Laos, as the only landlocked state in Southeast Asia and the least developed country in the region, finds its economy dependent on its neighbours (chiefly China, Thailand and Vietnam) for investment and trade. Until 2020, Laos was considered a quickly developing low-income country, quickly catching up in the world economy. Due to Covid-19 and the war in Ukraine, Laos's economy has contracted, and 2022 saw massive inflation and currency depreciation.

Although the country is experiencing an economic crisis, highly skilled expats may be able to find work in Laos, especially in the NGO sector, and exports and tourism are expected to gradually recover.

Job market in Laos

The agriculture industry in Laos employs 85 percent of the population and produces over 50 percent of its GDP. Tourism, another major industry, has quickly grown since the country opened its borders in the 1990s and was on track to catch up to neighbouring countries. The mining, hydroelectric and transport infrastructure industries are also rapidly growing and account for the majority of foreign investment.

Many expats move to Laos to engage in these industries or for humanitarian work through NGOs like the UN or WHO. Some expats move to Laos to teach English, though this is generally poorly paid.

Expats should be wary of overseas job scams, as these are common in Laos. If highly paid work is being advertised with low or no experience needed, or a job is given without an interview, it's likely too good to be true.

Work culture in Laos

Lao business culture is slow-paced but has a strong emphasis on punctuality. Meetings are expected to start on time but may take longer than expats expect as they carry on until everyone feels that every topic has been fully discussed. Decision-making, although hierarchical, is equally time-consuming.

Traditionally, the Lao greet each other with a nop – holding their hands together in a praying position in front of their chest – but handshaking has become common practice in business settings. Business cards are usually exchanged during the first meeting.

Though Lao culture is easygoing, it is vital to maintain 'face' – the shared respect and reputation of all parties. Due to the importance of maintaining face, Lao people go out of their way to be non-confrontational. When put on the spot with a direct question or request, a Lao colleague may be inclined to give what they assume is the desired reply while expressing their discomfort non-verbally. Expats can overcome this communication barrier by paying attention to the conversation's context and the other speakers' indirect communication.