Expat banking: Everything you wanted to know, and more in Myanmar

Myanmar’s banks are increasingly offering services targeted at foreigners, but negotiating the complex range of regulations and fees can be hard work.

FIVE years ago, your typical expat was paid in cash, received from the office finance department in a brown paper bag at the end of the month. The money was then kept under a mattress, behind a cupboard, or buried in the back garden of a house in Golden Valley. International transfers took place through Yangon International Airport, and foreign currencies were changed furtively at Bogyoke Market or in hotel lobbies. Wallets were replaced annually due to the heavy wear and tear from carrying wads of K1,000 notes.

For many, little has changed. Cash remains king, but thanks to some relaxations of central bank rules, expats in the country are no longer required to live among the great unbanked – that is, the 45 million or so people in Myanmar who do not have an account.

Nearly all private banks now offer products that expats can use, even if they are not quite as flexible – or straight-forward – as what you might be used to back “home”. This is often because of central bank rules rather than a lack of desire on the behalf of the banks themselves, suggesting that things could change quickly if regulations are eased.

Who can open an individual account?

Almost anyone. There are some eligibility requirements but they are quite minimal. You need to have a valid passport and business visa (at least 70 days duration), together with a letter from your employer confirming that you work for them. For a foreign-currency account, some banks also require two passport photos.