• Hold down Ctrl key and select the sections you want to print. If using a Mac, hold down the Cmd key.
  • Use Ctrl + A or on Mac, Cmd + A to select all sections (if you are using the Chrome browser).
  • Click "Apply" and the site will customise your print guide in the preview below.
  • Click the "Print" button and a print pop up should appear to print to your printer of choice.

Cost of living in Laos

The 2023 Mercer Cost of Living survey puts Vientiane at the 209th most expensive city out of 227. Regionally, the cost of living for expats in Laos is similar to or slightly less than in Thailand and more costly than in Myanmar, Cambodia and Vietnam, though this depends largely on lifestyle.

With 80 percent of Laotians living modestly as farmworkers, the typical expat lifestyle is comparatively lavish, and the scarcity of similar consumers will drive up the price of luxury imports and products. Globally, the cost of living for expats is similar to that of Egypt or India.

Laos is a landlocked and largely unindustrialised country, and imported and luxury products go for a premium. Although local produce and basic amenities are cheap, expats may be surprised at the cost of internet and of the kind of food and accommodation they are used to.

Cost of accommodation in Laos

Given the low population density in Laos, it's not surprising that the price of accommodation throughout the country is affordable compared to most of Laos's neighbours. That said, the price goes up in popular destinations like Vientiane and Luang Prabang, especially in the city centres.

The quality of accommodation in Laos varies widely, and expats should look for rental accommodation with a clear idea of what they want in terms of amenities and utilities. Alternatively, it may be a good idea to hire a real estate agent who is familiar with the local accommodation market and with experience working with expats.

Cost of transport in Laos

Buses are the most widely used and most affordable mode of transport in Laos, though rough roads generally make bus trips uncomfortable and lengthy. Slow boats are also quite affordable though not the fastest way to travel, as their name suggests.

Less affordable are taxis and tuk-tuks, and costly domestic air travel for longer hauls. The new rail line presents a more affordable alternative to air travel, though tickets can be hard to come by on short notice.

Driving is not recommended for expats in Laos, as cars are costly and can open expats to a great deal of liability.

Cost of groceries and eating out in Laos

In Laos, basic grocery staples like fruit and vegetables, meat, fish and milk are widely accessible and largely inexpensive. Expats can purchase imported Western goods at certain supermarkets, although these will cost substantially more than they are accustomed to.

Lao cuisine is influenced by Indian and Chinese food, and Lao is known for its trifecta of sticky rice, larb (a spicy meat salad) and green papaya salad. In Vientiane and Luang Prabang, a variety of upmarket French and European restaurants cater for the tourist population, though eating at these establishments can be pricey. Expats looking to eat out affordably could consider street food, though they should be aware that some varieties of larb call for raw meat or fish, which can be vectors for parasites.

Cost of education in Laos

Public education in Laos is free, but although literacy and education in Laos have steadily improved since the 1990s, the country has a long way to go to improve its access to and quality of education. Combined with the fact that the language of instruction is Lao, this makes it highly unlikely that expats will enrol their children in a Lao school.

International schools in Vientiane present a more palatable offering, but at high costs. If relocating for work, expat parents should try to negotiate educational costs into their contracts.

Cost of living in Laos chart

Prices vary depending on product and service provider across Laos. These are the average costs for Vientiane in January 2023.

Accommodation (monthly rent in good area)

One-bedroom apartment in city centre

LAK 8,600,000

One-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

LAK 4,600,000

Three-bedroom apartment in city centre

LAK 18,400,000

Three-bedroom apartment outside of city centre

LAK 13,900,000


Dozen eggs

LAK 34,800

Milk (1 litre)

LAK 195,000

Loaf of bread (white)

LAK 29,400

Chicken breasts (1kg)

LAK 72,300

Pack of cigarettes (Marlboro)

LAK 34,200


Mobile call rate (per minute – mobile to mobile)

LAK 3,360

Internet (uncapped ADSL or cable – average per month)

LAK 268,000

Basic utilities (average for a standard household)

LAK 1,590,000

Eating out and entertainment

Three-course meal for two at a mid-range restaurant 

LAK 404,000

Big Mac Meal

LAK 84,000


LAK 35,000

Coca-Cola (330mL)

LAK 15,400

Local beer (500mL)

LAK 18,900


Taxi rate per 8km

LAK 124,000

Monthly city-centre transport fare

LAK 100,000

Petrol (per litre)

LAK 9,782

Healthcare in Laos

Under its current constitution, Laos is a fledgling country, and it has made great strides in reducing poverty and increasing healthcare coverage since the 1990s. In 1988, the Lao life expectancy was 49 years; In 2020, it was 69 years. With the help of the Australian government and several international organisations, the Lao government aims to implement universal health coverage by 2025.

While the Laotian healthcare system has made massive improvements, it is still underdeveloped, and expats will most likely look to private and international healthcare options.

Health insurance in Laos

There is a mix of public and private health insurance in Laos, and different health insurance schemes apply to different income groups, depending on whether they are civil servants, state or private employees, informal workers or belong to low-income households.

Covering only 20 percent of the country's population, the public health insurance is inadequate, and expats will likely opt for private, international insurance that accounts for emergency medical treatment in Thailand or further abroad.

Public healthcare in Laos

Due to the Lao government's history as a centralised bureaucracy, many services are distributed unequally, and healthcare is no exception. As a result, the vast majority of health facilities are concentrated in the main cities, covering only 20 percent of the population.

The Lao ministry of health has worked to devolve healthcare administration to provincial and district levels as well, in hopes that this will empower local governments to better provide for their people. Village medical workers operating out of local infirmaries and dispensaries are responsible for much of the country's medical care, often using only traditional medicinal herbs.

Private healthcare in Laos

In Vientiane, the French and Australian embassies operate their own paid medical services with well-trained doctors and good medical facilities. Many wealthier Laotians and expats will go to Thailand for medical care, and the Friendship Bridge allows Thai ambulances into Vientiane and Lao ambulances into Thailand.

Pharmacies and medicines in Laos

Local pharmacies and drug shops are not well regulated, and this has caused some public health problems in Laos, including misprescribed medications and dosages. Some shop owners sell 'cure-all' packets with antibiotics, vitamins and fever meds as single doses for a wide range of complaints. Laos also has issues with counterfeit pharmaceuticals, compounding the difficulty in finding good medicine.

Expats who take chronic medication should ideally bring a supply from home, accompanied by a prescription verifying that it is for personal use. Within Laos, expats should use only the most reputable pharmacies.

Health hazards in Laos

There is a host of water- and vector-borne diseases to look out for in Laos, including typhoid, hepatitis A, diarrhea, dengue fever, malaria and avian flu. These are especially prevalent during the rainy season floods, when pools of water provide a breeding ground for mosquitos and animal and human waste is introduced to the water system.

Expats should ensure their home is equipped with a good water purifier or filter. Tap water is not fit for drinking untreated, and many houses have water barrels for collected rain water. When eating out, expats should err on the side of caution and avoid ordering drinks with ice cubes that may be made with untreated water.

With the double threat of malaria and dengue fever, expats should take all the necessary precautions against mosquito bites, such as wearing long pants, long sleeves and using mosquito repellent. They should also consider the dengue vaccine as well as malarial prophylactic medicine.

Emergency services in Laos

Emergency telephone numbers:

  • Fire: 1190
  • Police: 1191
  • Tourist police: 1192
  • Ambulance: 1195

In the case of a medical emergency, it is unlikely that expats will reach an English-speaking operator, and if possible, they should call a private hospital to arrange medical transport. Most private insurers will provide an emergency number.

Accommodation in Laos

Accommodation in Laos is varied and there's a wide range of options to suit every preference. The low cost of living in Laos makes it an attractive destination for expats looking for an affordable lifestyle.

Types of accommodation in Laos

There is a vast rental market in Laos. From French villas to modern serviced apartments and standard flats, expats are likely to find something to suit their needs. While short-termers and students tend to opt for furnished or serviced flats, many expats in Vientiane may be surprised to find that three- to five-bedroom houses with large gardens are also quite affordable.

Although expats are not allowed to own real estate or cars in Laos, the government recently passed laws that provide formal frameworks for expats to essentially 'buy' property from citizens through 30-year leaseholds, and a long-term leasehold is an option for those who want to put down some roots and modify their home to a greater extent.

Renting accommodation in Laos

The vast majority of expats in Laos choose to rent their accommodation. The rental market for suitable expat accommodation in Laos is quite competitive, however, so it is important to start the accommodation search early.

Finding rental accommodation

Expats are most likely to find suitable accommodation in Vientiane, Luang Prabang or the other provincial capitals. Real estate agents can help in finding accommodation, arranging visits, and negotiating terms, and their fee usually comes from the landlord.

Another option for new expats is to ask around the expat community, either in person or on social media. Word of mouth can help expats to find good accommodation and trustworthy landlords.

Expats in Vientiane tend to favour three main districts: the Sikhottabong District, which is located centrally and features many French villas, Buddhist temples and the Australian International School; the quaint Sisattanak District, where many embassies and the Vientiane International School are located; and the popular Chanthabouly District.

Furnished and unfurnished

Houses in Laos are often partially furnished, including a stove and refrigerator, beds, lounge and dining furniture and possibly a television. Some properties include closets, outdoor furniture, dishwashing and laundry machines and, importantly, water pumps and tanks.

Serviced apartments marketed to expats are typically fully furnished, including even bedding, kitchen utensils and silverware.

Some negotiating between landlord and tenant is expected during the application process, and furniture and fittings may be added, removed or swapped. When extra furniture is needed, expats often prefer to import higher-end furniture from Thailand or Vietnam over buying from local furniture shops.

Serviced apartments

Serviced apartments are a popular accommodation option for expats in Laos. These offer a range of amenities, including housekeeping, laundry and room service. They are also fully furnished, which makes the move-in process much easier. Serviced apartments are a bit more expensive compared to regular apartments, but they offer more convenience and comfort.

Short lets

For travellers, tourists and expats who are staying for a short time, short lets may make more sense. Short-term accommodation is more widely available in popular tourist destinations like Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng. One of the main advantages of short lets in Laos is the flexibility they offer. They also offer the convenience of a fully furnished apartment or house, which can save travellers or expats the hassle and expense of purchasing their own furniture or appliances.

An advantage of a short let over a hotel room is the ability to experience the local culture and lifestyle. Staying in a fully furnished apartment or house provides a more authentic experience than staying in a hotel.

Making an application

In order to make a rental application, expats in Laos will need their passport, visa/work permit and stay permit. They may need to show proof of employment, if applicable, and will likely need to submit a 'holding deposit'.


Potential renters submit a holding deposit worth one month's rent along with their application, with the idea being that this sum of money shows the prospective tenant is serious about their application. Should the application go through, this deposit is set against the first month's rent. The term "holding deposit" is a bit of a misnomer because the landlord is allowed to choose to rent the property to another applicant instead, in which case the first applicant's deposit will be refunded. On the other hand, if it is the applicant who pulls out after submitting their deposit, the landlord does not have to refund it unless there is a specific clause in the lease agreement stating otherwise.

A security deposit is also usually required if rent is paid monthly. In Laos, it is quite common to pay six months or a year in advance, in which case there is usually no security deposit. Paying more months' rent up front also opens space for tenants to negotiate for lower total rent or more furnishings.

Deposits and rent are typically paid in cash.

Signing a lease

Accommodation is usually rented privately between landlord and tenant, although there are a number of estate agencies who can help tenants cover all the bases and cross the language barrier. This is essential because there are not a lot of laws governing rental arrangements, and expats will need to ensure their rental contracts are comprehensive. The lease will likely be in Lao, so they may need an interpreter.

Lease agreements in Laos should include rental amounts and payment schedule, whether security and holding deposits are required, the term of the lease (one year, renewable is standard), conditions of termination, and acceptable use of the premises. Other items include what each party's obligations are, and what warranties and insurance are applicable.


In Laos, landlords are not required to give tenants notice before entering and inspecting their property. If this causes discomfort, expats might request a clause in the contract outlining the parameters around property visits, or they can build a rapport with their landlord and informally request it.


Utility bills can include water, electricity and rubbish disposal as well as TV, internet, gas bottles and drinking water. The cost of basic utilities is relatively low, and these are generally factored into the monthly rent, except electricity, which is paid separately. Internet and mobile phone services also come separately and can be quite expensive, so it is important to shop around to find the best deal.

Education and schools in Laos

Though literacy and education in Laos have consistently improved since the 1990s, the country still has a long way to go to increase access to and quality of its education. Public education is free in Laos, but it's unlikely that expats will enrol their kids in a local school, given that Lao is the language of teaching.

Vientiane's international schools provide a more appealing option, although at high prices. Expat parents should try to negotiate the inclusion of educational fees into their contracts if they are moving for work.

Public schools in Laos

Since 1996, primary education has been free and compulsory for all children in Laos, following the national curriculum set by the Ministry of Education and Sports. There are four periods of education in Laos: Pre-primary (ages 3–5), Primary (ages 6–10), Lower Secondary (ages 11–14) and Upper Secondary (15–17).

Public education in rural Laos is complicated by poor attendance by both students and teachers who may need to take time off to tend fields.

Private and international schools in Laos

Private schools in Laos are not widespread. Aside from charging school fees and having better amenities and teacher-to-student ratios, private schools are quite similar to public schools in that they have the same curriculum and language of instruction.

The vast majority of expats in Laos enrol their children in international schools. These offer American, Australian, British, French and International Baccalaureate curricula, taught in English or French. Some of these schools may offer Lao as a language, which offers a balance between a learner's home culture and helping their learners to integrate into Lao culture.

Most international schools in Laos are located in Vientiane, though some of them have campuses in Luang Prabang or Pakse.

Special-needs education in Laos

The government of Laos's objective is to include children with disabilities and special educational needs into mainstream schools as much as possible. In practice, however, they are often overlooked, as the education system is already quite strained. NGOs like Caritas Australia and the Lao Disabled Persons' Association run special-needs schools, but these are small and in high demand. Expat parents of children with mild special educational needs may have some luck with international schools, which generally have teaching assistants and accommodations for learners with hearing or visual disabilities.

Tutors in Laos

Tutors are not widely used by locals, but expats may find them helpful. Tutors catering for expats can be found in major cities and online, and Lao language tutors can be very helpful in the move to Laos.

Moving to Laos

Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordering Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. This beautiful developing country is known for its thick forests and rugged mountains, French colonial architecture and Buddhist monasteries.

Expats moving to Laos find the Lao people to be laid-back, sociable, kind, and hospitable. Despite being the country with the lowest population density in Southeast Asia, Laos is home to more than 60 distinct ethnic groups, each of which has its own customs and dialect.

Living in Laos as an expat

Many expats move to Laos to work in the NGO, infrastructure, hydroelectric or mining industries, and most live in Vientiane, though Luang Prabang also has a large expat and tourist population.

There is a substantial rental market for accommodation in Laos with a wide variety of property types available at various price ranges. Expats are sure to find a place that meets their needs, from French villas to modern serviced apartments and more affordable flats.

Lao culture is influenced by the importance of harmony and respect among Lao people, as well as their shared spirituality of Buddhism. The majority of Lao people share similar values and perspectives, as well as a collectivistic approach to overcoming the country's extreme hardships, both in the past and the present.

Cost of living in Laos

The cost of living in Laos is surprisingly high and is similar to neighbouring Thailand. Though food and transport costs are generally low, expats may find themselves paying more than expected for higher-end accommodation in urban centres, Western food and international education.

Except for a few higher-end establishments and hotels that accept credit cards, the majority of transactions in Laos' economy are made in cash. Although Lao law requires that payments be made in the local currency, most transactions are made in US dollars and Thai baht.

Families and children in Laos

Despite significant advancements, healthcare in Laos is still in need of development, therefore expats will likely turn to private and international healthcare solutions. For medical care, most of those with the means will travel to Thailand for treatment.

Although literacy and education in Laos have come a long way in recent years, the quality of public schools in Laos is not very high. This makes it very unlikely that foreigners will enrol their kids in a public school, especially given that Lao is the language of teaching. Vientiane's international schools provide a more appealing option, although at high prices.

Climate in Laos

The climate in Laos is a tropical savannah climate with high temperatures and humidity, heavily impacted by monsoons. Although the region's countries normally have two seasons, Laotians frequently speak about three: rainy, cool, and hot.

Though Laos and its infrastructure are still developing, it is a peaceful and beautiful country with a rich culture and history. The country's natural landscapes, including its mountains, rivers, and forests, provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities and adventure, and expats living in Laos will find that the cost of living is relatively low. Overall, Laos offers a unique and immersive experience for expats looking to experience a different way of life.

Fast facts

Population: 7.75 million

Capital city: Vientiane (also largest city)

Neighbouring countries: Laos is bordered by China to the north, Vietnam to the northeast and east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west and Myanmar to the northwest.

Geography: Laos is characterised by rugged, mountainous terrain. Another key geographical feature is the Mekong River, which runs through the country and is an important source of water for transport and irrigation.

Political system: Socialist republic

Major religion: Buddhist

Main language: Lao (official), French, English

Money: Kips (LAK). Although ATMs are widespread in urban centres, Laos is almost entirely cash-based, and US dollars and Thai baht are sometimes used for larger purchases.

Tipping: Tipping is not a norm nor expected in Laos, though expats are free to tip if they are very satisfied with someone's service.

Time: GMT +7

Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are generally used.

Internet domain: .la

International dialling code: +856

Emergency numbers: 1190 (fire), 1191 (police), 1192 (tourist police), 1195 (ambulance)

Transport and Driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. Transport in Laos can be largely be managed with taxis and tuk-tuks for short trips and minibuses and buses for longer trips.

Weather in Laos

Laos is a mountainous and thickly forested country with a tropical savannah climate. Temperatures are high throughout the year and the humidity level is influenced by the monsoons. Though countries in the region are typically characterised by two seasons, Laos locals often refer to three seasons: rainy, cool and hot.

The southwest monsoon brings rainy season from May to October, and with it occasional floods and landslides. During this season, temperatures average a muggy 84°F (29°C), and August is the wettest time of the year.

The northeast monsoon brings dry season, which comprises two periods: the cool dry period from November to February and the hot dry period from March to April. The cool dry period sees the temperature drop to an average of 73°F (23°C) and as low as 55°F (13°C) on cool January nights. The hot dry period's average temperature is similar to that of the rainy season, but with lower lows and April highs reaching up to 104°F (40°C).


Banking, money and taxes in Laos

The economy in Laos is largely cash-based, with the exception of some higher-end businesses and hotels which accept card payments. ATMs are widely available in larger cities, though expats may find the withdrawal limits frustratingly low. Those planning on travelling to rural areas should be sure to bring enough cash.

Though Lao law dictates that payments in the country should be conducted in the local currency, transactions are often conducted in US dollars and Thai baht. Foreigners entering the country are typically advised to bring dollars and baht into the country, as these currencies are valued and widely accepted in Laos. It is much easier to change dollars or baht to Laotian kip than vice versa, and the kip, being a closed currency, cannot be exchanged outside of Laos.

Money in Laos

The currency in Laos is the Laotian kip (LAK). It is available in the following denominations:

  • Banknotes: 1,000 LAK, 2,000 LAK, 5,000 LAK, 10,000 LAK, 20,000 LAK, 50,000 LAK and 100,000 LAK.

Banking in Laos

The banking system in Laos is fairly good, especially in larger cities, and many banks have at least one English-speaking representative.

Opening a bank account

Opening a bank account in Laos is only allowed for foreigners with a business visa or work permit. Those staying for a shorter term or expats entering the country for other purposes may have to draw money from international ATMs – this is surprisingly easy but costly.

Credit cards and ATMs

Though ATMs are widespread in cities and larger towns, they are rare in rural areas of the country, and online banking and card transactions are rare outside of tourist areas and high-end establishments.

Taxes in Laos

Tax law dictates that income tax is payable by all foreigners working in Laos, regardless of their stay duration, unless their home country has a double taxation treaty with Laos. Unfortunately, the list of countries with such agreements is short, mostly constituting some neighbouring Southeast Asian countries as well as China, Luxembourg, North Korea and Russia.

Other expats will be expected to file tax returns and pay taxes in both Laos and their home country, though they may be eligible for tax exemptions and credits that lead to them paying less or no income tax in their home country.

Working in Laos

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. In recent years, 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.

Visas for Laos

Most expats will need a visa to enter Laos, and only tourist visas can be applied for online – other visas will need to be applied for at a Lao embassy. Visa-free entry into Laos is available for one month or two weeks to passport holders from a small minority of countries, mostly from Southeast Asia but including North Korea, Russia, Japan, Luxembourg and Switzerland.

Laos offers a variety of visas including tourist, business, student, labour and expert visas.

Tourist visas for Laos

Tourist visas for Laos allow a 30-day visit. There are two kinds of visas: visas on arrival and eVisas. Tourist visas can be extended for another thirty days at the Bureau of Immigration in Vientiane.

Expats from most countries can apply online for a tourist eVisa. This is valid for entry through the international airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse, as well as Lao-Thai Friendship Bridges I, II and IV. This visa application is usually processed within three days and is valid for 60 days after approval. As with ordinary tourist visas, it allows a 30-day visit to the country.

Residence permits for Laos

For expats who want to stay in Laos for a longer period of time, a residence (stay) permit is necessary. To be eligible for a stay permit, expats will need to be legally residing in Laos with a valid passport and visa, and they will need either proof of employment or of business activities in the country. They will also need a police clearance and medical certificate and may need proof of financial resources and a copy of their lease agreement.

Expats who have lived in the country for ten or more years and who plan on living in the country for ten or more months of the year can apply for permanent residence.

*Visa regulations are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Work permits for Laos

Obtaining work permits for Laos is quite complicated, and expats and their employers will need to secure the needed paperwork from either end and from different government ministries. In order to work in Laos, expats will need either an expert (E-B2) or labour (LA-B2) visa as well as a work permit and a stay permit.

Applying for a work visa and permit

Most expats working and living in Laos are issued the labour visa. This is available for periods of three, six and 12 months and is a multiple-entry visa. Expats applying for the LA-B2 should do this at a Lao embassy or consulate before entering Laos. To apply, they will need an employment contract and sponsorship letter from their employer in Laos.

The expert visa works very similarly to the labour visa, with the chief difference being that it is issued to expats working for an NGO or similar international organisation.

To receive authorisation from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, the employer will need to submit a number of documents. Once the request is approved, the employer registers and applies for a work permit. The work permit will be issued at the same time as the work visa.

Expats who plan to work and live in Laos for longer than a year will also need to apply for a stay permit through the Department of Immigration.

*Visa regulations and requirements for work permits are subject to change at short notice, and expats should contact their respective embassy or consulate for the latest details.

Culture shock in Laos

Expats find the people of Laos to be easygoing, open, warm and welcoming. Though Laos is the country with the lowest population density in Southeast Asia, there are more than 60 ethnic groups in the country, each with their own language or dialect. Most Lao share similar values and perspectives and a collectivistic approach to overcoming the country's hardships, both past and present.

Lao culture is informed by the importance its people put on harmony and respect, as well as their shared spirituality – though it is no longer Laos's state religion, two-thirds of Laotians are Buddhists, and most young Lao men become monks for a period of time. Most Lao people live in underdeveloped rural areas, and nearly 80 percent of the country's working population are agricultural workers.

Language barrier in Laos

Most Lao people speak a dialect of the Lao language, and many Lao understand some Southern Chinese (Zhuang) as well as Vietnamese and Thai, especially near the borders, and expats who already know one of these will learn Lao quickly. Given the 60 years of French colonial rule, Laos has the second-largest French-speaking population in Southeast Asia, and English is commonly spoken in main tourist areas.

Religion in Laos

Laos has no state religion, and most Lao people are either Buddhist, follow folk religion or practice a combination of the two. Buddhism is a central institution in Lao Loum life, and visits to the village Buddhist temple complex, or wat, are central to rural festivities and rituals. In some parts of the country, Buddhist practices are blended with folk religion, and models of Buddhist temples called sarn pha phoum (spirit houses) are erected as a place for spirits to live and be offered food and gifts.

Buddhist monks and nuns can be found throughout Laos and are treated with the highest respect and reverence. Almsgiving is a common practice, and spiritual leaders may be given preferential seating on transport or at a meal. Expats should be careful not to touch a monk or nun as a sign of respect for the integral role they play in Lao society. Similarly, it is wise to avoid disrespecting Buddhist statues or iconography.

Though the people of Laos are charitable and tolerant, expats should be aware that expats are prohibited to proselytise in the country. All religious organisations in Laos are required to register with the Lao Front for National Construction, though expats who practice a religion other than Buddhism often choose to do so quietly.

Politics in Laos

As with other countries in Southeast Asia, it is best for expats to avoid bringing up the Vietnam War (known in the region as the Second Indochina War) and the civil war in Laos, especially among older Laotians. If a colleague or friend chooses to talk about it, expats should listen quietly and respectfully. As a result of the US's role in the war, some older Laotians show distrust to American expats, though this is not prevalent among younger Laotians.

Etiquette and customs in Laos

A large part of social life in Laos is about maintaining 'face', the shared respect and harmony between people. Integral to this is avoiding conflict and understanding one's place in terms of seniority and hierarchy. Western cultures are generally less contextual, so direct communication is highly valued, but the same is not necessarily true in Laos.

Physical contact is not usual between people of the same gender, and men and women rarely show affection in public. When visiting a Lao house or temple, it's a good idea to avoid revealing clothing, covering one's shoulders and knees.

Expat women should be aware that it's forbidden for them to touch a Buddhist monk. They should also be aware of the stigma around women smoking in Laos, namely the idea that women who smoke are immoral or ill-mannered.

Transport and driving in Laos

Laos is a land of majestic beauty with plenty of natural attractions for expats to visit. Most of the landlocked country's terrain consists of rugged mountains and thick forests, and until recently, Laos has not undergone major industrialisation or infrastructural development.

As a result, few reliable transport options exist in Laos. The country's road network is limited and mostly unpaved, and many rural Laotians still travel by oxcart, by foot or by canoe.

In recent years, The Lao government has worked on its vision to transition from a landlocked to a land-linked nation, connecting to neighbouring countries with highways and rails. As part of its Belt and Road Initiative, China contributed to the Boten–Vientiane railway, opening a transport artery from Laos's capital to China's southern border.

Public transport in Laos


The Boten–Vientiane line offers by far the quickest and most pleasant method to travel in Laos. Both electric/high-speed (EMU) and regular trains run, with the EMU services operating at up to 99 miles per hour (160 km/h). Tickets can be difficult to get, as the railway is very popular.

Buses, minibuses and songtaew

Buses, minibuses, and converted lorries (songtaew) are available for transportation on the key highways linking Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, and Savannakhet, all of which are paved.

Given the many winding, steep and rough roads, overland trips can be long and uncomfortable, and minibuses can be cramped. Songtaew are pickup trucks or small lorries with roofs, open sides and two rows of bench seating. These are predominant on rougher and unpaved roads. Expats can also spring for a 'VIP bus', a conventional bus with air conditioning, snacks and more space and amenities than the other options.


Expats can travel along the Mekong and its tributaries either by slow boat or fast boat. Some routes are only available during the wet season floods, as the depth and navigability of the Mekong vary depending on the time of year. Additionally, Laos's hydroelectric dam projects have interrupted many historical routes.

Although slow boats take more than twice as long to make the same trip, fast boats have a reputation for being loud, crowded and dangerous, driven at breakneck speeds and barely missing driftwood or submerged rocks. Expats who still choose this option should consider life vests and helmets compulsory.

Taxis in Laos

Tuk-tuks, Skylabs and jumbos

The most common form of taxi in Laos is the tuk-tuk, and these come in a few different flavours. Tuk-tuks are a great way to make short commutes, as they are nimble and versatile enough to navigate unpredictable driving conditions.

The original tuk-tuk has a partially enclosed driving cab, while Skylabs have a motorcycle-shaped, semi-open front cab. Skylabs have quite large passenger cabs and can easily seat eight or more passengers. Jumbos are similar in design to Skylabs but with less passenger space and smaller engines.

When picked up by an empty songtaew, expats should make sure to ask whether it is operating as a bus or taxi. When operating as a bus, songtaew have fixed routes and lower fees, while as taxis they go to the requested destination for a higher fee.


As well as hailing down a taxi on the road, expats can use a ride-hailing service. At the moment, international ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft are not available, but LOCA is a well-trusted local Lao ride-hailing service.

Driving in Laos

In Laos, cars drive on the right side of the road and overtake on the left. Congestion is relatively low, even in central Vientiane, but driving conditions can be haphazard, and expats should practice defensive driving. If an expat is involved in a traffic collision, authorities are likely to side with the local regardless of fault, and the expat may be on the hook for the other party's property damage and injuries. Although insurance is necessary, it might not pay out for these costs. Outside of the main cities, driving conditions are poor, and expats are encouraged to opt for a four-wheel-drive vehicle or one with good clearance.

Given the above factors, many expats who use a car to get around will hire a personal driver. If renting a car, this can be arranged at a car rental agency.

To drive in Laos, expats will need an International Driving Permit (IDP). Although expats from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia can drive in Laos with their home country's licence, car rental agencies often require an IDP from all expats. Expats staying in Laos for longer than a year will need to take a driving test and obtain a local driving licence.

Cycling in Laos

Given the low levels of traffic in Laos, cycling is quite a viable mode of transport. In fact, many locals cycle as their primary means of getting around. There are a number of guided cycling tours for those who want to cycle throughout Laos. One downside is that there are few cycling shops outside of Vientiane, so a major breakdown could jeopardise an expat's trip if they cycle further afield.

Air travel in Laos

Laos has international airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse, linking Laos to the Southeast Asia region. Besides flights between these three major airports, there are smaller flights to provincial capitals. Within Laos, the state carrier Lao Airlines has a near-total monopoly on flights, though the development of the high-speed train has provided a safe, cost-effective and speedy alternative to air travel in Laos.