With more than 100 ethnicities, Myanmar is a rich tapestry of cultures that assemble to create what is fondly known as the ‘Golden Land’. Myanmar is a country of contrasts, where traditional Buddhist pagodas punctuate colonial British architecture while opulent modern cities are juxtaposed by relatively untouched villages.
While moving to Myanmar may not be for the faint of heart, expats moving to the country will find that the hospitality of the Burmese people more than makes up for the lack of modern conveniences.
Living in Myanmar as an expat
After more than 40 years of being closed off from the world due to ongoing conflict and military rule, Myanmar remains largely undeveloped. The country is one of the region's poorest, and almost 70 percent of its population still lives in rural areas. That said, Myanmar is continually developing and is currently a recognised emerging market that is attracting foreign investors in droves.
In Myanmar’s lush central basin is the country’s newly built modern capital, Naypyitaw, which serves as the administrative centre. Expats working in diplomatic and humanitarian roles are likely to be stationed here. Thanks to the discovery of natural gas and petroleum, expats with engineering, commerce and management experience have the opportunity to work in some of Myanmar’s most lucrative industries.
As one of Southeast Asia’s largest countries, Myanmar’s sheer area could come as a shock to expats from smaller countries. As a result, travelling times can be long and with a fairly extensive yet inadequate public transport network, most expats choose to fly across the country or hire a car and a driver.
Cost of living in Myanmar
Though fairly reasonable, the cost of living in Myanmar is still higher than one might expect. Accommodation in Myanmar’s major cities is especially costly owing to the discrepancy in supply and demand. The standard of housing in the country varies considerably, and expats will have to fork out for newly built Western-style apartments or detached houses to enjoy modern luxuries. Myanmar also suffers daily power outages and frequent water shortages, while high-speed internet is pricey. Thus, utilities are also set to take a large chunk out of expats’ salaries.
Luckily, expats will be able to save on transport and grocery costs, as these are mostly inexpensive. The second largest expense facing expat parents is the eye-wateringly expensive international school fees. Expats will also need to budget for comprehensive private healthcare insurance to ensure they are covered for medical evacuation, as the standard of healthcare in Myanmar is lacking.
Families and children in Myanmar
Myanmar offers free compulsory primary education – but Burmese is the language of instruction, making it unsuitable for most expats. The country’s education system is also underfunded, so the quality of its public schools may be subpar. Fortunately, Myanmar passed a law in 2011 allowing private schools to operate in the country. These schools teach the national curriculum in the English language and offer a more affordable alternative to public and international schools.
Still, most expats send their children to international schools. This allows their children to continue in their home country’s curriculum or learn a global curriculum such as the International Baccalaureate programme.
Expat parents will also not run out of things to see and do with their little ones during their leisure time due to the abundance of majestic natural landscapes, temples and green spaces in Myanmar.
Climate in Myanmar
The weather in Myanmar is distinguished by three seasons. With a tropical monsoon climate, Myanmar experiences the cool (November to February), hot (March to May) and monsoon (June to October) seasons. Flooding is a common occurrence during the monsoon season, and expats are advised to follow news on flood warnings. Generally, though, temperatures in Myanmar are warm with the occasional cool evening.
While expats moving to Myanmar will undoubtedly experience a level of culture shock, the country’s natural splendour and friendly people can go a long way towards making acclimatising easier and enjoying an enriching once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Population: More than 54 million
Capital city: Naypyitaw (Yangon is the country's largest city)
Neighbouring countries: Myanmar is bordered by China and Laos to the northeast, Thailand to the east and southeast, India to the north and Bangladesh to the northwest.
Geography: Myanmar is a country of hills and valleys. It is nestled between a few mountain ranges, with the Arakan Mountains on the west and the Shan Plateau dominating the east. The country's long coastline borders the Andaman Sea and the Bay of Bengal and is another distinguishing geographical feature.
Political system: Unitary parliamentary constitutional republic (although a military junta is currently in power)
Major religions: Theravada Buddhism is the leading religion. Various forms of Christianity and Islam also have a significant following in the country.
Main languages: Burmese (official language), English and Mandarin Chinese
Time: GMT +6
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs in Myanmar have two or three pins or three flat blades.
Money: The Myanmar Kyat (MMK) is the official currency, and it's divided into 100 pyas. The US Dollar (USD) is currently the most used currency, even though it was banned for domestic use in 2022. As Myanmar is still a cash-based society, credit card use is few and far between.
International dialling code: +95
Internet domain: .mm
Transport and driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. Expats often find driving in Myanmar risky and avoid driving their own vehicle, especially in the bigger cities, where it’s possible to get around quite easily using a taxi or public transport.
Emergency numbers: 199 (police), 192 (ambulance), 191 (fire). Emergency services are extremely limited or non-existent outside the major cities.