Friday 21 December 2012

How to get a visa to Burma (without unnecessary stress)?

I haven't written anything in a long time. Mostly because I have been busy with buying presents, and meeting my friends for Christmas drinks, and also because I was a bit stressed about my visa to Burma (according to Aung San Suu Kyi it's Burma, not Myanmar, so I'll stick to that name).
The whole thing with the visa processing stressed me out so much that my tummy started hurting, and my good, old IBS reminded me that it still exists..
Before I tell you all about my story, I thought I'd put some points together, to help you with your application. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to avoid the drama.

First, let my clarify: I applied for the visa through the embassy in London. I applied by post and sent 2 passports: mine and my sister's.

1. Check the website first, but be prepare to go to the embassy, if necessary

I was lucky, you see. When I checked the website it worked fine. However, I checked it again a week ago, and yesterday, and it didn't work.
The website contains all of the information you need. If it doesn't work, go to the embassy.
The address is:
19A Charles Street, London W1J 5DX

A few weeks ago the website said that you needed 2 application forms with passport photos, your passport, a return envelope with the address and postage, and £14 per application (postal order only, if applying by post; cash only, if applying in person).
The application form could be downloaded from the website, but you can also get it from the embassy, on the day. I think this information is still relevant. Although the site is not working, so I can't check it. 

2. Sending your passport by post

Applying for a visa in person is easy. The staff at the embassy will help you out.
If you want to send your passport by post, send it by special delivery, and do the same with your return postage. You don't want it to get lost.
Now, this is the warning for people who send more than one passport: if you do, don't rely on the staff at the embassy to guess which passport goes to which return envelope. If you put only your name on the return envelope, you will get only your passport back and the other passports will simply stay at the embassy. I know this can be costly, but I would advise you to send a return envelope for each of the applicant with their name on it, and paper clip them to the form. In this way, you are guaranteed that it will come back to you.

3. Visa processing time

 The website doesn't inform you how much time it will take to apply. Some people say that it takes 5-10 working days, and this is the information I found on Lonely Planet, and other forums.
However, the processing time depends highly on the time of year and the demand for visas. It took them 3 weeks to send my visa back, and apparently it can take longer than that.

4. If you want to contact the embassy

Yes, there is a telephone number on the website, and even an email address. But don't even bother trying to contact them in this way. They don't answer the phones, and you will go straight to voicemail which, by the way, is full and you can't even leave a message.
They might answer your email, but don't expect a helpful response. 
The best way to talk to anyone there is to go and visit them in person. They are all lovely and very polite people. I have been to the embassy twice, and had a great experience (except the whole mess with tokens and queues).
If you live far away, you can try and send a friend, or someone to act on your behalf. A very scary thing is that they give passports away to anyone who asks for them. I went there to pick up my sister's passport and they only asked for her name - that was enough for them to find it and give it me. I didn't even have to sign for it.
The embassy is open from 10:00-12:00 for visa applications. You can turn up at 09:30, and you can wait inside. It's good to be one of the first in the queue to avoid confusion and the whole organisational mess.

Apparently it's easier to apply in Bangkok, so you might want to explore that option, before applying in Europe. 

In the next post I'm going to tell you about what happened with my visa application, which is quite an amusing story.

Have you ever applied for a Burmese visa? What was your experience? Don't be shy, leave a comment!

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