Despite being one of Southeast Asia’s most remote destinations and still – at least nominally – under a communist regime, entry procedures and Lao visa regulations are actually some of the simplest in the region.
There is no need for advanced application and to our knowledge, no e-visa system is currently in place, but 30-day tourist visas are issued at the visa on arrival counters at international airports, (Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet) as well as just about any land entry point we can think of. For the purposes of our Lao tours that means; Chiang Khong – Huay Xai and Chong Mek – Vang Tao, (for Pakse). These are available for most nationalities with the exception of certain African and Middle Eastern countries. For some reason, Swiss, Luxembourgeois and Russian passport holders are exempt from visas while any nationalities not included in the visa on arrival list will need to apply at a Lao embassy or consulate beforehand.
Requirements are at least 6 months passport validity, a minimum of 1 blank page and 2 passport-sized photos. Application forms are available at immigration counters though if arriving by flight they are usually handed out by cabin crew while for land crossings our guides are on hand with forms and assistance.
The fees are only payable in $US except for Thai/Lao land crossings where baht are accepted and this is where things do get slightly complicated as pricing does vary from country to country. Most European passport holders plus South African, Australian and NZ are charged $30 with the exception of Swedish who pay $1 more and British who pay an extra $5. US citizens are also charged $35 while, for reasons we can’t fathom, Canadians pay $41. (Note a $1 overtime fee is charged for public holidays and outside of standard Lao office hours.)
A Lao tourist visa is a 1-page stick on type and you’ll receive additional, regular-sized, entry and exit stamps.
Our only tips for this relatively straightforward procedure are: have a pen handy, fill out a form in advance and pay in $US rather than baht if possible.
Stop press! Since we initially wrote this post a new Lao e-visa system has been introduced.