Distinction in travel journalism
Is independent travel journalism important to you?
Click here to keep it independent

27 Jan, 2015

Myanmar e-visas soaring, expansion to four Thai border checkpoints in the pipeline

Nay Pyi Taw, Myanmar — Proving that facilitating accessibility can be far more effective than big marketing budgets for spurring visitor arrivals, Myanmar’s e-visa system is averaging between 600-700 approvals a day, up from 100-200 a day when it was launched in Sepetmber 2014.

The numbers are set to grow exponentially this year when the number of checkpoints through which e-visa holders can pass is expanded to include four overland borders with neighbouring Thailand: Tachilek-Mae Sai, Myawady-Mae Sot, Kawthoung-Ranong and Htee Khee-Punaron.

At the moment, it is only available at Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw airports.

Opening up the overland border checkpoints will allow tour operators to easily add a Myanmar component to a Thailand tour, facilitate travel by FITs, open up more rural areas along the Thai-Myanmar border and enhance the overall appeal of visiting the Greater Mekong Subregion countries.

Official sources said that technically, the system is ready for installation at the overland checkpoints right away. Only the “official process” needs to be completed.

Applicants from the US head the list, followed by UK, Spain and Japan. Applications from Asia are lower because most of the Asian capitals have a Myanmar embassy close by. The system is a blessing for those who don’t have easy access to a diplomatic mission.

In fact, it eliminates entirely the hassle of going to an embassy. Passports don’t get held up, especially for frequent travellers, and it saves pages in the passport because there is no visa stamp, which can take up a whole page if cleared at an embassy.

Improvements are under way. The system started off with accepting only Visa and MasterCard for payment of the US$50 fee (which is non-refundable), but now accepts American Express. Other credit cards such as JCB of Japan and Chinese credit cards are set to be added. Approvals which took five working days in the beginning are down to about three days and projected at one or two days.

Only 43 countries were eligible upon launch, and 24 were added just a month later, on 02 Oct 2014. It has now gone up to 100 countries, and more are in the pipeline.

Rejection rates are a fractional one or two a month.

Use of the e-visas is being heavily promoted. A detailed 16-page brochure offering a clear, step-by-step explanation of the e-visa application process was included in the delegate kits handed out to all the ASEAN Tourism Forum 2015 participants.

Official sources said that the system is operating smoothly, with no serious glitches. Applicants tend to attach photographs in large file sizes which jams up the system. However, a call centre operates during official working hours in Myanmar, and people can call in to get their individual questions sorted out.

Applicants get an e-mail confirmation and a letter with a bar-code which has to be presented to the airlines upon check-in for the flight to Myanmar.

The Myanmar authorities have their own blacklist and various other Interpol lists against which names of applicants are checked.

A key issue will be ensuring the adequate staff levels at the e-visa operational centre set up by the Minister of Immigration and Population to handle the workload. The whole process is going through its learning curve right now and being expanded and improved bit by bit.

It is also available only for single-entry visas for tourist purposes and a duration of 28 days. Those wanting double-entry visas have to apply twice.

Citizens of only six ASEAN countries do not need visas at all — Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Philippines, and Vietnam.

Technical support for the system is being provided by a local private company, Myanmar EaseNet.

Website: http://evisa.moip.gov.mm