With a location that bridges the gap between Southeast Asia and South Asia, Myanmar is a country that combines immense natural beauty with one of the region’s most interesting histories. Formerly a colony of the British Empire and now a strict military dictatorship, this interesting and gorgeous country is a natural wonderland that’s largely closed off to the outside world.
Reports of violence and anti-government demonstrations occasionally come out of Myanmar, but for the most part, the country is almost entirely unknown to most foreigners. With a repressive and potentially dangerous government and a relatively strict policy on news coverage, information on the lifestyle that Myanmar offers is hard to come by, and often quite unreliable when it shows up.
Despite this, Myanmar has a lot to offer to foreign visitors, whether they’re here on a short-term stay or as part of a lengthy retirement. While it’s not a popular retirement destination in its own right – it is located next to the retirement haven of Thailand, however – it’s a popular destination for retirees that are based in other Asian countries, including Thailand, India, Malaysia, and Singapore.
Myanmar is a restricted country and can be quite a difficult place to access. Visa-free entry is not available to citizens of any country, and all foreign visitors to Myanmar must have a visa. This can be acquired at a Myanmar embassy in almost any country, although the easiest places to gain a visa for entry to the country are Bangkok – where same-day service is possible – and Hong Kong.
The standard Myanmar tourist visa allows for ninety days of travel within the country during any 180-day period – a restriction that can make it difficult to reside in Myanmar for the long term. A variety of business services are available for people traveling to Myanmar to invest in the country, including a visa-on-arrival service for business visas and official visas for foreign diplomats.
For retirees, however, the standard tourist visa is the only option for residing in Myanmar. Thanks to strict immigration controls and insular policy, this makes Myanmar far from ideal as a retirement destination. However, Myanmar is still a rewarding country to visit, and a ninety-day stay is always worth it for people looking to enjoy the country’s beautiful nature and unique culture.
Yangon, formerly known as Rangoon, is Myanmar’s former political capital and current economic hub. A large city known for its beautiful colonial architecture and expansive Buddhist temples, it’s almost always the first port of call for visitors to Myanmar. The country’s largest city by a sizable margin, it’s also Myanmar’s most modern and foreigner-friendly city.
Connected to Thailand, Malaysia, India, and China by air, Yangon’s large international airport has made the city a relatively simple destination to access. Trains run from Yangon to most other cities and regional centers in Myanmar, making the country fairly easy to navigate and cover, despite its somewhat outdated rail network.
Medical care in Myanmar ranges from unreliable to fairly modern. Public hospitals can be unclean and unreliable, with outdated medical equipment and untrained staff the norm. However, there are several private hospitals found in Yangon and small private clinics found elsewhere in the country, allowing travelers and expatriates to enjoy a reasonable standard of medical care at most times.
However, serious injuries and major illnesses are best treater abroad, with most visitors to Myanmar departing for Thailand to treat serious medical injuries. If you plan on staying in Myanmar for more than one month, it’s worth investing in medical insurance that covers the cost of medical evacuation to Thailand, which will be useful in the case of a serious medical emergency.
The banking sector in Myanmar is very undeveloped, and foreign visitors will have serious issues trying to withdraw money in the country or manage their accounts from within Myanmar. The best option is to carry out your banking from nearby Thailand, and use cash only when in Myanmar. A small selection of shops and hotels will accept credit cards, although most will only accept cash.
Compounding this problem is the complete lack of ATM machines within Yangon. Cash advances are possible at banks and credit unions, but withdrawing cash using a standard bank card just isn’t possible in most of Myanmar. The sole exceptions to this rule are Myanmar’s airports, where cash machines can occasionally be found and money changers may offer basic transfer facilities.
Housing is inexpensive in Myanmar’s major cities, easy to find, and fairly comfortable for those that don’t expect luxury level treatment. Due to Myanmar’s limited economic might and colonial history, modern apartment buildings and condo developments like those seen in nearby Thailand are not a common sight, and most accommodation is found in older buildings and low-ride apartments.
Myanmar’s low cost of living is somewhat equalized by the high costs of traveling to and from the country, as well as its restrictive visa policies. While it’s possible to live in Myanmar with a budget that’s unsuitable for elsewhere in Asia, doing so is inconvenient and difficult. Simply put, Myanmar is not an easy country to live in as a retiree of expatriate, especially with limited language skills.
While its natural beauty, incredible history, and low cost of living make it a great place to visit for a holiday or short-term break, Myanmar’s restrictive immigration policy, unreliable government, and lack of basic human rights make it a poor choice for retirees searching for a relaxing place to live.
Because of this, it’s best to look at Myanmar’s neighbors and nearby countries as better retirement options. To its east, Thailand offers inexpensive living and a similar culture with few of the press restrictions or human rights abuses. To its south, Malaysia and Singapore offer a similar climate and a significantly more modern economy. While Myanmar has a lot to offer the outside world, it just isn’t a suitable retirement destination for those that need reliability and comfortable living.