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Burma (Myanmar) 2018 Crime & Safety Report

East Asia & Pacific > Burma

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Burma has been assessed as Level 1: exercise normal precautions. Specific areas of the country are characterized as Level 2 (exercise increased caution), Level 3 (reconsider travel) and Level 4 (do not travel) due largely to civil unrest and the presence of land mines.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Burma does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizens’ Services unit (ACS) cannot recommend a particular individual or establishment, and assumes no responsibility for the quality of services provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Rangoon as being a LOW-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Burma-specific page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Burma represents an unprecedented opportunity for U.S. private-sector organizations seeking to enter an emerging, and potentially lucrative, market that had been almost entirely off-limits for decades. According to the IMF, multilateral development banks, and other private-sector research reports, Burma has the potential to become the next economic frontier in Asia if it can take advantage of its abundant natural resources, young labor force, and geopolitical proximity to some of the most dynamic economies in the world. The long-term stability and viability of foreign investment, however, hinges on reform efforts, national reconciliation, and an end to decades of civil conflict.

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Proper Nouns: Burma or Myanmar? Rohingya or Bengali?

Crime Threats

Police do not issue crime/arrest statistics, and many crimes reported to the RSO are unverifiable due to third-party sources. Nevertheless, endemic poverty, stagnant salaries, rising cost of living, increasing expatriate presence, and rapid expansion of the tourism sector have led to an apparent up-tick in crime. In Rangoon, Burmese nationals experience nighttime robberies, petty street crime, home invasions, and homicides just as citizens do in other large, metropolitan cities in Southeast Asia.

The most common crimes reported by diplomats and private citizens are non-violent crimes of opportunity (pickpocketing, theft of unattended possessions in public places or hotel rooms, bag snatching, gem/confidence scams). At night, it is recommended that visitors explore city sights in groups or with a partner. Thieves often attempt to distract a victim by asking questions, begging for money, selling items, or bumping/jostling.

Incidents of financial fraud and identity theft appear to be increasing. Althoguh some commercial hotels and restaurants catering to tourists are beginning to accept credit cards, Burma is still largely a cash-only society. Travelers, who are often required to carry large sums of local currency, should avoid displaying cash or other valuables in public.

Travelers are discouraged from responding to any unsolicited opportunities to make money. Beware of merchants offering to sell gems, gold, semi-precious stones. This could result in substantial loss of money and/or a violation of local laws. Do not purchase gems or minerals from an unlicensed source.

Although violent crime and the use of weapons in the commission of crime are relatively uncommon, isolated incidents have occurred.

In 2017, a mugger displayed a knife during the attempted robbery of a U.S. citizen; the assailant fled when the individual called for help.

In 2016, a U.S. government contractor was assaulted and robbed on his way home after work.

In the event of an armed confrontation, victims are advised to immediately hand over the desired property to avoid escalation or injury.

Individuals residing in Burma should supervise all workers in their residence. Doors and windows of residences and hotel rooms should remain secured. Excessive currency or valuable items should not be stored at one’s home or residence, as they may attract the attention of criminals.

Other Areas of Concern

Internal ethnic conflicts, communal violence, and religious tensions make certain areas outside of Rangoon off-limits. Travelers should consult the U.S. Embassy webpage and Consular Affairs’ Burma page for the latest travel guidance. Permission to visit must be obtained from the host nation government before traveling to sensitive areas.

Foreigners traveling overland outside of Rangoon or other major cities or tourist destinations may encounter challenges without a Burmese interpreter who can facilitate interaction with non-English speakers.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Although major thoroughfares (Rangoon-Mandalay highway) are receiving attention from the government, and some safety improvements are being made by the international community, many roads remain unreliable or may be impassable after heavy rains. Many roads are unpaved, unilluminated, lack shoulders, and/or are poorly graded. Driving under these conditions appears to have resulted in a rising number of highway fatalities. U.S. Embassy personnel are prohibited from driving outside of the major cities after dark; however, driving within cities at night is generally permitted.

Vehicle import restrictions have been eased, causing the number of vehicles on Rangoon’s streets to increase exponentially in recent years. Many motorists are new to driving. Embassy staff have reported a number of vehicle accidents due to the erratic behavior of local drivers. Drivers are often impatient and exhibit little consideration for pedestrians, other motorists’ right-of-way, or general safe driving practices. Drivers routinely cross into oncoming traffic to pass, fail to properly merge, and cut other vehicles off. By law, no alcohol is permitted in one’s system while operating a vehicle. Nevertheless, drunk or drug-impaired driving is a major concern and poses a significant risk to visitors, particularly at night. Narrow streets (which are often congested with vehicles, pedestrians, and animals), combined with poor maintenance of roads and inadequate traffic infrastructure can result in difficult daily commutes.

Pedestrians tend to walk in the middle of roads or stand on painted lane dividers, often only inches from passing vehicles and seemingly unaware of the potential safety hazard. Many pedestrians wear dark clothing, and local drivers tend to use high beams at night (or no headlights at all), posing additional risks to other motorists and pedestrians.

In 2017, a U.S. citizen was killed when he was struck by a passing motorist while attempting (ill advisedly) to cross a busy road at night.

Another U.S citizen pedestrian sustained serious injuries after being struck by a driver making an illegal turn.

Pedestrians should maintain a high degree of situational awareness and should not assume that they have the right-of-way.

Outside of Rangoon, drivers contend with ubiquitous motorbikes, which often lack proper signals and safety gear. Drivers should give motorbikes a wide berth and maintain space between vehicles to ensure stopping distance. It is common to be approached at stoplights by beggars and street vendors. Motorists should always attempt to park in secure, well-illuminated locations.

The monsoon season (May-October) presents additional challenges, including mud, deep pot holes, flooding, glare from oncoming headlights, and near-zero visibility, all of which may hinder a traveler’s ability to drive safely. Visitors should only travel during daylight hours and use road-worthy vehicles. Visitors should familiarize themselves with flood-prone areas and travel in high-clearance four-wheel drive vehicles; inclement weather may add several hours to estimated travel times. Individuals driving to remote areas should consider using redundant vehicles and carrying equipment to recover a vehicle in the event that it becomes stuck or breaks down.

For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Public Transportation Conditions

Public transportation is readily available in Rangoon and some parts of the country. Most trains and buses are overcrowded; others are old and poorly maintained, frequently causing them to be out of service or increasing the likelihood that they may break down. U.S. Embassy staff are advised against using buses or trains.

In Rangoon, taxis are a more reliable method of transportation. They are generally considered safe, but many are poorly maintained and/or lack seatbelts. Travelers are advised to take particular care when taking taxis late at night. To avoid confrontation or overcharging, rates should be negotiated with the driver prior to departure. Travelers should also take the opportunity to observe the driver in order to determine if he/she seems impaired due to drinking or drugs. When in doubt, passengers should exit the vehicle and hail another taxi.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration has not assessed Burma’s compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization safety standards. The safety records of Burma’s commercial air carriers are not readily available, and there is little information available regarding the government’s oversight of commercial aviation. Passenger screening remains below international standards.

Other Travel Condition

Gas stations and police assistance are limited outside of Rangoon and other major towns/cities, so motorists should plan accordingly.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Rangoon as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

The government is sensitive to the threat of terrorism and is engaged with international partners. There is no evidence to suggest that terrorist organizations have operational capacity in Burma. The government is not a state sponsor of terrorist activities and does not knowingly allow foreign fighters to transit the country. Americans are reminded of the international threat of terrorism and the possibility that any large public gatherings could become attractive targets for terrorists.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

In 2016, the U.S. Embassy’s use of the term “Rohingya” in a public statement resulted in a large protest in front of the Embassy.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Rangoon as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Burma’s defining challenge is how the country’s diverse people can overcome a history of conflict in order to live together and unify the country through political means. Since its independence in 1948, Burma has been at war. The civil conflict is one of the world’s longest and has involved every major ethnic group.

Since 2011, the government has negotiated cease-fire agreements with 14 Ethnic Armed Groups (EAGs), though clashes continue (including those involving some of the groups who had agreed to the ceasefire). In October 2015, the government and eight EAGs signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA); however, numerous EAGs, primarily in the north and northeast, did not sign on. Ongoing clashes between the government and EAGs do not always correspond to NCA signatory areas; non-signatory groups in the southeast have existing bilateral ceasefires and have not engaged in clashes with the government in many years, while fighting has occurred in parts of Kachin, Kayah, and Shan states covered by the NCA. These clashes are sporadic, but violence has escalated significantly with EAGs in Chin, Kachin, Rakhine, and Shan states. In the latter half of 2017, clashes between the Burmese military and EAGs resulted in casualties on both sides.

Historical national elections were held November 2015, and the Aung San Suu Kyi-led National League for Democracy (NLD) won. Though the NLD won a wide majority of votes, the constitution requires that 25% of parliamentary seats remain in the hands of the military. The constitution also requires that the military, police, and border security agencies be headed by military officers. This creates a bifurcated system of authority wherein the civilian government cannot fully control what the military and the security services do. Although tensions remain high, the landmark elections did not give rise to intercommunal or general political violence.

Civil Unrest

Protests are not uncommon and may come as response to human rights violations, interethnic tensions, or calls to support religious freedom, education, or labor rights. Although demonstrations are normally peaceful, spontaneous violence may occur. The government has arrested protestors for contravening the Peaceful Assembly Act by protesting without permission. Intercommunal conflicts, public demonstrations, and outbursts of violence may threaten U.S. private-sector investments and operations, even if they are not directly targeted. Visitors are cautioned to avoid large crowds, demonstrations, and political activity, and to maintain a high level of situational awareness. Visitors should also be careful about what they post on social media, as statements supporting one political cause or another could create a serious online backlash that could have real consequences offline.

Religious/Ethnic Violence

Burma has 135 officially-recognized ethnic groups. While Burma’s ethnic diversity is a source of national pride, it has also led to a long, brutal history of violent ethnic and sectarian conflicts. Burma has 18 Ethnic Armed Groups (EAGs) representing various minorities. Most of these groups share a deep suspicion of the central government, and many desire to form a federal army in which ethnic minorities are represented equally with the Burmans who dominate the military (known as the “Tatmadaw”). Some EAGs in border regions continue to engage in criminal activities (narcotics production/trafficking, gem/timber smuggling, human trafficking) as a means of supporting their ongoing conflict with the central government.

Intercommunal tension between the ethnic Rakhine and the Rohingya in Rakhine state remain high. The Rohingya are an ethnic group that is not officially-recognized by the Burmese government and whom many in Burma view as illegal immigrants. The Rakhine are Buddhist and the Rohingya Muslim, so the conflict sometimes takes on a religious dimension, but the Rakhine also deeply resent the perceived oppression by their Bamar co-religionists who run the central government. Because the government does not recognize Rohingya as a minority, ethnic Rohingya must undergo verification to be considered Burmese citizens. They are often unable to obtain identification cards or travel documents. Ethnic Rohingya face abuse, institutionalized discrimination, and restrictions on freedom of movement, as well as a lack of access to education, livelihoods, and basic services. As a result, many have fled via boat to Bangladesh, Thailand, and Malaysia.

In August 2017, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched coordinated attacks on police and military outposts in northern Rakhine. A dozen police, soldiers, and government officials were killed in the attack along with large numbers of ARSA fighters. In response, the military conducted large scale “security clearance operations” throughout northern Rakhine that led to over 650,000 Rohingya civilians fleeing across the border into Bangladesh. Many of those who fled alleged widespread atrocities,including rape and murder. The governments of Bangladesh and Burma continue to work on a repatriation process, but attacks by ARSA have demonstrated that the process will not be easy. In response to these events, both al-Qa’ida in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) and ISIS supporters in the Philippines called on violent extremists to travel to Burma to launch attacks. These calls appear to be largely aspirational.

Post-specific Concerns

Environmental Hazards

During the monsoon season (typically May-October), street flooding is common throughout southern Burma. Low-lying villages are susceptible to floods, resulting in food shortages and other health concerns. Rangoon lacks the drainage infrastructure to accommodate storm water runoff. As a result, low-lying parts of Rangoon and major vehicle thoroughfares frequently suffer from flash flooding.

Burma is prone to cyclones during two seasons (peaks in May and November). These violent storms can overwhelm an already weak infrastructure causing widespread destruction.

Major earthquake fault lines are also present and should be considered when developing potential contingency plans.

Critical Infrastructure

The former military junta chronically mismanaged the economy and failed to invest in critical infrastructure projects, which allowed country’s transit infrastructure, electrical grid, telecommunications network, and tourism facilities to fall into disrepair. Burma’s infrastructure is sub-par compared to regional neighbors and will require significant investment and years of work to be brought up to date. An old, inadequate electrical power grid is one of the biggest challenges, causing frequent blackouts, even in major urban centers, as demand continues to outpace supply.

Burma’s telecommunications and internet infrastructure is substandard, though access continues to expand. Travelers should understand that they may not have access to cellular networks and should consider redundant/alternative forms of communication, especially when traveling outside the major cities.

Burma has hosted numerous large public events, including a Papal visit in December 2017, the Pan-Asia Games, and an Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit, all of which took place without major security incidents.

Economic Concerns

According to TI’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Burma has improved its standing in recent years, moving from 147 in 2015 to 136 in 2016 and 130 in 2017. Nevertheless, corruption is a serious barrier to investment/commerce and permeates the government and economy. U.S. companies may find competitors are able to obtain an advantage when proposing or bidding on projects, although the government has taken clear steps to improve the transparency and evaluation of major tenders and to tackle official corruption. U.S. companies generally find that government officials and businesspeople are less likely to seek or expect “facilitation payments” or other gifts in Burma than elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

U.S. firms consider the lack of clarity surrounding commercial laws and regulations and the lack of adequate infrastructure (especially reliable electricity) to be the most serious impediments to doing business. The government has focused on drafting and passing commercial laws, including the October 2016 Investment Law and the December 2017 Companies Act (for which by-laws and implementation are expected in August 2018).

Limitations surrounding the rule of law are an impediment for U.S. private sector organizations. The judicial system is archaic, and decisions are often made through personal relationships or bribes. Burma suffers from an antiquated legal system and outdated legislation; many laws are vague and often subject to manipulation. According to the 2016 World Bank Doing Business report, in the East Asia and Pacific Region, Burma ranked number 18 out of 25 for starting a new business and third to last (23) for both enforcing contracts and protecting minority investors. The country has, however, introduced reforms, including the 2014 decision to reduce the corporate income tax rate.

Privacy Concerns

Government interest in the activities of foreigners persists. Visitors conducting sensitive political or commercial business should assume that their actions are being monitored, especially in public places. Because the government controls the country’s telephone network and internet providers, calls and emails can be intercepted. Depending upon the government’s level of interest, overt surveillance may be employed. American private sector organizations should be aware that the “no expectation of privacy” policy complicates the ability to confidentially discuss proprietary and/or sensitive information. Do not discuss travel plans or other business in an open venue. Be alert to any unusual surveillance activity near the places you frequently visit.

Always ask permission before taking a photograph. Local citizens may request a small fee for taking a picture of them or their surroundings.

Police Response

Police capability, responsiveness, and professionalism is substandard compared to their U.S. counterparts. Law enforcement is are often under-funded, under-staffed, and poorly equipped or trained, and suffers from limited resources and corruption. Most crimes go unreported and/or are not investigated. Police response times can be long, if at all. Lack of adequate transportation is often cited as an explanation for slow response. Few police officers speak English.

While foreigners may be viewed as wealthy, there continues to be a perception that crimes against Americans and other Westerners are investigated more thoroughly and punished more rigorously than crimes against Burmese nationals. This belief has been reinforced with the government’s establishment of a “Tourist Police” unit in 2013, a decision in January 2015 to reinforce and strengthen that unit, and the installation of billboards directing nationals to “warmly welcome” foreigners and “take care” of them.

In 2017, a U.S. government employee was struck by a vehicle and severely injured; the Tourist Police were the first on the scene and rushed the man to a medical facility.

Do not photograph government buildings, embassies, military installations, airports, harbors, or other locations associated with security or intelligence; cameras may be confiscated. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report “Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.”

Enforcement of traffic regulations is often haphazard and/or is used as a means to solicit bribes. Police will often signal motorists to pull over for a donation or so-called “tea money.” Low-pay and low-morale create an environment in which even bribes of a few dollars can make allegations disappear. It is not recommended to pay bribes, comply with requests for a gift, or pay on-the-spot fines. If an officer persists in soliciting a donation or “tea money,” comply with instructions, identify yourself as a U.S. citizen, obtain the officer’s name and badge number, and politely ask to speak with a supervisor or request to be taken to police headquarters for further processing.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

Police are required to notify the Embassy when an American citizen has been arrested; however, they consistently fail to do so. If arrested, be certain to assert this right and request to speak with a representative from the U.S. Embassy by calling (95)-1-536-509 ext. 4240 or (95)-9-512-4330 (after normal business hours).

Crime Victim Assistance

Central police (Rangoon and Mandalay): 199

Fire emergency: 191 or 192

Tourist police: 01-378-479 (Rangoon); 09-448-539-507 (Mandalay)

The U.S. Embassy maintains a liaison with local law enforcement officials and is available to assist U.S. citizens during their stay in Burma.

Medical Emergencies

Medical facilities fall critically short of U.S and European standards. There are no 911 equivalent ambulance services. Trauma care is extremely limited, and local hospitals should only be used in the event of an extreme medical emergency. Many primary health care workers, especially in rural areas, lack adequate professional training. Instances of misdiagnosis, improper treatment, and the administration of improper drugs have been reported. Quality and comprehensive medical services are very limited in Rangoon, and are almost nonexistent for all but the most minor treatment outside of the capital. Due to inadequate diagnostic equipment, lack of medical resources, and limited medical specialty personnel, complex diagnosis, and treatment are unavailable.

Medicines are in short supply and available medications may be counterfeit products of questionable quality. Visitors should bring their own supply of medications, as the quality of medications is inconsistent, and counterfeit drugs are a problem. In the event medications are needed, such as over-the-counter medication, antibiotics, allergy remedies, or malaria prophylaxis, travelers may contact the U.S. Embassy's American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit to receive general information about reliable pharmacies. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “Traveling with Medications.”

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

American Citizen Services maintains a list of physicians, clinics, and pharmacies in Rangoon (Yangon) generated by the Embassy Health Unit.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Air ambulance or medical evacuation (medevac) services can be arranged through the SOS Clinic, Samitivej International clinic at Parami, and LEO at Victoria Hospital. Medical evacuation can be arranged at any of the above facilities, and through the major Bangkok hospitals.

Air Ambulance 1

24/7 Dispatch; Telephone and Fax: +1 (832) 900-9000

USA Toll Free: (800) 424-9000; email: Dispatch@AirAmbulance1.com

Website: www.AirAmbulance1.com

Insurance Guidance

Although it is gradually changing, Burma remains largely a cash-based society. The SOS clinic, and Victoria hospital accept credit cards, but most health care facilities in Burma require patients to pay cash before receiving medical services. Foreigners may be charged a higher rate than local residents for most medical services.

All travelers are advised to purchase insurance to cover medical evacuation in case of a serious accident, injury, or illness. Medical evacuation can cost thousands of dollars, depending on the severity of the situation, so all travelers should ensure their policies provide sufficient coverage. If you are traveling with a group, ensure your fellow travelers know that you carry travelers insurance and know where to find the insurance information if you are unconscious.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Visitors with serious health concerns or who are on blood thinners (with the exception of aspirin) are discouraged from traveling to Burma.

Travelers are advised to see a physician prior to traveling to Burma to ensure that appropriate immunizations and precautions are taken. All visitors traveling to Burma should have current vaccinations prior to arrival in Rangoon. Extended stays outside of Rangoon require Japanese Encephalitis vaccination and malaria prophylaxis. Visitors should begin taking malaria prophylaxis prior to arrival and hand-carry enough medication for the duration of their visit. 

Gastrointestinal diseases, tuberculosis, dengue fever, malaria, rabies, and Japanese Encephalitis pose a serious risk to travelers in Burma. A prolonged monsoon season in 2017 led to one of the worst outbreaks of dengue fever in recent memory.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Burma.

OSAC Country Council Information

Embassy Rangoon has an active OSAC Country Council that meets regularly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s OSAC’s East Asia Pacific team with any questions.

U.S. Embassy Location and Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

U.S. Embassy Rangoon (Yangon)

110 University Avenue, Kamayut Township

Rangoon (Yangon), Burma (Myanmar)

Embassy Hours: Mon-Fri, 0800-1630 (except U.S. and local holidays)

The Embassy is available 24-hours a day to assist U.S. citizens in emergencies. American Citizen Services is available (by appointment only) Mon-Fri, 1400-1530

Embassy Contact Numbers

Main telephone (24-hour): (95) 1-536-509

Duty Officer: (95) 9-512-4330

Marine Security Guard Post One: (95) 1-536-509 ext. 4014

Website: http://burma.usembassy.gov/service.html

Embassy Guidance

U.S. citizens traveling to Burma should enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP). U.S. citizens wishing to conduct business in Burma should consult the Embassy’s Business Section website for advice.

A passport and a visa are required for entry; passports must have at least six months validity in them. The government’s visa-on-arrival program is available only to business travelers sponsored by businesses registered with the Ministry of Commerce. There is no visa-on-arrival program for tourists. Burma’s e-visa program allows tourists to apply for a visa online rather than physically applying at an embassy or consulate. Once tourists are approved for the visa, the visa needs to be used within three months. Tourists can use the e-visa to enter at Yangon International Airport or at Mandalay International Airport. Visas can still be obtained at the Embassy and Consulates of Burma in the U.S.

Additional Resources

The American Chamber of Commerce Myanmar can offer assistance in entering the market here. Interested companies should contact Zara Dang, AmCham Myanmar Executive Director. Additionally, the Embassy’s Commercial Section can assist companies in identifying legitimate

Burma (Myanmar) Country Information Sheet