how I was going to save the trip – she came back to the counter and started printing boarding passes. I’m not entirely sure where she went or what she saw or why she changed her mind. But she did. I won’t look that gift-horse in the mouth.

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A few hours later, following what will likely be my last flight on an Airbus A300 (yes, I booked the itinerary to get that), we arrived in Yangon and it was time for the part of the transit which I expected to be more stressful. I saw the sign for transit passengers as I walked off the plane so I headed towards that door rather than to the regular immigration queue. That freaked them out quite a bit.

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Pretty soon I had three agents crowded around, trying to usher me towards the regular immigration queues. I had a printout of my onward itinerary and kept pointing out the flight details, hoping they’d figure it out. After 15 or so minutes I was escorted back towards the gates, through the gate lounge and backwards through the security check-point. The agent escorted me into a room labeled “International Transit” which is, I’m pretty sure, mostly used for storage.

The agent took my itinerary printout, my passport and my inbound boarding pass and walked away, asking me to wait in the lounge. So I waited. And waited. And waited. Having someone walk away with my passport is never something I’m happy about. Sitting in this room with no facilities other than the few chairs for an hour, waiting for the agent to come back with my passport had me rather frazzled. Turns out I’m not all that good at sitting still with no distractions.

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Ultimately they returned with the boarding passes and escorted me to the Royal Jade lounge (not really all that great, but better than sitting in the other room on my own) to wait for my flight.

In the end the transit wasn’t all that bad. Not without some stress along the way and Myanmar is going to remain low on my list of desired transit countries given an option, but I eventually made my way on to Singapore and beyond.

More stories from the trip here.

 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

18 Comments

  1. You are more brave than me. In early June I’m flying my second tour of Asia thanks to the RGN fare. I did 3 days in Yangon last time, and this time I would have loved to just transit through RGN. I didn’t have the guts to do it, so I booked 1 night at the Royal White Elephant Hotel and got my second Myanmar visa.

  2. Wow, we did twov with zero issues in jan. they had us wait in the large open area before you go down to immigration or up to the gates. They took our passports to check us in (which they explained before hand). And they came back on probably 15 mins. Meanwhile we watched planes and chatted (or tried to!) with security guards who just wanted to make funny faces at our kids Oh right, We had two white kiddos under two in tow! so we kind of drew a crowd everywhere we went like it or not. Lol.

  3. I would never and I mean never do this without a visa..I would get one to be on the safe side. You just NEVER know how these immigration folks over there will react and you saw first hand how things can go.

  4. What are the rules about transiting through Myanmar? Why did you choose not to get a visa? Was it inconvenient or expensive to do so? I am glad that it worked out for you. It doesnt sound like much fun.

  5. @Smitty … the visa is $20 for US citizens, but you have to mail off your passport and it takes a couple weeks, so you need to have an open time without international travel to get it.

  6. if you live in New York City or DC area, it was only a 4-5 day wait to get a tourist visa. I agree with Bethany though — going to highly corrupt and poor countries without a visa is quite risky. If you had a corrupt agent, you may have had to give him/her a Benjamin Franklin to get anything done.

  7. @mike.s It is possible to acquire a second passport due to waiting for visas in the first. See recent FTG article.

    @seth Having had my passport taken away frequently, I tend to carry photocopies. Often that’s what they want, and it saves them time running to the copier (and me some stress). Doesn’t work every time, but any time I can avoid them walking away with my passport is worth it.

  8. I got one visa for my various trips. When I left BKK or TPE I showed that passport and was allowed to board. In RGN I used one of the other passports that did not have a visa. Approaching the immigration officers (white uniforms) on the ground floor I was once sent back up and escorted through a glass door into the departure area and two times also ended up in the ‘international waiting lounge’. They let me out of that room and into the lounge(s) once check-in for my onward flight opened and they could print my tickets.
    I finally used my visa for a stay in the country.
    Worked perfectly fine although one time I had to sign a paper stating that I’d pay for ‘transport on the next available flight out of the country’ if I wasn’t allowed in the country. Well, I was booked on that next flight anyway 🙂

  9. I’ve dobę te transfer a couple of times and the experience was always pretty much the same as yours – flipping the passport at checkin, some argueing and finally allowed through. On arrival finding someone with authority to do the transit and surrendering my passport.

  10. @Mike S: Why would you have to mail off your passport? I quickly and easily got a VOA when I flew thew Burma last month, with no prior paperwork completed, only possible for a transit visa.

    Seth–I am sorry I didn’t do a post on this yet, unless you wanted to have the adventure you did and save the $20…

    All you have to do is arrive with a copy of your onward itinerary and two passport pictures. Go downstairs, fill out the form, pay with a crisp $20, and in five minutes I had a nifty visa in my passport that I used to head out to Rangoon for a few hours.

    1. I was familiar with the transit visa option, Matthew; I even think I had my spare photos with me just in case. But I was trying to do the full TWOV experience and I only had a 3 hour layover in total so no time to head in to town on this transit.

      To Missy H, AlohaDaveKennedy and the others who think I’m an idiot for not actually visiting Myanmar: This was my second time passing through. On the first I spent a full week and had some incredible experiences. The temples in Bagan were neat to explore and my afternoon on Mt. Kyaiktiyo was a magical moment for me.

      At the end of the day it wasn’t a huge deal; just a couple nervous moments. I was actually more concerned in Bangkok than in Yangon.

  11. Seth – I can imagine how nervracking that is – I still get nervous when the hotel wants to take my passport upon check-in (of course they return it fairly quickly, but anytime its out of sight, I get nervous).

    Thanks for sharing the experience though. I’m sure a lot of folks that got in on that deal will be experiencing similarly, or better, learning from it.

  12. Its actually very easy to transit in Myanmar without a visa. I had printed the Transit visa on arrival paperwork, had the pictures ready. When I got there, I asked if I could go directly upstairs to the lounge, so I didn’t actually didn’t get any visa. They called two girls that escorted me to the lounge, took my passport for sometime, then brought it back with my boarding pass. Everyone was really nice and polite. I think by now they know the drill.

  13. Burma is an amazingly beautiful country. Instead of transit I really recommend a stay for a week of more.

  14. We did exactly the same thing as you in January – Singapore airlines insingapore almost didn’t let us board, then in Myanmar we had to convince them we were transit passengers, waited in the same room for an hour, then sat in the Royal Jade.

    There were a few anxious moments that day! Finally we boarded for PEK and the rest of our trip (PEK-FRA-ZRH-YUL) was amazing in Air China then Swiss first.

    Worth the nail biting moments!!!

  15. Bad way to do Myanmar, but you at least had a good outcome. The country is worth seeing if done the right way.

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