Living in Laos can be both a relaxing and, at times, infuriating experience. While the people of Laos generally have quite a laid-back attitude to life, widespread government corruption can make many of the simple things you take for granted in other countries hard to come by. For example, the government has a tight grip on the media within Laos and is responsible for publishing all of the country’s newspapers, as well as controlling all of the TV channels. Despite this, if you are interested in living and working in a country that is rich in natural beauty, Laos couldn’t be better. With stunning wilderness, rugged mountains and the shimmering Mekong River, Laos is rich in natural diversity.
Transportation throughout Laos continues to improve, but it is important to note that around 80% of the roads in Laos are still currently dirt tracks, with no proper tarmac or paving in place, though the main routes between the major towns are now properly covered. Along these routes, a variety of transport options are available, including travel by bus, minibus and tuk-tuk. There is also a bus service that now runs the entire length of the country, providing a hop-on and hop-off service for expats who wish to explore the country as a whole.
Around coastal regions, it is also possible to travel by boat, including slow boats and speedboats, though local services do come with risks attached due to frequent overcrowding; owners try to get as much money from each trip as possible.
If you wish to explore the remoter parts of Laos, cycling or riding a motorcycle are two of the best ways to do it. They provide expats and travelers alike with the option of going off-road and exploring the wilder aspects of the country.
The level of healthcare in Laos is generally quite low. Remote and rural areas have extremely limited medical care, and they are unlikely to accept insurance cards, so make sure you have a little money saved in case of an emergency. In the Vientiane area, expats should be able to find a couple of international clinics, such as the French Medical Centre. For serious problems and dentistry, expats are recommended to go to neighboring Thailand, where they will find a much higher level of healthcare and plenty of hospitals that are of an international standard.
Before going to Laos, ensure you have comprehensive travel or medical insurance - ideally a plan that will cover hospital visits to Thailand. Also, visitors and expats living in Laos are recommended to make sure all their standard immunizations are up-to-date, and get vaccinated against hepatitis A and typhoid. Other vaccinations may be recommended if you're visiting certain rural areas.
Crime levels in Laos are generally quite low, though the usual crimes that affect expats and tourists, such as bag snatching and theft, do take place, especially in the country’s larger towns and cities. It is also essential to carry your identification, or at least a copy of your passport, at all times, as you can be asked to show your identification at any time and be fined on the spot if you fail to produce it.
Crimes can be punishable by execution in Laos, so it is strongly advisable to stay on the right side of the law at all times, especially as policemen regularly travel in plain clothes and there are high levels of corruption within the government as a whole.