Laos - Consular Information Sheet
May 9, 2001
COUNTRY DESCRIPTION: Laos is a developing country with
a communist government. Political power is centralized in the
Lao People's Revolutionary Party. Services and facilities for
tourists are adequate in the capital, Vientiane, and the UNESCO
World Heritage town of Luang Prabang, but are extremely limited
in other parts of the country.
ENTRY REQUIREMENTS: A passport and visa are required.
Visas are issued upon arrival in Laos to foreign tourists and
business persons with two passport size photographs and USD $30
at Wattay Airport, Vientiane; Friendship Bridge, Vientiane; and
Luang Prabang Airport. Foreign tourists are generally admitted
to Laos for 15 days. It is sometimes possible to get a single
15-day extension from the Department of Immigration in Vientiane.
Foreign tourists planning on entering Laos at any other international
checkpoint must obtain a visa in advance. In the United States,
visas and further information about Lao entry requirements can
be obtained directly from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic
Republic, 2222 S St. N.W., Washington DC 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 documents or outside official ports of entry. Persons attempting
to enter Laos outside official ports of entry risk arrest or more
serious consequences. Unscrupulous travel agents have sold U.S.
citizen travelers false Lao visas which have resulted in those
travelers being denied entry into Laos.
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 from the parent(s) or legal guardian not
present. Having such documentation on hand, 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 citizenship 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 enter and depart
Laos using a U.S. passport and a valid Lao visa retain the right
of U.S. consular access and protection. The ability of the U.S.
Embassy to provide consular services would be extremely limited
in the event a dual national 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 Lao nationals who have not permanently settled
in another country, then the child is a Lao citizen even if the
child is born outside Laos. In circumstances where a 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 will not permit such children to depart Laos on U.S.
passports. Provided the child 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 4811A, Washington.
D.C. 20520 or to the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. For additional
information, please see the
Bureau of Consular Affairs home page on the Internet at http://travel.state.gov
for the Dual Nationality flyer.
SAFETY AND SECURITY: Since March 2000, numerous small
bombs have exploded in public places in Vientiane and several
other towns throughout Laos. Other bombs have been discovered
before they exploded. Several of these bombs were in places such
as markets or transportation facilities that are likely to be
frequented by foreign tourists, including U.S. citizens. While
there is no evidence that this violence is directed against U.S.
citizens or institutions, U.S. citizens should be aware that some
foreign tourists have been injured by these bombs and that more
such incidents could occur in the future. U.S. citizens traveling
to or residing anywhere in Laos are advised to exercise caution
and to be alert to their surroundings.
The government of Laos tightly controls travel to Saysomboun
Special Zone and at times restricts travel to parts of Xieng Khouang
Province (particularly Muang Khoune, Muang Paxai, and Muang Phoukout
Districts) because of ongoing insurgent and bandit activity. Due
to the risk of ambush, the U.S. Embassy advises U.S. citizens
in Laos to avoid travel to Saysomboun Special Zone and Xieng Khouang
Province (except for Phonsavan town and the Districts of Muang
Kham and Muang Nong Haet). Due to the risk of ambush, the U.S.
Embassy prohibits its employees from traveling on Route 7 from
the Route 13 junction to Phonsavan town. Additionally, 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 13
from Vang Vieng to Luang Prabang should travel in daylight, avoid
unnecessary stops, and travel in convoy if possible.
U.S. citizens considering travel outside urban centers are advised
to contact relevant Lao government offices and the U.S. Embassy
for the most current security information.
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 side of the Nam Song River.
Persons traveling at night in Vientiane and elsewhere are subject
to being stopped, searched, detained, and fined if they cannot
present suitable identification. Travelers should comply with
requests to stop at checkpoints and roadblocks.
More than 500,000 tons of unexploded ordnance left over from
the Vietnam War causes about 120 casualties per year in Laos.
Savannakhet, Xieng Khouang, Saravane, Khammouane, Sekong, Champassak,
Houaphan, Attapeu, and Luang Prabang Provinces and Saysomboun
Special Zone are severely contaminated by unexploded bombs. In
addition, there are numerous mine fields left over from the War,
including mine fields along either side of Route 7 (from Route
13 to the Vietnam border), Route 9 (Savannakhet to the Vietnam
border), and Route 20 (Pakse to Saravane). U.S. citizens traveling
in any part of Laos should never pick up any unknown metal object
and should avoid traveling off of well-used roads, tracks, and
Camping at night anywhere except authorized campgrounds in national
parks is considered dangerous.
U.S. citizens considering travel by air, road or river within
Laos are advised to carefully evaluate the relative risks of the
three modes of transport for their particular journey. (See sections
on Aviation Safety Oversight, Traffic Safety and Road Conditions,
and River Travel below.)
TRAVEL OF FOREIGNERS WITHIN LAOS: Lao authorities require
that hotels and guesthouses furnish information about the identities
and activities of their foreign guests. Lao citizens who interact
with foreigners may be compelled to report on those interactions
to the Lao government. Persons traveling outside of the main tourist
areas may be required to register with local authorities and may
find themselves questioned by security personnel.
Lao security personnel may place foreign visitors under surveillance.
Hotel rooms, telephone conversations, fax transmissions, and e-mail
communications may 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 immune to crime. While in Laos, U.S. citizens
should remain aware of their surroundings and exercise appropriate
security precautions. There has been a recent increase in thefts
and assaults in Vientiane, including bag-snatching, house-breaking,
and sexual assaults. Any such incidents, as well as the loss or
theft abroad of a U.S. passport, should be reported immediately
to the local police and the U.S. Embassy. Useful information on
safeguarding valuables and protecting personal security while
traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet,
A Safe Trip Abroad, available
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 page at http://travel.state.gov and
autofax service at 202-647-3000, or at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane.
MEDICAL FACILITIES: Medical facilities and services in
Laos are limited and do not meet Western standards. The U.S. Embassy
in Vientiane generally advises U.S. citizens to seek medical care
in Thailand. The Friendship Bridge linking Vientiane, Laos to
Nong Khai, Thailand is open from 6:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. Officials
generally will allow travelers to cross after hours in case of
AEK International Hospital in Udorn Thani, Thailand, (tel: 66-42-342-555),
has English-speaking staff who are well accustomed to dealing
with foreign patients and offers a wide variety of services. Nong
Khai Wattana Hospital in Nong Khai, Thailand (tel: 66-42-465-201
to 208) can handle most simple medical procedures. The Nong Khai
Wattana Hospital ambulance has advance permission to cross the
Friendship Bridge to collect patients from Vientiane. In Vientiane,
the Setthatirat Hospital ambulance (tel: 021-413-720) has the
documentation necessary to take patients to Thailand. The Department
of State assumes no responsibility for the professional ability
or reputation of these hospitals.
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 whether 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, many travel agents and private companies offer
insurance plans that will cover health care expenses incurred
overseas including emergency services such as medical evacuations.
When making a decision regarding health insurance, U.S. citizens
should consider that many foreign doctors and hospitals require
payment in cash prior to providing service and that a medical
evacuation to the U.S. may cost well in excess of $50,000. Uninsured
travelers who require medical care overseas often face extreme
difficulties, whereas travelers who have purchased overseas medical
insurance have, when a medical emergency occurs, found it life-saving.
When consulting with your insurer prior to your trip, ascertain
whether payment will be made to the overseas healthcare provider
or whether you will be reimbursed later for expenses you incur.
Some 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
insurance programs, is provided in the Department of State's Bureau
of Consular Affairs brochure Medical
Information for Americans Traveling Abroad, available via
the Bureau of Consular Affairs home page or autofax: (202)
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. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ
significantly from those in the United States. The information
below concerning Laos is provided for general reference only,
and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance:
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 traffic fatalities in Laos is 19 per 10,000
vehicles, or about double the rate in the rest of 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
before paying compensation for property damage or injuries, regardless
of who the police judged was at fault.
Traffic in Laos is chaotic and road conditions are very rough.
Theoretically, traffic moves on the right, but vehicles use all
parts of the street. Cyclists pay little or no heed to cars on
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 night. Roads are poorly lit, many vehicles have no operating
lights, few bicycles have reflectors, and it is common for trucks
with no reflectors to park on unlit roads.
The speed limit on most urban streets is 30 kilometers per hour
(19 miles per 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 markings. Where lane markings,
road signs, and/or stoplights do exist, they are widely ignored.
Public transportation is unreliable, and is limited after sunset.
The most common form of public transport are three-wheeled, open-sided
taxis called "tuk-tuks". Automobile taxis are available
at the airport, the Friendship Bridge, and major hotels. Tuk-tuks
and taxis are frequently in poor states of repair. 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 poor repair.
Lao road traffic regulations require any driver coming upon a
road accident to assist in transporting injured persons to a hospital.
Emergency telephone numbers in Vientiane are Fire: 190, Police:
191, Ambulance: 195 or (021) 413-720.
For additional general information
about road safety, including links to foreign government sites,
see the Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs Home Page
at http://travel.state.gov/road_safety.html. For specific information
concerning Lao driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax,
and mandatory insurance, contact the
Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St.
N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. 202-332-6416, fax 202-332-4923,
Internet home page:http://www.laoembassy.com.
AVIATION SAFETY OVERSIGHT: As there is no direct commercial
air service by local carriers at present, or economic authority
to operate such service, between the U.S. and Laos, the U.S. Federal
Aviation Administration (FAA) has not assessed Laos' Civil Aviation
Authority for compliance with international aviation safety standards.
For further information, travelers may contact the Department
of Transportation within the U.S. at 1-800-322-7873, or visit
Internet home page at http://www.faa.gov/avr/iasa/. The U.S.
Department of Defense (DOD) separately assesses some foreign air
carriers for suitability as official providers of air services.
For information regarding the DOD policy on specific carriers,
travelers may contact the DOD at 1-618-229-4801.
In the last few years, Lao Aviation aircraft have crashed in
remote mountainous areas of the country, usually due to severe
weather conditions. The U.S. Embassy advises that U.S. citizens
not fly in the mountainous parts of Laos during bad weather. The
U.S. Embassy evaluates official travel by its personnel on a case-by-case
basis to limit the risks.
RIVER TRAVEL: River travel by speedboat is dangerous and
should be avoided, particularly during the dry season. Travel
on or across the Mekong River along the Thai border should be
avoided at night. Lao militia forces have shot at boats on the
Mekong after dark.
RELIGIOUS WORKERS: Religious proselytizing or distributing
religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing
religious material may be arrested or deported. The government
of Laos restricts the import of religious texts and artifacts.
While Lao law allows freedom of religion, in practice, the government
registers and controls all associations, including religious groups.
Meetings, even in private homes, must be registered, and those
held outside established locations may be broken up and the participants
RELATIONSHIPS WITH LAO CITIZENS: Foreign citizens intending
to marry a Lao national are required by Lao law to obtain prior
permission from the Lao government. The formal application process
can take as long as a year. U.S. citizens may obtain information
about these requirements from the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. The
Lao government will not issue a marriage certificate unless the
correct procedures are followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao
regulations governing the marriage of Lao citizens to foreigners
may result in arrest, imprisonment, a fine of $500-$5000, and/or
deportation. Foreign citizens cohabiting with Lao nationals may
be accused by Lao authorities of entering an illegal marriage
and be subject to the same penalties.
Foreigners are not permitted to invite Lao nationals of the opposite
sex to their hotel rooms; police may raid hotel rooms without
notice or consent.
PHOTOGRAPHY AND OTHER RESTRICTIONS: Taking photographs
of anything that could be perceived as being of military or security
interest including bridges, airfields, military installations,
government buildings or government vehicles, may result in problems
with authorities, including detention or arrest and confiscation
of the camera and film. Tourists should be cautious when traveling
near military bases and strictly observe signs delineating the
military base areas. Military personnel have detained and questioned
foreigners who innocently passed by unmarked military facilities.
CRIMINAL PENALTIES: While in a foreign country, a U.S.
citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which
sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States
and may not afford the protections available to the individual
under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe
than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating
the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned.
Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs
in Laos are strict, and convicted offenders can expect long jail
sentences and fines. In April 2001, the National Assembly increased
the penalty for persons convicted of certain drug crimes to include
the death sentence.
Local police and immigration authorities sometimes confiscate
passports when outstanding business disputes and visa matters
CONSULAR ACCESS: The United States and Laos are both parties
to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (VCCR). Article
36 of the VCCR provides that, if a U.S. citizen arrestee requests
it, foreign authorities shall, without delay, inform the U.S.
Embassy. U.S. consular officers have the right to be notified
of a U.S. citizen's detention and to visit the arrestee. 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. Nevertheless,
U.S. citizens who are arrested or detained in Laos should always
request contact with the U.S. Embassy.
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 contact the Embassy of the
Lao People's Democratic Republic in Washington for specific information
regarding customs requirements. (Please see section on "Religious
FINANCIAL TRANSACTIONS: There are no ATM's in Laos. Credit
cards are accepted only at some major hotels and tourist-oriented
businesses. Credit card cash advances can be obtained at some
banks in Vientiane. Although it is technically illegal to do so,
the U.S. dollar and Thai baht are both widely used for larger
transactions. U.S. dollars are required by the Lao Government
for the payment of some taxes and fees, including visa fees and
the airport departure tax.
CHILDREN'S ISSUES: For
information on international adoption of children and international
parental child abduction, please refer to our Internet site
at http://travel.state.gov/children's_issues.html or telephone
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
(aka Rue Bartholonie, near Tat Dam), in Vientiane; from the U.S.
mail can be addressed to AMEMBASSY Vientiane, Box V, APO AP 96546;
telephone (856-21) 212-581, 212-582, 212-585; duty officer's emergency
cellular telephone (856-20) 502-016; Consular Section fax number
(856-21) 251-624; Embassy-wide fax number (856-21) 512-584; Internet
home page: http://usembassy.state.gov/laos/.