Tourist Visa (Visa on Arrival)
Having finally realized that people will stay for longer if they get a longer visa to start with, the Lao government now issues 30-day tourist visas on arrival at several official international border crossings and at the international airports at Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse.
The whole process is dead easy. You need between US$30 and US$42 cash or the equivalent in Thai baht (traveler’s cheques) and other currencies, including Lao kip, are not accepted one passport-size photo yourself; and the name of a hotel you will be staying at (pick any one from this guidebook) In theory you need the name of a contact in Laos but it’s OK to leave that section blank. For airport arrivals you’re also supposed to possess a valid return air ticket, but we’ve never heard of anyone who’s actually been asked to show it.
The fee varies depending on what passport you’re carrying, with Canadians having to fork out the most (US$42), and most others at US$30 or US$35. Money changers at these places are unlikely to be able to give you dollars in exchange for Thai baht or any other currency, so be sure to bring enough. We’ve seer several travelers get stuck in airport limbo because they arrived without cash to pay for their visas. In such cases the immigration officers may allow you to go into town and try to get dollars from another source. They will however, keep your passport at the airport ii the meantime. The 30-day visa is extendible though not indefinitely
As easy as all this sounds it doesn’t always go exactly to plan. We’ve met travelers who were only able to get a 15-day visa at a point where we’d been granted 30 days just a week before. All you can do is check that the visa is 30 days, and if not ask them why.
If you’re coming from Cambodia you’ll nee (for now at least) to obtain your visa in advance. In this case, the Lao embassy in Phnom Penh issues 30-day visitor visas (B3) in 2 hours for the same cost as a visa on arrival.
This visa is also what you’ll get at any other Lao embassy or consulate if you don’t want to wait for a visa on arrival, or are not eligible for one. In Bangkok you can get your visa in a couple of hours for an additional 200B express fee. The visitor visa is extendible up to two months.
Non-immigrant & Business visas
A person who has a short- term professional or volunteer assignment in Laos is generally issued a nonimmigrant visa good for 30 days and extendible for another 30 days. As with the visitor visa, the application fee is around US$35. Journalists can apply for the journalist visa, which has the same restrictions and validity as the nonimmigrant and visit visas except that the applicant must also fill in a biographical form.
Business visas, also good for 30 days, are relatively easy to obtain as long as you have a sponsoring agency in Laos. Many brokers in Vientiane (and a few in Thailand) can arrange such visas with one to two weeks notice. Business visas can be extended from month to month indefinitely, but you will need a visa broker or travel agency to handle the extensions. After the first month’s extension, the business visa can be converted to multiple-entry status. Six-month business visa are available.
While nonimmigrant and business may be collected in one’s home country, the Lao embassy in Bangkok is a better place to pick them up. Simply make sure that, your sponsoring agency in Laos sends a confirmation fax to the Bangkok embassy, if you can present the fax date to the embassy it can find your fax and visa sooner.
Getting an extension on a tourist visa is easy. Go to the Immigration Office (Tel:212 250, Th Hatsady, 8 am – 4.30pm Mon – Fri), in the Ministry of Public Security building opposite Talat Sao in Vientiane, fill out a form, supply your passport, a photo and pay US$2 per the extra time you want. The whole can be completed in one hour.
The downside is that you can only in Vientiane. Elsewhere, agencies and guest houses can organize extensions, usual about US$3 to US$4 per day. It will take a couple of days – the further you are from Vientiane, the longer it takes. You extend your visa indefinitely, and the immigration office itself will suggest you cross to Thai land and come back with a new visa if you try to extend longer than about 15 days.
Overstaying your visa
Overstaying your visa is not seen as a major crime but it is expensive. You’ll have to pay a fine of US$10 for each day you’ve overstayed at the immigration checkpoint when you leave.
Elsewhere, just keep your eyes open and dress in a way that’s not too different from s women around you. This doesn’t mean you need to get wrapped up in a sin, but you’ll notice that shirts with at least a tiny strip of sleeve are universally popular, as are short or skirts that come to somewhere near the nee. Show this small measure of respect for Lao culture, and it will be repaired in kind.
Traditionally, women didn’t sit on the roves of riverboats, because this was believed to bring bad luck. These days most captains aren’t so concern, but if you are asked to get off the roof while men are not, this is why.