Sunday, 15 January 2017

Extending Your Burmese Meditation Visa in Myanmar

As recently as a couple of decades ago, dedicated foreign Dhamma practitioners could not stay in Myanmar longer than a single week! Now, as the government wishes to allow and encourage foreign meditators and and Buddhists to have extended periods in the Golden Land to grow in Dhamma, one can get a "Religious Visa" (commonly called a "meditation visa") for a period of 70 days, which is then renewable indefinitely, and all without having to leave the country. A German yogi recently went through this process and shares his experience with others wishing to do the same:

- at first note that you should get the extension process started LATEST 3 weeks before your visa expires. because the process includes several institutions and only the last one is the immigration office which gives you a new visa in your passport. however you are unlikely to get an extension if your present visa is already expired and the result will be an unfortunate overstay stamp!
If you are sure you want to extend your visa I would recommend to start the extension process soon after your arrival to myanmar, as the process has been reported to sometimes have taken as long as 10 weeks!

- next thing it depends on is at which monastery or meditation center you are staying. many monasteries will get the extension process done for you! however some monasteries which have never done it before, may not be able to do so, which means some effort and adventure for you! but it is good to know that with the following guide it is still possible to do it on your own, even without a burmese translator! 

The Extension Process- you must find a monastery or meditation center which is officially registered and recognized by the government and which will be your warrantor/sponsor for the extension. Request them to write a request/sponsorship letter (in burmese) to the "Department of the promotion and propagation of the sasana" (let's call it "religious office") and to the Immigration office.
- this letter should contain your personal data such as full name, country of origin, passport number, date of birth, and the dates for the requested extension, as well as the contact data of the monastery.
- get two letters, one addressed to the religious office and one to the immigration office.
- with the respective letter you go to the religious office near Kabar Aye Pagoda (it is a building near the inner circle road around the Chatta Sanghayana Cave next to Kabar Aye Pagoda) and apply for the visa extension. you will need: passport (just for showing), sponsorship letter, copy of your passport and visa, 1 passport size picture, any other supportive papers (such as a "meditation letter" from your meditation center back home, which explains you are coming to burma for dhamma reasons. this can also be helpful for motivating your burmese monastery to sponsor your extension) (also note that you can easily get passport size photographs within 15 minutes from one of the photo shops at the main entrance gate opposite to the main road's bus stop at Kabar Aye pagoda)
- then they will send your application to Naypyidaw for processing, which takes at least 2 weeks.
- then they are supposed to call you once they got it back and you can pick up the approval letter from the religious office. in my case it took 3 weeks and they didn't call me, I had to call them a few times to check the status.
- then you have to go to the Immigration office in Yangon Downtown, Pansoedan Road. here you'll have to pay fees in US Dollar. and the cash counter is open only from 10am-2pm. to be sure you get it all done in 1 day, better arrive before 11am!
- here it is where the whole procedure becomes a little more complicated and you need to plan almost half a day from ~10am to ~3:30pm! but it is doable and definitely worth the experience and waiting time! :-) Be patient and always remember the motto of this day will be: "please wait!"
- you need to bring: passport, letter from the religious office, sponsorship letter from your monastery, 1 passport&visa copy, 7 passport size photographs. and money: small money for making copies of documents and: seperately 9 USD for the FRC (Foreign Registration Card) and 36 USD for extending 3 months or 90$ for extending more than 3 months. please note again: you can pay only in USD! for this you can change money at one of the nearby banks (bank opening hours are usually from 9am-3pm) (if you are short in passport photographs, you can see if you can make some in one of the copy shops next door, otherwise there are plenty of photo shops at sule pagoda which is just around the corner)
- first you need to go to the Immigration office. coming in you'll see many people sitting and waiting in a room and behind some glass walls, you see many officers. There is no reception anywhere so don't be confused, just be courageous, approach an officer and make her understand what you want by telling you want a "visa extension" and showing your visa and the letter from the religious office. they will search through a heap of papers to find another letter from the religious office in their archive and then give you a big bunch of papers which contains your letter and ask you to take several copies of both these letters in a nearby copy shop. you find copy shops down the road in both directions. once you have your copies, bring back the bunch of papers and then go to the upper office for the FRC. for this you step out from the Immigration office and take a left and just enter the next door again where you find signs with arrows leading you to "FRC".
you will step up the stairs to the first floor and end up in another chaotic place with lots of people and lots of officers without any understandable order. therefore be courageous and take your privilege as a foreigner to directly approach an officer with your issue. she will take some of the copies of the 2 letters from the religious office, and 5 passport size pictures. also give her your letter from the monastery as she can retrieve your personal data from that. also she may ask you to write down more details such as your present adress at which you should be registered for the FRC, (here you may use the address of your sponsoring monastery) or other details such as name of your father and your marital status. Wait for some time and they will give you an invoice of 9 dollars with which you have to go back down to the cash counter in the Immigration office. give them the 9 dollars and the invoice, then sit down and wait until they call you. you'll get back your stamped invoice which you bring up to the FRC office. give it to them and wait. finally you'll get your FRC letter, which is a long piece of paper. go out to make 1 copy of it and then with all the remaining documents (several letters from religious office; letter from your monastery; passport copy; 2 passport size photographs; copy of the FRC and your passport) go to the Immigration office in the basement. Again, here just go directly and approach on of the officers with your issue. she'll go through all your papers and give you an invoice of 36 dollars with which you go to the cash counter. after paying and waiting again, you'll get back your stamped invoice and bring it to the officer. she'll again go through all the papers and ask you to come back at 3pm. Come back at 3 and make yourself visible to your respective officer. she'll probably ask you one last time: "please wait." so sit down in the waiting area and wait until the smiling officer approaches you - hopefully with a new visa extension in your passport! :-)
(make sure to check all the dates of the visa, to avoid any mistakes or misunderstandings).

Practice diligently and attain nibbana for the benefit of all beings. 

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