TELEPHONE, MOBILE & INTERNET

A handy travel guide to all your telephone, mobile communication and internet needs

Myanmar’s infrastructure has lagged behind its neighbors in Southeast Asia in almost every communication department but serious upgrades have been made in the past couple years especially in the telecom industry.

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Buddhist monks and modern technology, Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar, 2015
Mobile Calling and Internet Five years ago, purchasing a SIM card in Myanmar was equivalent to buying a car as a SIM would run upwards of $2,000 USD! Nowadays, travelers and locals can purchase one for a measly $1.50 USD and top up cards sold at all major telecom stores begin at KS 1,000 and run KS 3,000, KS 5,000 and KS 10,000. For tourists and travelers alike, this makes for a handy and low-cost purchase in order to quickly access the internet and make phone calls.

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Compared to Thailand and regional neighbors, the internet and phone call quality in Myanmar can be quite inconsistent and slow with ‘dead zones’ that still exist even in the main cities of Yangon, Mandalay and Nay Pyi Taw. Improvements are constantly being made to the service grid and since 2014 service has increased by leaps and bounds. Myanmar has been listed as the 4th fastest-growing mobile market in the world by Ericsson and recent developments has seen the Asian Development Bank and the International Finance Corporation provide loans of $300 million USD to Ooredoo Myanmar for rolling out a mobile telecommunications network.

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In rural and underdeveloped areas, service is still spotty and may not be available until you reach a more-populated area. To better service these areas, companies like Ooredoo have even employed oxen to carry equipment to communities where basic infrastructure is lacking! Pro-Tip: Wi-Fi services are popular in Myanmar and provide a good alternative to spending extra cash especially while traveling on a budget. Coffee shops, restaurants, hotels, bars and local high-end shops usually have Wi-Fi available for their customers. The three major players in Myanmar telecom are the state-owned Myanma Posts and Telecommunications (MPT), the Doha, Qatar-based Ooredoo and the Norwegian firm Telenor. Since 2013, MPT had monopolized the Golden Land’s mobile market but recent reforms leading to the opening of the market has greatly benefited the local and foreign population both in terms of price and service. Both standard and micro SIM cards are 3G enabled and are available for purchase upon entry into the country at all the major airports (Yangon International, Mandalay International and Nay Pyi Taw International) as well as being widely-available in all the big cities and tourist sites at official stores. Telenor claims to be the leader in 3G coverage in Myanmar. Prepaid Rates (on average) Calls (in network) 25 kyat / min Calls (all other) 35 kyat / min SMS 15 kyat / msg Data 10 kyat / MB (1000kyat / 100MB) Pro-Tip: Foreigners will need to present their passports upon the purchase of a SIM card along with their Myanmar Visa and one passport photo. The latter condition isn’t nearly as strictly enforced as it once was but it’s still a good idea to carry one around just in case you’re asked. Look for these signs to purchase your SIM card:
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Telenor Myanmar
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MPT
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Ooredoo
For travelers from the region, international roaming is available for a few Asian networks but this can also be unreliable and not a great option. Indonesia’s Telkomsel, Singapore’s M1 and Singtel, Thailand’s AIS and Vietnam’s Viettel are a few that can operate in Myanmar. SMS messaging is notoriously fickle on these services in Myanmar and you may only be able to access internet and data. Pro-Tip: Try free messaging services like Facebook messenger, Viber and WhatsApp to send messages on Wi-Fi.  It should go without saying, but the use of social media is unrestricted in Myanmar. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and more are all freely accessible. Land Lines, International Calling and Computer Connectivity As a traveler you’ll rarely find the need to make use of the phone stands that dot the major cities of Myanmar. The antiquated system and shoddy phone lines make local calling unreliable and you’re much better off asking a local for help or popping into a hotel to make your call. If you need to make use of a phone stand, you’ll need to pay KS 100, ~$0.08/minute. International calls are possible from certain phone stands and can cost over $5.00/minute. Due to the unreliability of the line and being charged for calls that eventually never connect, again it’s a good idea to use a hotel line. To make international calls, simply dial “00” and then the international country code of which you’re trying to reach followed by the local area code. To call into Myanmar (for example, if you need someone to call you back), simply have the caller dial their international access code followed by Myanmar’s country code of “95” and then your local area code. Due to the unreliability of the landline phone system, you have a much better chance of receiving the call from any of the tourist sites or from any of the major cities.

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Pro-Tip: Since we’ve already established that hotel lines are more reliable than phone stands, you can try to make international calls and/or mobile-to-mobile calls via WhatsApp, Skype (requires money on your account), Viber and Facebook Messenger. Connect to Wi-Fi so your call doesn’t eat your data or if you haven’t yet purchased a SIM card. To access a landline computer, head to one of the many internet cafes located in Yangon, Nay Pyi Taw or Mandalay and expect to pay around KS 500 per hour of use (~$0.40). Several cafes operate in Inle Lake and Bagan and are known to charge a bit more per hour. Most hotels offer the option of using a computer free of charge. Pro-Tip: Restricted bandwidth in Myanmar means that internet quality and speed is determined by local usage and time of day. If you must work remotely, it’s recommended to do it during non-peak usage hours (early in morning, late at night).

Phillip Harbor

Author, blogger, photographer, all-around world traveler

Israeli Abroad

IsraeliAbroad (formerly SidepieceDiplomat) was started as a passion project by amateur photographer Phillip Harbor as he travels from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and throughout the world. Named for the adventure, the photoblog seeks to give followers a unique insight into life from a nation that was until recently closed off from the rest of the world for more than half a century. This blog is half photo-half information-half experience-driven. Yes that’s more than a whole… and yes that makes about as much sense as anything else you can find on this half of the globe! Feel free to follow us on social media and right here on the blog as we explore the incredible wonders of Myanmar. Updates will come as regularly as possible and don’t forget to share with your friends!

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Wiloke

IsraeliAbroad was started as a passion project by photographer Phillip Harbor as he travels from Tel Aviv, Israel, to Yangon, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) and throughout the world. Named for the adventure, the photoblog seeks to give followers a unique insight into life from a nation that was until recently closed off from the rest of the world for more than half a century. This blog is half photo-half information-half experience-driven. Yes that’s more than a whole… and yes that makes about as much sense as anything else you can find on this half of the globe! Feel free to follow us on social media and right here on the blog as we explore the incredible wonders of Myanmar. Updates will come as regularly as possible and don’t forget to share with your friends!