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Home / General Travel Tips /
XYZ Consular Info: Laos

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XYZ Consular Info: Laos

U.S. Department of State
Bureau of Consular Affairs
Washington, DC 20520
For recorded travel information, call 202-647-5225
Internet Address: http://travel.state.gov
For information by fax, call 202-647-3000 from your fax machine
Consular Information Sheet
LAOS
May 16, 2002
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Laos is a poor developing country with a communist government. Political power is centralized in the Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but they are extremely limited in other parts of the country.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required. Visas are issued upon arrival in Laos to foreign tourists and business persons with two passport size photographs and $30 at Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane; and Luang Prabang Airport. Visas on Arrival are not available at the Chong Mek border crossing. Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 15 days with a Visa on Arrival or for 30 days with a visa issued at a Lao embassy. The Department of Immigration in Vientiane will only extend tourist visas for one day. It is sometimes possible to get an extension for an additional 15 days by submitting an application through a tour agency. Foreigners who overstay in
Laos risk arrest, and they will be fined $5 for each day upon departure.
Foreign tourists planning on entering Laos at any international checkpoint where Visas on Arrival are not available must obtain a visa in advance. In the United States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. 202-332-6416, fax 202-332-4923, Internet home page: http://www.laoembassy.com.
U.S. citizens should not attempt to enter Laos without valid travel documents or outside official ports of entry. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.- citizen travelers false Lao visas which have resulted in those travelers being denied entry into Laos. Persons attempting to enter Laos outside official ports of entry risk arrest or more serious consequences.
Immigration offices at some of the less used border-crossing points are not well marked. Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and customs formalities when they enter Laos. Travelers who enter Laos without completing these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or deportation.
In an effort to prevent international child abduction, many governments have
initiated procedures at entry/exit points. These often include requiring documentary evidence of relationship and permission for the child's travel from the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on hand, even if not required, may facilitate entry/departure.
DUAL NATIONALITY: Dual nationality is prohibited under the Law on Lao Nationality. The Lao government holds that persons lose their Lao citizenship if they take a foreign citizenship, and in some cases, if they reside in a foreign country for an extended period of time. Former Lao nationals who enter and depart Laos using a U.S. passport and a valid Lao visa retain the right of U.S. consular access and protection. The ability of the U.S. Embassy to provide consular services would be extremely limited in the event that a dual national enters Laos on a Lao passport or other non-U.S. travel document.
The Law on Lao Nationality holds that if one or both parents of a child are Lao nationals who have not permanently settled in another country, then the child is a Lao citizen even if the child is born outside Laos. In circumstances where a child is born in Laos and one parent is a U.S. citizen, the Lao government generally will not recognize such children as U.S. citizens, and generally will not permit such children to depart Laos on U.S. passports. Provided the child meets all other criteria for obtaining U.S. citizenship, however, the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane may still issue a U.S. passport to the child.
Specific questions on dual nationality may be directed to Overseas Citizens Services, Department of State, Room 4811, Washington, D.C. 20520 or to the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. For additional information, please see the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for the Dual Nationality flyer.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Between March 2000 and January 2001, Vientiane and several other towns throughout Laos experienced a series of bombing incidents, generally in public places, including markets and transportation facilities, frequented by foreign tourists, including U.S. citizens. No one has claimed responsibility for the incidents nor have local authorities made any arrests. There is no evidence that this violence was directed against American citizens or U.S. institutions, but foreign tourists were injured. While the spate of incidents has subsided, similar incidents remain possible. U.S. citizens traveling to or residing anywhere in Laos are advised to exercise caution and to be alert to
their surroundings.
The Government of Laos tightly controls travel to Saysomboun Special Zone and at times restricts travel to parts of Xieng Khouang Province (particularly Muang Khoune, Muang Paxai, and Muang Phoukout districts) because of ongoing insurgent and bandit activity. Due to the risk of violence, the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens in Laos to avoid travel to Saysomboun Special Zone and Xieng Khouang Province (except for Phonsavan town and the districts of Muang Kham and Muang Nong Haet). The U.S. Embassy also recommends extreme caution when traveling on Route 7 from the Route 13 junction to Phonsavan town as there have been attacks against traffic on that road as recently as 2001. Additionally, there continue to be isolated insurgent or bandit attacks near Route 13 in northeastern Vientiane Province and southeastern Luang Prabang Province. U.S. citizens who, despite this risk, decide to travel on Route 13 from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang should travel in daylight, avoid unnecessary stops, and travel in convoy if possible.
U.S. citizens considering travel outside urban centers are advised to contact relevant Lao government offices and the U.S. Embassy for the most current security information. In order to avoid trouble with the authorities, U.S. citizens traveling outside of normal tourist areas, or contemplating any unusual activity, should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief,
District Head, Provincial Governor, or National Tourism Authority, as appropriate.
U.S. citizens traveling to Vang Vieng should be aware that there have been robberies and assaults of tourists walking alone to the caves on the far side of the Nam Song River. There have also been several drownings and near-drownings involving persons inner-tubing or swimming in the Nam Song River during the rainy season.
Persons traveling in Vientiane and elsewhere, especially after dark, are subject to being stopped, searched, detained, and fined by local police if they cannot present suitable identification. Travelers should comply with requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
More than 500,000 tons of unexploded ordinance left over from the Vietnam War cause about 120 casualties per year in Laos. Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang Prabang provinces and Saysomboun Special Zone are severely contaminated by unexploded bombs. In addition, there are numerous mine fields left over from the war, including mine fields along Route 7 (from Route 13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). U.S. citizens traveling in any part of Laos should never pick up any unknown metal object and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks, and paths.
Camping at night anywhere except authorized campgrounds in national parks should be considered dangerous.
U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the three modes of transport for
their particular journey. (Please see sections below on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety, and River Travel.)
TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN LAOS: According to the Lao Tourist Police, all foreign tourists are required to use the services of a licensed Lao tour company -- unassisted tourism is not permitted. However, this regulation does not appear to be strictly enforced.
Foreign tourists have been informed by the Lao Tourist Police that any group of more than five foreign tourists must be accompanied by a licensed Lao tour guide. Violation of this regulation can result in detention, deportation, and fines of $200 to $2000.
Ministry of Trade and Tourism regulations prohibit any person who is not a licensed Lao tour guide from performing the functions of a tour guide -- including explaining Lao culture and custom to foreign tourists. Lao and Thai nationals accompanying American friends to Lao tourist sites have been detained and fined by Lao Tourist Police who suspected that they were acting as unauthorized tour guides.
Lao citizens who wish to have a foreign citizen -- including a family member -- stay in their home must obtain prior approval from the village chief. The foreigner may be held responsible if the Lao host has not secured prior permission for the visit. American citizens are strongly advised to ensure that such permission has been sought and granted before accepting offers to stay in Lao homes.
Lao authorities require that hotels and guesthouses furnish information about the identities and activities of their foreign guests. Lao who interact with foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions to the Lao Government. Persons traveling outside of the main tourist areas may be required to register with local authorities and may be questioned by security personnel.
Lao security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel
rooms, telephone conversations, fax transmissions, and e-mail communications may be monitored, and personal possessions in hotel rooms may be searched.
CRIME: While Laos generally has a low rate of violent crime, it is not immune to crime. While in Laos, Americans should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate security precautions. There has been a recent increase in thefts and assaults in Vientiane, including bag-snatching and sexual assaults. Incidents of house-breaking have risen sharply in the past year.
Expatriates attempting to report burglaries in-progress to the police often find that the police telephones are not answered or are informed that the police are not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night, or that the police have no transportation. U.S. citizens who move to Vientiane are encouraged to contact the U.S. Embassy for security advice.
Any criminal incidents, as well as the loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport, should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy. Useful information on safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while
traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe Trip Abroad," available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, via the Internet at http://www.access.gpo.gov/su_docs, on the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov and autofax service at 202-647-3000, or at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited, and they do not meet Western standards. The U.S. Embassy in Vientiane generally
advises Americans to seek medical care in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos to Nong Khai, Thailand is open from 6:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. Officials generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in case of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel. 66-42-342- 555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital both in Udorn, Thailand (tel. 66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff who are well accustomed to dealing with foreign patients. Nong Kong Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel. 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. The ambulances of both AEK International Hospital and Nong Kong Wattana Hospital have advance permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel. 021-413-720) has the documentation necessary to take patients to Thailand. The Department of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of these hospitals.
MEDICAL INSURANCE: The Department of State strongly urges U.S. citizens to consult with their medical insurance company prior to traveling abroad to confirm whether their policy applies overseas and if it will cover emergency
expenses such as a medical evacuation. U.S. medical insurance plans seldom cover health costs incurred outside the United States unless supplemental coverage is purchased. Further, U.S. Medicare and Medicaid programs do not provide payment for medical services outside the United States. However, many travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, U.S. citizens should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical evacuation to the United States may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical insurance have found it to be life-saving when a medical emergency has occurred. When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur. Some insurance policies also include coverage for psychiatric treatment and for disposition of remains in the event of death.
Useful information on medical emergencies abroad, including overseas insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular Affairs brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available on the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202) 647-3000.
OTHER HEALTH INFORMATION: Information on vaccinations and other health precautions may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747); fax 1-888-CDC-FAXX (1-888-232-3299), or via the CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
Safety of Public Transportation: Poor
Urban Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Rural Road Conditions/Maintenance: Poor
Availability of Roadside Assistance: Poor
The number of road accidents and fatalities in Laos has risen sharply in the
last decade as the number of motor vehicles has increased. The rate of traffic fatalities in Laos is 19 per 10,000 vehicles, which is about double the rate in Southeast Asia and nearly ten times the rate in the United States. U.S. citizens involved in traffic accidents have been barred from leaving Laos before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless of whom the police judged to be at fault.
Traffic in Laos is chaotic, and road conditions are very rough. Many drivers are unlicensed and uninsured. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all parts of the road. Cyclists pay little or no heed to cars on the road. Motorcycles carry as many as five people, greatly impeding the drivers' ability to react to traffic.
The evening hours are particularly dangerous. Road construction sites are poorly marked, have no advance warning, and can be difficult to see at night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and it is common for trucks to park on unlit roads with no reflectors.
The speed limit on most urban streets is 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles per hour). On the better inter-urban roads the speed limit is usually 40 or 50 kilometers per hour (25 or 31 miles per hour). Few roads have lane markings. Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored.
Public transportation is unreliable, and it is limited after sunset. The most common form of public transport are three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called "tuk- tuk's." Automobile taxis are available at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and major hotels. Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor states of repair. Tuk-tuk and taxi drivers generally speak little or no English. Inter-city transport is provided by buses, pickups, and trucks, which are also often in
poor repair.
The Lao Road Traffic Regulations require any driver coming upon a road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. Emergency telephone numbers are Fire: 190, Ambulance: 195 or 021-413-720, Traffic Police: 191, Tourist Police: 021-251-128 (only for incidents involving tourists).
For additional general information about road safety, including links to foreign government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information concerning Lao driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. 202-332-6416, fax 202-332-4923, Internet home page: http://www.laoembassy.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial air service by local carriers at present, nor economic authority to operate such service between the United States and Laos, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Laos' Civil Aviation Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department of Transportation within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone 1-618-229-4801.
There are concerns about the safety standards and maintenance regime of Lao Aviation. The U.S. Embassy evaluates official domestic travel by its personnel on a case-by- case basis to limit the risks of travel. In the last decade, four aircraft have crashed in remote mountainous areas of the country, usually due to severe weather conditions and pilot error. The U.S. Embassy advises that U.S. citizens not fly in the mountainous parts of Laos during bad weather.
CUSTOMS REGULATIONS: Lao customs authorities may enforce strict regulations
concerning temporary importation into or export from Laos of items such as religious materials and artifacts, and antiquities. It is advisable to contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington, D.C. for specific information regarding customs requirements. (Please see the section below on "Religious Workers.")
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Local police and immigration authorities often confiscate passports when outstanding business
disputes and visa matters remain unsettled.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs in Laos are strict, and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines. In April 2001, the National Assembly increased the penalty for persons convicted of certain drug crimes to include the death sentence.
CONSULAR ACCESS: American citizens who are arrested or detained in Laos should always request contact with the U.S. Embassy. The United States and Laos are parties to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). Article 36 of the VCCR provides that if an arrested person requests it, foreign authorities shall, without delay, inform the U.S. Embassy. U.S. consular officers have the right to be notified of a U.S. citizen's detention and to visit the detained
person. Lao authorities do not always notify the U.S. Embassy or grant U.S.
consular officers access to incarcerated U.S. citizens in a timely manner.
RELATIONSHIPS WITH LAO CITIZENS: The Lao Government prohibits sexual contact between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have been married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a sexual relationship with a Lao national may be interrogated, detained, arrested, or jailed. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to
$5000 on foreigners who enter into disapproved sexual relationships. The Lao party to the relationship may also be jailed without trial. Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without notice or consent.
Foreign citizens intending to marry a Lao national are required by Lao law to obtain prior permission from the Lao government. The formal application process can take as long as a year. American citizens may obtain information about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The Lao Government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed.
Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations governing the marriage of Lao citizens to foreigners may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5000, and deportation. Foreigners who cohabit with or enter into a close relationship
with Lao nationals may be accused by Lao authorities of entering an illegal marriage and be subject to the same penalties.
Foreign citizens who wish to become engaged to a Lao national are required to obtain prior permission of the chief of the village where the Lao national resides. Failure to obtain prior permission can result in a fine of $500-$5000. Lao police frequently impose large fines on foreign citizens a few days after they hold an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion that the couple probably subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.
RELIGIOUS WORKERS: Religious proselytizing or distributing religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the import of religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion, the government registers and controls all associations, including religious groups. Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered and those held outside established locations may be broken up and the participants arrested.
RIVER TRAVEL: River travel is common in Laos, but safety conditions do not conform to U.S. standards. In particular, travel by speedboat (local term "fast boat") is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry season. Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided at night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong River after dark.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS: Taking photographs of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security interest -- including bridges,
airfields, military installations, government buildings or government vehicles, may result in problems with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation of the camera. Tourists should be cautious when traveling near
military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the military base areas. Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who innocently passed by unmarked military facilities.
FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS: There are no automatic teller machines in Laos. Credit cards are accepted only at some major hotels and tourist-oriented businesses. Credit card cash advances can be obtained at some banks in Vientiane. Although it is illegal to do so, the U.S. dollar and Thai baht are both widely used for larger transactions. U.S. dollars are required by the Lao Government for the payment of some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport departure tax.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: In 1994, the Lao Government suspended processing of adoptions of Lao children by foreign citizens. That suspension is still in force. For information on international adoption of children and international parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html. Additional questions may be
addressed to the appropriate country officer of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, Office of Children's Issues, SA-22, 2201 C. St.,
N.W., Washington, D.C., telephone (202) 736-7000; fax (202) 312-9743.
REGISTRATION/EMBASSY LOCATION: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Laos are
encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy where they may obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. The U.S. Embassy is located at Thanon Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the United States, mail can be addressed to U.S. Embassy Vientiane, Box V, APO AP 96546; telephone (856-21) 212-581, 212-582, 212-585; duty officer's emergency cellular telephone (856-20) 502-016; Consular Section fax number (856-21) 251-624; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 512-584; Internet home page: http://usembassy.state.gov/laos/.
* * *
This replaces the Consular Information Sheet for Laos dated May 5, 2001 to update the sections on Entry Requirements, Safety and Security, Travel of Foreigners within Laos, Relationships with Lao Citizens, Crime, Medical Facilities, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions, Aviation Safety Oversight, River Travel, Criminal Penalties and Children's Issues.