- We advise you to exercise normal safety precautions and monitor developments that might affect your safety in Laos.
- Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible new safety or security risks.
- We recommend you reconsider your need to travel in Xaisomboun district, east of Vang Vieng, because of the risk of attacks by bandits.
- A number of tourists, including Australians, have died or been injured in accidents along the river at Vang Vieng. Extreme caution is recommended if undertaking river-based sporting activities.
- The World Health Organization (WHO) has confirmed human deaths from avian influenza in Laos. See the Health section for advice to Australians travelling to or resident in Laos.
- Be a smart traveller. Before heading overseas:
Entry and exit
Visa and other entry and exit conditions (such as currency, customs and quarantine regulations) change regularly. Contact the nearest Embassy or Consulate of Laos for the most up-to-date information.
You should ensure you obtain an entry stamp on arrival. Failure to do so may result in a fine.
You should use only official border crossing points to enter Laos.
Make sure your passport has at least six months' validity from your planned date of return to Australia. You should carry copies of a recent passport photo with you in case you need a replacement passport while overseas.
Safety and security
Terrorism is a threat throughout the world. You can find more information about this threat in our General Advice to Australian Travellers.
Civil unrest/Political tension
Isolated incidents of civil unrest, including armed attacks and bombings, have occurred in the past.
You are advised to avoid any protests or demonstrations and follow the instructions of local authorities. Curfews may be enforced and can include roadblocks, spot roadside checks and occasional raids on premises.
We advise you to exercise caution and monitor developments that might affect your safety in Laos. Pay close attention to your personal security and monitor the media for information about possible safety or security risks.
An increase in violent crime such as robbery, rape and sexual assault, including in Vientiane, Vang Vieng and in the city of Luang Prabang, has been reported.
Violence, including bombings, has in the past been used in business and personal disputes. Local law enforcement agencies often lack the resources and capability to effectively deal with such threats. Although foreign travellers are not ordinarily targeted, there is the potential for bystanders to be caught up in such incidents.
Some restaurants in popular tourist locations offer drug-laced food and drink which may contain harmful and unknown substances. The unknown additives in these foods and drinks can be dangerous and may result in serious illness and death. Travellers have been assaulted after accepting 'spiked' food and drink. Never leave food and drink unattended.
Petty crime, including bag snatching by thieves on motorcycles and theft from guest houses, occurs frequently. In the lead up to local festivals, such as Lao New Year in April, there is a significant increase in theft and violent crime.
You should reconsider your need to travel in Xaisomboun district, east of Vang Vieng, due to the risk of bandit attacks.
Travellers should be particularly vigilant when travelling on Route 7 (Phou Khoun to Phonsavanh) or Route 6 (near the town of Sam Neua, Huaphan Province).
Money and valuables
Before you go, organise a variety of ways to access your money overseas, such as credit cards, travellers' cheques, cash, debit cards or cash cards. Australian currency and travellers' cheques are not accepted in many countries. Consult with your bank to find out which is the most appropriate currency to carry and whether your ATM card will work overseas. The ANZ Bank has a head office and various ATMs in Vientiane and an office in Pakse. There are very few other ATMs that accept foreign credit and debit cards in Laos, especially outside of Vientiane, and those that do may be out of order.
Make two photocopies of valuables such as your passport, tickets, visas and travellers' cheques. Keep one copy with you in a separate place to the original and leave another copy with someone at home.
While travelling, don't carry too much cash and remember that expensive watches, jewellery and cameras may be tempting targets for thieves.
As a sensible precaution against luggage tampering, including theft, lock your luggage. Information on luggage safety is available from Australia's Civil Aviation Safety Authority.
Your passport is a valuable document that is attractive to criminals who may try to use your identity to commit crimes. It should always be kept in a safe place. You are required by Australian law to report a lost or stolen passport. If your passport is lost or stolen overseas, report it online or contact the nearest Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate as soon as possible.
You are required to pay an additional fee to have a lost or stolen passport replaced. In some cases, the Government may also restrict the length of validity or type of replacement passports.
Extreme caution is recommended if undertaking river-based sporting activities, including in Vang Vieng. Tourists, including Australians, have been killed or seriously injured while participating in river-based activities such as tubing or jumping into the river. River levels can vary during the year and the presence of debris in the river can make diving or jumping into the river dangerous. Travellers considering participating in river based activities should carefully consider their personal safety and take appropriate precautions. See our Partying Overseas travel bulletin for advice on some of risks and tips on avoiding becoming a victim.
The safety standards Australians might expect of tour operators are not always met, especially when undertaking adventure sports. 'Fast boat' river travel, in particular, can be dangerous due to excessive speed and natural hazards.
Boats travelling on the Mekong River in the ‘golden triangle’ area (between China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand) have been robbed and shot at in the past.
Unexploded ordnance is prevalent in many parts of Laos, particularly in Xieng Khouang province (location of The Plain of Jars) and the Lao-Vietnamese border areas along the Ho Chi Minh trail. Straying from established walking paths and roads can be dangerous as affected areas are often unmarked.
Australians travelling independently (not part of a tour group) should contact provincial or district offices, which can provide information on travelling to specific areas. Tourists who wish to camp must obtain permission from local authorities in advance.
It is a requirement to carry identification at all times. Police undertake frequent checks of motorists in towns and have checkpoints in rural areas. Failure to provide identification when requested may result in fines or detention.
Transport within Laos does not generally meet Australian safety standards. Driving in Laos can be hazardous due to poorly maintained roads and vehicles, local driving practices, livestock on rural roads and a lack of road lighting. The number of road accidents and fatalities, particularly at night, has risen sharply in recent years. For further advice, see our bulletin on Overseas Road Safety.
Please refer to our travel bulletin for information about Aviation Safety and Security.
When you are in Laos, be aware that local laws and penalties, including ones that appear harsh by Australian standards, do apply to you. If you are arrested or jailed, the Australian Government will do what it can to help you but we can't get you out of trouble or out of jail.
Information on what Australian consular officers can and cannot do to help Australians in trouble overseas is available from the Consular Services Charter.
Penalties for drug offences are severe in Laos and include the death penalty. Penalties for serious crime, such as rape, murder and treason, also include the death penalty.
Non-marital sexual relationships and co-habitation between Lao citizens and foreigners are not permitted under Lao law. Permission for marriage or engagement to a Lao citizen must be granted by the Lao authorities. Penalties for failing to register a relationship include fines and imprisonment.
Photographing or visiting military sites is prohibited and may result in arrest or detention.
Unauthorised religious preaching, including the distribution of religious material, is prohibited and may result in arrest or deportation.
Local car insurance may not cover all expenses in the event of a road accident. A compensation payment for third party property damage and injury may be required, regardless of fault.
Some Australian criminal laws, such as those relating to money laundering, bribery of foreign public officials, terrorism, child pornography, and child sex tourism, apply to Australians overseas. Australians who commit these offences while overseas may be prosecuted in Australia.
Australian authorities are committed to combating sexual exploitation of children by Australians overseas. Australians may be prosecuted at home under Australian child sex tourism and child pornography laws. These laws provide severe penalties of up to 25 years’ imprisonment for Australians who engage in child sexual exploitation while outside of Australia.
Information for dual nationals
Laos does not recognise dual nationality. This may limit the ability of the Australian Government to provide consular services to Australian/Lao dual nationals who are arrested or detained. We recommend you travel on your Australian passport at all times.
Our Dual Nationals brochure provides further information for dual nationals.
We strongly recommend that you take out comprehensive travel insurance that will cover any overseas medical costs, including medical evacuation, before you depart. Confirm that your insurance covers you for the whole time you'll be away and check what circumstances and activities are not included in your policy. Remember, regardless of how healthy and fit you are, if you can't afford travel insurance, you can't afford to travel. The Australian Government will not pay for a traveller's medical expenses overseas or medical evacuation costs.
Your doctor or travel clinic is the best source of information about preventive measures, immunisations (including booster doses of childhood vaccinations) and disease outbreaks overseas. The World Health Organization (WHO) provides information for travellers and our 'Travelling Well' brochure also provides useful tips for travelling with medicines and staying healthy while travelling overseas.
Medical facilities in Laos are extremely basic. It is recommended that travellers access medical services across the border in Thailand. The Australian Embassy in Vientiane operates a small medical clinic that may be accessed by Australians. Many doctors and hospitals require cash payment prior to providing services, even for emergency care. In the event of a serious illness or accident, medical evacuation to Bangkok, Thailand would be necessary, costing up to $A18,000 depending on circumstances.
Malaria is a risk in rural areas of Laos. Other mosquito-borne diseases, such as dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis, are prevalent in Laos, especially during the rainy season. We recommend you take prophylaxis against malaria and take measures to avoid mosquito bites, including using insect repellent at all times, wearing long, loose-fitting, light coloured clothing and ensuring your accommodation is mosquito proof.
Water-borne, food-borne and other infectious diseases (including HIV/AIDS, cholera, hepatitis, rabies and tuberculosis) are prevalent with more serious outbreaks occurring from time to time. We encourage you to consider having vaccinations before travelling. We advise you to boil all drinking water or drink bottled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw and undercooked food. Do not swim in fresh water to avoid exposure to certain water-borne diseases such as schistosomiasis. Seek medical advice if you have a fever or are suffering from diarrhoea.
Avian influenza : The World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) has confirmed cases of avian influenza in birds in a number of countries throughout the world, including Laos. For a list of these countries, visit the OIE website. For more information see our travel bulletin on avian influenza. The World Health Organization (WHO) has reported human deaths from avian influenza in Laos in February and March 2007.
Where to get help
In Laos, you can obtain consular assistance from the:
Australian Embassy, Vientiane
Should you require assistance from the local authorities, the contact number for the Vientiane Tourist Police is +856 21 251128.
If you are travelling to Laos, whatever the reason and however long you'll be there, we encourage you to register with the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. You can register online or in person at any Australian Embassy, High Commission or Consulate. The information you provide will help us to contact you in an emergency - whether it is a natural disaster, civil disturbance or a family issue.
In a consular emergency if you are unable to contact the Embassy you can contact the 24-hour Consular Emergency Centre on +61 2 6261 3305 or 1300 555 135 within Australia.
In Australia, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra may be contacted on (02) 6261 3305.
Natural disasters, severe weather and climate
The rainy season is May to November, when seasonal flooding and landslides may occur. The Mekong River Commission website contains information on flood levels for the Mekong River.
During 2007 and early 2011, a number of earthquakes and tremors were recorded in the border areas of Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.
If a natural disaster occurs, travellers should follow instructions from local authorities, monitor media and weather reports, and check with tour operators before travelling to affected areas.
Information on natural disasters can be obtained from the Humanitarian Early Warning Service.
Australians are advised to respect wildlife laws and to maintain a safe and legal distance when observing wildlife, including marine animals and birds. You should only use reputable and professional guides or tour operators and closely follow park regulations and wardens' advice.
For general information and tips on travelling with children see our Travelling with Children brochure.
If you are planning on placing your children in schools or childcare facilities overseas we encourage you to research the standards of security, care and staff training within those establishments. You should exercise the same precautions you would take before placing children into schools or childcare facilities in Australia.