Laos travel guide
Laos – officially known as the Lao People's Democratic Republic – is one of the great travel frontiers; landlocked and mountainous, swamped by jungles and promising Indian Jones adventures in remote tribal villages and ancient Buddhist caves.
With Thailand on one side and Vietnam on the other, you might expect Laos to be commercial and crowded, but this is Asia’s backwater, where life moves as slowly as the churning waters of the Mekong River, which forms the border with three countries – Myanmar, Thailand and Cambodia – as it snakes south towards the Gulf of Thailand.
A long-running civil war – during which the USA dropped millions of bombs in Laos – kept the country off the mainstream tourist circuit for many years. Unexploded ordnance and poor infrastructure continue to pose a challenge to tourism, but each year brings a new crop of upmarket accommodation to supplement the existing backpacker hostels – Laos is finally finding its feet. Eco-tourism looks set to be its trump card, taking visitors to remote tribal villages and pristine national parks teeming with weird and wonderful wildlife.
Despite this rugged outlook, the capital city, Vientiane, feels remarkably cosmopolitan, helped by a café culture left behind from when this was part of French Indochina. Dotted around its pleasantly faded, palm-shaded streets are ancient ruins, gleaming stupas and graceful colonial buildings.
The laidback atmosphere and the relative lack of modern development make Laos perhaps the most authentic and unspoiled of the Southeast Asia nations, though it competes for this title with neighbouring Myanmar. Laos is also one of the few communist countries left in the world – which should be obvious from the bureaucratic red tape and the omnipresent red stars on uniforms and state buildings.
Until 1988, tourists were banned from Laos, but now it is possible to travel all over the country. Nevertheless, there are few crowded tourist hotspots, with the possible exception of monastery-studded Luang Prabang and the overblown backpacker resort of Vang Vieng. Wherever you go in Laos, you’ll encounter the delectable Lao cuisine: a little bit French, a little bit Southeast Asian, and perfect washed down with a bottle of Beer Lao.
236,800 sq km (91,400 sq miles).
6,918,367 (UN estimate 2016).
29.2 per sq km.
President Thongloun Sisoulith since 2021.
Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh since 2021.
Coronavirus travel health
Check the latest information on risk from COVID-19 for Laos on the TravelHealthPro website
See the TravelHealthPro website for further advice on travel abroad and reducing spread of respiratory viruses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
If you’re a British national intending to travel to Laos, you should follow your airlines guidance and sign up for email alerts for updates to this travel advice.
Check with your travel company for the latest information.
Normal immigration procedures should be now in operation.
Entry and borders
The government of the Lao PDR has reopened all international borders. We recommend checking in advance that your intended land border crossing allows entry for foreign travellers and the visa requirements.
Visa on entry and e-Visa are available for entry at Wattay Airport and some land border posts (check availability at land borders in advance of travelling). See Entry requirements
Be prepared for your plans to change
No travel is risk-free during the COVID-19 pandemic. Countries may further restrict travel or bring in new rules at short notice, for example due to a new COVID-19 variant. Check with your Travel Company or airline for any transport changes, which may delay your journey home.
If you test positive for COVID-19, you may need to stay where you are until you test negative. You may also need to seek treatment there.
Plan and make sure you:
- can access money
- understand what your insurance will cover
- can make arrangements to extend your stay and be away for longer than planned
Travel in Laos
Travel restrictions within Laos have been lifted. Authorisation for travel by road, water and air between provinces is no longer required for travellers carrying proof of full vaccination. You should consult with provincial COVID-19 Task Forces for guidance for those who are not fully vaccinated or are too young to be vaccinated.
You should monitor local official announcements for guidance in the latest restrictions. There may be short notice lockdowns introduced in provinces with reports of COVID-19 outbreaks.
Thailand land border
If travelling to Thailand you should keep up to date with the latest information on the websites of the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Royal Thai Embassy in Vientiane, and the Thai Ministry of Public Health.
Hotels and private rental accommodation is available throughout Laos, although a number of hotels/hostels are currently closed due to reduced tourist numbers. You should arrange accommodation in advance of travel.
Public places and services
You should still carry evidence of your vaccination status at all times as some places and services may still require this.
COVID-19 outbreaks mean further measures may be introduced at short notice, including measures applying to individual provinces. You should follow the advice of the Lao authorities.
Healthcare in Laos
For contact details of English speaking doctors visit our list of healthcare providers.
If you think you have COVID-19 symptoms, you should self-isolate and dial +856 20 5406 6777 to speak to a duty officer in Laos or English, or the free hotline numbers 155 and 166.
Keep in regular contact with family and friends at home, so they know you’re safe and well. Your emotional and mental wellbeing is important. Read guidance on how to look after your mental wellbeing and mental health.
View Health for further details on healthcare in Laos.
See also the guidance on healthcare if you’re waiting to return to the UK.
For information on financial support you can access whilst abroad, visit our financial assistance guidance.
If you need urgent consular assistance, contact your nearest British embassy, high commission or consulate. All telephone numbers are available 24/7.
See additional advice on making travel plans to return to the UK, or what to do if you cannot depart immediately.
The local equivalent to the UK ‘999’ emergency lines are: 1190 for fire, 1195 for ambulance and for police: 1191, 241162, 241163, 241164, and 212703. The Tourist Police can be contacted in Vientiane on 021-251-128.
Petty crime can occur, especially in tourist areas and outside banks after customers have withdrawn money. When you’re withdrawing money from ATMs or across the counter be aware of who may be watching. Try to have someone with you and avoid carrying passport, debit and credit cards, and cash in the same bag, to prevent a total loss. There are regular reports of random bag snatches, many being carried out by people on motorcycles. Take sensible precautions, hold your bags on the side away from the road, and do not have valuables on display.
There have been some recently reported incidents of individuals being approached and followed, whilst being alone at dawn and sunset. Be alert to your surroundings, trust your instincts and if you think you’re being followed move to an area where there are other people. Consider sharing your planned route in advance and avoid quiet or sparsely travelled areas.
Safes provided in hotels and guesthouses aren’t necessarily secure. Consider using your own lock where possible. Take care of your possessions if you’re travelling long distances, or overnight, by public transport. Be particularly vigilant travelling at night by bicycle or motorcycle, especially if you’re alone. Stick to well-used, well-lit roads and carry a personal alarm if possible. Be aware of your surroundings and avoid unlit roads, especially if you’re alone.
Do not leave your passport as a deposit or guarantee when hiring motorcycles. There have been reports of rental companies arranging for rented motorcycles to be deliberately stolen or damaged resulting in the retention of the passport and payment of a heavy fine. Always make sure your travel insurance covers medical and other costs associated with motorcycle rental and accidents.
Local law enforcement responses to crimes, even violent crimes, are often limited. Foreigners attempting to report crimes have reported finding police stations closed, emergency telephone numbers unanswered, or police lacking transportation or authorisation to investigate crimes that occur at night. It is recommended that you enlist the staff at your accommodation to assist with reporting a crime. It is normal to be requested to pay travel/fuel and telephone costs for an officer to investigate a crime.
Specific events or political disputes may trigger violent protests. You should avoid any demonstrations or large gatherings of people. Keep yourself informed of local developments.
Unexploded mines and ordinances are a hazard throughout Laos, and kill a number of people each year. The risk is particularly high in Xieng Khouang Province (Plain of Jars), Luang Prabang Province and areas of the Lao-Vietnamese border, formerly the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Mined areas are often unmarked. Do not stray off main routes in rural areas, and do not pick up metal objects. This risk is elevated after flash floods or landslides during the monsoon season.
There have been attacks on infrastructure and armed clashes with anti-government groups reported as recently as March 2021 in Xaisomboun Province. Further skirmishes may occur.
Take care near the border with Myanmar. This is a well-known drugs trade route where armed groups operate.
There have been small-scale clashes between anti-government groups and government troops in isolated areas along the Lao-Thai border. The local law enforcement agencies have limited capability to counter these threats.
You should get permission from the village chief, district head, provincial governor or national tourism authority for any travel perceived as out of the ordinary, including business, extensive photography, or scientific research of any kind.
You may be stopped by the police at any time, particularly in the evening, and asked to show identification papers before being allowed to travel on. You should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
In 2016, there were a number of roadside attacks along Route 13 between Kasi and Phou Kon in Vientiane Province. Although none have been reported recently, you should be vigilant and take extra care if you travel on this road.
Travellers should exercise caution in Bokeo Province: particularly near the border with Myanmar and Thailand, and around the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone. Criminals and other people pursuing illegal activities, including employment scams, operate in these areas. In particular, it is a well known drugs route where armed groups operate.
There have been reported incidents where both male and female tourists have had drinks or food spiked with drugs and in some cases been assaulted. Never leave food or drink unattended. Be careful about taking drinks from strangers at bars, clubs, restaurants and parties.
For confidential, empathetic and non-judgemental support and for guidance with local officials please call the embassy number 24/7 to speak to a consular officer +856 30 770 0000.
All recreational drugs including marijuana are illegal in Laos and penalties which include fines, deportation and prison are harsh. These include the death penalty with a number of Lao nationals having been sentenced to this in 2019.
A list of recent incidents and accidents can be found on the website of the Aviation Safety network.
In 2015, the International Civil Aviation Organisation carried out an audit of the level of implementation of the critical elements of safety oversight in Laos.
The FCDO cannot offer advice on the safety of individual airlines. However, the International Air Transport Association publishes a list of registered airlines that have been audited and found to meet a number of operational safety standards and recommended practices. This list is not exhaustive and the absence of an airline from this list does not necessarily mean that it is unsafe.
A departure tax is now included in the price of the air ticket and is no longer paid separately in cash.
Roads in Laos are in poor condition and vehicles are not generally maintained to UK standards. Other road users might not show the same level of consideration as in the UK. Travel after dark significantly increases the risk of an accident, as vehicles often do not have lights. Livestock also stray on to the roads causing accidents.
The recently opened Vientiane to Vang Vieng section of the China-Laos Expressway is the first contained high-speed road in Laos, with posted speed limits between 80 and 120km/h. Take care when using this route, as some local users will be unfamiliar with this type of carriageway, and there are vehicle restrictions in place. There have also been reports of animals straying onto the carriageways.
You should also be aware that social media posts regarding the time taken to transit this road are visible to law enforcement officers, and may be used in traffic offence prosecutions.
Motorbike rentals might not automatically provide a helmet, budget to purchase one locally. Take extra care when using public transport or shared vehicles, which might be overcrowded and unsafe. You can report road accidents to a dedicated police number +856 20 5666 9090.
If you’re involved in a road accident you will have to pay compensation for third party property damage and injury, even if you’re not at fault. As a general rule, the Lao authorities will overwhelmingly find in favour of Lao citizens, regardless of the situation. Lao insurers only meet a small proportion of the costs of an accident and will not cover this compensation.
Travel on the Mekong River by speedboat and slow-boat can be dangerous, especially when water levels are low. Make sure you travel with a company that provides lifejackets.
White water rafting, kayaking, tubing and other water-based activities, including swimming in the Mekong, are dangerous and incidents of drowning and serious injuries have been reported. Laos does not have the same health and safety expectations as in the UK. There might not be warning signs or safety advice provided, even where it is needed. Take great care and check your travel insurance policy to ensure that you’re covered for these activities.
Make use of buoyancy aids when provided and consider if you should take part in activities when there are none.
Although there’s no recent history of terrorism in Laos, attacks cannot be ruled out.
UK Counter Terrorism Policing has information and advice on staying safe abroad and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack. Find out more about the global threat from terrorism.
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.
There’s a heightened threat of terrorist attack globally against UK interests and British nationals, from groups or individuals motivated by the conflict in Iraq and Syria. You should be vigilant at this time.
Find out more about the global threat from terrorism, how to minimise your risk and what to do in the event of a terrorist attack.
This page has information on travelling to Laos.
This page reflects the UK government’s understanding of current rules for people travelling on a full ‘British Citizen’ passport from the UK, for the most common types of travel.
The authorities in Laos set and enforce entry rules. If you’re unsure how Laos’ entry requirements apply to you, contact its UK embassy, high commission or consulate.
The government of the Lao PDR announced the reopening of all international borders on 9 May 2022. We recommend checking in advance as not all land border crossings allow the entry of non Lao nationals or offer visa on arrival facilities.
Visa on arrival and e-Visa are available from the above date.
Fully vaccinated individuals do not require pre-departure or on arrival tests.
The official policy remains that unvaccinated individuals will be required to take an ATK test a maximum of 48 hours before departure. There are reports of this not being enforced. However, customs and immigration officials retain the authority to ask you to produce a pre-departure test.
There is no requirement to quarantine.
Visitors contracting or arriving with COVID-19 will be responsible for all treatment costs.
All visa processes will return to pre-pandemic regulations, tourists visas will again only be extended twice in country. Visa on arrival is not available at all land borders, please confirm in advance before attempting to cross.
Be aware that if you do not renew your visa within 90 days new regulations set a fine of 20 million LAK, deportation to your home country and a ban on returning to Laos.
If you’re fully vaccinated
Proof of vaccination status
Laos will accept the UK’s proof of COVID-19 recovery and vaccination record and proof of COVID-19 vaccination issued in the Crown Dependencies. Your final vaccine dose must have been administered at least 14 days prior to travel. Your NHS appointment card from vaccination centres is not designed to be used as proof of vaccination and should not be used to demonstrate your vaccine status.
See the ‘All travellers’ section.
Children and young people
Requirements are the same regardless of age. See the ‘All travellers’ section.
If you’re transiting through Laos
There are currently no transit options via Laos.
Check your passport and travel documents before you travel
Your passport should have at least 6 months’ validity remaining on your date of entry into Laos.
Additionally, be aware that airlines will now only allow boarding of flights to and from Laos if you have two blank pages in your passport.
Check with your travel provider to make sure your passport and other travel documents meet their requirements.
Yellow fever certificate requirements
Check whether you need a yellow fever certificate by visiting the National Travel Health Network and Centre’s TravelHealthPro website.
UK Emergency Travel Documents
UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETDs) are accepted for entry, airside transit and exit from Laos. If you’re planning to enter Laos using a UK ETD you should contact the nearest Lao embassy or consulate to get the appropriate visa before you travel. If you plan to apply for an Emergency Travel Document (ETD) to depart Laos, you must confirm with the Embassy of the country you will travel to (either as a destination or for transit) that they will accept i) an ETD and ii) your reason for travel with an ETD, before you submit your application for an Emergency Travel Document. If your passport has been lost or stolen, you must report the loss or theft to the nearest police station and get a police report. You will then need to get a certificate of loss from the Immigration Department in Vientiane, which usually takes 1 to 2 working days. After getting an ETD from the British Embassy, you will need to get an exit visa from the Lao Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which takes up to 3 days.
If you have a health condition, or you are pregnant, you may need specialist healthcare abroad. Check whether your destination country can provide the healthcare you may need and ensure you have appropriate travel insurance for unexpected medical evacuation or local treatment.
See the Coronavirus travel health and Healthcare sections in the Coronavirus page for COVID-19 health information.
At least 8 weeks before your trip, check the latest country-specific health advice from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) on the TravelHealthPro website. Each country-specific page has information on vaccine recommendations, any current health risks or outbreaks, and factsheets with information on staying healthy abroad. Guidance is also available from NHS (Scotland) on the FitForTravel website.
General information on travel vaccinations and a travel health checklist is available on the NHS website. You may then wish to contact your health adviser or pharmacy for advice on other preventive measures and managing any pre-existing medical conditions while you’re abroad.
The legal status and regulation of some medicines prescribed or bought in the UK can be different in other countries. If you’re travelling with prescription or over-the-counter medicine, read this guidance from NaTHNaC on best practice when travelling with medicines. For further information on the legal status of a specific medicine, you’ll need to contact the embassy, high commission or consulate of the country or territory you’re travelling to.
While travel can be enjoyable, it can sometimes be challenging. There are clear links between mental and physical health, so looking after yourself during travel and when abroad is important. Information on travelling with mental health conditions is available in our guidance page. Further information is also available from the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC).
UK health authorities have classified Laos as having a risk of Zika virus transmission. For information and advice about the risks associated with Zika virus, visit the National Travel Health Network and Centre website
The 2022/23 rainy season has seen an increase in Dengue cases. Dengue and Malaria are endemic, so you should increase precautions to avoid being bitten by mosquitos. Visit the NaTHNaC website for additional guidance and advice on Malaria in Laos.
Water borne, food borne and other infectious diseases are common and serious outbreaks occur from time to time.
There have been outbreaks of avian influenza (also known as bird flu) in poultry in Laos. The risk to humans is very low, but as a precaution you should avoid contact with domestic, caged or wild birds and make sure poultry and egg dishes are thoroughly cooked.
Regional air pollution, up to unhealthy levels, can affect areas of Laos, and may aggravate heart, lung or respiratory conditions. Children, the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions may be especially affected. You can find advice on air quality and possible mitigation on the World Health Organization (WHO) website. You can check air quality levels for some cities in Laos in real time on the World Air Quality Index website.
Medical care in Laos is basic and outside the capital there are no reliable facilities to deal with medical emergencies. Medical evacuation is difficult to organise and very expensive. Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment abroad and repatriation.
There are limited mental health services or care facilities in Laos. Professional treatment including medication is difficult and expensive to obtain. Emergency mental health treatment is likely to need transfer to a country offering appropriate facilities. Always make sure your travel insurance policy covers any pre-existing mental health conditions.
If you need emergency medical assistance during your trip, dial 1195 or 030 5257239 and ask for an ambulance. You should contact your insurance/medical assistance company promptly if you’re referred to a medical facility for treatment. You may be asked to pay for the use of an ambulance and any treatment you may need in advance. Usually you will get a receipt that can be used to claim on your insurance.
Voluntary ambulance services also operate in Vientiane free of charge:
- Vientiane Rescue (telephone: 1623 or (0)20 5666 8825)
- Lao Red Cross Rescue (telephone: +856 (0)20 5996 6111 or (0)20 2200 5563
Note that these phone lines and emergency services telephone numbers are seldom staffed by English speakers. Make sure anyone attending an accident is wearing a uniform identifying himself or herself as ‘Vientiane Rescue’ or ‘Lao Red Cross’. There have been reports of bogus companies who are not trained in first aid charging for attending accidents.
International clinics, large hospitals and larger pharmacies are able to fulfil or source most prescription requirements. In more remote areas this may be more difficult, please plan ahead before travelling.
Carry an ID document or passport at all times. You will receive a heavy fine if you do not present ID on request.
Do not get involved with drugs. There have been a number of occasions where British nationals have suffered fatal overdoses from very small quantities. Possession, trafficking and manufacture of drugs are serious offences. Those caught face lengthy prison sentences or the death penalty.
The Lao government prohibits sexual relationships between foreign and Lao nationals, except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao family law. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao national 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 involve imprisonment. It is not unknown for Lao authorities to demand entry into hotel rooms or guesthouses where they suspect this regulation is being broken.
There are no legal restrictions on same-sex sexual relations or the organisation of LGBT events in Laos. LGBT Pride was held by ‘Proud To Be Us Laos’ in 2012 and 2013. However, progress was stopped after their partner organisations became concerned about the reaction from government. Proud To Be Us Laos continue to raise awareness about LGBT rights and HIV/AIDS among the LGBT community. More local information can be found on their Facebook page. See our information and advice page for the LGBT community before you travel.
Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and can result in arrest or detention. This includes photographing anything that can be perceived as a military site like bridges or airfields.
When visiting temples and religious sites, shoulders and knees should be covered, guidance will only be posted at major locations but, should be observed at all. It is not considered appropriate to walk around in public while wearing swimming costumes after leaving waterfalls, rivers or swimming pools.
Conditions in prisons and other detention facilities are harsh, with limited access to healthcare. If a British national is arrested and detained in Laos, the Laos authorities must inform the British Embassy on the prisoner’s formal request. However, it can take several weeks or months for the British Embassy to be formally notified and the Embassy often learns of an arrest informally from friends or family.
The rainy season in Laos normally runs from May to October, 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 the Mekong river basins and elsewhere. The Mekong River Commission posts official updates on the Mekong River on their website. Travel to some provinces can be seriously disrupted during this time. Monitor local news and weather reports, and international weather updates from the World Meteorological Organisation. See Tropical cyclones
If you’re abroad and you need emergency help from the UK government, contact the nearest British embassy, consulate or high commission. If you need urgent help because something has happened to a friend or relative abroad, contact the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) in London on 020 7008 5000 (24 hours).
Foreign travel checklist
Read our foreign travel checklist to help you plan for your trip abroad and stay safe while you’re there.
The FCDO travel advice helps you make your own decisions about foreign travel. Your safety is our main concern, but we can not provide tailored advice for individual trips. If you’re concerned about whether or not it’s safe for you to travel, you should read the travel advice for the country or territory you’re travelling to, together with information from other sources you’ve identified, before making your own decision on whether to travel. Only you can decide whether it’s safe for you to travel.
When we judge the level of risk to British nationals in a particular place has become unacceptably high, we’ll state on the travel advice page for that country or territory that we advise against all or all but essential travel. Read more about how the FCDO assesses and categorises risk in foreign travel advice.
Our crisis overseas page suggests additional things you can do before and during foreign travel to help you stay safe.
Refunds and cancellations
If you wish to cancel or change a holiday that you’ve booked, you should contact your travel company. The question of refunds and cancellations is a matter for you and your travel company. Travel companies make their own decisions about whether or not to offer customers a refund. Many of them use our travel advice to help them reach these decisions, but we do not instruct travel companies on when they can or can not offer a refund to their customers.
For more information about your rights if you wish to cancel a holiday, visit the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website. For help resolving problems with a flight booking, visit the website of the Civil Aviation Authority. For questions about travel insurance, contact your insurance provider and if you’re not happy with their response, you can complain to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
Registering your travel details with us
We’re no longer asking people to register with us before travel. Our foreign travel checklist and crisis overseas page suggest things you can do before and during foreign travel to plan your trip and stay safe.
Previous versions of FCDO travel advice
If you’re looking for a previous version of the FCDO travel advice, visit the National Archives website. Versions prior to 2 September 2020 will be archived as FCO travel advice. If you can not find the page you’re looking for there, send the Travel Advice Team a request.
If you’re a British national and you have a question about travelling abroad that isn’t covered in our foreign travel advice or elsewhere on GOV.UK, you can submit an enquiry, or contact us on Twitter or Facebook. We’re not able to provide tailored advice for specific trips.