Guidance

Living in Laos

Advice for British people living in Laos, including information on health, education, benefits, residence requirements and more.

Introduction

This guide sets out essential information for British national residing in Laos, including advice on health, education, benefits, residence requirements and more. We are unable to provide any guidance on general lifestyle enquiries apart from the information and links listed below. See Our Services for British nationals.

Health

Make sure you have adequate travel health insurance and accessible funds to cover the cost of any medical treatment and repatriation back to the UK. For information on pre-travel health consultations, please visit NHS Choices for useful information about healthcare abroad.

Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. In Vientiane, British citizens may wish to contact the following organisations:

The emergency ambulance service. Telephone number: 1195

There are a number of charities operating a rescue service in Vientiane following a road traffic accident including:

Lao Red Cross. Telephone no: +856 (0)20 5996 6111 or +856 (0)20 2200 5563

Vientiane Rescue. Telephone number: 1623 (Lao speaking only)

A list of medical facilities in Laos and Thailand is available here.

Travellers with no insurance (or invalidated insurance) will be expected to pay for their medical treatment. Treatment, even in an emergency, is never free of charge. Often a patient will be required to pay their bill before they can be released. Travellers with insurance may still have to pay for their healthcare upfront and claim the money back later. Also check with your insurance company whether you will be entitled to claim for treatment in private facilities.

Counterfeit pharmaceuticals are a problem throughout Southeast Asia. Please be aware of this problem and purchase pharmaceuticals only through the most reputable pharmacies and with a physician’s prescription.

A list of funeral directors to assist with funeral services in Laos is available here.

UK healthcare

Your entitlement to free NHS treatment depends on the length and purpose of your residence in the UK, not your nationality. You must be able to show UK residency to be eligible for free treatment, even if you are a British citizen. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau or NHS can provide further information.

Education

Ministry of Education and Sports Lao PDR

Pre School

There are kindergartens that cater to children from 3 to 5 years old. However, attendance in pre-school is not compulsory. Hence there is a low enrolment rate of below 10% for both males and females.

Primary School

There are roughly 9,000 primary schools in Laos. Primary school starts at the age of 6 and lasts for five years. This phase of education was made compulsory in 2003. The new law did not boost enrollment rate. It has stagnated since year 2000 with slight increase for female enrolment. Lao language, mathematics and physical education are some of the lessons conducted in a primary school. Students are given quizzes, tests and exams periodically and achieve a certificate after sitting for primary leaving examination.

Secondary School

There are an estimated 1,000 formal secondary schools established in Laos. The transition rate from primary to secondary is estimated to be 77.6%.

Secondary school is branched into lower-secondary and upper-secondary. Before 2009, lower and upper secondary each lasted three years. It is now four years of lower secondary and three years of upper secondary. Upper secondary is open to students who pass the lower secondary examinations. Thereafter, it is further divided into general, technical, vocational and primary school. Secondary education is legally free-of-charge, though the schools charge a registration fee.

Higher Education

Higher education can be attained from National University Of Laos (NUOL), private institutions and teacher training colleges. Qualifications on offer include diploma, Bachelor’s degree, Master’s degree and Doctoral.

In 1996, NUOL was set up to provide higher education for Laotian but does have a few foreigners. It now comprises 11 faculties: Architecture, Engineering, Economics and Business Management, Environment, Law and Political Science, Agriculture, Education, Forestry, Letters, Sciences and Social Science. In 2006, they had 26,673 students.

Parents have the option to send their children to government schools or more commonly to international and private schools. There are a number of English-speaking, bilingual or international schools. This website has information on international or English-speaking schools in Vientiane.

Employment and recognised qualifications

British Nationals can work in Laos providing they have the required authority to do so and the correct documents, for information, contact:

Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism Lane Xang Avenue, PO Box 3556, Vientiane, the Lao PDR Fax: +856 (0)21 212 769 Office: +856 (0)21 212 251

Entry and residence requirements

Entry Requirements

Visa On Arrival

Lao visas are available on arrival at:

  • Lao international airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet,
  • Lao-Thai Friendship Bridges in Vientiane, Thakaek, and Savannakhet, and
  • Tha Naleng train station in Vientiane,
  • some international land border crossing points.

Requirements

  • your original passport with at least 6 months of remaining validity and a full blank page for a visa stamp plus space for an entry and exit stamp
  • a visa application form, filled and signed by the applicant (available at visa booth at Lao ports of entry)
  • one (1) recent passport-type photograph
  • the visa fee (cash) US$35

If you don’t have a photograph you will be asked to pay a small fee (a few dollars) for scanning your photograph from your passport, and placing it onto your visa application form.

Tourist visas may be extended for 30 days at the Bureau of Immigration (Bureau of Aliens and Foreigners Protection) opposite the morning market in Lane Xang Avenue, Vientiane. Do not overstay beyond the limit of your visa or you risk arrest and fines being imposed. Fines for overstaying are imposed at a rate of US$10 for each day you remain in Laos beyond the date stamped in your passport, they can be paid at the Bureau of Immigration or at the Friendship Bridge on departure.

Procedures

In most ports of entry including the Lao international border crossing points and Lao International Airports (Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet) the Visa on Arrival window is located at the arrival channel (before the immigration window).

Line up at the visa window to get a visa application form and fill it out (if you arrive by plane, the form should be given to you before landing). Then hand it in together with your passport, your photograph and the visa fee to the officer, and wait to be called.

The visa processing time varies between ports of entry. At major airports or at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge in Vientiane it takes around 10-15 minutes. Delays are possible in late afternoons, weekends and public holidays at both the visa window and immigration windows at the Lao-Thai Friendship Bridge.

Although we cannot advise you on what specific items you can or cannot bring into Laos, the Lao Customs Department website provides a list of general prohibitions and restrictions. We suggest you consult travel guides and websites to research your requirements.

UK Emergency Travel Documents (ETD) are currently not allowed for entry into Laos, only departure. British Nationals leaving Laos on an ETD should get an exit visa from the Consular Section of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Please see the following link and contact Lao Immigration Authorities for information about other visa types such as business visas.

Residence requirements

Candidates must have lived in Laos for 10 continuous years and must commit to living in Laos for at least 10 months each year. Specialists and scientists can also apply for permanent residency.

People who have operated a stable business in Laos for at least five years with an investment value of at least US$500,000 can also apply for permanent residency. A person who does a good deed to aid the nation’s development can also apply for permanent residency.

Everyone living in Laos must respect the laws and constitution of the country and its traditional culture and social order, as well as pay taxes to the government based on the relevant laws and contribute to maintaining security.

People granted permanent residency will no longer need a visa to visit Laos. They will also have the right to buy goods such as cars, but not the right to buy land as a decree on the matter is still being drafted.

One important requirement for permanent residency is the presence of a relative in Laos willing to act as a guarantor for the applicant, who must also be in good health and have no criminal record.

If the decree is approved, people of Lao origin living abroad can submit an application for permanent residency at the Lao Embassy or Consul General Office in the country where they live. The application will then be sent to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the relevant authorities for consideration within 3 months.

Registering yourself with the British Embassy and staying informed

We no longer use a system for registering visitors or residents with us. We advise all British nationals to read our up to date travel advice to ensure you stay safe, avoid problems and make informed decisions when living or travelling in Laos. We will email you with any changes to our travel advice when you subscribe to our travel alerts.

To stay up to date and get instant access to what’s going on you can also follow the Embassy’s Facebook page.

Benefits

There are no benefits in Laos, not even for Lao nationals.

You may still be able to claim some benefits from the UK if you travel or move abroad, or are already living abroad. What you’re entitled to depends on where you’re going and how long for.

If you have retired and you live in Laos, see our information on getting your state pension abroad. For further details contact the International Pension Centre. There is information available to help you make informed choices about living abroad and thinking about returning to the UK.

Driving licences and vehicles

You need either a Lao driving licence, a temporary Lao driving licence or an International Driving Permit to drive in Laos.

A Lao driving licence can be obtained after taking a driving test in Laos and will be valid for five years. Alternatively you can obtain a one year temporary driving licence by providing your UK driving licence if you are a resident in Laos. This is obtained from the Ministry of Communications, Transport and Post (located opposite Patuxai). You will need your valid UK driving licence and a photocopy of the front and back, your passport and work permit and a photocopy of both, one passport photograph and a fee of 50,000 LAK. This will take 3 days to be processed.

You should bear in mind that once your UK photocard licence expires or is lost or stolen you will not be able to renew this with the DVLA if you are residing in Laos. You must be a resident of Great Britain to renew your licence with the DVLA.

Documents you should carry

When driving in Laos, if stopped by the police you would need the following:

  • driving licence
  • technical inspection card
  • car or motorbike registration
  • tax sticker

The information below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. A driver involved in a traffic accident should remain at the scene and attempt to contact the police or wait for the police to arrive to prepare an accident report. If renting a car or motorcycle, contact the rental company and its insurance agent. If you are involved in an accident, you may contact the embassy. When renting a car, motorcycle, or bicycle, we advise you not to give your original passport to the owner of the vehicle as surety against loss, theft, or damage to the vehicle.

Less than half of the roads in Laos are paved, many are gravel roads or dirt tracks. As Laos is a mountainous country, the gradients coupled with poor roads can make for some challenging and slow driving. A 200km drive through the mountains could take as long as 18 hours so bear this in mind when planning your trip. Check locals conditions with someone who has made the journey recently, especially during rainy season as road conditions can deteriorate dramatically. You may need a 4WD or vehicle with a high wheel base to drive in most of Laos due to poor road conditions.

Roads in Laos are rarely congested, although the centre of Vientiane is becoming heavily congested at rush hours. Driving standards are generally poor so expect lane indiscipline and motorbikes appearing from all directions. Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored. Driving under the influence of alcohol or illegal drugs is not uncommon, especially at night and during Lao festivals. Furthermore, take special care when driving at night as most roads, especially in rural areas, do not have street lights and many cars, motorbikes and bicycles do not use lights. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road.

Finance

You need to have a business visa or a work permit before you can open a bank account. The banks will ask you for this documentation. For loans you would need an established local business or other collateral owned by a Lao citizen. For information on how to open an account and what documents are required please refer to individual banks.

There are ATMs in urban areas which will allow you to withdraw money in local currency by using foreign debit or credit cards with a fee (20-40,000 LAK). The maximum withdrawal is usually 1 or 2 million LAK depending on the bank. Some hotels, travel agencies and restaurants accept payments by credit cards although usually a 3% charge is applied. There are many banks and companies which will exchange money. Most commonly, US Dollars and Thai Baht but British Pounds and Euros are increasingly accepted. You will require US Dollars and other currency, in pristine condition, notes with pen marks, folds or tears are often not accepted. Outside of urban and tourist areas, ATMs and money exchange companies are not always available. Ensure you carry enough money if you are travelling to rural areas.

Guidance on bringing medication into Laos

Medicines you may need:

  • any prescription medicines you take every day in enough quantity to cover your entire trip
  • a list of the medications you take in case of loss or theft
  • anti-malarial drugs, if travelling to a malaria-risk area in Laos
  • medicine for diarrhoea, including over-the-counter rehydration salts
  • sunblock and sunglasses for protection from harmful effects of UV sun rays.
  • to prevent insect/mosquito bites, bring insect repellent with 30%-50% DEET

Social ethics and traditions

Lao people are friendly and show tolerance and an open minded approach to visitors in their country; but their culture and values should always be respected. Here are some helpful links:

Laos official tourism website Footprint Travel Guides - Local customs and laws Encyclopaedia Britannica - Daily life and social customs

Police clearance certificates

At present, the UK authorities do not provide police clearance certificates. Applicants can however apply for a subject access reply under the Subject Access Provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998. This is accepted by most foreign authorities in the absence of any other facility. You can obtain more information with the ACPO Criminal Records Office.

Police clearance certificates can be obtained from the Lao authorities at the Supreme Peoples Court on Khou Vieng Road. You will need a police clearance form (5,000 LAK, obtained from the Supreme Peoples Court), residence certificate, a photocopy of your passport, two passport photographs and a fee of 20,000 LAK.

Property and property disputes

Buying property or land in Laos is not a straightforward business. Generally foreign nationals are not able to own land. It is essential therefore that anyone planning to buy property or land seeks legal guidance before they commit.

Please note that the British Government cannot become involved in private legal disputes or provide legal advice. If you experience problems involving property in Laos you are recommended to engage a lawyer to act on your behalf and to seek legal redress through the courts.

Some general information about buying property abroad is available on our website.

Leaving Laos

If you live in the Laos and are considering returning to live in the UK (for example on retirement), you should consider how you will support yourself and how non-British members of your family may be able to accompany you.

National Insurance and tax

If you have not made full National Insurance (NI) contributions, remember you may not be eligible for state benefits or support. HM Revenue & Customs provide some useful information on returning to live in the UK for non-residents, including how to make NI contributions from abroad and getting your tax right if you are returning to the UK

Healthcare

Your entitlement to free NHS treatment depends on the length and purpose of your residence in the UK, not your nationality. You must be able to show UK residency to be eligible for free treatment, even if you are a British citizen. The Citizens’ Advice Bureau or NHS can provide further information.

Visas

If you wish to return to live in the UK with family members who do not hold British citizenship, they will need to meet the UK’s immigration requirements for settlement in the UK.

Disclaimer

This information is provided as a general guide and is based upon information provided to the embassy by the relevant local authorities and may be subject to change at any time with little or no notice. The FCO and the British embassy will not be liable for any inaccuracies in this information. British nationals wishing to obtain any further information must contact the relevant local authority.

Published 31 October 2013
Last updated 2 January 2014 + show all updates
  1. added Leaving Laos section
  2. First published.