LaosOfficial Name: Lao People's Democratic Republic
Six months from date of entry
BLANK PASSPORT PAGES:
One page required for entry stamp
TOURIST VISA REQUIRED:
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR ENTRY:
The import and export of local currency is not permitted. 2500 USD or equivalent in foreign currency must be declared
CURRENCY RESTRICTIONS FOR EXIT:
The import and export of local currency is not permitted. 2500 USD or equivalent in foreign currency must be declared
Embassies and Consulates
Thadeua Road, Km 9
Ban Somvang Thai
Vientiane, Lao PDR
Telephone: +(856) (21) 267-000
Emergency After-Hours Telephone: +(856) (20) 5550-2016
Fax: +(856) (21) 267-190
The Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Laos) is a developing country ruled by an authoritarian, Communist, one-party government. Political power is centralized in the Lao People’s Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang but they are extremely limited in other parts of the country. Please read the Department of State’s Fact Sheet on Laos for additional information.
Entry, Exit & Visa Requirements
You must have both a passport and visa to enter Laos; your passport must also have at least six months validity remaining from the date of entry. You can get a visa on arrival in Laos if you are traveling for tourism, have two passport-size photographs and pay 35 USD at the following ports of entry: Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Pakse, Savannakhet, and Luang Prabang Airports; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane and Savannakhet; Nam Heuang Friendship Bridge, Sayabouly Province; and border crossings at Boten-Mohan, Dansavan-Lao Bao, Houaysay-Chiang Khong, Thakhek-Nakhon Phanom, Nong Haet-Nam Kan, Nam Phao-Kao Cheo, Veun Kham-Dong Calor and Vangtao-Chong Mek. You can also get a visa on arrival at the Tha Naleng train station in Vientiane, which connects to the train station in Nongkhai, Thailand. If you obtain a visa from a Lao embassy or consulate prior to your travel to Laos, you may also enter at the following international entry points: Napao-Chalo, Taichang-Sophoun, Pakxan-Bungkan, and Xiengkok.
You will generally be allowed to stay in Laos for 30 days after you arrive. If you were born in Laos, you may be admitted for 60 days or longer. You can extend your 30-day tourist visa up to an additional 60 days for a fee of 2 USD per day through the Department of Immigration in Vientiane. If you overstay your visa in Laos, you risk arrest and will be fined 10 USD for each day of overstay when you depart the country. The Lao government calculates visa fees and fines in U.S. dollars. Thai baht and Lao kip may sometimes be accepted for the fees but at unfavorable exchange rates. If you plan to visit Laos, additional information is available from the Lao National Tourism Administration.
If you wish to obtain a visa in advance, please contact a Lao embassy or consulate. In the United States, you can get visa and other information about Lao entry requirements from the Embassy of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923. If you enter Laos with a visitor visa issued at a Lao embassy abroad, you will be allowed to stay in Laos for 60 days.
Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane and request a visa for you and offer a “guarantee.” Once the Lao MFA approves the request, the approval will be sent to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC, and business travelers may then apply for the business visa. This process usually takes one to three months. After you arrive, you can generally extend your business visas for one month.
Do not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside of official ports of entry. You should not cross the border between Laos and Thailand along the Mekong River except at official immigration check crossings. If you attempt to enter Laos outside of official ports of entry, you may be arrested, detained, fined, and deported.
Immigration offices at some of the less-used land border crossing points are not well marked. Make sure you complete all immigration and customs requirements when you enter or depart Laos. If you enter Laos without completing these formalities, you may be subject to fines, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have initiated additional procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship, such as the child’s birth certificate, and permission for the child’s travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
At the Friendship Bridge (Vientiane, Laos - Nong Khai, Thailand border crossing) there is an overtime fee after 4:00 pm weekdays and during weekends. Visit the Embassy of Laos web site for the most current information.
The U.S. Department of State is unaware of any HIV/AIDS entry restrictions for visitors to or foreign residents of Laos.
Information about dual nationality or the prevention of international child abduction can be found on our web site. For further information about customs regulations, please read our Customs Information page.
Safety and Security
The Department of State recommends that if you travel to or reside in Laos, exercise caution and be alert to your surroundings at all times.
The Lao government security forces often stop and check all transport on main roads, particularly at night. You must comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks. Especially if you are considering travel outside urban centers, please contact relevant Lao government offices, such as Lao Immigration Police Headquarters in Vientiane, the Lao Tourist Police, local police and customs offices, or the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information. To avoid trouble with the authorities, if you are traveling outside of normal tourist areas or contemplating any unusual activity (including, but not limited to, engaging in business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind), be sure to seek advance permission from the Village Chief, District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.
The large amount of unexploded ordnance (UXO) left over from the Indochina War causes more than 300 casualties per year. UXO can be found in some parts of Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, Luang Prabang, and Vientiane Provinces. In addition, numerous mine fields are left over from the war along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). Never pick up unknown metal objects and avoid traveling off well-used roads, tracks, and paths.
You should also exercise caution in remote areas along the Lao border with Burma. Bandits, drug traffickers and other people pursuing illegal activities operate in these border areas, as do armed insurgent groups opposed to the government of Burma.
To stay connected:
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.
- Follow the Bureau of Consular Affairs on Twitter and Facebook.
- Bookmark the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, which contains the current Travel Warnings and Travel Alerts as well as the Worldwide Caution.
- Follow the U.S. Embassy in Laos on Facebook or by visiting the Embassy’s website.
- In the event of an emergency, contact us at 1-888-407-4747 toll-free within the United States and Canada, or via a regular toll line, 1-202-501-4444, from other countries.
- Take some time before traveling to consider your personal security and checking for useful tips for traveling safely abroad.
CRIME: In general, Laos has a high rate of crime, and over the past year there has been an increase in violent crimes involving weapons. You should remain aware of your surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions at all times. Residential burglary is common. There have been confirmed reports of armed robberies of foreigners, some of which have occurred in broad daylight. There have also been reports of sexual assaults on foreigners both in Vientiane and Vang Vieng. You should exercise caution, particularly after dark, at roadside restaurants, bars, and stalls. Never leave food or drinks unattended. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers and be wary at bars, clubs, restaurants, and parties due to the possibility of consuming food or drinks that have been spiked with drugs. Foreigners have reported incidents of drug-related rapes. Please exercise caution on overnight bus trips, particularly on buses travelling to/from Vietnam. The Embassy has received reports of scams and thefts of personal belongings.
Purse, Backpack, and Satchel Snatchings: Thieves on motorcycles will speed up from behind a victim, and the passenger on the back of the motorcycle snatches a purse, handbag, or cellular phone. These types of thefts occur at all hours and often in front of large groups of witnesses, even in upscale neighborhoods frequented by expatriates. Increasingly, robbers will even confront a victim traveling within a larger group. Women walking by themselves or with small children are the most common targets, but men walking or jogging alone have also been targeted. Victims have been injured and killed after falling and being dragged behind thieves in cars or on motorcycles. Some thieves have slashed or cut victims in order to shock the victim into immediately releasing valuable items.
Be alert and aware of your surroundings. Walk facing traffic and keep a close eye on all approaching vehicles, particularly motorcycles. If possible, try to walk on the part of the sidewalk that is away from the curb. Avoid poorly lit streets, shortcuts, and narrow alleys, but be aware that attacks may occur anywhere. Purses or shoulder bags should be closed and tucked under your arm. Do not wrap the strap around your arm or shoulder. People have been injured or killed by being pulled to the ground by their purse straps as the thieves sped off. Laotians often wear jackets backwards over their clothing with purses and bags underneath to keep valuables out of sight of potential thieves. Avoid placing bags in the front basket of bicycles. Theft and violent crime increases significantly prior to major local festivals, holidays, and other events. If your purse or bag is snatched, report the incident as soon as possible to the police.
Drugs: Possession of, trafficking in, and manufacture of drugs are serious offenses in Laos. Those caught face lengthy prison sentences or even the death penalty. There are restaurants in Laos that offer menu items, particularly “pizzas” or “shakes,” that may contain unknown substances or opiates. These products are often advertised as “happy” or “special” items. These unknown substances or opiates can be dangerous, causing serious illness or even death. Travelers in Vang Vieng and Vientiane have been fined and detained for purchasing, possessing, or using illegal substances. In recent years, foreigners, including U.S. citizens, have died in Laos after using illegal drugs, such as methamphetamines, opium, or heroin. The potency of some of these drugs can be several times that of similar substances found in the United States.
Motorcycle/Scooter Rental Scams: Motorbike rental scams are common in areas frequented by foreign tourists, such as Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Vientiane. Rental companies may require your passport as a deposit or collateral, and will hold your passport or give it to the Lao police to hold until you pay for any damage. The Embassy receives many reports of renters having been charged exorbitant amounts for damage to motorbikes, even in instances where the renter had caused no visible damage. A variation of this scam occurs when the motorbike is “stolen,” and the rental agency demands that the renter pay two or three times the reasonable price of the motorbike to replace it.
Be cautious about rental arrangements and never turn over your passport as a deposit or collateral. Instead, allow them to make a copy of your passport, or an imprint of your credit card. Be certain to examine the vehicle and note any pre-existing damage before agreeing to rent and operate the vehicle. If possible, document the vehicle’s condition with before and after photos. Find out and agree upon the replacement cost of the motorcycle if it gets stolen ahead of time. If you purchase insurance from the rental shop, get a receipt showing you paid for insurance and be sure you know what the insurance policy covers in case of an accident.
You may also want to consider bringing your own sturdy lock and chain, or purchase one from a hardware store (don’t use one from the motorcycle rental company) to tie around the wheel and frame of the motorbike to deter theft. If you find yourself a victim of one of these scams, you will need to attempt to recover your passport by involving the local Lao Tourist Police and documenting the situation with a police report. The Embassy cannot intervene on your behalf in personal financial disputes. However, if your passport is lost or stolen, you can apply for a replacement passport at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
Counterfeit and pirated goods: These goods are widely available in Laos, but don’t buy them. Not only are they illegal in the United States, if you purchase them, you may also be breaking local law.
VICTIMS OF CRIME: If you or someone you know becomes the victim of a crime abroad, you should contact the local police and the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate. We can:
- Replace a stolen passport.
- Help you find appropriate medical care if you are the victim of violent crimes such as assault or rape.
- Put you in contact with the appropriate police authorities, and if you want us to, we can contact family members or friends.
- Help you understand the local criminal justice process and direct you to local attorneys, although it is important to remember that local authorities are responsible for investigating and prosecuting the crime.
The local equivalent to the “911” emergency lines in Laos are 190 for fire, 191 for traffic police, and 195 for ambulance. The Tourist Police can be reached in Vientiane at 021-251-128.
Please see our information for victims of crime, including possible victim-compensation programs in the United States.
Local Laws & Special Circumstances
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While you are traveling in Laos, you are subject to its laws even if you are a U.S. citizen. Foreign laws and legal systems can be vastly different from our own. In Laos, you may be taken in for questioning if you don’t have your passport with you. It is also illegal to take pictures of certain buildings. Please see Special Circumstances below. Driving under the influence of alcohol or other drugs could land you immediately in jail. There are also some things that might be legal in Laos, but still illegal in the United States. Engaging in sexual conduct with minors or using or disseminating child pornography in a foreign country is a crime prosecutable in the United States. If you break local laws in Laos, your U.S. passport won’t help you avoid arrest or prosecution. It’s very important to know what’s legal and what’s not where you are going.
Arrest notifications in host country: If you are arrested in Laos, you have the option to request that the police, prison officials, or other authorities alert the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane of your arrest, and to have communications from you forwarded to the Embassy.
Travel of Foreigners within Laos: The Lao tourist police have informed foreign tourists that a licensed Lao tour guide must accompany any group of more than five foreign tourists; however, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced. The authorities may restrict travel in rural areas outside of popular tourist destinations. Restricted areas may not be marked or even widely known by local citizens. If you travel without a reputable tour guide who is aware of local conditions, please talk to local authorities before entering remote areas away from obvious tourist destinations. Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen — including a family member — stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief. You may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for your visit. U.S. citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.
Surveillance: Security personnel may at times place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel rooms, telephones, and fax machines may be monitored and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
Relationships with Lao Citizens: Lao law prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national risks being interrogated, detained, arrested, or fined. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to 5,000 USD on foreigners who enter into unapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.
If you plan to marry a Lao national, you are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao government. The formal application process can take as long as a year. You can obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Lao government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of 500–5,000 USD and deportation. If you cohabit with or enter into a close relationship with a Lao national, you may be accused by Lao authorities of entering into an illegal marriage and be subject to these same penalties. If you wish to become engaged to a Lao national, you must also obtain prior permission from the chief of the village where the Lao national resides. Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of 500–5,000 USD. Lao police may impose a large fine on a foreign citizen a few days after he or she holds an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.
Marriage: A Lao Prime Ministerial decree requires that marriages of Lao citizens performed abroad be registered with Lao embassies in order to be legal in Laos. If you marry a Lao citizen in the United States, when you visit or return to Laos, you may be subject to penalties under the Lao law governing sexual relationships (above) if your marriage has not been registered beforehand with a Lao embassy.
Religious Workers: Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited. If you are caught distributing religious material, you may be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the importation of religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the Government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups. Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside of established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.
Photography and Other Restrictions: If you photograph anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest — including, but not limited to, bridges, airfields, military installations, government buildings or government vehicles — you may be detained or arrested, and local authorities may confiscate your camera or phone. Be cautious when traveling near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating military base areas. Lao military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who have unknowingly passed by unmarked military facilities. Because of the prohibition on religious proselytizing, you should avoid taking photographs or videotaping non-Buddhist religious services. If attending public services or religious gatherings, ask permission from the local police and civil authorities to photograph or videotape. Please see the section above on Religious Workers. Local police may suspect persons using any kind of sophisticated still or video camera equipment of being professional photographers or possibly photojournalists, which may lead to questioning, detention, arrest, or deportation.
Financial Transactions: Network-connected ATMs are available in Vientiane, including those operated by the Australia and New Zealand Bank (ANZ) and the Foreign Commercial Bank of Laos, also known as the Banque Pour le Commerce Exterieur de Laos (BCEL). BCEL also has network-connected ATMs in Vang Vieng, and most provincial capitals. These machines are generally limited to withdrawals of the equivalent of about 200 USD in Lao kip only. Credit cards are accepted at major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses. Credit card cash advances and/or Western Union money transfers are available at banks in most provincial capitals and other tourist centers. While the government requires that prices be quoted in Lao kip, prices are often given in U.S. dollars or Thai baht, especially in tourist areas or at markets. The Lao government requires payment in U.S. dollars for some taxes and fees, including visa fees and overstay fines.
Customs/Currency Regulations: Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as firearms, religious materials, antiquities, foreign currency, cameras, phones and other items. Please contact the Embassy of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information regarding customs requirements. Please also see section on “Religious Workers” above. Prohibitions exist against importing or exporting more than 2,500 USD or the equivalent of currency without authorization. Contact the Lao Embassy or Lao customs authorities for more details.
WOMEN TRAVELER INFORMATION: If you are a woman traveling abroad, please review our travel tips for Women Travelers.
LGBT RIGHTS: There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations, or the organization of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) events in Laos. However, discrimination and social stigma toward same sex couples is widely observed. For more detailed information about LGBT rights in Laos you may review the State Department’s annual Country Reports on Human Rights Practices. For further information on LGBT travel, please read our LGBT Travel Information page.
ACCESSIBILITY: While in Laos, individuals with disabilities may find accessibility and accommodation very different from what they find in the United States. Lao law does not mandate accessibility to buildings or government services for persons with disabilities. Vientiane has some local regulations providing building access, but these regulations are not effectively enforced. Currently, except for buildings and hotels that have been built under international standards, most public places and public transportation are not accessible. Persons with disabilities will face difficulties in Laos because foot paths, rest rooms, road crossings, and tourist areas are not well equipped.
Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, the Primary Care Center, also known as the Centre medical de L’Ambassade de France (CMAF), is supported by the French Embassy. The CMAF is located on Khou Vieng Road across the street from the Green Park Hotel, tel. 856-21-214-150, or 856-20-5558-4617, or email. The Australian government also supports a fee-for-service clinic located at the Australian Embassy which is located at Kilometer 4 on Thadeua Road, tel. 21-353-840. Both facilities have well trained physicians who can handle routine and urgent health problems and provide travel medicine services. Wattana Hospital Group from Thailand operates the Alliance International Medical Centre (tel. 856-21-513-095) at the Honda Complex on Souphanuvong Road, near the airport. Alliance provides basic clinical services by Thai physicians.
U.S. citizens in Laos often seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos, to Nong Khai, Thailand, is open daily 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in cases of medical emergency. Aek Udon International Hospital (tel: 66-42-342-555), Bangkok Hospital Udon (tel: 66-42-343-111), and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital, all in Udon Thani, Thailand (tel: 66-1-833-4262), have English-speaking staff accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Ambulances for both Aek Udon International Hospital and Nong Khai Wattana Hospital have permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) can take patients to Thailand.
The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.
Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a problem throughout Southeast Asia. Please be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies and with a physician’s prescription.
Avian influenza (H5N1) continues to be a concern in Laos. You should avoid poultry farms, contact with animals in live food markets, and any surfaces that appear to be contaminated with feces from poultry or other animals. For information on influenza, please refer to the Department of State’s Influenza Fact Sheet.
You can find good information on vaccinations and other health precautions, on the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.
Travel & Transportation
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in Laos, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of who was at fault. A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for the police to arrive to prepare an accident report. If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent. If you are involved in an accident, you may contact the Embassy where the list of lawyers is available. When renting a car, motorcycle, or bicycle, we advise you not to give your original U.S. passport to the owner of the vehicle as surety against loss, theft, or damage to the vehicle.
Traffic in Laos is chaotic, and road conditions are very rough. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Many drivers are unlicensed, inexperienced, and uninsured. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, and penalties for such offenses may not be enforced. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road. Motorcyclists pay little or no heed to cars. Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers’ ability to react to traffic. The evening hours are particularly dangerous. Road construction sites are poorly marked, appear with no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and trucks without reflectors commonly park on unlit roads.
Exercise caution when traveling the roads of Laos, and be sure to check with local authorities, transport companies, other travelers, and/or the Embassy regarding any recent road developments prior to travel. Road obstacles, such as changes in surface conditions due to the weather, occur frequently.
Public transportation is unreliable and is limited after sunset. Automobile taxis or cars for hire are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, most major hotels, and near the Morning Market in Vientiane. The most common form of public transport is a three-wheeled, open-sided taxi called "tuk-tuks.” Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor repair, and drivers generally speak little or no English. Inter-city transport is provided by buses, vans, pickups, and trucks, any of which may also be in poor repair.
Emergency services in Laos are either unreliable or non-existent. Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital.
Water Safety: Travel by speedboat on rivers in Laos is dangerous, especially when water levels are low. White water rafting, kayaking, tubing, and other water-based activities, including swimming in the Mekong, are dangerous and incidents of foreigners drowning and enduring serious injuries have been reported. Do not participate in any water-based activities while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Laos does not have the same health and safety precautions as those in the United States. Please be aware that safety advice will be minimal and there may not be warning signs at tourist sites.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service to the United States by carriers registered in Laos, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed the Lao Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) aviation safety standards for oversight of Laos’s air carrier operations. Further information may be found on the FAA safety assessment page.