Laos: Doing business and staying in touch
Doing Business in Laos
Punctuality is appreciated. Lightweight suits, shirt and tie should be worn. English is not spoken by all officials and knowledge of French is useful. Business cards should have a Laotian translation on the reverse. Best time to visit is during the dry season, from November to April.
Mon-Fri 0800-1200 and 1300/1400-1600.
Laos is one of the world's poorest countries, and its predominantly agricultural economy is largely at a level of subsistence. The main crops are rice, pulses, fruits, sugar cane, tobacco and coffee. Laotian coffee is highly rated among connoisseurs and is now the country's single largest export commodity.
Considerable reserves of tin, lead, zinc, iron ore, coal and timber are largely untapped. Industry is mostly concerned with textiles, basic consumer goods and processing raw materials. The tourism industry has developed since the late 1990s. It is now Laos' single largest source of income but development is hampered by chronic shortages of skilled labour and foreign exchange.
Economic reforms began in the early 1990s but, compounded by the regional financial crisis, the economy was in serious difficulties by the beginning of 1999 with the Lao Kip sinking against the US Dollar, which it has continued to do. Since then, something of a recovery has taken place: in 2011 the economy was growing at around 8.3% annually while inflation had been cut to 7.8%. The economy relies heavily on foreign aid. Laos is currently working towards joining the World Trade Organisation.
US$7.9 billion (2011).
Clothing, timber products, copper, electricity and coffee.
Machinery and equipment, vehicles, fuel and consumer goods.
Main trading partners
Vietnam, Thailand, France and China (PR).
Keeping in Touch in Laos
The General Post Office (GPO) offers public telephones for national and international calls. There are also card phone booths available. Lao Telecome Numphu Centre in Vientiane is useful for making international calls, domestic calls and sending faxes.
Roaming agreements exist with a few international mobile phone companies. Check with your service provider. Coverage is sporadic and mainly, though not exclusively, situated around Vientiane. It's better and cheaper to arrives to Laos with your mobile phone unlocked and then to buy a pay-as-you-go SIM card. Look for Tigo and M-phone top-up cards.
Internet cafes are located in the major towns and are becoming increasingly common in places frequented by backpackers. High-speed connection is only available in places such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang. In Vientiane the best streets to head to for fast internet connection and internet cafes with Skype and air-conditioning are Th Samsenthai and Th Setthathriat. Expect to pay around 7000K an hour for broadband. Wi-Fi is increasingly available in many Western orientated bars and cafes
The Lao media is basically a tool of the government, which owns all of the country's newspapers and broadcast media. Newspapers are not widely read. The widest read English-language newspaper is the Vientiane Times. Le Rénovateur, started in 1998, is the only French-language newspaper in the Lao PDR (Laos). It is published weekly by an agency of the Ministry of Information and Culture and the French Cultural Centre of Vientiane corrects the articles written by Laotian journalists. The Lao-language daily is the Vientiane Mai. All newspapers are state run. You will be able to pick up copies of Newsweek, Time, The Economist and The Bangkok Post in the capital.
Lao National TV (TVNL) and Laos Television 3, a joint venture with a Thai company, are the main TV channels. Lao National Radio is the national radio station - it was founded in 1960, before becoming a national broadcaster in 1975.
The General Post Office (GPO) is beside the Morning Market in Vientiane. Normal postal service is inexpensive and generally reliable although it can take around two weeks to and from Western countries. A courier service is recommended for urgent or valuable mail.Post Office hours
Mon-Fri 0800-1700, Sat-Sun 0800-1200.