When planning a trip to the country, all potential visitors should check the Laos travel advisory issued by their regional government to familiarize themselves with the steps they should take to ensure a smooth and hassle-free stay.
Whether traveling solo or in a group, the following travel advice for Laos will be useful for anyone researching how to safely visit the Southeast Asian nation.
Entry Restrictions for Laos
All travelers are advised to familiarize themselves with the Laos entry restrictions well in advance of their intended stay to avoid any problems when arriving at border checkpoints in the country.
A select number of foreign citizens, mostly from other Southeast Asian countries, are currently permitted to enter Laos visa-free for stays of between 14-30 days depending on their nationality, simply by presenting a valid passport or national ID card upon arrival.
However, the majority of international travelers are required to have a valid visa to visit Laos.
A small number of nationalities, including citizens of select Middle Eastern countries, are required to obtain a visa from a Lao foreign diplomatic mission in their country of residence before departure, no matter the intended period of stay or the purpose of travel.
However, most nationalities are now able to use a simple online application to obtain an eVisa for Laos before departure from the country, eliminating the need to visit an embassy or consulate to apply for a visa in person or wait in long border queues to get a visa on arrival.
A Laos eVisa application only takes a few minutes to fill in, and once approved, a copy of the valid visa is sent to the traveler via email. They can then print a copy to present alongside their passport to immigration authorities upon arrival at border control in Laos.
An approved eVisa for Laos is valid for 60 days from the date of issue and allows the holder a total stay of 30 days in the country. It should be noted that visa-free travelers to Laos are also required to obtain an eVisa if they wish to stay for periods longer than 14 or 15 days.
Laos Travel Warnings
Although, in general, Laos is a safe place to travel, as with any destination travelers should be aware of their belongings in crowded urban areas.
The UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) advises against all but essential travel to one region of the country, the Xaisomboun province. This is because of recent armed clashes and attacks on infrastructure by anti-government groups in the region.
Tourists are also advised to avoid certain rural areas of Laos due to unexploded ordenance left behind after the end of the Indochina Wars in 1991. Additionally, while Laos does not have a recent history of terrorism, attacks cannot be entirely ruled out.
If visiting Laos during the monsoon season from May to October, which coincides with the typhoon season in Southeast Asia, travelers should also be aware of elevated risks of flooding and landslides.
This is especially relevant if traveling by car, as road conditions in Laos, particularly in mountainous areas and in the Mekong river basin, can be uneven during this period. Therefore, it is important to monitor local weather reports to assess the situation.
It is also advisable to carry a passport or other ID document, alongside a copy of the approved eVisa, at all times while in Laos. Local laws dictate that foreigners may be given a fine if they do not present these documents to authorities on request.
Health Advice for Laos
Another important area to research before visiting Laos are health recommendations for travelers. As there are a number of infectious diseases present in the country, it is advisable to make sure that all recommended vaccines are up-to-date.
Most notably, there is a risk of Zika virus transmission in Laos. The Zika virus is most commonly transmitted through mosquito bites, but can also be passed through sexual intercourse in rare cases.
Symptoms are mostly not noticeable, but infection can lead to neurological complications such as Guillain-Barré syndrome.
As there is not currently any vaccination or medication to prevent Zika infection, it is important to avoid mosquito bites, particularly between dusk and dawn.
Health services available in Laos are generally considered much more basic than in most western countries, but there are also many reputable medical clinics with good facilities, particularly in the capital, Vientián.
Finally, all foreign visitors are advised to have up-to-date travel insurance that will cover their stay, in the case that they do require medical treatment while in Laos.