Visa requirements for entering the country
Either the visa on arrival or the tourist visa obtained in advance will be valid for a maximum of 30 days and can be further extended at an immigration office if you need more time. This guide will help you to navigate among all the options that you have in order to make the whole process of planning your trip to Lao the easier possible.
Citizens coming from countries which are members of ASEAN (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam) are not required to get a Visa and they are allowed to stay in Laos for 30 days.
In addition to these also Russia, Japan, Switzerland, Luxemburg, South Korea, Mongolia and all the former countries of the USSR have signed mutual agreements with Lao government that allow their citizens to enter the country without visa. In this case anyway they can stay in Laos only for 15 days.
When entering the country your passport will still be stamped and it has to be valid for 6 months. No additional documents or fees are required other than an application form available at any entry point.
It’s also important to notice that this will be only a free entry stamp and not a free visa, which means that it cannot be extended after the 15 days.
If planning to stay more than that you might want to consider to apply for a visa on arrival or you’ll have to exit and reenter Laos after 15 days. Like a regular tourist visa, the free stamp doesn’t allow you to work and it’s granted only for tourism purposes.
Visa on arrival
The vast majority of foreigners can obtain a visa on arrival at many entry points. Only 29 countries cannot get it and will have to apply in advance for a tourist visa. For a detailed list of these countries please check out the link in the last chapter of this guide.
A visa on arrival is valid for 30 days and can be extended twice (30 more days each time) at any immigration office in Laos. The visa is granted only for tourism purposes and doesn’t allow you to wok nor volunteer while in the country. The documents required are:
- Original passport with 6 months of validity from the date of entry
- Application form which will be available at the entry point
- 2 passport pictures
- Visa fee
The visa fee has to be paid in cash in USD, LAK or THB (when entering from Thailand). Depending on your nationality it varies from USD20 (China) to USD42 (Canada). For the majority of the countries it is USD30. When paying in Thai currency, a flat fee of THB1500 is usually required, which is higher than what it should be. Try to have enough USD with you to save some money. If you forget the pictures an additional fee will be required to scan the one on your passport. This can vary at different borders but shouldn’t be more than USD5.
The visa on arrival is available at all the major airports (Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Savannakhet and Pakse) and at all the most popular overland borders from Thailand, Vietnam, China and Cambodia (you can check the list at the end of the page).
Tourist visas obtained in advance
A tourist visa can be obtained in advance at any Lao’s embassy or consulate by anybody whose citizenship doesn’t allow them to get a visa on arrival. While it is possible to get a visa in advance even for people who can get a visa on arrival, there’s not a real advantage in doing that other than not having to wait in a line at the border.
In fact the two visas work exactly the same way, both of them being valid for 30 days. The tourist visa can be also extended twice and of course doesn’t allow to work. All the same documents required for the visa on arrival have to be presented at the embassy which depending on your nationality might require additional papers. Common ones are copy of your itinerary, prove of an exit flight from the country and a reservation in a hotel for at least the first few nights in Laos.
The visa fees are slightly more expensive, usually just a few USD. The whole process can take up to 5 business days, but some embassy offer an express service charging USD15 more. In this case the visa will be obtained in 1 day.
For detailed information about the document required please inquire the Lao’s embassy where you’re planning to apply. It can be done either in your original country or anywhere else you’re travelling before entering Laos.
Both the visa on arrival and the tourist visa can be extended before the expiring date at the Immigration Department in Vientiane or at the Immigration Office in some major cities (Luang Prabang and Pakse among others). The visa can be extended twice for a maximum of 30 days each time and it costs LAK20000 (roughly USD2,5) for each day. This means that you can decide to extend it only for a few days if you want and you’ll pay only for those days and not for the entire month. An extra processing fee of USD2 will be asked on top of that. The process takes 1 working day, so you’ll have to leave you passport at the office and collect it the next day. 1 passport picture is also required, and an application form available on site has to be filled.
If you want to extend for a whole month it will cost you roughly USD70, so if you’re on a low budget you might consider to simply exit the country and reenter to save a little bit of money.
If you’re travelling to places where no immigration office is available, many travel agencies will be able to get it done for you at an extra fee. In this case be prepared to leave your passport with them for several days.
The visa extension will start from the day your previous one expires even if you go to immigration few days in advance, so you don’t need to go necessary on the last day.
Punishment for overstaying your visa
Overstaying in Laos is not a big deal as long as you’re ready to pay USD10 for any extra day. The fine has to be paid directly at your point of exit. If you need to stay just a few days more than what your visa allows you, overstaying could be easier than searching for an immigration office and go through the whole process. Anyway we would advise you to consider this option only if you’re leaving from an airport or from a major overland boarder like Vientiane. At some less trafficked boarders dishonest immigration officials might charge you more than that, threatening you to take you to jail if you don’t pay it.
Other useful information
When travelling to Laos with an international bus, make sure before you purchase the ticket that the driver will wait at the border for those people who need to apply for a visa on arrival. At busy entry points like Vientiane where the whole process can take 1 hour or more this will not happen, and you will have to rely on public transportation once you’re on the Lao side. Most important of all, don’t leave any bag on the bus even if they guarantee they will wait for you.
At some of the borders after you got your Visa, you’ll be approached by immigration officials asking for an extra USD1 for a not better specified procession or entry fee. We’re not sure this is really necessary and the fact that it happens quite randomly is suspicious, but we wouldn’t start an argument for one dollar.
Useful visa resources
Here’s a few links you might want to check to have further information about visas.
From the official Laos’s immigration department website you can learn more about any type of visa other than the tourist ones ( http://www.immigration.gov.la/visas.html) and you can get the list of all the entry points where you can obtain a visa on arrival (http://www.immigration.gov.la/checkpoints.html).
At the Lao’s official tourism website you can check the list of the countries that cannot get a visa on arrival (http://www.tourismlaos.org/show.php?Cont_ID=348).