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Laos

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Laos. Use common sense. Look out for suspicious behaviour. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local conditions.
  • Reconsider your need to travel in Xaisomboun province, east of Vang Vieng, because of potential for armed attacks. There have been several shootings and detonations of improvised explosive devices, resulting in deaths and injuries.
  • Australians have died or been injured in accidents along the river at Vang Vieng. Check your travel insurance will cover you and assess risks before taking part in water activities. See Local travel.
  • Tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are likely during the wet season, which usually falls May to November. See Natural disasters.
  • Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the death penalty. More information: Laws.
  • Visa exemptions for travelling to Thailand through a land border crossing are restricted to two entries per calendar year. See Entry and exit.
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit


Visas 

You'll need a visa to enter Laos.

If you're visiting Laos for tourism, you can get a 30-day tourist visa on arrival at a number of locations, including the International Airports in Vientiane and Luang Prabang and at some land border crossings. To apply you'll need two blank pages in your passport and two recent passport-size photos.

In other circumstances, you'll need to apply for a visa from the Embassy of Laos before you travel. More information: Department of Immigration of Laos

Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice. Contact an Embassy or Consulate of Laos for up-to-date information.

Some travellers to Laos choose to travel by road to Thailand to renew their visa for Laos. Since December 2016, Thailand has limited this practice by restricting the number of visa exemptions it will grant for entries to Thailand by land to two per person per calendar year. This restriction doesn't apply to arrivals in Thailand through international airports. More information: Thailand

Other formalities

Use only official border crossing points to enter Laos and make sure you get an entry stamp on arrival. If you don't, you could be fined or detained.

Passport

Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. Always keep it in a safe place.

Ensure your passport is valid for at least six months beyond the date you intend to return to Australia. Lao immigration authorities may refuse you entry, or fine you, if you have less than six months' validity.

If your passport is lost or stolen, you must notify the Australian Government as soon as possible.

If your passport is lost or stolen in Laos, you will also need to:

  • get a police report from the nearest police station
  • present the police report to the Department of Immigration of Laos in Vientiane to get a Certificate of Loss
  • get a replacement passport at the Australian Embassy in Vientiane, and
  • get an exit visa from the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Vientiane (which can take two working days).

If you don't take all these steps, you could be fined or detained by immigration authorities.

Money

The local currency is the Lao Kip (LAK). You can't purchase or exchange Lao Kip outside Laos. Thai Baht and U.S. dollars are widely accepted. Only exchange money at official bank outlets.

ATMs are widely available in major cities in Laos, including Vientiane capital, Luang Prabang and Pakse.

Credit cards are accepted at high-end hotels and restaurants. Contact your bank to ensure that your cards will work in Laos.

Safety and security

Crime

Violent opportunistic crime such as robbery occurs, including in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Local media has reported violent muggings with guns and knives in Vientiane. Gun ownership is banned but illegal guns are sometimes used, resulting in deaths and injuries.

Petty crime, including bag snatching by thieves on motorcycles and theft from guesthouses, occurs frequently, especially in tourist areas. In the lead up to local festivals, such as Lao New Year in April, there is a significant increase in theft and violent crime. Thieves often operate in pairs, with one creating a diversion while the other steals unguarded items.

There have been a number of drug-related deaths among travellers in Laos. Some restaurants in popular tourist locations offer drug-laced food and drink which may contain harmful and unknown substances. Travellers have been assaulted after accepting spiked food or drinks.

Foreigners have been sexually assaulted, including in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Excessive consumption of alcohol may make you more vulnerable to violent crime including robbery and assault.

Thieves sometimes target foreigners travelling in rural and remote locations, especially along Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) and Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province).

In the region east of Vang Vieng in Xaisomboun province, there have been several shooting incidents and detonations of improvised explosive devices, resulting in multiple deaths and injuries, including of civilians.

  • Be conscious of your surroundings and pay attention to your personal safety and security at all times, especially at night and when riding bicycles or motorcycles.
  • Carry only what you need. Leave other valuables in a secure location.
  • Don't tempt thieves – avoid wearing expensive watches, jewellery and cameras.
  • Avoid carrying bags that are easy to snatch. Walk on footpaths (where available), away from the curb, with your bag held on the opposite side to the traffic.
  • Avoid placing bags or valuables in the front basket of your bicycle or motorbike.
  • Guard against pickpocketing and other petty theft, especially in tourist areas and crowds. Be alert to attempts to distract you.
  • Never accept food or drinks from strangers.
  • Never leave food or drinks unattended. If you aren't sure if something is safe, leave it.
  • If you're drinking, stick with people you trust. Look out for each other.
  • Stick to well-lit public areas at night, especially in tourist cities and towns.
  • Avoid travelling alone at night.
  • Travel only on well-used, well-lit roads. Be alert to bandits along rural roads, especially Routes 6 and 7.
  • Reconsider your need to travel your need to travel in Xaisomboun province, east of Vang Vieng, due to the potential for attacks.   
  • Read Sexual Assault Overseas before you travel. It includes information on how to reduce the risk of becoming a victim of sexual assault and on the assistance available to victims.
  • If you become a victim of violent crime, especially rape, seek immediate medical attention – HIV/AIDS occurs in Laos. Contact the Australian Embassy in Vientiane as soon as possible. See Where to get help.

More information: Partying safely

Scams

Australians have reported cases where hire companies have demanded large amounts of compensation for existing damage to motorcycles. There have also been reports claiming that hire companies have arranged for motorbikes to be stolen from the renter, with the renter being forced to pay thousands of dollars in compensation, including the value of a new motorbike plus lost earnings.

You could also encounter credit card and Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) fraud.

  • Only use a reputable vehicle hire company.
  • Take date-stamped photos of your vehicle before you hire it to record any existing damage.
  • Don't provide your passport as a deposit or guarantee for hiring motorcycles.
  • Check for skimming machines before using ATMs
  • Take care not to expose your PIN to others, particularly when using ATMs.
  • Keep your credit card in sight at all times, including during transactions.
  • Monitor your transaction statements.

Civil unrest and political tension

Isolated incidents of civil unrest, including armed attacks and bombings, have occurred. Foreigners, including Australians, are not normally targeted.

Protests and demonstrations are illegal.

Curfews may be enforced and can include roadblocks, spot roadside checks and occasional raids on premises.

  • Avoid any protests, demonstrations or political activity. 
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.

Terrorism

There is a low threat of terrorism.

Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. More information: Terrorist threat worldwide

Local travel

Mekong Riverbank, Vientiane

The Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane is a border of Laos and Thailand. It is a known smuggling route and is strictly patrolled by Lao and Thai border security. Those suspected of smuggling are likely to be questioned and may be detained.

Lao authorities advise tourists to exercise caution along the Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane. A 10:30pm curfew is enforced. If you're in the area after 10:30pm, you could face a fine, questioning, arrest or detention.

Vang Vieng river activities

Australians have been killed or seriously injured while participating in water activities such as tubing and jumping into the river at Vang Vieng. River levels can vary during the year and the presence of debris can make diving or jumping into the river very dangerous.

Tours and adventure activities

The safety standards you might expect of transport and tour operators, including for adventure activities such as river tubing, are not always met. 'Fast boat' river travel, in particular, can be dangerous due to excessive speed and natural hazards. Sufficient safety equipment may not be provided and recommended maintenance standards and safety precautions may not be observed.

If you plan to participate in adventure activities, including 'fast boat' travel and river tubing/jumping:

  • first talk to your travel insurer to check if the activity is covered by your insurance policy
  • check weather conditions, river levels and other factors that may affect safety and be prepared to cancel or change your plans, even if others don't
  • don't be afraid to ask about or insist on minimal safety requirements
  • always use available safety equipment, such as lifejackets or seatbelts, even if others don't
  • if appropriate safety equipment is not available, use another provider.

Unexploded ordnance

Unexploded ordnance (UXO) remains in many parts of Laos, particularly in Xieng Khouang province (location of The Plain of Jars) and the Lao-Vietnamese border areas along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Affected areas are often unmarked.

  • Never stray from established walking paths and roads.
  • Don't touch or pick up UXO or unidentified metal objects.

Road travel

Road travel in Laos can be hazardous. Hazards include poorly maintained roads and vehicles, local driving practices, livestock on rural roads and a lack of road lighting. The number of road accidents and fatalities, particularly at night and involving motorcycles, has risen sharply in recent years.

Police undertake frequent checks of motorists in towns and have checkpoints in rural areas. Failure to provide identification when requested may result in fines or detention.

  •  Check you have adequate insurance cover before driving.
  • Familiarise yourself with local traffic laws and practices before driving.
  • Carry photo identification at all times.
  • Drive defensively and legally.
  • Don't drink and drive.
  • Avoid driving at night, where possible, especially on rural roads.
  • Travel only on well-used, well-lit roads. Be alert to bandits along rural roads, especially Routes 6 and 7. See Safety and security.
  • Check and observe and curfews.

More information: Road safety and driving

Driver's licence

You can drive in Laos with a valid Australian driver's licence and an International Driving Permit (IDP). You must get your IDP before departing Australia.

More information: Australian Embassy, Vientiane

Motorcycles

Bag snatchers often target motorcyclists. See Safety and security.

Some motorcycle hire companies engage in scams that could cost you thousands of dollars. See Safety and security.

If you decide to ride a motorcycle in Laos:

  • first check you have adequate insurance cover and check for any restrictions that may apply (such as that you must be licensed to ride a motorcycle in Australia)
  • only use a reputable vehicle hire company
  • read the rental contract thoroughly and make sure that the vehicle is fully insured to cover damage and theft
  • don't provide your passport as a deposit or guarantee
  • take date-stamped photos of your vehicle before you hire it to record any existing damage
  • wear an appropriate helmet.

Taxis

Use only registered taxis and limousines, preferably those arranged through your hotel. Be alert to possible scams and safety risks. Riding in tuk tuks (motorised three-wheel vehicles) or on motorcycle 'taxis' poses additional safety and security risks.

  • Make sure you agree on both the fare and route before engaging an unmetered taxi, a tuk tuk or a motorcycle taxi.
  • Secure your possessions while travelling in tuk tuks or on motorcycles.

Public transport

Inter-city bus networks are the main public transport option in Laos, though reliability of service is variable in some parts of the country. Songthaews, three-wheeler and motorcycle taxis are also available. Vehicles not usually meet Australian safety standards and serious accidents occur.

Boat travel

Boats travelling on the Mekong River in the 'golden triangle' area (between China, Laos, Burma and Thailand) have been robbed and shot at.    

Travel by 'fast boat' can be dangerous due to excessive speed and natural hazards. Wear a life jacket, even if others don't. More information: Travel by boat

Air travel

The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Laos.

More information: Air travel

Independent travel

If you are travelling independently (not part of a tour group), contact provincial or district offices, which can provide information on travelling to specific areas. If you wish to camp, get permission from local authorities in advance.

Authorities may strictly enforce curfews in some provinces. Contact provincial or district authorities about where and when curfews may be enforced. Follow instructions of local authorities. If you don't, you could be fined, arrested or detained.

Laws

You're subject to all local laws and penalties, including those that appear harsh by Australian standards. Research local laws before travelling, especially for an extended stay.

If you're arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you under our Consular Services Charter. But we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.

Drug laws

Penalties for drug offences are severe and include the death penalty. More information: Drugs

Surrogacy and adoption

If you are visiting Laos for the purposes of commercial surrogacy or adoption, seek independent legal advice before doing so. More information: Overseas births, adoptions and surrogacies

Other laws

Non-marital sexual relationships and co-habitation between Lao citizens and foreigners are not permitted under Lao law.

Whether in Laos or in a third country, permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao citizen must be granted by the Lao authorities - both individuals need to seek permission. Marriage certificates issued outside of Laos need to be authenticated by the Lao Embassy in the country where the marriage took place before traveling to Laos. Penalties for failing to register a relationship include fines and imprisonment.

Penalties for serious crimes, such as rape, murder and treason, attract the death penalty.

Activities that are illegal in Laos include:

  • photographing or visiting military sites
  • unauthorised religious preaching, including the distribution of religious material
  • visiting temples or sites that have religious or cultural significance after 10.30pm
  • making false statements to police
  • wildlife trafficking
  • damaging public property
  • nudity in public or religious places
  • propaganda against Laos
  • sleeping or camping in inappropriate areas, such as public spaces, areas along river banks or near forests.

Australian laws

Some Australian criminal laws apply overseas. If you commit these offences, you may be prosecuted in Australia. Laws include those relating to:

  • bribery of foreign public officials
  • child pornography
  • child sex tourism
  • female genital mutilation
  • forced marriage
  • money laundering
  • terrorism.

More information: Staying within the law

Dual nationals

Laos does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular services to Australian-Lao dual nationals who are arrested or detained. Travel on your Australian passport at all times.

More information: Dual nationals

Health

Travel insurance

Take out comprehensive travel insurance before you depart to cover overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation. Make sure your policy includes adequate coverage for any pre-existing conditions.

Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for your medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs. This can be very expensive and cost you many thousands of dollars upfront.

Confirm:

  • what circumstances and activities are and are not covered under your policy
  • that you are covered for the whole time you will be away.

More information: Travel insurance

Physical and mental health

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling, especially if you have an existing medical condition.

  • At least eight weeks before you depart, see your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and implications for your health.
  • Get vaccinated before you travel.

More information:

Medication

Not all medications available over the counter or by prescription in Australia are available in other countries. Some may be considered illegal or a controlled substance, even if prescribed by an Australian doctor.

Before you leave Australia, check if your medication is legal in each country you're travelling to and find out if any quantity restrictions or certification requirements apply. Consult your doctor about alternatives well in advance of travel

Take enough legal prescription medicine with you to last for the duration of your stay so you remain in good health. Carry copies of your prescription and a dated letter from your doctor stating what the medicine is, how much you'll take and that it's for personal use only.

More information: Prescription medicines

Health risks

Mosquito-borne diseases

Malaria is a risk in rural areas. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever, Zika virus and Japanese encephalitis, are common, especially during the rainy season. The Australian Department of Health advises pregnant women to discuss any travel plans with their doctor and defer non-essential travel to Zika virus-affected areas.

Protect yourself against mosquito-borne diseases:

  • ensure your accommodation is mosquito proof
  • take measures to avoid insect bites, including always using insect repellent and wearing long, loose fitting, light coloured clothing
  • take prophylaxis against malaria where necessary
  • get vaccinated against Japanese encephalitis before you travel
  • discuss your travel plans and other vaccination needs with your doctor before you travel
  • seek medical advice if you have a fever, muscle pain, rash or severe headache.

More information:

HIV/AIDS

Travellers who engage in high risk activities such as unprotected sex or injecting drugs face a significant risk of contracting HIV/AIDS in Laos. Exercise appropriate precautions if engaging in activities that expose you to risk of infection.

Rabies

Rabies can be found in dogs across Laos. Rabies is a deadly virus that can be transmitted to humans by mammals such as dogs, monkeys, cats, rats or bats. In the absence of vaccination and/or post-exposure treatment, rabies is 100 per cent fatal.

  • Take care to avoid bites and scratches when dealing with all animals.
  • Seek immediate medical attention if you sustain a bite or scratch from an animal.

More information: Infectious diseases

Bird flu

The WHO has confirmed human cases of avian influenza ('bird flu') in Laos. More information: Avian influenza

Other infectious diseases

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including cholera, hepatitis and tuberculosis) are common, with more serious outbreaks occurring from time-to-time.

  • Use good hygiene practices including frequent handwashing.
  • Boil all drinking water or drink bottled water.
  • Avoid ice cubes.
  • Avoid raw and undercooked food.
  • Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as schistosomiasis.
  • Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering diarrhoea.

Medical facilities

Medical facilities are extremely basic. Food is not supplied to patients.

Many doctors and hospitals need cash payment before providing services, even for emergency care.

Avoid local medical facilities, where possible. Access medical services across the border in Thailand instead.

If you become seriously ill or injured, you'll need to be evacuated to Bangkok, Thailand. Medical evacuations are expensive.

Natural disasters

The rainy season is normally from May to November. Tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are more likely during the rainy season. The Mekong River Commission website contains information on flood levels for the Mekong River. More information: Severe weather

Earthquakes and tremors have been recorded in the border areas of Laos, Burma and Thailand. More information: Earthquakes

If there is a natural disaster:

  • secure your passport in a safe, waterproof location or carry it on you at all times (in a waterproof bag)
  • contact friends and family in Australia with regular updates about your welfare and whereabouts
  • closely monitor the media, other local sources of information and the Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System
  • follow the instructions and advice of local authorities
  • check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

Where to get help

Depending on what you need, your best option may be to contact your family, friends, airline, travel agent, tour operator, employer or travel insurance provider. Your travel insurer should have a 24-hour emergency number.

Emergency phone numbers

  • Fire: dial 1190
  • Road accidents or life-threatening medical emergencies: dial (+856) 20 5666 8825 (Vientiane Rescue Team)
  • Ambulance rescue: dial 1623 or 1624
  • Other medical emergencies: dial 1195 or go direct to the hospital. Where possible, go to hospital in Thailand.
  • Criminal issues: dial (+856) 21 251 128 (Vientiane Tourist Police), (+856) 21 212 520 (Foreigner Control Police), 1191 (regular police) or visit a police station
  • Always get a police report when reporting a crime.

There have been reports of foreigners attempting to report crimes and finding police stations closed, emergency phone numbers unanswered or police lacking communication, transportation or authorisation to investigate crimes. Contact the Embassy if you encounter these problems.

Tourism services and products

For complaints relating to tourism services or products, contact your service provider directly.

Australian Government

Read the Consular Services Charter for what the Australian Government can and can't do to help you overseas.

For consular assistance, contact the Australian Embassy, Vientiane.

Australian Embassy, Vientiane

KM4, Thadeua Road
Watnak Village
Sissatanek District
Vientiane, LAO P.D.R
Telephone: +856 353800
Facsimile: +856 353801
E-mail: austemb.laos@dfat.gov.au
Website: laos.embassy.gov.au

Check the Embassywebsite for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.

If you're unable to contact the Embassy in a consular emergency,  contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Additional resources