Asia and Oceania

Laos Flag of Laos

Still current at: 11 June 2008
Updated: 29 May 2008

This advice has been reviewed and reissued with an amendment to the General section (Change to Australian Embassy contact details).  The overall level of the advice has not changed. 

(see travel advice legal disclaimer)

 

Travel advice for this country


Travel Summary

  • There is no British consular representation in Laos.  Routine consular matters are covered by the Australian Embassy in Vientiane.  The British Embassy in Bangkok is accredited to Laos and is responsible for non-routine consular matters.  See the General (Representation in Laos) section of this advice for more details.

  • There is a low threat from terrorism in Laos.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

  • You should be aware of and respect local conventions at all times.  See the Local Laws and Customs section of this advice for more details.

  • Unexploded ordnance in rural areas is an ongoing danger.

  • Outbreaks of Avian Influenza (Bird Flu) in Laos have led to a small number of human fatalities.  The last fatality was in 2007.  See the Health (Avian Influenza) section of this advice and Avian and Pandemic Flu for more details.

  • Most visits to Laos are trouble free.  The main types of incident for which British nationals required consular assistance in Laos in 2007 were for: dealing with deaths; and replacing lost or stolen passports.  You must carry an ID document or passport at all times, you will be heavily fined if you do not present any documentation on request by the authorities.

  • We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.   See the General (Insurance) section of this advice and Travel Insurance for more details.

Safety and security

Terrorism/Security

There is a low threat from terrorism in Laos.  But you should be aware of the global risk of indiscriminate terrorist attacks which could be in public areas, including those frequented by expatriates and foreign travellers.

In February 2007, there were reports of armed clashes between Lao government forces and unidentified groups north of Vang Vien. There continue to be small-scale skirmishes between anti-government groups and government troops in isolated areas along the Lao-Thai border.  There is a danger you may inadvertently get caught up in unpredictable acts of violence.

You should be particularly vigilant when travelling by road on Route 13 from Vang Vien north through Phou Khoun, to south of Luang Prabang, on Route 7 from Phou Khoun to Phonsavan and on Route 6. Armed bandits have carried out attacks on this route and two foreign nationals were killed in 2003.

Local law enforcement agencies in Laos have limited capability to counter these threats.
For further information see Terrorism Abroad.

Crime

Violent crimes such as robbery, rape and other sexual offences are on the increase.  Foreigners have been assaulted after having their drinks drugged.  You should be careful about taking drinks from strangers.
 
For more information see Rape and Sexual Assault Abroad.
 
It has been reported that some restaurants in popular tourist destinations offer drug laced food and drink which has led to the victim being assaulted.  These products can contain harmful substances and consuming them can result in serious injury or even death. You should never leave food or drink unattended.
 
The theft of passports is a particular problem.  You should have insurance cover for unexpected losses such as cancelled flights, stolen cash, cards, passports or luggage.  There are reports of a visa scam affecting travellers to Laos.
 
For more general information see Victims of Crime Abroad.
 
Local Travel
 
There is a risk of banditry in rural areas as well as the risk of further bombings and attacks (see Terrorism/Security section).
 
You should be aware of the dangers of unexploded ordnance, particularly in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars), increasingly in Luang Prabang Province (as a result of scrap metal collection) and areas of the Lao-Vietnamese border, which were formerly traversed by the Ho Chi Minh Trail.  Mined areas are frequently unmarked.  You should therefore not stray off main routes in rural areas.
 
There is no curfew in Vientiane but you should be aware that people travelling in the city and elsewhere in Laos might be stopped by the police at any time, particularly in the evening.  You may be asked to show identification papers before being allowed to travel on.  You should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
 
Road Travel
 
The majority of roads in Laos are in a poor condition.  Travel should only be undertaken during daylight hours.  Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of an accident and vehicles often do not have lights.  Livestock often stray on to the roads causing accidents.
 
The numbers of road accidents and fatalities in Laos have risen sharply in recent years along with the increase in the number of motor vehicles, especially motorbikes.  If you are involved in a road accident you will generally be required to pay compensation for third party property damage and injury, even if you are not judged to be at fault.  Lao insurers will generally only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and will not cover this compensation, which can be the largest part of the expense.
 
If you are planning to travel by road or river you should check with a travel company on arrival for an update on local conditions.
 
For further information see Driving Abroad.
 
River Travel
 
Travel on the Mekong River by speedboat is dangerous, particularly in the dry season, November to April.  Life-vests and crash helmets should be provided and worn.  White water rafting and kayaking are also dangerous.  Incidents of drowning have been reported.
 
For more general information see River and Sea Safety
 
Air Travel
 
Prospective air travellers should be aware of doubts about the maintenance procedures of internal flights.  Travel by Lao Airlines is strongly discouraged except on the ATR 72 aircraft and the Airbus 320.  Yuen-7 and Yuen-12 aircraft should be avoided whenever possible.  Since 2000, there have been several deaths as a result of domestic air accidents on Yuen-12 aircraft in Laos.
 
US$10 airport tax is payable in dollars on departure from Vientiane and Luang Prabang international airports.  You may also be charged a domestic airport tax of Kip3000 (approximately US$0.30) on internal flights.

Local laws and customs

Do not get involved with illegal drugs.  Possession, trafficking and manufacture of such drugs are serious offences in Laos.  Those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty.
 
There have been several deaths as a result of drug abuse among foreigners visiting Laos.

The Lao Government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign citizens and Lao nationals, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law.  It is not unknown for Lao authorities to demand entry into hotel rooms or guest houses where they suspect this regulation is being broken.  Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao citizen must be submitted in a formal application to the Lao authorities.  Penalties for engaging in prohibited sexual contact or failing to register a relationship range from US$500 to US$5,000 and may also involve imprisonment.
 
It is illegal not to carry an ID document or a passport, and fines for not having documentation for presentation on demand can be high.

Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and can result in arrest or detention.
 
For more general information for different types of travellers see Travel Advice Relevant to You.

Entry requirements

Visas
 
Visa conditions change regularly.  Please contact the nearest Laos Embassy or Consulate for the most up to date information.

You should be aware of reports of a visa scam where travel agents are supplying 5-day or 15-day visas to customers who pay for 30-day permits.  Proper long-stay visas can also be obtained from the Laos Embassy in either Hanoi or in Bangkok.

The Lao People’s Democratic Republic does not have an embassy in the United Kingdom. 

When you enter Laos, you should make sure you obtain an entry stamp in your passport.  Immigration offices at some border crossings are sometimes difficult to identify.  Fines for not having a legitimate entry stamp can be high.
Passport validity
 
Your passport should have a minimum validity of 6 months, or entry to Laos may not be permitted.

Travelling with children
 
Single parents or other adults travelling alone with children should be aware that some countries require documentary evidence of parental responsibility before allowing lone parents to enter the country, or, in some cases, before permitting the children to leave the country.  For further information on exactly what will be required at immigration, please check with the Laos Embassy in Paris.

Health

If you have an unstable medical condition you should seriously consider not travelling to Laos.  Medical care in Vientiane is extremely basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies.  Medical evacuation is difficult to organise and very expensive.

In January 2008 there was a cholera outbreak in Sekong Province, in the south of the country, which reportedly affected at least 180 people and resulted in 2 deaths. Poor sanitation and eating contaminated food can increase the risk of cholera.  You should drink or use only boiled or bottled water and avoid ice in drinks.  If you suffer from diarrhoea during a visit to Laos you should seek immediate medical attention.

In the 2006 Report on the Global AIDS Epidemic the UNAIDS/WHO Working Group estimated that around 3,600 adults aged 15 or over in Laos were living with HIV; the prevalence rate was estimated at around 0.1% of the adult population. This compares to the prevalence rate in adults in the UK of around 0.2%.  You should exercise normal precautions to avoid exposure to HIV/AIDS. For more general information on how to do this see HIV and AIDS.

You should seek medical advice before travelling to Laos and ensure that all appropriate vaccinations are up-to-date.  For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit the websites of the National Travel Heath Network and Centre  NaTHNaC and NHS Scotland's Fit For Travel or call NHS Direct on 0845 46 47.
 
For more general health information see Travel Health.
 
Avian Influenza (Bird Flu)

There have been outbreaks of Avian Influenza (also known as Bird Flu) in poultry in Laos, most recently in the southern Luang Namtha province in February 2008. The only two human fatalities in Laos occurred in March 2007 in Vientiane Province. Since the end of 2003, a number of human deaths have also occurred in Azerbaijan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand, Turkey, and Vietnam.
 
The risk to humans from Avian Influenza is believed to be very low.  However, as a precaution, you should avoid visiting live animal markets, poultry farms and other places where you may come into close contact with domestic, caged or wild birds; and ensure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
 
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned of the possibility that the Avian Influenza outbreaks could lead at some point to a human flu pandemic, if a virus mutates to a form which is easily transmissible between people.
 
British nationals living longer term in an Avian-Influenza affected region should take personal responsibility for their own safety in the event of a future pandemic, including considering their access to adequate healthcare and ensuring travel documents are up to date.
 
You should read this advice in conjunction with Avian and Pandemic Influenza, which gives more detailed advice and information.
 
Natural Disasters
 
Earthquakes
 
On 16 May 2007 amagnitude 6.1 earthquake occurred at a point 155 kms (97 miles) north-west of Luang Prabang in western Laos.
 
Monsoon Season
 
The rainy season in Laos normally runs from June to November, coinciding with the typhoon season in South East Asia.  Mountain areas are particularly vulnerable to landslides in the rainy season and flooding may occur along river basins and elsewhere. Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted during this time. You should monitor local news and weather reports. And international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) You can also access the National Hurricane Centre for updates.

General

Insurance
 
We strongly recommend that you obtain comprehensive travel and medical insurance before travelling.  You should check any exclusions, and that your policy covers you for all the activities you want to undertake.  See Travel Insurance for more details.
 
If things do go wrong when you are overseas then this is how we can help.
 
Representation in Laos

There is no British consular representation in Laos.  Routine consular matters are provided by the Australian Embassy in Vientiane (please see below for contact details).  The British Embassy in Bangkok is responsible for non-routine consular matters.
 
Replacing a passport in Laos
 
If you require a new passport, application forms can be downloaded from the Internet. Applications for new and replacement passports are processed by the British Embassy in Bangkok and can be submitted by post or the local courier service (known as EMS). Where possible, you are advised to apply at least 15 working days before you need to use your passport.  In the event of an emergency, the Australian Embassy in Vientiane can issue an emergency travel document to allow you to enter Thailand, and will ask you to complete a lost/stolen report form. We strongly advise you to keep a photocopy of the relevant pages of your passport, to avoid any complications.
 
Registering your presence
 
If you are a British national and plan to stay for an extended period in Laos, you are strongly advised to register with the Australian Embassy in Vientiane upon arrival.
 
The Australian Embassy in Vientiane can be contacted at: KM4, Thadeua Road, Watnak Village, Sisattanak District, Vientiane; (Tel: + 856 21 353 800; Fax: 856-21 353-801). Email: austemb.laos@dfat.gov.au.
 
Consular Registration

Register with our LOCATE service to tell us when and where you are travelling abroad or where you live abroad so our consular and crisis staff can provide better assistance to you in an emergency.  More information about registering with LOCATE can be found here.

Money
 
There are no reliable international ATM facilities in Laos.  Major credit cards are accepted at the larger international hotels and main tourist orientated establishments.  Travellers’ cheques can be cashed at most banks in Vientiane and major towns.  Most transactions are conducted in cash, American Dollars, Thai Baht or Lao Kip.  Western Union, United Kingdom freephone 0800 833 833, offers international money transfer facilities in Vientiane through a branch of the Bank of Ayudhya on Lane Xang Avenue.

Travel advice for this country

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contacts

British Embassy, Bangkok

Address:

British Embassy
14 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Pathumwan
Bangkok 10330

Telephone:

+66 (0) 2 305 8333 Main Embassy line
(66) (2) 305 8229 Consular information
(66) (2) 305 8333 press 2 Visa information

Fax:

(66) (2) 305 8372 Chancery
(66) (2) 255 8619 Commercial/information
(66) (2) 255 9278 Management
(66) (2) 255 6051 Consular
(66) (2) 254 9579 Visa

Office hours:

Local times shown (GMT +7 hours)

Visa Section:
Mon-Thurs: 0730-0930; Fri: 0730-1030

Consular Section:
Mon-Thurs: 0800-1100 & 1300-1530; Fri: 0800-1200

All other sections:
Mon-Thurs: 0800-1200 & 1245-1630; Fri: 0800-1300

Website: http://www.britishembassy.gov.uk/thailand