Jeff B left a guest book entry in our guest book asking about living in Yangon (Rangoon) as a foreigner. We believe this is a question many foreigners coming and living to work in Yangon want to know. The following is a brief advice for living in Yangon as an expatriate.
This will usually be provided by your organization so there is no need to worry. However, if you need to hire a serviced apartment, there are only a few options. It is better to ask your organization to arrange the accommodation, as the serviced apartments are usually fully booked.
Public transportation is very poor in Yangon. Your organization should provide you a car for your personal use. Otherwise, you will have to rely on taxis. Try to know the usual taxi fares as taxis in Myanmar are not metered and the price can be high especially for visitors and foreigners. Most of the taxis do not open air-condition. If your organization provides you a car, you can get a local driving license if you could show the license authority your international driving license.
You can buy some imported products at City Mart Supermarket which has around 10+ outlets in Yangon. You can find many imported products that are adequate for most of your daily needs, but the products available are not as extensive as in other countries. And the prices of the imported products are about 50 percent more expensive than that in neighboring Thailand.
It is difficult to get a fixed land line phone in Myanmar unless it is already pre-installed in the house you rent.
If you want to be connected, you need to buy a prepaid SIM card at US$ 20 a card. The calling rate is quite expensive and currently, there is no mean of topping up the credit or air time. That means after one month, you will have to buy a new SIM card and a new number. If you want the same number, you have to buy a post paid SIM card which is difficult to get, and at a cost of US$ 1500 per card. The price of GSM and CDMA mobile SIM cards has dropping down since the new government take power in 2011. Currently, the GSM SIM cards are sold at 200,000 kyats per card while CDMA cards are sold at 1,500 Kyats per card. However, 1,500 kyats per card CDMA cards are sold in a lottery system where applicants are chosen in a lottery. It is now fairly easy to buy a SIM card in Myanmar, and mobile coverage has also been much improved with most towns along Yangon and Mandalay highway are covered by mobile network. In addition, several large and small towns in states and regions are also covered by mobile network. You can also use internet with the mobile phone, although the speed is painfully slow. International calling rates remain high in Myanmar.
For latest update on getting a mobile GSM SIM card, voice and data charges and voice/data packages on offer, please refer to our article Getting a GSM SIM card in Myanmar.
GSM mobile phones (SIM Cards) can be hired at a rate of 45,000 kyat (US$ 40 – 45) per month. This is from someone who is lucky enough to get a subscriber line. The rent is paid in advanced for 6 months to one year, with a deposit of 200,000 kyat (US$ 190). The above fee is only for hiring the SIM card. You will have to pay for the phone bills by yourself. Update: Now CDMA 800MHz hand phones can be available with around 520,000ks only. It use prepaid card system just like in other countries. This is new system developed by the colloboration of Elite Tech(a member of Htoo Group) and MPT. They have issued more than 100,000 mobiles already and more 150,000 will be issued. However, the catch is, it can be used only in the city it is ment for. However, there are some news that they are going to open up for roaming around relevant cities. And now mobile phone prices are falling down that GSM price is only around 1.3 million kyats. As CDMA hand phones are abundant, a year’s hiring costs can cover for buying a new CDMA mobile; many people are returning their hired phones and buying new CDMA phones. And phone hiring price is coming down that a GSM phone cost around 30000~35000 ks/month(previously 40000~45000ks) and CDMA800 costs around 25000ks/month. (Thanks Myo for this information update) Update 2011: Government announced plan for 200,000 additional GSM SIM cards at 500,000 kyat per SIM (about US$ 500) in 2011. However, it is not clear there will be appropriate upgrade to already congested current GSM network. If there is no upgrade of current GSM network, expect congestion, poor signal and difficulty connecting and making calls with the GSM phones. Government has called tender from foreign and local private companies to submit application for mobile operator license and it is expected that within a few year’s time, the mobile coverage and network would improved dramatically.
Forget about getting a broadband internet access at your home. It is quite
difficult expensive and rather slow. Maximum is 2.5 Mbps, which is hilariously slow for an ADSL line. However, it is easy to find an internet cafe around you. The cost is usually between 400 to 600 kyat an hour. To use Gmail and Yahoo mail in Myanmar, you need to use a proxy.
There are a number of good Burmese restaurants in Yangon. And the price is cheap also. There are also quite a large number of good Chinese restaurants in Yangon. For western food, you can head to a few restaurants at the hotels and around Inya Lake. Search in the local directory for the listing and also ask your colleagues for a good restaurant. Don’t expect much from the western food in Yangon.
Night life in Yangon is nearly non-existence. There are a few pubs and half a dozen night clubs in Yangon.
There are a few cinema halls in Yangon that show local, western and Indian movies. Usually, western movies are old movies (one or two years ago). Not much to expect. However, you can buy pirated VCDs and DVDs at very cheap prices on the streets of Yangon.
There are two TV channels in Burma, both of them own and run by the government. In Yangon, you can subscribe to the local paid TV channel which also airs some of the foreign channels such as CNN, Discovery, MTV and other movie and sports channels. If you are willing to pay more, you can install a UBC satellite dish and subscribe monthly.
Most of the time, electricity is cut off, unless you happen to live in a VIP area. Always have candle and flash lights as well as emergency lights at your home. People in Yangon usually have either electric generators or battery inverters to use during the electricity outage.
Water is provided by the municipality of Yangon. This is ok for general use and cooking as it is quiet clean and safe. For drinking purpose, it is better to use bottled water. You can also install water purifiers at your house.
It is difficult to get a good and reliable maid nowadays in Myanmar. Most of them don’t want o stay with the foreigners and they tend to change house within a few months. You can contact the Christian Missions as they run service for Karen maids.
Government hospitals in Myanmar have a very poor service. Most of the time, people rely on private hospitals and clinics. You can contact one of these private hospitals for book for the appointment. Most of the time, you will be charged in US dollar. The two most famous clinics in Yangon are Asia Royal Clinic (01-538055), Bahosi Medical Centre (01-212933) and Shwegondaing Specialist Center (01-542400).
You can change US dollar to Myanmar kyat easily at underground black market dealers. Read in Money Exchange in Yangon for details.
You can now exchange freely at the market price at any money exchange counter all over Yangon at major tourist sites. The reference rate is announced daily by the Central Bank of Myanmar. Beware of using unauthorised black market money exchangers, as there are several incidents where customers are cheated. Always use authorised money exchange, which can be found at the airport, banks or at major tourists destinations.