- We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions in Laos. Exercise common sense and look out for suspicious behaviour, as you would in Australia. Monitor the media and other sources for changes to local travelling conditions.
- We advise you to reconsider your need to travel by road on routes 4 and 13 between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang.
- We advise you to reconsider your need to travel in the 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 in Xaisomboun Province since November 2015 and January 2016. These incidents have resulted in deaths and injuries.
- A number of tourists, including 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 extremely cautious.
- The rainy season is normally from May to November and tropical storms, typhoons, flooding and landslides are likely to occur during this time.
- Penalties for drug offences are severe in Laos, and include the death penalty. See our Drugs page.
- See Travel Smart for general advice for all travellers.
- Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
- organise comprehensive travel insurance and check what circumstances and activities are not covered by your policy
- register your travel and contact details, so we can contact you in an emergency
- subscribe to this travel advice to receive free email updates each time it's reissued
- follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
Entry and exit
Australians require a visa to travel to Laos. You can apply for a visa before departing Australia from the Embassy of Laos. A 30 day tourist visa can also be obtained on arrival at a number of locations, including Vientiane and Luang Prabang International Airport. You will need two blank pages in your passport to apply for the visa. Make sure your passport has at least six months validity from your planned date of return to Australia. Lao immigration authorities may refuse you entry into Laos, or fine you, if you have less than six months validity.
Make sure you obtain an entry stamp on arrival. Failure to do so may result in a fine or detention. Carry an ID document or passport at all times. You will be heavily fined if you do not present an ID on request.
You should 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, you should contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Laos for the most up-to-date information.
Safety and security
Violent opportunistic crime such as robbery is increasing in Laos, 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. See our Partying Overseas page for further advice.
Petty crime, including bag snatching by thieves on motorcycles and theft from guest houses, 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.
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. You should contact the Embassy if you encounter these problems.
Australians have reported cases where hire companies have demanded large amounts of compensation for pre-existing damage to motorcycles. There have also been reports claiming that hire companies have arranged for motorbikes to be stolen from the hirer, with the renter being forced to pay thousands of dollars in compensation, including the value of a new motorbike plus lost earnings.
We recommend that Australians do not provide passports as deposits or guarantees for hiring motorcycles, and always ensure that your travel insurance covers hospital and other costs associated with motorbike accidents.
Travellers should always remain vigilant when travelling in rural and remote locations across the country. You should be particularly vigilant when travelling on Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) or Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province).
You should reconsider 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 since November 2015. These incidents have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries, including of civilians
Routes 13 and 4 between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang:
Since March 2016, there have been a number of shooting incidents directed at tourist buses travelling between Vang Vieng and Luang Prabang. These incidents have resulted in a number of deaths and injuries. We advise you to reconsider your need to travel by road on these routes.
Civil unrest/Political tension
Isolated incidents of civil unrest, including armed attacks and bombings, have occurred in the past. Foreign travellers are not normally targeted.
Avoid protests or demonstrations and follow the instructions of local authorities. Curfews may be enforced and can include roadblocks, spot roadside checks and occasional raids on premises.
There is a low threat of terrorism in Laos.
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. See our Terrorist Threat Overseas bulletin.
Money and valuables
The ANZ Bank has a head office and various ATMs in Vientiane and an office in Pakse. Only a small number of ATMs outside of Vientiane accept foreign credit and debit cards, and those that do may be out of order.
Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
If you plan to take part in water activities, including in Vang Vieng, be extremely cautious. Tourists, including 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 Australians 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, you should 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 in the past.
Unexploded ordnance is prevalent 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.
Australians travelling independently (not part of a tour group) should contact provincial or district offices, which can provide information on travelling to specific areas. Tourists who wish to camp must obtain 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 that tourists should exercise caution along the Mekong Riverbank in Vientiane. A curfew is enforced in this area after 10.30pm. Remaining in the area may result in a fine, questioning or arrest/detention.
Authorities may strictly enforce curfews in some provinces. You should contact provincial or district authorities about where and when curfews may be enforced in the area, exercise caution and follow instructions. Failure to do so may result in a fine or arrest/detention.
It is a requirement to 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 generally meet Australian safety standards. Driving in Laos 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. For further advice, see our Road safety page.
The Australian Government does not provide information on the safety of individual commercial airlines or flight paths. See instead the Aviation Safety Network website for information on aviation safety in Laos.
Please also refer to our general air travel page for information on aviation safety and security.
You are subject to the local laws of Laos, including ones 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 in Laos and include the death penalty. See our Drugs page.
Penalties for serious crime, such as rape, murder and treason, also include 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 must seek permission. Penalties for failing to register a relationship include fines and imprisonment.
Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and may result in arrest or detention.
Unauthorised religious preaching, including the distribution of religious material, is prohibited and may result in arrest or deportation.
Lao authorities have advised that tourists should not visit temples or sites that have religious or cultural significance after 10.30pm. Offenders may be questioned or detained.
Local car insurance may not cover all expenses in the event of a road accident. A compensation payment for third party property damage and injury may be required, regardless of fault.
Australians visiting Laos for the purposes of commercial surrogacy arrangements should seek independent legal advice before doing so. See our Overseas births, adoptions and surrogacies page for further information.
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 may be prosecuted in Australia.
Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may 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. We recommend you travel on your Australian passport at all times.
Our Dual nationals page provides further information.
We strongly recommend that you 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 a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
It is important to consider your physical and mental health before travelling overseas. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations 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 page also provides useful information for travellers on staying healthy.
As at February 2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) advised there had been nine cases of the Vaccine-derived poliovirus type 1 (cVDPV1) in Laos, which has resulted in two deaths. On 13 January 2016, the Government of Lao PDR declared a National Health Emergency on the Polio outbreak. WHO recommends people travelling to, or residing in, affected areas ensure they are vaccinated against polio, even if they have been vaccinated previously.
Medical facilities in Laos are extremely basic and food is not supplied to patients. It is recommended that travellers access medical services across the border in Thailand. The Australian Embassy in Vientiane operates a small medical clinic that may be accessed by Australians. Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, even for emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to Bangkok, Thailand would be necessary, costing up to $A18,000 depending on circumstances.
Malaria is a risk in rural areas of Laos. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, are prevalent in Laos, especially during the rainy season. We recommend you 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 prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We advise you to boil all 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.
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 in the first instance. 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.
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
See the Embassy website for information about opening hours and temporary closures that may affect service provision.
If you are travelling to Laos, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.
In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
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. For further information on what to do in the event of severe weather, see our severe weather page.
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, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.
Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.