Unless you hold a passport from Japan or one of the ASEAN member states, you’ll need a visa to enter Laos. The good news is that you probably won’t need to arrange it in advance; thirty-day visas are now available on arrival at most international borders. Note that all visitors must hold a passport that is valid for at least six months from the time of entry into Laos.
Visas on arrival take just a few minutes to process, cost around $35, and are available to passengers flying into Luang Prabang Airport, Pakse Airport and Wattay Airport in Vientiane. Those travelling to Laos from Thailand can pick up visas on arrival at any of the border crossings open to foreign tourists, as can those entering from certain places in Vietnam (Nam Khan, Bo Y, Tay Trang, Cau Treo and Lao Bao) and China (Mo Han). Only US dollars are accepted as payment and a passport-sized photo is required. If you forget the photo, border officials will usually turn a blind eye for an extra $1. Note that passport holders from a number of countries, including Pakistan, Turkey and Zambia, are not eligible for visas on arrival and must obtain one in advance – for a comprehensive list see wtinyurl.com/3ykrvyy. To cross into Laos from all other points, including Cha Lo in Vietnam, you’ll need to arrange a visa before arriving at the border. Like visas on arrival, pre-arranged tourist visas allow for a stay of up to thirty days. Prices are generally a little higher though – especially if you pay a tour operator to help you out – so avoid buying one unless your border crossing demands it. If it does, visas can be obtained directly from Lao embassies and consulates. At the Lao embassy in Bangkok, thirty-day visas cost 1,400 baht for nationals of the UK, US and Ireland, 1,200 baht for those from Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, and 1,680 baht for Canadians. You’ll need to take two passport-sized photos with you but, provided you apply before noon, processing can usually be done on the same day. Advance visas can also be obtained at the Lao consulate in Khon Kaen, in the northeast of Thailand, or through one of the many travel agents concentrated on or around Khao San Road. However, prices (and processing fees) can vary wildly. Wherever you choose to get your visa, bear in mind that Lao visa regulations and prices are subject to frequent change.
The Lao embassy in Hanoi, and consulates in Ho Chi Minh City and Da Nang, can also issue visas but it’s important to note that the prices charged vary from place to place, and the regulations and conditions change frequently. Lao visas issued in Vietnam are also significantly more expensive than those issued in Thailand.
Visa extensions are fairly easy to obtain, but you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to avoid overstaying your visa (there’s currently a $10 penalty for each extra day you spend in the country). The cheapest option is to visit the immigration office on Hatsady Road in Vientiane before your visa expires. Here, visa extensions are issued at the cost of $2 per day and the maximum length of extension is fifteen days. Alternatively you could leave the country and enter again (which might work out cheaper if you’re planning to extend by twenty days or more) or pay a local travel agent to arrange the visa extension for you. Generally this is more expensive, with most vendors charging around $4 per extra day required. Thirty-day business visas that have the potential to be extended can also be arranged in advance at the Lao embassies and consulates listed below.