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Doing business in Myanmar - a guide

Doing business in Myanmar is different from almost anywhere else on the planet, with the country's combination of cultures, ethnicities, emerging sectors and decades of isolation creating a business environment that is welcoming yet unpredictable.

As the country is located in south-east Asia, Buddhism runs deeply and there are many customs remaining from the colonial days, though this also means that English is widely spoken and that many common customs will be familiar to visitors.


While businessmen greet each other with a handshake, you should only shake a businesswoman's hand if it is offered to you - otherwise, a small bow will suffice, with any male to female contact generally avoided in public.

Business cards are commonplace in Myanmar and - unlike in many countries - it is good practice to quickly read the business card after it has been offered to you. Try to ensure your card designates that you have influence in your company, as this will increase the respect the contact has for you and boost the chance of further contact.

As Burmese is the main language of Myanmar, learning basic Burmese greetings is advisable and highly appreciated, as is learning some key facts about the country and city you are in. Most business meetings involving international participants take place in English, however, due to the country being a former British colony.


For formal occasions, the local attire is a shirt with no collar and longyi (sarong), while some wear western-style tops or a western-style suit. Businesswomen also wear longyi, generally teamed with with a dress or blouse. Foreign businessmen will find that smart casual attire such as a smart shirt or polo shirt with trousers is fine for most meetings, due to the heat.

Businesswomen should try to avoid wearing clothing that shows their shoulders or legs, and take into account extreme temperatures and humidity when choosing an outfit. It is also a common courtesy to take your shoes off when entering an office.

The culture of business

Patience is a virtue when doing business in Myanmar, and you will find that a willingness to build friendships and foster trust is vital to sealing a deal. Rushing ahead with little regard for the local culture may not only lead to frustration, but could even cause offence; be willing to meet two or three times before serious or in-depth matters can be discussed.

Another thing to consider is that no deal is final until the contract is written up - you will need to make contact several times before a matter is finalised, but Myanmar is renowned for its culture of hospitality and openness, so the exchanging of gifts or favours may speed up the process and is likely to be repaid.

Making the right connections is crucial, not only when networking but also when securing deals, and one way of going about this is to be introduced by a mutual, trusted contact - something true of most Asian countries.

Both business and politics in Myanmar are male dominated, but there is a proliferating amount of female influence at board level and within government. Equally, there is a strong tradition of respect for elders throughout both society and in business, and it is therefore customary to stand up when they enter a room.

Be aware that the opposite is also true, however, with some juniors bowing very deeply in respect to you when they enter the room. The gradual move towards a freer society is slowly eliminating this, but it is best to still be aware of such customs.

Finance and investment

Despite much of Myanmar still catching up with the technological age - from banks to the country's infrastructure - things are changing rapidly, due to the lifting of sanctions and return of many international financial institutions and trade organisations.

New laws have been drafted to help simplify and encourage foreign exchange and investment, and historical underinvestment in education has been tackled so that the Myanmar workforce is being upskilled both academically and technically.

Along with widespread investment in infrastructure and constant political and economic developments, the country is slowly making its mark on the global stage and emerging as a key business and investment destination.

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