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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
May 16, 2002
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Laos is a poor developing country with a communist
government. Political power is centralized in the Lao People's
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
arrival in Laos to foreign tourists and business persons with two passport
photographs and $30 at Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge,
and Luang Prabang Airport. Visas on Arrival are not available at the Chong
border crossing. Foreign tourists are generally admitted to Laos for 15
with a Visa on Arrival or for 30 days with a visa issued at a Lao embassy.
Department of Immigration in Vientiane will only extend tourist visas for
day. It is sometimes possible to get an extension for an additional 15 days
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
Visas on Arrival are not available must obtain a visa in advance. In the
States, visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can be
obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic,
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
outside official ports of entry. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.-
citizen travelers false Lao visas which have resulted in those travelers
denied entry into Laos. Persons attempting to enter Laos outside official
of entry risk arrest or more serious consequences.
Immigration offices at some of the less used border-crossing points are not
marked. Travelers should make sure that they complete immigration and
formalities when they enter Laos. Travelers who enter Laos without
these formalities may be subject to fine, detention, imprisonment, and/or
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
the parent(s) or legal guardian not present. Having such documentation on
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
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
and depart Laos using a U.S. passport and a valid Lao visa retain the right
U.S. consular access and protection. The ability of the U.S. Embassy to
consular services would be extremely limited in the event that a dual
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
nationals who have not permanently settled in another country, then the
a Lao citizen even if the child is born outside Laos. In circumstances
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
not permit such children to depart Laos on U.S. passports. Provided the
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
Embassy in Vientiane. For additional information, please see the Bureau of
Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov for
Dual Nationality flyer.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Between March 2000 and January 2001, Vientiane and
other towns throughout Laos experienced a series of bombing incidents,
in public places, including markets and transportation facilities,
foreign tourists, including U.S. citizens. No one has claimed
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
has subsided, similar incidents remain possible. U.S. citizens traveling to
residing anywhere in Laos are advised to exercise caution and to be alert to
The Government of Laos tightly controls travel to Saysomboun Special Zone
times restricts travel to parts of Xieng Khouang Province (particularly
Khoune, Muang Paxai, and
Muang Phoukout districts) because of ongoing insurgent and bandit activity.
to the risk of violence, the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens in Laos to
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
been attacks against traffic on that road as recently as 2001.
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
from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang should travel in daylight, avoid
stops, and travel in convoy if possible.
U.S. citizens considering travel outside urban centers are advised to
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
activity, should consider seeking advance permission from the Village Chief,
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
the Nam Song River. There have also been several drownings and
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
to being stopped, searched, detained, and fined by local police if they
present suitable identification. Travelers should comply with requests to
at checkpoints and roadblocks.
More than 500,000 tons of unexploded ordinance left over from the Vietnam
cause about 120 casualties per year in Laos. Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang,
Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak, Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang
provinces and Saysomboun Special Zone are severely contaminated by
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),
9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane).
citizens traveling in any part of Laos should never pick up any unknown
object and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks, and paths.
Camping at night anywhere except authorized campgrounds in national parks
be considered dangerous.
U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within Laos are
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
-- 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
more than five foreign tourists must be accompanied by a licensed Lao tour
guide. Violation of this regulation can result in detention, deportation,
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
nationals accompanying American friends to Lao tourist sites have been
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
such permission has been sought and granted before accepting offers to stay
Lao authorities require that hotels and guesthouses furnish information
the identities and activities of their foreign guests. Lao who interact
foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions to the Lao
Government. Persons traveling outside of the main tourist areas may be
to register with local authorities and may be questioned by security
Lao security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance. Hotel
rooms, telephone conversations, fax transmissions, and e-mail communications
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
to crime. While in Laos, Americans should remain aware of their
and exercise appropriate security precautions. There has been a recent
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
that the police telephones are not answered or are informed that the police
not authorized to respond to criminal activity at night, or that the police
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.
should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy.
information on safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while
traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet, "A Safe
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
at http://travel.state.gov and autofax service at 202-647-3000, or at the
Embassy in Vientiane.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities and services in Laos are limited,
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
hours in case of medical emergency. AEK International Hospital (tel.
555) and North Eastern Wattana General Hospital both in Udorn, Thailand
66-1-833-4262) have English-speaking staff who are well accustomed to
with foreign patients. Nong Kong Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand
(tel. 66-1-833-4262) can handle most simple medical procedures. The
AEK International Hospital and Nong Kong Wattana Hospital have advance
permission to cross the Friendship Bridge to collect patients from
In Vientiane, the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel. 021-413-720) has the
documentation necessary to take patients to Thailand. The Department of
assumes no responsibility for the professional ability or reputation of
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,
travel agents and private companies offer insurance plans that will cover
care expenses incurred overseas, including emergency services such as
When making a decision regarding health insurance, U.S. citizens should
that many foreign doctors and hospitals require payment in cash prior to
providing service and that a medical evacuation to the United States may
well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured travelers who require medical care
overseas often face extreme difficulties, whereas travelers who have
overseas medical insurance have found it to be life-saving when a medical
emergency has occurred. When consulting with your insurer prior to your
please ascertain whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare
provider or if you will be reimbursed later for expenses that you incur.
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
programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau of Consular
brochure, "Medical Information for Americans Traveling Abroad," available on
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
CDC's Internet site at http://www.cdc.gov.
TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS: While in a foreign country, U.S.
may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the
States. The information below concerning Laos is provided for general
only, and it may not be totally accurate in a particular location or
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
fatalities in Laos is 19 per 10,000 vehicles, which is about double the rate
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
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
are unlicensed and uninsured. Theoretically, traffic moves on the right,
vehicles use all parts of the road. Cyclists pay little or no heed to cars
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
Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating lights, few bicycles
reflectors, and it is common for trucks to park on unlit roads with no
The speed limit on most urban streets is 30 kilometers per hour (19 miles
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
Where lane markings, road signs, and stoplights do exist, they are widely
Public transportation is unreliable, and it is limited after sunset. The
common form of public transport are three-wheeled, open-sided taxis called
tuk's." Automobile taxis are available at the airport, the Friendship
and major hotels. Tuk-tuks and taxis are frequently in poor states of
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
The Lao Road Traffic Regulations require any driver coming upon a road
to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital. Emergency
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
government sites, please see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular
home page at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific
concerning Lao driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory
insurance, please contact the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic
2222 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. 202-332-6416, fax
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
Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department of
within the United States at telephone 1-800-322-7873, or visit the FAA
home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S. Department of Defense
separately assesses some foreign air carriers for suitability as official
providers of air services. For information regarding the DOD policy on
carriers, travelers may contact the DOD at telephone 1-618-229-4801.
There are concerns about the safety standards and maintenance regime of Lao
U.S. Embassy evaluates official domestic travel by its personnel on a
case basis to limit the risks of travel. In the last decade, four aircraft
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
the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington, D.C. for
specific information regarding customs requirements. (Please see the
below on "Religious Workers.")
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject
that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly
those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to
individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more
than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law,
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
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
always request contact with the U.S. Embassy. The United States and Laos
parties to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). Article 36
the VCCR provides that if an arrested person requests it, foreign
shall, without delay, inform the U.S. Embassy. U.S. consular officers have
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
between foreign citizens and Lao nationals except when the two parties have
married in accordance with Lao Family Law. Any foreigner who enters into a
sexual relationship with a Lao national may be interrogated, detained,
or jailed. Lao police have confiscated passports and imposed fines of up to
$5000 on foreigners who enter into disapproved sexual relationships. The
party to the relationship may also be jailed without trial. Foreigners are
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
obtain prior permission from the Lao government. The formal application
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
not issue a marriage certificate unless the correct procedures are followed.
Any attempt to circumvent Lao regulations governing the marriage of Lao
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
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
Lao police frequently impose large fines on foreign citizens a few days
they hold an engagement ceremony with a Lao citizen based on the suspicion
the couple probably subsequently had sexual relations out of wedlock.
RELIGIOUS WORKERS: Religious proselytizing or distributing religious
is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material
be arrested or deported. The Government of Laos restricts the import of
religious texts and artifacts. While Lao law allows freedom of religion,
government registers and controls all associations, including religious
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
boat") is dangerous and should be avoided, particularly during the dry
Travel on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be avoided
night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the Mekong River after
PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS: Taking photographs of anything that
be perceived as being of military or security interest -- including bridges,
airfields, military installations, government buildings or government
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
Military personnel have detained and questioned foreigners who innocently
by unmarked military facilities.
FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS: There are no automatic teller machines in Laos.
cards are accepted only at some major hotels and tourist-oriented
Credit card cash advances can be obtained at some banks in Vientiane.
it is illegal to do so, the U.S. dollar and Thai baht are both widely used
larger transactions. U.S. dollars are required by the Lao Government for
payment of some taxes and fees, including visa fees and the airport
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
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
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
telephone (856-21) 212-581, 212-582, 212-585; duty officer's emergency
telephone (856-20) 502-016; Consular Section fax number (856-21) 251-624;
Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 512-584; Internet home page:
* * *
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,
Travel, Criminal Penalties and Children's Issues.