Includes information on business customs, travel advisory, visa requirements, and other aspects of international travel.
Business relationships in Laos are not as formal as those in other East Asian countries and are often based on personal relations developed within social circles. Since the emphasis placed on personal relationships is high, having a reliable and well-connected local agent or representative is important to the success of a foreign venture. Events progress slowly in Laos, where the step-by-step approach reveals the cultural premium placed on caution and restraint. Representatives of U.S. businesses seeking to enter the Lao market should plan to visit the country several times and expect various processes to move slowly.
Information on travel to and within Laos may be obtained from the consular information sheet on Laos available from the U.S. Department of State.
U.S. citizen visitors need a passport valid for at least six months with at least two full blank visa pages and a valid Lao visa to enter Laos. Tourist and business visas are valid for one month beginning with the date of entry into Laos. You can obtain your visa at Lao embassies and consulates abroad. The Embassy of Laos is at 2222 S St NW, Washington DC 20008, tel: 202-332-6416, fax: 202-332-4923. U.S. citizen visitors can also obtain a Lao visa on arrival at the airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse, as well as all major border crossings. For visas on arrival, you must present two photographs (3cm x 4cm) and pay $40 USD (U.S. cash is accepted). Due to COVID-19, please check current arrival requirements and quarantine protocols.
It may be possible to extend your 30-day tourist visa up to an additional 60 days for a fee through the Department of Immigration in Vientiane. If you overstay your visa in Laos, you risk arrest and will be fined for each day of overstay when you depart the country. The fines are payable in U.S. dollars only and are never waived under any circumstances. You must settle all immigration fines before attempting to exit Laos. Fines are paid at the Department of Immigration, Foreigner Control Office in downtown Vientiane. You cannot settle fines and penalties at airports or border crossings.
Business visas can only be arranged in advance; a company or individual “sponsor” must contact the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) in Vientiane to request a visa and offer a “guarantee.” Once the Lao MFA approves the request, the approval will be sent to the Lao Embassy in Washington, DC, and business travelers may then apply for the business visa. This process usually takes one to three months. After arrival, individuals can generally extend business visas for one month.
Lao telephone: +856-21-255-500
U.S. telephone: (703) 665-7347
The national currency is the Lao kip and the Lao government strongly encourages its use for transactions within Laos. U.S. dollars and Thai baht are often accepted in major cities, and the Chinese yuan is used in some areas. ATMs are readily available in cities throughout the country.
Laos operates on a 230V/50Hz standard. Lao telecommunications infrastructure is developing quickly. Internet access and Wi-Fi are readily available in large population centers. Mobile phones are ubiquitous. There are five authorized enterprises providing fixed and mobile telecommunications services in Lao PDR, and a sixth which holds a mobile license but currently only offers internet access. All of them have some share of government ownership:
LTC, or Lao Telecommunication Co Ltd
ETL, or Enterprise des Telecommunications Lao
Unitel, or Star Telecommunication Company
Best Telecom SkyTel, or Sky Communications Lao Ltd
Laos has four international airports with routes beginning to slowly resume following the reopening of international borders on May 7, 2022:
- Wattay International Airport in Vientiane has historically had flights available through Thai Airways, Bangkok Airway, Thai Air Asia, Air Asia Malaysia, Silk air, Singapore, Vietnam Airlines, Hainan Airways, China Eastern, and Tway airlines from Korea, Jin Air from Korea, Lao Airlines from Vientiane to Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh, Kuala Lumpur, Kunming, Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Seoul, Singapore, and Guangzhou.
- Luang Prabang International Airport has historically had flights available to Vientiane, Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Hanoi, Siem Reap, Singapore, and Jinghong on Lao Airlines, Bangkok Airway, Thai Air Asia, Air Asia Malaysia, Silk Air, Vietnam Airlines, Hainan Airways, and Thai Smile.
- Savannakhet International Airport has previously offered flights to Bangkok operated by Lao Airlines.
- Pakse International Airport has historically been a stopover point from Vientiane to Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Ho Chi Minh, and Bangkok. Lao Airlines flies daily from Pakse to Bangkok via Savannakhet.
In addition, there are several provincial airports, used only for domestic flights within the Lao PDR. Since 2017, state carrier Lao Airlines operates four Airbus A320 and seven ATR 72 aircraft and is expanding direct service throughout the region. Several other international carriers also offer direct flights from China, Thailand, Vietnam, and Korea. Lao Airlines and Lao Skyway offer flights from Vientiane to most of the provincial capitals.
Businesspeople in Laos generally rely on their own personal vehicles or rent vehicles with drivers. Taxis are rare, though increasingly seen in Vientiane, and local ride-hailing company Loca has made inroads. Tuk-tuk vehicles for hire are common. Rental cars are available in ientiane and other major cities. Road conditions vary greatly throughout the country and mudslides are a concern in mountainous areas during the rainy season. However, major transportation arteries such as Route 13 running north to south and Route 9 running east to west are generally passable. The government has made road and bridge infrastructure a priority and travel conditions are gradually improving. There are occasional security problems along rural roads, including Route 13. Due to violent incidents occurring between November 2015 and March 2016, the U.S. Department of State issued travel alerts concerning roads connecting Vientiane and Luang Prabang, and for all of Xaysomboun province.
Lao is the national language, though many other languages are spoken by the ethnic groups that make up the Lao population. Due to the similarity of the Lao and Thai languages, many Lao speak and understand Thai. Some Lao residing in Vientiane and the larger provincial capitals speak basic English, although the overall percentage of the population that speaks English is low.
For serious health issues when return to the United States is not possible, the Embassy generally advises travelers to seek medical attention in Thailand. For additional information regarding health issues, review the Consular Information Sheet.
Local Time, Business Hours and Holidays
The local time in Laos is GMT +7.
Typical business hours are 8:00am to 5:00pm.
Local holidays include International Women’s Day, Pii Mai (Lao New Year), International Labor Day, Lao National Day, and the That Luang Festival. In addition to those listed above, numerous religious holidays are often observed informally throughout the country. The Lao government is known to change the effective dates of holidays shortly before they occur, especially around Lao New Year.
Temporary Entry of Materials or Personal Belongings
Equipment imported for personal use and any goods used in exhibitions or as samples for subsequent re-export are exempt from taxes and duties. To obtain this exemption, visitors must declare at the port of entry that the relevant goods or equipment are being temporarily imported and must guarantee that it will be re-exported upon the visitors’ departure. Goods brought into Laos for exhibition or as samples require a license from the Ministry of Commerce or the local trade office at the port of entry.