Myanmar: Expatriates in the Republic Union

Myanmar, thanks to Jean-Marie Hullot (2009)
As a K2 Corporate Mobility team return from the company’s first research trip to Myanmar, here are a few words on their experience, and expatriate management in Myanmar.

Business in Myanmar has a troubled history. In 1963, a programme of reforms resulted in the nationalisation of several thousand foreign owned firms, which, along with restrictive visa embargoes, almost closed the country to foreign investment. The impact of these changes was vast, and crippling for the country’s economy.

With this history in mind, it was somewhat a surprise when in 2011, Myanmar began a sweeping swathe of political reforms, reopening the country to foreign investment and trade. The resulting surge in trade has been noticeable, and in 2013, we began to assist our clients with their first relocations in to Myanmar. 

The logistics: Moving expatriates in to Myanmar

  • Accommodation options: When searching for accommodation in Myanmar, it is important to remember that the country has been open to international trade for less than four years. Whilst land is cheap, goods are still scarce, and accommodation options reflect the 40 years of neglect that the country has suffered. Look-see trips could provide a cost-effective way of reducing assignment failure- assignees expecting western standards of housing will be disappointed, and expectations must be managed accordingly. 

    Serviced accommodation, whilst widely available in Yangon, is generally to a lower standard of finish than other major cities. In 2014, K2 Corporate Mobility carried out site inspections of several property groups across the city. Whilst accommodation is comfortable, it is not luxurious, and a look-see trip could help to manage assignees’ expectations prior to departure.

    Per square foot, permanent, unfurnished accommodation is cheap, but most properties have tired or antiquated fitted kitchens and bathrooms, symptomatic of the import starvation of the past 40 years. Assignees expecting modern houses or facilities will be disappointed. However, with the current rate of development, spurred by foreign investment, improvements in accommodation will not be far behind.
  • Customs requirements: We work with assignees, guiding them through Myanmar’s customs requirements and importation process, which will vary dependent on the port of entry of personal effects. At the time of writing, relocating assignees are required to surrender their original passports (with Myanmarese entry stamp) for customs clearance of their effects, so must be in the country at the time that their personal effects arrive. It is essential that their employing entity is a fully registered company in Myanmar, and a copy of the company’s business registration letter will be required.

    If extending their initial visa, assignees will need to revisit a customs office with their new visa, to ensure exemption from duties.  
  • Timings: At the time of writing, Myanmar’s customs department aim to clear all shipments within 7 working days, but this time frame can be extended with little to no notice.
  • Shipping restrictions: Media in Myanmar still undergoes a degree of censorship, and any media (DVDs, CDs etc) may be examined, and a fee charged for each item. Any communications equipment (including phones, fax machines, short wave radios and satellite phones) requires a license prior to arrival in the country, which will be obtained by our representatives. Other prohibited or restricted items include pornographic material, ammunitions, religious materials, and other items- all of which will be clearly explained to each assignee by K2 Corporate Mobility.

Case study: We do extraordinary in Myanmar

In 2013, one of K2 Corporate Mobility’s clients, a multi-billion dollar energy company, planned to establish a new office in Myanmar. In such a specialist field, subject experts were essential, and the client chose to send several existing employees on long term assignments to their new office in Yangon, Myanmar’s capital city.

The first employee to be relocated to Myanmar, a US national, was moving with his young family and heavily pregnant wife. A key worry for the family was healthcare- and their employers carried out a full health briefing prior to departure. The private hospitals in Yangon occasionally evacuate to Bangkok, a one and a half hour flight. Our case study chose to return to their home country to give birth, also easing the administration of an overseas birth.  

From an initial briefing, we identified that the assignee’s visa would not be sufficient to import household effects- he was quite literally the first boots on the ground, and operating under a single year visa. Our client could expect to spend at least 4 months registering their business as a foreign entity, and only at this point would the assignee be able to apply for his full business visa (and therefore import his effects).

To manage the ‘limbo’ which the assignee was in, we recommended an extended stay in furnished accommodation, whilst arranging for orientation tours to managing their housing expectations for their permanent accommodation from the start. We arranged for temporary clearance with customs, with the ability to achieve full clearance once the long term visa was acquired. To retain duty-free clearance, assignees must re-register with the state customs department each time their visa is renewed.

Looking ahead

In the next few months, Myanmar are due to announce the winning bid for the rights to explore their offshore oil and gas reserves, rumoured to rival the fields surrounding Brazil. Should these be as large as anticipated, Myanmar could expect to see large revenues and a flood of investment, over the next seven to ten years. In the meantime, its ‘untouched’ markets could attract as much as $100 billion in foreign direct investment over the next two decades, but with the local populations’ average schooling sitting at only 4 years, there is little doubt that expatriates will play a major role.

About the author: Katherine Bitterli, K2 Corporate Mobility
Katherine has over four years’ experience in global mobility and project management, managing numerous group projects for K2, including the design and build of a technology platform- Ascent, and rebrand and launch of website in 2013. She has also completed several short term assignments to deliver projects internationally, in Singapore, USA, Sweden and South Africa.  

Lead contributer: Jam Alarma, K2 Corporate Mobility
Jam Alarma is K2 Corporate Mobility's APAC relocation team lead, and has led K2 Corporate Mobility's 'Myanmar' project in 2013. Jam has more than ten years' experience in corporate relocation, and has recently returned from a trip to Myanmar to expand and develop our network in the country. 

 

 

 

Sources:

The Economist (2013). Special report: A Burmese Spring. Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/special-report/21578168-after-50-years-brutal-military-rule-myanmars-democratic-opening-has-been-swift-and. Last accessed 19th May 2014.

The Economist (2014). 
Myanmar’s oil and gas. Drilling in the darkAvailable at: http://www.economist.com/news/business/21599810-companies-will-soon-find-out-how-much-oil-and-gas-there-really-offshore-drilling-dark. Last accessed 19th May 2014.

McKinsey (2013). 
Myanmar’s moment: Unique opportunities, major challenges. Available at: http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/asia-pacific/myanmars_moment . Last accessed 19th May 2014. 

IMAGE RIGHTS: Eddy Milfort (2014). Myanmar. Available at: https://flic.kr/p/jUfkET . License here