Getting into Laos is easier than ever, and travelers from many countries can get 30-day tourist visa at nearly all border points.
Travelers holding passports from the following countries are not eligible for Laos Visas on Arrival: Afghanistan, Algeria, Bangladesh, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Jordan, Lesotho, Liberia, Libya, Mozambique, Nauru, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, Suriname, Syria, Swaziland, Tonga, Turkey, Zambia, Zimbabwe.
Tourist Visa on Arrival
The Lao government issues 30-day tourist visas on arrival at all international airports and most international border crossings.
You need between US$ 20 and US$ 42 cash, one passport-size photo, the name of a hotel or guesthouse and phone number. Those without a photo will have to pay an additional fee of about US$ 2. The visa fee varies depending on the passport of origin, with Canadians having to fork out the most (US$ 42) and most other nationalities paying between US$ 30 and US$ 35. It is recommended to pay in US$. No other foreign currencies are accepted at Airports. Overland you can use Thai Baht but the Visa fee becomes about 1,500 Thb which is approx. $48.
For those not eligible for a visa on arrival, Lao embassies and consulates abroad offer 30-day tourist visas. The process involves approximately the same cost and documentation as described above and generally takes three working days. In Bangkok you can get your visa on the same day for an additional 200B express fee.
Non-immigrant & Business Visas
Business visas, valid for 30 days, are relatively easy to obtain as long as you have a sponsoring agency in Laos. A business visa can be extended up to a year.
The 30-day tourist visa is extendable an additional 30 days at a cost of US$ 2 per day, although this can only be done in Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Visa can be extended for 30 days, two times, to the maximum stay duration of 3 months without leaving the country. Visa extensions are available at the Immigration Department in Vientiane, Immigration Office in Luang Prabang, the Police station in Pakse, Police Station opposite the Lao-Mongolian Hospital in Phonsavan. Visa extensions are not possible in Savannakhet, however you can do a visa run by crossing the border to Thailand.
Overstaying on a Visa
Overstaying a visa is not a major crime, but it is expensive. It costs US$ 10 for each day overstayed, paid at the immigration checkpoint on departure.
Customs inspections at ports of entry are lax as long as you’re not bringing in more than a moderate amount of luggage. You’re not supposed to enter the country with more than 500 cigarettes or 1 litre of distilled spirits. All the usual prohibitions on drugs, weapons and pornography apply.
The changeable weather in Laos varies between regions. Make sure to bring the appropriate clothes to where you seek your adventures.
All seasons offer great adventures and opportunities, check out our Event Calendar (link) for more details.
May to October time when short rains come down and bring the jungles into life, a great time to see rice cultivation. The markets are filled with an array of delicious fruits and vegetables.
Cooler seasons offer opportunities to snuggle around open fires and warm up over a lao lao or two. After the ends of the rain, waterfalls and natural pools are abundant with beautiful turquoise waters.
April the hottest months offers the fantastic New Year Festival Phi Mai, where you will cool down with days of water fights in the streets of Laos. Make sure to book accommodation in advance for this time.
General weather summary
November to April: Dry season
May to October: Green season, though it may start a little early in a couple of Laos’ northern provinces.
August is the wettest month.
November to February: Cooler months, You will need warmer clothes for the evenings, the further north the more the requirement for a warm jumper and a pair of socks.
March to April are blisteringly hot.
April is the hottest month.
Check out local weather forecast
Do’s & Don’ts
To make your travel experience more enjoyable in Laos, There are some simple but important Do’s and Don’ts you should remember throughout your stay.
By respecting Laos customs and culture you will get so much more from your experience in Laos, earning the respect from the local people makes for far more interesting and successful local interactions, and best of all, it will aid you getting those good prices in the local markets!
Take a look at the list below and read the cartoon (see link), which should help you remember what you should/should not do in Laos.
Respect local customs. Observe how locals behave and take cues from your tour guide on what’s appropriate. Remember, you are a guest in someone else’s home. Here is more info on cultural Dos and Don’ts in Laos.
Be mindful of Laos’ conservative culture. Dress conservatively – tank tops and bikinis are not appropriate attire to wear in villages or in town. Avoid overt public displays of affection and foul language.
Respect local people when taking their photographs, especially of children. Generally, locals are happy to be in your photos if you respect their space. If possible, ask permission first. Don’t follow people around and try to avoid snapping photos of them doing personal things like bathing. Show the photo to them after you’ve taken it.
Protect the environment and respect cultural resources. Be mindful of where you walk to avoid disturbing the natural ecosystem – stay on trekking paths or in designated areas. Help preserve Laos’ centuries-old architecture and archeological treasures by avoiding, climbing on or touching them.
Purchase local handicrafts and products to support the local economy. Plus, they make unique souvenirs! We don’t discourage bargaining but urge you to remember that a person’s livelihood depends on your purchase.
Do not engage in child sex exploitation, or exploitation of any kind.
Respect human rights in Laos just as you would at home.
TRAVEL IN & AROUND LAOS
Plane, boat, bus, scooter, we’ve got information on how to get in and around.
There are four international airports in Laos:
Wattay International Airport in Vientiane,
Luang Prabang International Airport,
Savannakhet International Airport
Pakse International Airport.
Lao Airlines is the national carrier and monopolises the majority of flights in and out of the country.
There are also other carriers that now provide domestic flights including Air Asia, Silk Air, Bangkok Airways, Hong Kong Express, Vietnam Airlines.
There are over a dozen international border crossings into Laos from Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia and China.
Lao / Thailand borders
Chong Mek / Vang Tao
For those planning on visiting far southern Laos from Thailand, the Chong Mek/Vang Tao crossing is the most convenient. From Thailand a regular bus runs from Ubon Ratchathani to the border town of Chong Mek taking 1-1.5 hours. Sometimes you may be required to change buses as Phibun Mangsahan depending on the bus caught. Once deposited at Chong Mek it is a five-minute walk through each crossing and regular songthaeaws run from Vang Tao to Pakse, taking about one hour. Visa on arrival is available.
Savannakhet / Mukdahan
With the construction of the Friendship Bridge II over the Mekong, all foreigners planning on travelling between Thailand and Laos at this crossing are required to use the bridge. Coming from Thailand, a minibus from Mukdahan takes you across the bridge itself, where tuk tuk drivers are always waiting to take you into Savannakhet. Lao visa on arrival is available.
Tha Khaek / Nakhon Phanom
This crossing takes travellers from the riverfront of central Nakhon Phanom to the riverfront of central Tha Khaek. Boats run around a half dozen times a day, seven days a week. There is a small fee for the boat. Lao visas on arrival are available.
Paksan / Bueng Kan
From Laos, follow the sign that says Port off the main road, just pass the Manolom Guest House. A boat across the Mekong River costs 60B when full (seven to ten people). Arrive in the morning to catch the day tripping Lao crossing to shop in Thailand to be sure of a full boat, otherwise it’s 360B per boat to cross. No Lao visa on arrival is available crossing to the Lao side from Thailand.
Vientiane / Nong Khai
Lao visa on arrival is available at this crossing, the most popular means of entering Laos by land. The crossing is actually around 20km from Vientiane and a few km from the centre of Nong Khai, but regular and affordable transport is available in both directions.
Vientiane / Ban Mo
A ferry crossing at 18:00 (in the dark) No Visa on arrival. Not commonly used.
Thai Li / Nam Hueng
This is a fairly remote crossing with a good road, north to Pak Lai and onwards to Luang Prabang.. There is no Lao visa on arrival available here, nor is there much at all in the way of regular public transport.
Huay Xai / Chiang Khong
The Chiang Khong/Huay Xai crossing is one of the most popular for independent travellers entering Laos from Thailand. A visa on arrival is available. Lao officials also charge an additional fees of $1/40B fee. If you arrive at the weekend, it is called a ‘weekend fee’, if you arrive after 16:00, it is called an ‘after hours fee’ and if you arrive during a weekday before 16:00, it is called a ‘processing fee’. After clearing customs, you proceed to the bus counter to purchase a bus ticket to drive across the friendship bridge. The bus journey is about 20 mins. When you have done your border formalities in Laos, you will need to take a songtaw to the city center of Huay Xai. It will take about 20 mins and cost around 20,000 Kip depending on group size. If you cross the border first thing in the morning, you will have plenty of time to catch a boat to Luang Prabang.
Laos / Cambodia borders
Veun Kham/ Dom Kralor
This is the only overland option between Laos and Cambodia, making it quite a popular option. Visa on arrival is now available in both directions. While this border used to be quite complicated, the crossing is now straightforward with most people opting to do it by direct minibus.
Lao / Vietnam borders
Sop Hun / Tay Trang
Daily buses leave daily from Dien Bien Phu to Muang Khua at 05:30. Lao visa on arrival is available at the border.
Na Maew / Nam Xoi
For those coming from Vietnam, this crossing offers convenient access into Hua Phan province. It is a short ride from the border to Sam Neua.
NamCan / Nam Khan
Convenient to the Lao town of Phonsavan and the large Vietnamese city of Vinh, this border a popular one for overland travellers. Coming from Vinh there are buses to Phonsavan. The trip is 403 km and should take about 12 hours. There are scheduled buses directly to Luang Prabang a total of 690 km, you need to check bus station for departure days. Lao visas on arrival are available.
Nam Phao / Cau Treo
Connecting the Lao town of Lak Xao and the large Vietnamese city of Vinh, this border is the crossing of choice for many overland travellers. There are buses in both directions.
Dansavanh / Lao Bao
This was the first land border between Laos and Vietnam to open for international travellers. It was for a long time the most popular, but many now opt for the more northern crossing near Lak Xao instead. This crossing is convenient for Hue in Vietnam and Savannakhet in Laos. Lao visas are available and through buses from Savannakhet to Hue and vice versa run daily.
Bo Y / Ngoc Hoi
Connecting Attapeu in Laos and Kontum in Vietnam, the border at Bo Y is wide open to foreigners, and now provides an interesting, if somewhat challenging, way to enter Vietnam/Laos. There are mini buses connecting in both directions.
Lao / China borders
Boten / Mengla
This is the only Lao border that is currently open to independent travellers. Lao visas on arrival are available. The border is about 42km north of Luang Nam Tha. There is regular transport between the two in the morning, but by early afternoon this fades out. There is accommodation available in Boten should you not cross the border in time for the last bus.
Health & Safety
As with all travel you should ensure you have up to date travel insurance that covers you in Laos.
Pharmacies are common across all of Laos and are stocked with antibiotics and other medicines and are more often than not, staffed with assistants who speak some English.
Hospitals and clinics are not a high standard but are very well equipped for diagnosing and treating Malaria/Dengue Fever and handling minor ailments and injuries. For anything serious you will need to be transferred to Thailand so in these instances having Travel insurance is a must.
Vientiane is malaria-free, but if you’re visiting remote regions, consider taking anti-malaria medication and using insect repellant with DEET. Get your own individual recommendations from your travel clinic.
Laos is fairly free of crime in tourist areas. Pickpocketing is rare, but you should still be careful in crowded areas. Never leave luggage unattended.
Penalties for drug possession are severe, and since the early 2000’s Laos has introduced the death penalty for serious drug offences. Take care in bars and restaurants if the word happy is used. This is normally an indication that some form of drug will be part of the ingredients.
Expect a hefty fine up if a foreigner is caught having sexual relations with a Lao person. Please remember that this is also very much against Lao Culture and can affect the Lao person in his or her society well after you have left the country.
It is always best to trek with a qualified tour company and guide when out in remote areas, there are still many areas with UXO’s around.
Do not photograph anything that may have military significance, like airports or military installations.
Mosquito repellant is available but it is extremely hard to find one that contains DEET. Sun lotion is available but normally in small bottles and very limited options. It is advisable to stock up on these products before entering Laos.
Lao Lao or Lao Khao is the local rice whisky and forms a strong part of Lao culture. It is a homemade rice whisky and it can be as little as 20% Alcohol proof up to a staggering 80% +
Know your limits!
Travel With Children
The Lao adore children and in many instances will shower attention on your offspring, who will readily find playmates among their Lao peers and a temporary nanny service at practically every stop.
Like many places in Southeast Asia, travelling with children in Laos can be a lot of fun as long as you come prepared with the right attitude. Baby formula and nappies (diapers) are available at mini markets in most towns and cities, but bring along a sufficient supply to rural areas.
For the most part parents needn’t worry too much about health concerns, although it pays to lay down a few ground rules – such as regular hand-washing or using hand-cleansing gel – to head off potential medical problems. All the usual health precautions apply.