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Travel Warning & Consular Information Sheet for Laos

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 paths.

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 from the 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 medical emergency.

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) 647-3000.

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 the FAA 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 arrested.

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 remain unsettled.

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 Workers" above.)

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 (202) 736-7000.

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/.

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