Laos is a landlocked country, and one of the last remaining communist states in the world to date. It is surrounded by Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and China, and still possesses vast areas of wilderness, combining wild forests with mountainous regions, all dominated by the expansive Mekong River.
With a population estimated to be under 7 million, it is easy to see how Laos’s natural beauty has been maintained, but the small population doesn’t mean that Laos is without culture and diversity. In fact, it has around 49 different ethnic groups and tribes within its borders, speaking a range of different languages, many of which are similar to Thai.
Laos is officially a Buddhist country and there are many shrines and temples to visit throughout the region. The golden stupa in Vientiane, the Pha That Luang, is the national symbol of Laos and is the country’s most famous and stunning monument. Designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the temple is a must-see for visitors to the country, though expats moving to Laos will find that there are also many other temples to explore throughout Laos, such as the Wat Phu, which dates back to the 12th century.
The weather in Laos can be neatly divided into three different seasons. The dry season runs from approximately November to March and is the main tourist season, with only a small amount of rainfall. Temperatures tend to fall quite rapidly at night during this time though. Following on from this, the hot season sees temperatures reach extreme heights, with 40°C a common occurrence.
The wet season lasts from approximately May to October, and consists of tropical storms and the potential for the mighty Mekong River to flood. During this period, temperatures generally hit around 30°C, though things vary depending on the region of the country you are in and the altitude.
Tourists from the following countries may get into Laos without a visa: Russia, South Korea, Japan, Switzerland, Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, Brunei, Cambodia, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. Others who intend to visit Laos, e.g. for a first fact-finding trip, need to apply for a tourist visa, which generally lasts between one and two months. Visas can be gained in advance from Laos’s embassies and are generally processed within two to three days, though there is often a charge of around 35 USD, which varies depending on the country you are applying for the visa in.
It is also possible to apply for a tourist visa on arrival if you arrive through one of Laos’s main airports. These airports include: Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse. They are also available when you cross the border into Laos via the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge, or when you enter into the country via Cambodia’s Stung Treng border crossing.
However, expats planning on moving to Laos in order to live and work there will not be able to do so on a tourist visa! Depending on the reason for your relocation, different visa categories apply, from a 30-day business visa (NI-B2) to longer term visas for experts and their dependents (C-B1), officials (S-A2), as well as diplomatic staff (D-A1).