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Laos

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Summary

  • Exercise normal safety precautions in Laos. Use common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local travelling conditions.
  • Reconsider your need to travel in Xaisomboun province, east of Vang Vieng, because of the potential for attacks. There have been a number of shooting incidents and detonation of improvised explosive devices, resulting in deaths and injuries.
  • Exercise normal safety precautions for road travel between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Be alert and follow the advice of local authorities for changes to travel conditions. See Local travel.
  • Visa exemptions for travelling to Thailand through a land border crossing have been restricted to two entries per calendar year. See Entry and exit​​.
  • Australians have died or been injured in accidents along the river at Vang Vieng. If you're planning on taking part in water activities, be careful and check whether travel insurance covers the activity.
  • The wet season normally occurs from May to November and tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are likely to occur during this time.
  • Penalties for drug offences are severe, and include the death penalty. More information: Drugs 
  • See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.

Entry and exit


Visas 

You need a visa to travel to Laos. You can apply for a visa before departing Australia from the Embassy of Laos. You can also 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. You will need two blank pages in your passport and two recent passport-size photos to apply for the visa. More information: Department of Immigration of Laos.

Get an entry stamp on arrival. Failure to do so may result in a fine or detention.

Use only official border crossing points to enter Laos.

As visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) can change at short notice, contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Laos for up-to-date information.

In December 2016, Thailand introduced a revision to the visa exemption scheme. The revision has restricted the number of visa exemptions to two entries per calendar year if entering Thailand by land borders. The revision only applies to entry from Thailand by land; it does not apply to arrivals in Thailand through international airports. If in doubt, contact your closest Thai Embassy or Consulate for more advice. We cannot assist to get you a visa.​

 

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. You can either:

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 (issuing can take up to two working days).

Failure to do the above may result in a fine or detention by immigration authorities.

Safety and security

Crime

Violent opportunistic crime such as robbery occurs, including in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and the city of Luang Prabang. Be conscious of your surroundings and pay attention to your personal safety and security, especially at night and when riding bicycles or motorcycles. Avoid placing bags or valuables in the front basket and travel on well-used, well-lit roads. Local media has reported violent muggings with guns and knives in Vientiane.

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. Never leave food or drinks unattended. More information: Partying safely

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.

  • Don't leave bags containing money or valuable unattended.
  • Be particularly careful with your valuables near tourist attractions and in other public places.

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.

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.

Do not provide your passport as a deposit or guarantee for hiring motorcycles, and always ensure that your travel insurance covers hospital and other costs associated with motorbike accidents. Read the rental contract thoroughly and ensure that the vehicle is correctly insured to cover damage and theft. If you hire a motorcycle, check for any restrictions that may apply (such as insurance cover if you are not licensed to ride a motorcycle in Australia). Check with your travel insurer whether these activities are covered by your policy.

Be alert when travelling in rural and remote locations across the country, especially  when travelling on Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) or Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province).

Xaisomboun province

Reconsider your need to travel your need to travel in Xaisomboun province, east of Vang Vieng, due to the potential for attacks. There has been an increase in shooting incidents and the detonation of improvised explosive devices in Xaisomboun Province resulting in a number of deaths and injuries, including of civilians.

Travel by road between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng

Exercise normal safety precautions for road travel between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Be alert and follow the advice of local authorities for changes to travel conditions.

Sexual assault

We have received reports that foreigners have been the target of sexual assault, including in Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. Excessive consumption of alcohol may make you more vulnerable to violent crime including robbery or assault.

Never accept food or drinks from strangers or leave drinks unattended.

If you aren't sure if a drink is safe, leave it.

More information: Sexual assault.

Scams

Credit card and Automatic Teller Machine (ATM) fraud can occur.

  • Check for skimming machines before using ATMs
  • Take care not to expose your PIN to others, particularly when using ATMs.
  • Monitor your transaction statements.

Gun violence

Gun ownership is banned, however illegal guns have been reportedly used, resulting in deaths and injuries.

  • Be alert to danger at all times, especially after dark.
  • Avoid travelling alone at night and limit nigh-time travel to well-lit public areas, especially in tourist cities.

Civil unrest and political tension

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

  • Avoid protests or demonstrations.
  • Follow the instructions of local authorities.
  • Curfews may be enforced and can include roadblocks, spot roadside checks and occasional raids on premises.

Terrorism

There is a low threat of terrorism.

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

Money and valuables

The official currency of Laos is the Lao Kip (LAK). The Lao Kip cannot be obtained or exchanged outside Laos. Thai baht and U.S. dollars are widely accepted. If you need to exchange money, you should do this through official bank outlets. ATMs are widely available in major cities in Laos, including Vientiane capital, Luang Prabang and Pakse.

Local travel

If you plan to take part in water activities, including in Vang Vieng, be extremely cautious. Australians, have been killed or seriously injured while participating in water activities such as tubing or jumping into the river. River levels can vary during the year and the presence of debris can make diving or jumping into the river dangerous. Carefully consider your personal safety and take appropriate precautions.

The safety standards you might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially when undertaking adventure sports. 'Fast boat' river travel, in particular, can be dangerous due to excessive speed and natural hazards. 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.

Boats travelling on the Mekong River in the ‘golden triangle’ area (between China, Laos, Burma and Thailand) have been robbed and shot at.    
Unexploded ordnance 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. Straying from established walking paths and roads can be dangerous as affected areas are often unmarked.

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.

The Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane is a border of Laos and Thailand. This 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 have advised tourists to exercise caution along the Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane. A curfew is enforced in this area after 10.30 pm. Remaining in the area may result in a fine, questioning or arrest/detention.

Authorities may strictly enforce curfews in some provinces. Contact provincial or district authorities about where and when curfews may be enforced, exercise caution and follow instructions. Failure to do so may result in a fine or arrest/detention.

Carry identification at all times. 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.

Transport within Laos does not usually meet Australian safety standards. Driving can be hazardous due to 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. More information: Road safety and driving

Airline safety

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

Laws

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

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

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

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.

The following activities are illegal in Laos an may result in arrest or detention:

  • 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.

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

Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, forced marriage, female genital mutilation, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas can be prosecuted in Australia.

Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. You can be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.

Information for 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

Take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. 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.

Consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. Get vaccinated before you travel. At least eight weeks before you depart, make an appointment with your doctor or travel clinic for a basic health check-up, and to discuss your travel plans and any implications for your health, particularly if you have an existing medical condition. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our health pages also provide useful information for travellers on staying healthy.

Medical facilities are extremely basic. Food is not supplied to patients. You should access medical services across the border in Thailand. Many doctors and hospitals need cash payment before providing services, even for emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to Bangkok, Thailand would be necessary. Medical evacuations are expensive.

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. Consider taking medication against malaria and take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light-coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.

Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, hepatitis, rabies and tuberculosis) are common with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. Boil drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and 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 from diarrhoea.

The WHO has confirmed human cases of avian influenza in Laos. See our health pages for more information on influenza.

Where to get help

Depending on the nature of your enquiry, 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.

If the matter relates to criminal issues, contact the Vientiane Tourist Police on +856 21 251 128, or the Foreigner Control Police on +856 21 212 520.

If the matter relates to complaints about tourism services or products, contact the service provider directly.

If the matter relates to road accidents or is life threatening, contact Vientiane Rescue Team on +856 20 5666 8825.

Emergency phone numbers

In case of emergencies these hotline numbers can be dialled directly from Lao telephone numbers

  • Firefighting 1190
  • Medical 1195
  • Police 1191
  • Ambulance rescue 1623 or 1624

Australian Government

The Consular Services Charter explains what the Australian Government can and cannot do to assist Australians overseas. For consular assistance, see contact details below:

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

See the Embassy website 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, you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.

Additional information

Natural disasters, severe weather and climate

The rainy season is normally from May to November and tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are more likely to occur during this time of year. 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.

If a natural disaster occurs, follow instructions from local authorities, monitor media and weather reports for the latest update, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.

More information: Global Disaster Alert and Coordination System.

Additional resources