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Laos forum

Money in Laos

Posted by sabaisabai on 23/1/2006 at 16:33

What is better - cash or tqs or credit? I'm planning to travel in laos for two weeks.

#1 sabaisabai has been a member since 2/3/2005. Posts: 10

Posted by somtam2000 on 23/1/2006 at 19:49 admin

We're a bit old fashioned when it comes to travel money. It is always handy to have a few traveller cheques - just in cash you lose your card. That being said there are almost no ATM's in Laos so there isn't that big a chance of a machine eating it.

We'd suggest taking a mix of all three. Some cash, some traveller's cheques and a credit/debit card you can get cash advances with over the counter.

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Posted by fatman on 24/1/2006 at 16:37

I'd beg to differ with somtam on this one -- particularly if you're only going for two weeks. Assuming you're not travelling alone, I'd just take cash.


Lets say you're a typical flashpacker and you're budgetting US$30 a day. If you're there for two weeks that works out at US$420 -- not a lot of money -- people wander around with that much in their wallet in many cities in the west and don't even think about it... For such a short stay, I'd say go for the convenience and take cash -- you're only there for two weeks -- how much of that time do you want to waste waiting in a queue (I HATE bank queues) to cash a $50 TQ?

TQs and credit cards are handy if you get robbed, but if you're travelling with someone else, split the dough between you so if in the unlikely situation you're robbed, your travel partner still has half your dough. So I guess pack your credit card, or a couple of TQs, but I'd definetly take the bulk in cash.

Don't spend it all on Beer Leo either ;-)

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Posted by lakaidog on 30/1/2006 at 07:11

Should I carry local currency or is other currency readily accepted?

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Posted by somtam2000 on 30/1/2006 at 20:50 admin

US and Thai Baht are both acceptable, and a wad of kip for small purchases is always handy

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Posted by iwillfly525 on 13/2/2006 at 09:28

im planing my first trip to laos in may. so im looking into the money question as well. i have never been there, so this is out of my guide books. but it says that while banks in laos will change your money into kip. they will not change your kip back into us $ or thai bhat becasue they clam not to have any on hand. so dont change so much money into kip that you are stuck with it. again, this is from the guide book. has anyone had this problem? im thinking of going with us $ and maybe changing $50 into kip. does this sound good to anyone, or do i need more kip?

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Posted by somtam2000 on 13/2/2006 at 14:48 admin

A Lao border guard once said to me as I left the country:
"Baht to Kip OK, Kip to Baht, no way!"

Pretty much sums it up!

$50 sounds fine to me -- you can always change more as you need it.

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Posted by ironmonkey on 16/2/2006 at 18:00

If you exchange any money in Laos; Bhat to Kip, Travellers cheques to Kip, make sure you SPEND IT BEFORE YOU LEAVE! I have about 70 pounds worth of Laos Kip tucked away in a drawer after I foolishly crossed the border into Vietnam without realizing I wouldn't be able to exchange it again. I may well go back to Laos just to blow the seventy quid on Laab and Beer Laos! You have been warned.

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Posted by fsnyc on 24/2/2006 at 23:50

I was just there last week. I took about 50 usd in ones and 50 usd in fives and some 20s. I changed 20 usd into kip 3 times and used my credit card to pay the hotel (it was not a guesthouse where you probably have to use cash) and I used kip for food, t-shirts at the night market, tuktuk rides, and most other purchases; internet access, bia lao, batteries, etc. I used usd for massages and spa services at the Lotus Herbal Spa (they quote prices in cash - $3. usd for a one hour massage, $3. usd for a facial, etc.) If you use kip, you get a better deal (by a few hundred kip usually - not a lot of money to be sure). If you are shopping seriously for handicrafts, you will need dollars or baht. It's easy to change dollars to kip at the Lao Development Bank across from the Night Market (opens at 8:30 am) and just be sure to change only as much as you can spend - as someone else has mentioned - you can't change it back or spend it at the airport.

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Posted by paulsuzanne on 2/3/2006 at 16:34

No credit cards! In small towns and villages you have to pay with Kip for transport, restaurant, market. You can change $ or € in the bankoffices in every city. Rates are correct. (1$ = 10000 Kip, 1€ = ± 12000 Kip, depending on the changerate $/€) Hotels and guesthouses can be payed with $ but Kip's are accepted everywhere.

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Posted by exacto on 30/6/2006 at 11:30

We're here in Luang Prabang now and are finding money matter much easier to manage than on previous trips. There are two exchange booths on the main street on opposite ends of the night market, with essentially similar rates. But, the BCEL exchange (next to Nazim's) charges 3% commission ($3 minimum) on traveller's checks, while the Lao Development Bank (the one closer to the post office) doesn't. That 3% can go a long way here.

The exchange office at the airport doesn't accept traveller's checks at all, but had fairly decent rates too.

We've noticed that more and more places are accepting kip for larger purchases, rooms, bus tickets, etc. than on previous visits here. Even so, almost everyone will accept both baht and US dollars too, so running out of kip isn't a huge problem.

There are a few ATM's in town now, but they are strictly for domestic cards, and unfortunately there are no ATM's yet that accept international cards. If you really get stuck, a few shops in town will give you a cash advance on your credit card.

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Posted by exacto on 3/7/2006 at 18:23

We are in Vientiane now. The International ATM at the BCEL bank near the river and next to the Lane Xang hotel works. There is an unfortunate 20,000 kip fee for each use, but we gave it a try this morning and for the first time in about 10 visits here, pulled Lao Kip out of an ATM. Bonus. It is an expensive option, but great to have if you get caught short. Cheers.

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Posted by pauljaymes on 19/7/2006 at 21:44

I've never bothered with travellers cheques; is there really anywhere that will accept a t-cheque that won't give you money on/let you pay with a card, at a better rate to boot?

Yes your card can get swallowed, or you can get robbed; but thats why you should always carry at least two cards; I carry four, and keep them in different places.

BTW, does the international ATM add the 20,000kip to your withdrawal or is it levied seperately by your bank at home?

I must admit that I'd kind of assumed it would dispense US dollars like the machines in Cambodia.

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Posted by exacto on 20/7/2006 at 10:38


entirely up to you if you choose not to carry a few travellers cheques as back up, but i think it is bad advice to advocate that to others. in my mind, a back up source of cash means having an entirely different method of getting cash available if needed, not three extra of the same method. atms are definitely my primary source of cash when travelling, but i do remember a time in mexico when the power was out for an entire day, and the only way we would have been able to get pesos was with one of the back up TCs we had. we've used exactly three TC's on this trip so far, in just over six weeks. all three were in laos, in cities outside vientiane where ATM's were not available, and the TCs got us a better exchange rate than cash.

in vientiane, the bank operating the international ATM added the 20,000 kip charge directly to the withdrawl amount. your bank back home may or may not add to that amount. hope that helps. regards.

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Posted by pauljaymes on 20/7/2006 at 22:42

Just to make things clear - I'm advocating nothing; just sharing my approach. What works for me may not work for someone else (hell, it may still not work for me!)

I did seriously think about t-cheques for SE asia, but I decided against for a number of reasons:-
1) Fees - you get better exchange rates than cash yes, but we're talking about fees to obtain the cheques in the first place, and then fees to cash them as well. Does the better exchange rate make up for the fees? not unless your denominations are very high.
2) My bank - I pay no fees to my bank on atm withdrawals worldwide. My main atm card is visa debit - I can get counter cash advances, again no fee from my bank. My bank gives me a better exchange rate than t-cheques. My bank also pays me good interest - this would add to the cost of my converting even moderate sums into t-cheques.
3) I'm not sure that I agree that t-cheques are an 'entirely different' way of getting cash - you go to a bank or exchange office, you hand over a piece of paper or a card with your id, you get money. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but my impression has been that using t-cheques for direct payment in SE Asia is a non-starter - you still need to find a bank.
4) Yes, there's always the risk of a power cut or something like that, which is why you need that backup cash stash; but a power cut is unlikely to last days, and if you're somewhere really remote no-one will want your t-cheques anyway.

Like I say, this is not intended as advice for anyone - make your own mind up - I'm just sharing the reasons why I personally decided not to get travellers cheques, just to show that I did consider it carefully.

#15 pauljaymes has been a member since 10/7/2006. Posts: 75

Posted by exacto on 4/8/2006 at 23:00


i guess i'm lucky in that my bank doesn't charge me anything for traveller's checks, so no additional cost there. plus, the bank in laos where we cashed a few TCs (BCEL in Luang Prabang), did not charge a fee, so, again, no additional cost.

like you, i use ATMs as my primary source of funds, because, as you so carefully point out, it offers the best value in addition to the most convenience.

i do, however, seriously recommend than any traveller carry at least a few travellers checks, something as little as $100 worth, with them in case of emergency. you are correct that there is often additional expense associated with using them, but i look at that potential additional small cost as a form of travel insurance. i think the extra one or two dollars it might cost to carry and cash a $100 travellers check is absolutely worth the additional protection it affords.

cheers mate. happy travels.

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Posted by pauljaymes on 5/8/2006 at 21:47

Posted from within Vietnam.

Just got to Vietnam after doing Huay Xai, Pak Beng, Luang Prabang, Vang Vieng, Vientiane and a quick stop in Lak Sao on the way out.

Not really any small towns, but my observations are -
- Baht, and Dollars are readily (and often excitedly) accepted almost anywhere alongside kip. Euros are also accepted in some places. Kip inflation is relatively bad so many locals hoard foreign money for their cash savings. Expect change in Kip at the arbitrary rate of 10,000 = $1 = 40B - yes this is a bad rate for Baht, if you pay with a larger Baht note you can expect maybe 26000 kip for 100 Baht. Occasionally you get change in Baht or Dollars but usually you need to ask, and not everyone will agree or have the necessary cash to hand.
- You will get a slightly better rate changing money into kip at the banks, rather than waiting for change, but I personally didn't bother.
- The international ATM in Vientiane didn't work for me or anyone else I spoke to on the night I tried it. Don't rely on it. For smaller amounts the 5% commission on an over-the-counter advance will be better value than the 20,000 kip fee. As far as I could tell you needed a Visa or Mastercard at the ATM (ie Cirrus/Maestro/Plus probably won't work).
- You can get cash advances from almost anywhere that accepts credit cards. On the tourist trail this is generally at larger restaurants and travel agencies. You can also get advances from branches of La Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur. The Lao development bank, which is the only bank in smaller towns, can change cash and TQs only. Expect a commission of 3% to 5% anywhere, and at shops your card will probably be charged in US Dollars, not Lao Kip. Visa and Mastercard seemed to have a pretty much even acceptance for me.
- Remember to exchange all your remaining kip before leaving the country, the banks at major border crossings (ie not Cambodia) and airports will do this. You won't get the best rate but once over the border your kip is toilet paper. I did not have to pay a fee exiting to Vietnam at Cau Treo.

For me, $100 TQ seems a pointless substitute for $100 cash. My travel insurance covers me to carry up to 150 pounds - yes I carried more than this when I entered Laos but it's a risk I'm willing to take for the added convenience. Still, everyone should do what they feel is best.

#17 pauljaymes has been a member since 10/7/2006. Posts: 75

Posted by tails101 on 7/8/2006 at 22:04

Just got back from Laos/Vietnam and thought I'd add a couple of thoughts on this one.

Firstly, Just from my experiences both on this trip and prevous ones, it's often best to pay in whichever currency the prices are quoted in - eg, meals tend to be priced in kip whereas accomodation tends to be quoted in US$. This is also true in Vietnam.

I purchased my travellers cheques commission free, and managed in most cases to change them into kip or US$ commission free too. Having previously lost travellers cheques, the ability to have them replaced within 24hours is an invaluable thing to be able to rely on and so even if I had paid commision to change them I'd always carry a small supply (even if they are simply for emergencies, such as being robbed - it's a supply of cash that will be back with you in 24hours or less!).

Travel Insurance may cover you up to £150, but having claimed once and also having worked in the insurance industry for a while, the claims procedure is usually long and drawn out and often involves several letters/e-mails back and forth and rarely offers an instant supply of replacement cash. Equally, if you loose your wallet/cash, getting an emergency supply of cash in somewhere like Laos could be quite a hassle, whereas if you have travellers cheques you'll have a replacement source within 24 hours. I also don't really see using travellers cheques as a hassle and that using cash is a major plus in the convience stakes - in major tourist centres exchanges are open daily and extended hours too and only takes a matter of minutes to change a cheque!

My ATM card doesn't charge me for withdrawals, so where possible I use this - but I really think at least one other source of money is required. A story for you on this one - when I was last in Asia I was staying in a hostel in KL, a guy was stating how long he'd been there and when we asked why it turned out he had been relying on his ATM/Visa card and was now having to wait for the replacement to be posted out. OK, if you are on a 3+ month time scale, but if you're just overseas for less than this it could quickly spoil your trip.

As always, just my views... Maybe influenced by the fact I have had travellers cheques stolen which makes you realise how great the replacement service is!


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Posted by pauljaymes on 7/8/2006 at 22:24

Posted from within Vietnam.

Thanks Mark,

As I mentioned earlier in the thread I would never ever suggest travelling with a single ATM card even if you do have TQs. A bare minimum of two cards with different logos/networks and preferably kept in different places is essential. Relying on a single card is, frankly, quite stupid and invites disaster.


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Posted by bigrod64 on 9/8/2006 at 08:24

The money changer at the border crossing to Thailand in Houayxai has been known to change kip to baht if you're lucky and friendly or desperate.

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Posted by pauljaymes on 10/8/2006 at 18:32

Posted from within Vietnam.

BTW I also have insurance from one of my card issuers which gives me a loan of up to 3000 pounds within 24 hours if I get my cards stolen.

#21 pauljaymes has been a member since 10/7/2006. Posts: 75

Posted by jamesdueeast on 20/2/2013 at 22:49

I was wondering if there is an update of info to this topic. It's been a few years since it was posted.
Have ATMs become more widespread across Loas since? What about using a VISA credit card? I'm in China right now but the USD exchange rate sucks and I'd like to know if it's better to wait to do my currency exchanging when in Laos?

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Posted by Rufus on 21/2/2013 at 04:24

There are plenty of ATMs. You can use your Visa card.

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Posted by jamesdueeast on 21/2/2013 at 18:47

What are the ATM withdrawal fees like (on the Laos side)? My bank doesn't charge me for withdrawing abroad and want to know how much the Laos authorities are asking for per transaction. I guess they can't do the same with the credit card, can they?

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Posted by pauljaymes on 21/2/2013 at 19:02

Wow this is an old thread. Posts from me in Vietnam and Laos 7 years ago. They were the days :-)

I've still never bought or needed a traveller's cheque in my life by the way. 4 different cards did me fine all the way through China and Russia back to London, and for many trips since.


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Posted by jamesdueeast on 21/2/2013 at 23:13

I know that I can use my cards in Laos. What I'm more interested in, is the current "fee" rates they're charging to use your cards. If it's high, I'm not going to use them.

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Posted by mooball on 4/3/2013 at 11:59 TF writer

It's 20,000 kip per transaction and usually a 1,000,000 kip maximum withdrawal

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Posted by Rufus on 14/10/2013 at 22:51

That does not do you much good if you are travelling around Lao.

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Posted by LaoLover on 22/10/2013 at 23:55

this site has good info about current atm fees & rates

ANZ and other intl. banks' atms are hard to find outside the cities, but if you don't mind the higher fees, BCEL and other Lao atms are often found in bigger towns in the countryside.

#29 LaoLover has been a member since 7/10/2013. Posts: 5

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