Southeast Asia's only landlocked country gets plenty of visitor traffic from its overland crossings from China, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand. Travelers on the famed Banana Pancake backpacking trail also approach the border by bus and boat (via the popular "slow boat," which motors down the Mekong River for two days straight). Almost everyone who enters Laos needs a visa, but most of the time, you can obtain one upon arrival.
The only people who do not need a visa for Laos are travelers with passports from Japan, Russia, Korea, and fellow Southeast Asian countries. Everyone else will receive a full-page visa in their passport that's valid for 30 days.
Getting a Visa on Arrival
You might need two passport-sized photos for the application. The fee varies depending on your citizenship, but can range from $30 (266,700 Kip) to $42 (373,380 Kip).
To facilitate processing, pay the visa application fee in exact change with U.S. dollars. Laotian Kip and Thai Baht are accepted, but you may pay more for the currency exchange. The following land and air crossings provide visas on arrival to visiting foreigners.
- Laos International Airports: Vientiane, Pakse, and Luang Prabang Airports
- Thailand: Friendship Bridge connecting Vientiane and Nong Khai, Houayxay-Chiang Khong, Thakhek-Nakhon Phanom, and Vangtao-Chong Mek. If you are entering Laos from Thailand, decline any offers by guest houses and agents to handle your visa application in Nongkhai—most of these services are scams.
- Vietnam: Dansavan-Lao Bao overland crossing
- Cambodia: Veun Kham-Dong Calor overland crossing
- China: Boten-Mohan overland crossing
Getting a Visa in Advance
If you wish to remain within Laos for longer than 30 days, consider applying for a visitor's visa from a consulate office in Southeast Asia or at the Laos embassy in your home country. Application fees differ, but you may be granted up to a 60-day stay.
Having a visa before arrival means that you may be able to bypass lines at the border. It also allows access to additional international entry points that do not furnish visas on arrival, including Napao-Chalo and Taichang-Pang Hok from Vietnam and Pakxan-Bungkan from Thailand.
Laos has consulates located all over Southeast Asia, including Vietnam, Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines, Myanmar, and Cambodia.
Visitors may also apply for a visa extension at the Department of Immigration office on Lane Xang Avenue in Vientiane, although the process is not completely straightforward. Travelers have been turned away from this office because of absent personnel, so plan in advance for your visa extension to avoid getting fined for unintentionally overstaying.
Tourist visas may be extended up to an additional 60 days at a cost of $2 a day. That's far cheaper than inadvertent overstays, which might be cause for arrest and definitely will cost a fine of $10 per day.
You'll need to bring your passport, a passport photo, a service fee of $3, and an application fee of 3,000 Kip per person.
More Border Crossing Tips
- Vaccinations: Malaria is a serious risk in Laos and the usual travel immunizations for typhoid, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, polio, and tuberculosis are highly recommended. Proof of yellow fever immunization is required for visitors arriving from infected areas (parts of Africa and South America).
- Bus travel: The mountainous terrain in central Laos makes bus travel at night especially dangerous. Choose buses that take advantage of the daylight by leaving earlier in the morning.
- Boat Travel: The notorious slow boat between Laos and Thailand is a test of nerves for both driver and passengers. The lower water levels during the dry season (December to April) make speedboat travel even more hazardous.