What Expats Must Know Before Moving To Laos
Calling all potential ex-pats moving to Laos! Please read this guide before taking the plunge, possibly making mistakes. I’m Ian, a backpacker who’s lived in South East Asia and traveled Laos, and I can say Laos’s is a vibe, but living is different from backpacking.
If you’re moving to Laos, you must know how these countries work in South East Asia and what to expect. Although Lao is a safe country, you must realize that it is communist and works differently from Thailand or Cambodia.
But don’t let that put you off! Lao is probably one of the most spiritual places I’ve ever been and has a lasting effect on me forever with gorgeous countryside and Indo-French influence that makes the country magical.
Keep reading to get the full low down on what to expect in Laos and tips for this mysterious and wonderful country.
Table of Contents
What Visa’s Do I Need
It used to be the case before you arrived in Laos you needed a visa, but now upon arrival, you get a 30-day visa (Visa On Arrival) that costs $35. You can get your Visa from all the major airports and border crossings from Vietnam and Thailand. From Cambodia, I’m not 100% sure what the deal is on border crossing? Most tourists enter through Vietnam and Thailand.
Be aware they only accept US dollars, and you need a passport picture. If you forget your picture, usually they will turn a blind eye and charge a few more dollars. Make sure you have Dollars on you. Cards may not be accepted at every destination.
You can extend your Visa a max of 15 days, $2 a day, by going to Hatsady Road in Vientiane or do border runs you can arrange through Laos’s tour operator.
Visa Upon Arrival:
The Tourist Visa has a 30-day limit, just like the Visa upon arrival, but the difference is you can get your Visa from any Laos Embassy or tour operators in Thailand, Cambodia, and Vietnam.
Lao’s doesn’t accept the Visa Upon Arrival from every border crossing, so the Tourist Visa is a safer bet.
Another month stay Visa with the option to extend it another two months. The Visa is for those who have working relatives in Laos.
The Visa has a maximum stay in Laos of just five days and is only accepted in one province. You must have proof that you have an onward visa out of Laos.
The business Visa starts as a month’s Visa and can be pro-longed by your employer as long as you are still working with them. Popular with Ex-pats teaching English in Laos.
Multiple Entry Visa:
Issued by the Ministry Of Foreign Affairs
Laos’s food is full of herbs, spices, and sour tastes, different from Thailand & Cambodia.
The cities Vientiane and Luang Prabang offer unique eateries and a good selection of options. If you go to the provinces, the options become slimmer and typically offer just a couple of dishes like noodle soup and fried rice.
You do need your thinking hat on though in Laos, and people do get food poising. My advice is If something doesn’t look right, don’t eat it. Some markets will put tap water on salads or ice cubes for drinks which can be dangerous. Thankfully, for the most part, you should be safe but use common sense.
Here are some of Lao’s most famous dishes
Kaipen is dried seaweed from the Mekong river with fresh ingredients. You have tomato, tamarind water, and sesame seeds which gives it a slightly crunchy and salty taste.
You will find this refreshing dish around Luang Prabang and the surrounding area.
Khao soi Luang Prabang
The whereabouts of this dish is unknown as both Thailand and Laos claim this delicious dish. The dish contains fermented rice noodles, pork fermented soya beans, and many fresh ingredients and spices. The sauce has a tomato base giving it some zip and freshness that makes this dish unique for South-East-Asia.
The dish originates from the northern part of Laos and is enjoyed for breakfast.
Khao ji pâté
The fast-food king of Laos Khao ji pâté is enjoyed for breakfast and sometimes a nighttime treat. The baguette contains pickled papaya with minced pork, minced soya beans, tomatoes, and pate, a fried egg sprinkled with fresh coriander.
Laos Dips With Sticky Rice
You can’t get much more traditional than this dish! The idea is to roll the sticky rice into balls and dip them in different sauces. Most of the time, you will get three dips smoky aubergine (djeo mak Kua), medium-spiced tomato (tomato len), and chili paste (djeo mak bet)- (Be careful as this can be spicy)
You get different types of sticky rice depending on your region. In the north, you get steamed rice which is the best in my opinion. You will find white, purple, and dark brown in the markets and usually served from the early hours.
Jobs can be somewhat hard to come by, and the pay isn’t always great in Laos due to a slow economy. You’re better off teaching English at one of the colleges if you want fairer pay. You can apply directly to the colleges or even in newspaper ads which are popular in Laos.
To be granted a work permit is hard! You need to provide a lot of evidence to prove you have employment in Laos, but if you’re an English teacher, it is so much easier to go through a college to get a work permit granted.
If you’re a Digital Nomad, you should not be doing work for people living/working in Laos without a work permit. Try and work for people outside of Laos!
How To Meet People
Moving to a city can be daunting if you’re alone, so if you need to meet people, I found the fasted way through Facebook. You can join ex-pats groups in your area and post with questions, and other ex-pats are more than happy to help.
You will find people posting about certain group nights in bars or ex-pats just asking if anyone wants to meet for a drink? During the times of Covid, this is probably the best option to meet people.
Another way is through sports bars. I found that if you like a sport, you find common ground with people more easily and build a social circle.
If you’re looking to date, Tinder is pretty good, and I find it better than in the West to meet local girls and tourists.
You wouldn’t know that Laos is a communist country apart from a few hammer and sickle flags dotted around.
The culture conservative and laid back, but some things you do in your country may not be accepted in Lao.
Being Overweight In Laos
Showing a lot of skin is frowned upon, especially for women. Locals may even fat shame you or grab your love handles while your walking by (Which is a little strange). Most of the population in Lao are thin, so you stand out more if you are overweight. Fat-shaming doesn’t exist in Laos, so be warned.
Freedom of speech does not exist for locals. It would be best if you didn’t express a negative opinion of any government policies or corruption to locals. You may get a negative response! Steer away from any conversations that may land you in trouble.
Watch Out For The Roads
South East Asia has some of the most erratic driving globally, and the right of way does not exist. If you’re crossing the road, make sure you look right and left more than once, as you will have some brief encounters.
Also, don’t assume the driver has seen you when your crossing the road. Only cross the road once your 100% confident its okay. Never Chance it.
Laos is a relaxed country, and everything runs at a slow pace. Buddhist belief installs many positives in their society, and because of this, you get low crime rates which keeps you relatively safe for a 3rd world country.
Where To Go On Vacation
Loas has so much beauty with amazing countryside, mountains, and old colonial buildings that leave you speechless.
Kuang Si Caves & Waterfalls
Kuang Si waterfall in Luang Prabang is quite simply the best waterfall in the country with a 50m height and many pools for you to swim. You have huts nearby to get changed and leave some personal items as well. The views are stunning, so make sure to pack your camera.
The next stop should be Pak Ou natural caves which are near the Mekong delta. There are two caves in total Tham Ting and Tham Theung, with thousands of Buddhist temples that have been placed here by visitors over the years
Coffee Tour Sinouk
One of Laos’s most popular coffee brands is Sinouk and is the freshest coffee on the market. You can visit the plantation and plant your coffee and watch the roast process after.
The beautiful plantation has an old traditional feel with beans roasted a traditional way before the big machines. Throughout the day, you have an aroma in the air from Lao Arabica, roasted freshly daily.
You can find coffee plantation in the southern part of the country next to the Bolaven plateau
Address: Thateng-Paksong Road, Bolaven Plateau, Champasak Town
Website: Click here
Its surprising to know, but Laos has four thousand islands on the southern edge of the country. You have three islands that you can visit Don Khong, Don Khon, and Don Det. The islands are all derelict, and their is no WIFI or ATM’s available so take cash.
You will need to take the ferry to access the islands, and your accommodation will be an old guest house. The island’s vibe is that of old traditional Laos culture with magnificent views of the Mekong and fresh food made from old skool recipes.
When your heading down to the islands, you want to stay in Pakse, and from their you can plan your trip with tour operators.
Vientiane City Tour
The city of Vientiane is a city that must be discovered, so while you’re their take a tour and learn about the cities amazing culture and history. Tours wrap up cities quickly and give you knowledge and perspective.
While your in Vientiane the Buddha Park, Wat Phra Keo, Wat Si Saket, and Patuxay monument are well worth a look. The COPE Visitor Center is fantastic and builds prosthetic limbs to support people who have been injured from active tripwires in Laos.
The night market is also worth a visit with loads of food and clothing.
WIFI Speed & 4g- Talk How Fast
The Internet speed in Laos isn’t bad at all, and I would say if your digital nomad there’s no reason you can’t live in Laos and work.
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