The 30-day tourist visa for Laos can be issued at some entry points, via a travel agency or through a Lao embassy or consulate. Via an embassy, the visa should cost between US$30 to US$37 depending on your nationality and the office you use. The fee for Canadians is US$44.
Some nationalities, notably ASEAN members, may get a visa-free stay -- check with a Lao consulate or embassy for the very latest information.
Visa on arrival is reliably available at most overland crossings between Thailand and Laos, including the Huay Xai, Vientiane, Savannakhet, Tha Khaek and Chong Mek entry points. It is also available at both Vientiane and Luang Prabang airports (US$37, cash only, one passport photo). It is available at the Boten crossing with China and at the main international crossings with Vietnam.
Visa on arrival is not available at the Paksan crossing, but it is now available at the popular southern crossing from Cambodia.
Extending a tourist visa is straightforward and can be arranged at the immigration office in Vientiane. An extension costs US$2-3 per day depending on whether you handle it yourself or work through a travel agent. This means an extra 10 days will cost you $30.
All tourist visas are single-entry only. The visa sticker for visas issued from an embassy are full page, so bear that in mind if you do not have many pages left in your passport. If you want to stay in Laos longer than a month, it's no big deal to exit to Thailand and come back in on a new tourist visa for another 30 days.
While it isn't a big deal to overstay a visa in Laos, at US$10 a day, it is expensive. If you're looking at an overstay of anything more than a couple of days, you're better off leaving on time and coming back on another visa.
Things to watch out for
If you get your visa beforehand from a Lao embassy, it should be valid for 30 days, but be wary of being stamped in for 15 days instead.
There is no departure tax if using a land crossing, though on weekends and evenings you may be required to pay a small "overtime fee", generally not more than $1. If you're flying out of Vientiane or Luang Prabang international airport, there is a departure tax of US$10, but as of early January 2009 this fee was being incorporated into the price of airline tickets, so there's no longer any need to pay in person at the airport.
For information on border crossings and to read traveller reports, please see our Lao border crossing page, or the exhaustive Border Crossings FAQ which includes reports from travellers who have recently crossed.
Types of border crossings
Laos has two types of border crossings, international and local. As you may suspect, international crossings are generally open to all foreign nationals in possession of a valid passport and visa, while local crossings are open only to locals (on each side of the border) who are able to cross back and forth using some form of border pass. The international crossings are the only ones covered in this section.
Laos has over a dozen international overland border crossings. These allow overland travel to Thailand (via seven crossings), Cambodia (via one crossing) and Vietnam (via six crossings). You can also arrive by air at either Vientiane or Luang Prabang, both of which have international airports.
The most popular overland border crossings to/from Thailand are at Nong Khai/Vientiane and Chiang Khong/Huay Xai. To Cambodia, you only have one option, the Veun Kham/Dom Kralor crossing. To Vietnam the most popular crossing is at Nam Phao/Cau Treo. Lao visa on arrival is available at all these crossings.
Lao border crossings tend to keep varying hours, so it's best to get there early rather than late. On weekends and at later hours, don't be surprised if you're asked to pay a dollar or so in "overtime" -- don't expect a receipt!
Chong Mek / Vang Tao
For those planning on visiting far southern Laos from Thailand, the Chong Mek/Vang Tao crossing is the most convenient. From Thailand a regular bus runs from Ubon Ratchathani to the border town of Chong Mek taking 1-1.5 hours. Sometimes you may be required to change buses as Phibun Mangsahan depending on the bus caught. Once deposited at Chong Mek it is a five-minute walk through each crossing and regular songthaeaws run from Vang Tao to Pakse, taking about one hour. Visa on arrival is available.
Savannakhet / Mukdahan
With the construction of the Friendship Bridge II over the Mekong, all foreigners planning on travelling between Thailand and Laos at this crossing are required to use the bridge. Coming from Thailand, a minibus from Mukdahan takes you across the bridge itself, where tuk tuk drivers are always waiting to take you into Savannakhet. Lao visa on arrival is available.
Tha Khaek / Nakhon Phanom
This riverine crossing takes travellers from the riverfront of central Nakhon Phanom to the riverfront of central Tha Khaek. Boats run around a half dozen times a day, seven days a week. There is a small fee for the boat. Lao visas on arrival are available.
Paksan / Bueng Kan
From Laos, follow the sign that says Port off the main road, just pass the Manolom Guest House. A boat across the Mekong River costs 60B when full (seven to ten people). Arrive in the morning to catch the daytripping Lao crossing to shop in Thailand to be sure of a full boat, otherwise it's 360B per boat to cross. No Lao visa on arrival is available crossing to the Lao side from Thailand, so be sure to get one ahead of time if you plan to use this border.
Vientiane / Nong Khai
Lao visa on arrival is available at this crossing, the most popular means of entering Laos by land. The crossing is actually around 20km from Vientiane and a few km from the centre of Nong Khai, but regular and affordable transport is available in both directions.
Vientiane / Ban Mo
Just about unheard of. Travelfish reader Tilapia reports it is possible for foreigners to cross at the Thai village of Ban Mo to Vientiane. The village, just west of Si Chiang Mai, is opposite Vientiane. Less conveniently, the ferry across only goes Sundays and Tuesdays, at 6:00 pm ... so, in the dark!) No Lao visa on arrival is available.
Thai Li / Nam Hueng
This fairly remote crossing would be a handy one to open up fully due to the fairly good road condition north to Pak Lai and onwards to Luang Prabang. Currently there are conflicting reports on it being open, although it appears it is easier to leave Laos this way than to enter it. There is no Lao visa on arrival available here, nor is there much at all in the way of regular pubic transport. See the GT Rider forum for more information.
Huay Xai / Chiang Khong
A 30-day Lao visa on arrival is available for US$30 or 1,500B -- there have been many reports of officials refusing to accept US cash (as they pocket the difference on the exchange rate). Lao officials also charge an additional $1/40B fee for doing their job -- if you arrive at the weekend, it is called a 'weekend fee', if you arrive after 16:00, it is called an 'after hours fee' and if you arrive during a weekday before 16:00, it is called a 'processing fee'. The Chiang Khong/Huay Xai crossing is one of the most popular for independent travellers entering Laos from Thailand. After clearing customs on either side, it is a five-minute boat ride (30B - ticket sellers may try to charge you a 10B fee for each bag on top of the 40B) over to the other side. If you cross the border first thing in the morning, you will have plenty of time to catch the boat to Luang Prabang.
Laos / Cambodia borders
Veun Kham/ Dom Kralor
This is the only overland option between Laos and Cambodia, making it quite a popular option. Visa on arrival is now available in both directions. While this border used to be quite complicated, the crossing is now straightforward with most people opting to do it by direct minibus.
Sop Hun / Tay Trang
This border has finally opened to international travellers. To get into Vietnam, a bus leaves daily from Muang Khua on the Lao side for Dien Bien Phu on the Vietnamese side. The bus leaves at 07:00, and costs 50,000 kip (plus 2,000 kip to cross the river). We suggest getting to the bus departure point (on the Vietnamese side of the Nam Ou) by 06:30 as seats are limited and allocated on a first come first serve basis. If the bus is full you will be left behind! Tickets cannot be pre-purchased. At the border, Lao immigration staff demand a 4,000 kip 'processing fee'. You cannot get a Vietnamese visa on arrival, so arrange this beforehand. In the opposite direction buses leave daily from Dien Bien Phu to Muang Khua at 05:30. Lao visa on arrival is available at the border.
Na Maew / Nam Xoi
For those coming from Vietnam, this crossing offers convenient access into the boondocks of Laos' Hua Phan province. It is a short ride from the border to Sam Neua. Through buses run from Sam Neua to Thanh Hoa in Vietnam taking 10-12 hours. If you don't want through transport, there are songthaeaws to the border from Sam Neua for 21,000 kip but there isn't much on the Vietnamese side to pick you up.
NamCan / Nam Khan
Convenient to the Lao town of Phonsavan and the large Vietnamese city of Vinh, this border a popular one for overland travellers. Coming from Vinh there are buses to Phonsavan departing at 6:00 on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays, costing 142,000 VND (100,000 kip). The trip is 403 km and should take about 12 hours. Through buses to Luang Prabang leave at 06:00 as well, on Wednesdays and Sundays only. The 690 km journey costs 325,000 VND (216,000 kip). Vietnamese passengers pay less (but then again, they pay taxes and you don't!). Lao visas on arrival are available.
Nam Phao / Cau Treo
Convenient to the Lao town of Lak Xao and the large Vietnamese city of Vinh, this border is the crossing of choice for many overland travellers. Coming from Laos, the border is 34 km east of Lak Xao. You can catch a bus to the border and then walk across to the other side, 500m away, and after entering Vietnam, find a connection to Vinh, about 100km away on the Vietnamese eastern coast, and from there to your city of choice in Vietnam. You'll need to have your Vietnamese visa in advance, of course.
Dansavanh / Lao Bao
This was the first land border between Laos and Vietnam to open for international travellers. It was for a long time the most popular, but many now opt for the more northern crossing near Lak Xao instead. This crossing is convenient for Hue in Vietnam and Savannakhet in Laos. Lao visas are available and through buses from Savannakhet to Hue run daily.
Bo Y / Ngoc Hoi
Convenient to Attapeu and Laos and Kontum in Vietnam, the border at Bo Y is wide open to foreigners, and now provides an interesting, if somewhat challenging, way to enter Vietnam. Of course, as ever, you'll need to have obtained a valid Vietnamese visa before hitting the border. In Attapeu, mini-buses for Bo Y leave in the morning. The first departure is at 07:00, running through to about 10:00. The price to Bo Y is 80,000 kip. It's 119km from Attapeu to Bo Y. Once everyone is processed the vans continue on to the town of Ngoc Hoi, 18km on the other side of the border. The entire process from Attapeu takes about three hours. Transport options are available from in Ngoc Hoi to just about anywhere you want to go. The nearest spot on the tourist trail is Kon Tum, 68km east of Ngoc Hoi.
Boten / Mengla
This is the only Lao border that is currently open to independent travellers. Lao visas on arrival are available. The border is about 42km north of Luang Nam Tha. There is regular transport between the two in the morning, but by early afternoon this drops to a trickle, so try to cross in the morning if you can. There is accommodation available in Boten should you get stranded.
See the visa and border crossings section of the Travelfish forum for reports from travellers how have used the above crossings.