Laos is the only landlocked country in Southeast Asia, bordering Myanmar, China, Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. This beautiful developing country is known for its thick forests and rugged mountains, French colonial architecture and Buddhist monasteries.
Expats moving to Laos find the Lao people to be laid-back, sociable, kind, and hospitable. Despite being the country with the lowest population density in Southeast Asia, Laos is home to more than 60 distinct ethnic groups, each of which has its own customs and dialect.
Living in Laos as an expat
Many expats move to Laos to work in the NGO, infrastructure, hydroelectric or mining industries, and most live in Vientiane, though Luang Prabang also has a large expat and tourist population. Though Laos has recently been on a growth trend, this has been reduced in the last few years, and the Covid lockdowns in China and the Russian invasion and sanctions have had knock-on effects on Laos's economy.
There is a substantial rental market for accommodation in Laos with a wide variety of property types available at various price ranges. Expats are sure to find a place that meets their needs, from French villas to modern serviced apartments and more affordable flats.
Lao culture is influenced by the importance of harmony and respect among Lao people, as well as their shared spirituality of Buddhism. The majority of Lao people share similar values and perspectives, as well as a collectivistic approach to overcoming the country's extreme hardships, both in the past and the present.
Cost of living in Laos
The cost of living in Laos is surprisingly high and is similar to neighbouring Thailand. Though food and transport costs are generally low, expats may find themselves paying more than expected for higher-end accommodation in urban centres, Western food and international education.
Except for a few higher-end establishments and hotels that accept credit cards, the majority of transactions in Laos' economy are made in cash. Although Lao law requires that payments be made in the local currency, most transactions are made in US dollars and Thai baht.
Families and children in Laos
Despite significant advancements, healthcare in Laos is still in need of development, therefore expats will likely turn to private and international healthcare solutions. For medical care, most of those with the means will travel to Thailand for treatment.
Although literacy and education in Laos have come a long way in recent years, the quality of public schools in Laos is not very high. This makes it very unlikely that foreigners will enrol their kids in a public school, especially given that Lao is the language of teaching. Vientiane's international schools provide a more appealing option, although at high prices.
Climate in Laos
The climate in Laos is a tropical savannah climate with high temperatures and humidity, heavily impacted by monsoons. Although the region's countries normally have two seasons, Laotians frequently speak about three: rainy, cool, and hot.
Though Laos and its infrastructure are still developing, it is a peaceful and beautiful country with a rich culture and history. The country's natural landscapes, including its mountains, rivers, and forests, provide ample opportunities for outdoor activities and adventure, and expats living in Laos will find that the cost of living is relatively low. Overall, Laos offers a unique and immersive experience for expats looking to experience a different way of life.
Population: 7.75 million
Capital city: Vientiane (also largest city)
Neighbouring countries: Laos is bordered by China to the north, Vietnam to the northeast and east, Cambodia to the south, Thailand to the west and Myanmar to the northwest.
Geography: Laos is characterised by rugged, mountainous terrain. Another key geographical feature is the Mekong River, which runs through the country and is an important source of water for transport and irrigation.
Political system: Socialist republic
Major religion: Buddhist
Main language: Lao (official), French, English
Money: Kips (LAK). Although ATMs are widespread in urban centres, Laos is almost entirely cash-based, and US dollars and Thai baht are sometimes used for larger purchases.
Tipping: Tipping is not a norm nor expected in Laos, though expats are free to tip if they are very satisfied with someone's service.
Time: GMT +7
Electricity: 230V, 50Hz. Plugs with two round pins are generally used.
Internet domain: .la
International dialling code: +856
Emergency numbers: 1190 (fire), 1191 (police), 1192 (tourist police), 1195 (ambulance)
Transport and Driving: Cars drive on the right-hand side of the road. Transport in Laos can be largely be managed with taxis and tuk-tuks for short trips and minibuses and buses for longer trips.
►Learn more about the Lao way of life by reading Culture Shock in Laos
Are you an expat living in Laos?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Laos. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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