Yangon, Myanmar is the 10th most expensive cities for expatriate rental housing, according to our friends at AIRINC. Mercer’s 2015 Cost of Living Survey found that the cost of living in Yangon’s (Myanmar’s commercial center) is higher than Paris and Osaka — rising 38 places over last year.
If this surprises you, you are not alone. Myanmar (also called Burma) is a fascinating country that is full of surprises and challenges. Starting with housing, it may come as a revelation that landlords typically require one year’s rent up front. It helps to have an agent assist in an expatriate’s search for accommodations. They can also support any efforts to get the landlord’s attention for a repair once you’ve paid for an entire year in advance. Renters have little leverage when there is no upcoming rent to withhold. In many cases, tenants end up handling fixes themselves.
In Yangon, housing preferred by expats is expensive. This is partly due to the influx of foreigners since the country ended its five decades of isolation in 2011, coupled with the rarity of housing expatriates consider suitable. Transferees may find housing prices surprising, considering Myanmar ‘s overall poverty. But if expectations are managed and patience is exercised, an appropriate home may be found.
Outside the home, more surprises lurk. A former British colony, driving was on the left side of the road until 1970. Now people drive on the right, but the majority of vehicles on the road still have right-side steering wheels. An odd sight to many.
Charles Leo of DSP Relocations Asia provided this driving insight, as well as another: Since Myanmar is essentially a cash economy, people often carry substantial amounts of money with them. Newcomers may be caught off guard to observe men carrying shoulder bags, but in fact these are very convenient for toting cash and other items.
Now one of the poorest countries in Southeast Asia, Burma was once one of the wealthiest. Fifty years of military isolationism have taken a toll. According to veteran journalist Barbara Crossette, Myanmar is not so much a ‘least developed country’, but rather a country in need of resurrection. Though it faces many challenges, it is definitely experiencing a revival, with many international sanctions lifted, eight percent economic growth in recent years, and opportunities for improvement in almost every aspect of its infrastructure.
Occupying a strategic location between China and India, Myanmar is poised for further change following the elections that took place on Sunday. The opposition party, National League for Democracy (NLD), showed strong numbers in the results and promises to gain parliamentary seats. The president him- or herself is elected by Parliament early next year.
Find out more about this dynamic country when our IRC report is released in December.
Written by Ellen Harris, International Product Director, Living Abroad