Until 2020, Laos's property market was experiencing a boom, with a glut of high-end apartments and houses in Vientiane and other urban areas in Laos. Although Covid-19 lockdowns essentially halted development in the country, the recent completion of the Boten–Vientiane train line has reignited optimism in Laos's economy, and new land laws offer land-use protections to foreign investors for the first time. 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 with a wide range of property types at a wide range of price points. 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 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.
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.