Trade Guide: Myanmar

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Myanmar, or the Republic of the Union of Myanmar (formerly Burma), is the second largest country in Southeast Asia, with a population slightly over 51 million. Administratively, Myanmar has seven states and seven regions, many of which are divided along ethnic lines.

Business Culture and Etiquette

Doing business in Myanmar requires patience, as well as a willingness to build friendships and foster trust. Several meetings are sometimes necessary before getting down to more serious detailed discussions.

Myanmar has a deep culture of hospitality and openness, and exchanging gifts and favors is ingrained in the society. If a gift is received, it should be reciprocated at a later date, or foreign business representatives should have one prepared in advance.

Myanmar society has traditionally been built on order, respect for elders, and an overarching reverence for the Buddhist religion and the monks who represent it. The people of Myanmar can be very friendly and helpful to visitors, but they expect foreigners to adapt to their codes of conduct.

When introduced to people in Myanmar it is considered polite to refer to them by their title and full name. Burmese names can be long, but should never be shortened in address. There are many different honorific titles, but the most commonly used among business associates are “U” which is the equivalent of “Mr.” and “Daw,” which can be interpreted as “Mrs.,” “Ms.” or “Madam.”

 Using both hands to present and receive cards is a show of respect, as is taking a few seconds to read it.

Attire should be conservative and formal. Myanmar has a hot, equatorial climate so lightweight suits for men are acceptable. Women should wear either a skirt suit or a blouse and skirt. Ensure that the skirt is of a conservative length (below the knee is preferable) and avoid bright colors. Most business people in Myanmar will dress similarly when dealing with foreigners, but some may still wear a traditional sarong-type garment with a western shirt or blouse.

Building good relationships is key to success. Reaching business agreements can, therefore, be a lengthy process. Culturally, Myanmar business people are not generally quick decision makers, as they prefer to consult with others before making decisions. Do not expect to do business immediately or on the first visit. Signs of impatience should be avoided.

Business lunches in Myanmar tend to be all business, while dinners usually signify a more relaxed informal meeting between closer business acquaintances. Receiving an invitation to a dinner may indicate that your business relationship with the host is moving to a higher level. Drinking alcohol and cigarette smoking is a normal part of social activity for men but is still uncommon for women. 

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