Getting lost in Laos? Find the best travel insurance for your trip.
Laos is one of Asia’s tourism hubs, attracting visitors from all over the region, including Australia. Visitors are drawn by the range of local handicrafts and culture, the scenic waterways that serve as arteries through the country, but mostly by the unique historical and archaeological sites that are like nothing found anywhere else.
This guide will help you find the right travel insurance when visiting Laos so you can enjoy the trip with peace of mind.
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What's in this guide?
- Top 5 travel concerns in Laos
- What to get covered for in Laos
- Five activities you should consider getting as extras
- How you’re covered for an emergency in Laos
- Who do I contact in an emergency?
- Laos entry requirements
- Tips for travelling in Laos
- Travel insurance exclusions to watch out for in Laos
- Five steps to selecting a travel insurance policy for Laos
- Active mines. Active mines and other ordnance can be found in many parts of Laos, particularly in Xieng Khouang province and around the border of Vietnam, near the Ho Chi Minh trail.
- Bandits. Travellers are advised to exercise caution when travelling in Xaisomboun province due to attacks in the area. Tour buses have been shot at, travellers robbed and improvised explosive devices detonated in the course of attacks, which were attributed to bandits by the authorities.
- Spiked food and drinks. There have been multiple drug-related deaths in Laos after travellers have consumed drugged food. Some restaurants in tourist locations have been known to offer drug-laced food and drink which may contain dangerous unknown substances.
- Scams. Motorcycle rental is one of the main ways of getting around in Laos, but some Australians have reported scams carried out by renters. In some cases tourists have been forced to pay excessive amounts for existing damage to motorcycles. There have also been reports claiming that renters have arranged for motorbikes to be stolen from hirers.
- Illness. Mosquito-borne diseases, including zika, malaria and dengue fever, are prevalent in Laos during the rainy season. Consider taking malaria medication, and do take steps to protect yourself from mosquito bites. Infectious diseases such as cholera, hepatitis, rabies and tuberculosis are also generally prevalent, with sporadic larger outbreaks occurring. Drink bottled or boiled water, and avoid ice cubes and raw or undercooked foods. To minimise exposure to parasites and water-borne diseases you should avoid swimming in fresh water.
- Visiting the Plain of Jars. This archaeological site is like nothing else in the world. Thousands of stone jars are scattered around the Xiangkhoang Plateau. Unfortunately Laos was heavily bombed in the 60s and 70s, including over the Plain of Jars. Clearing of ordnance has continued, but unexploded munitions are still a danger. Don’t stray from the path and remember that your insurance generally won’t cover you if you have disobeyed signs or warnings.
- Elephant Village. Elephants aren’t always wildlife or tourist attractions in Laos. Some are pressed into work in logging and other industries. The Elephant Village is dedicated to rehabilitating and caring for elephants and is known as one of relatively few cruelty-free elephant ride and sanctuary sites in Asia. It’s still not without its risks: elephants can be unpredictable, and there’s the chance of falls or other accidents if you go for a ride. Check your travel insurance medical cover before visiting.
- Xieng Khuang Buddha Park. One of the most consistently recommended must-sees of Laos, the Xieng Khuang Buddha Park is an eye-widening location inhabited by a blend of Hindu and Buddhist statuary, most of which is unlike anything you’ll find anywhere else. It’s situated about 25 kilometres southeast of Vientiane, so access via bus or tuktuk is recommended. Remember to keep an eye on your possessions while travelling and know the limits of your luggage cover.
- Pak Ou caves tour. One of the more memorable destinations you may encounter on your trip, the Pak Ou caves, accessible mostly by boat, are occupied by countless visually striking buddha statues. There’s the risk of slips and falls, as well as general boat-ride hazards. Standard travel insurance may not automatically cover the latter, so you should check whether boating is covered by your policy.
- Lao New Year. Lao New Year takes place in April. Be aware that theft and violent crime significantly increases in the lead-up to local festivals. Note also that you cannot necessarily depend on police if something goes wrong, especially around these festival times: there are reports of tourists attempting to report a crime only to find police stations closed, emergency numbers unanswered or local authorities to be powerless. Consider your travel insurance emergency cover should the worst happen.
- Both fun and practical, boating is one of the best ways to get around in Laos, but not all travel insurance policies cover it.
- Tourists who want more freedom often rent motorbikes in Laos. Just make sure you have the travel insurance for it.
- On foot can be an even better way to see more of the country, especially in the highlands and other inaccessible areas. Consider trekking travel insurance to make sure you’re covered.
- Elephant riding. A classically Lao activity, elephant rides are one of the country’s must-dos. Find out how your travel insurance covers it.
- Cruising. Laos is also a popular destination for international cruise lines. If you’ll be cruising into Laos, your insurance needs might be a little different.
Without travel insurance, an overseas emergency could see you facing extreme costs. This is particularly true in Laos as you will generally need to be medically evacuated to Bangkok or Thailand at a cost of up to $20,000, depending on circumstances.
You will also need to be able to pay in advance for emergency medical treatment, either out of pocket or with a travel insurance policy that pays up-front for emergencies. This is because many doctors and hospitals in Laos require cash first, even in matters of life and death. Without an up-front policy you need to be able to afford the cost of treatment yourself and then claim it from your insurer at a later date.
In the event of an emergency:
- Make sure you have your travel insurance details accessible.
- Be prepared to pay up-front, either out of pocket or through your travel insurance.
- Contact the Australian embassy in Vientiane. They operate a small medical clinic that may be able to offer you treatment.
To make an up-front claim, provide your travel insurance details to the doctor or hospital at the time and they’ll be paid directly by the insurer. If your policy does not allow this, pay with cash as needed and send in a claims application to your insurer as soon as you are able. This should include your policy information, details of the emergency or medical event and all supporting documentation.
In the event of an emergency in Laos, you have several points of contact depending on the situation.
- For criminal matters, call the Vientiane Tourist Police on +856 21 251 128 or the Foreigner Control Police on +856 21 212 520.
- Reach the Australian embassy at +856 253 800 or find them at KM4 Thadeua Road, Watnak Village, Sisattanak District, Vientiane. They can help with matters relating to passports, legal matters and similar difficulties, or access to the Australian Embassy clinic. You are also advised to register with the embassy prior to visiting Laos.
- Contact your insurer for everything relating to claims or your travel insurance cover, including medical emergencies if you have suitable cover.
Tourist visas valid for 30 days can be obtained on arrival at Vientiane and Luang Prabang international airports, and at the Friendship Bridge between Thailand and Laos. You are required to have passport photographs with you to get a visa on arrival. All other entry points require you to obtain a visa in advance at any Laos embassy. Fees will apply.
To extend your visa past 30 days, visit the Bureau of Immigration in Vientiane.
Money in Laos
- The local currency in Laos is the kip, but US dollars and Thai baht are also widely accepted.
- There are no coins, only notes.
- Laos is mostly a cash economy. Don’t expect to be able to use cards outside of international hotels and similar establishments.
- If you do use a card, expect a significant fee, sometimes as high as 5%.
- ATMs are a good way of accessing local currency at reasonable rates.
- Tipping is not customary, except in tourist-focused restaurants where 10% is appreciated if a service charge hasn’t already been added. Other than this, don’t feel obliged to tip.
- It’s generally more cost-effective to pay with kip than dollars.
- Leave valuables at home. Don’t bring expensive jewellery or watches, pricey bags or flashy designer goods.
- Take unexploded ordnance seriously. Don’t assume that it’s “probably safe” because it probably isn’t. Hundreds of people are injured and killed by unexploded ordnance in Laos each year.
- Sexual relations or co-habitation between Lao citizens and foreigners is illegal under local law, and permission for engagement or marriage must be granted by the local authorities before it becomes legal.
- Expect travel delays, particularly if travelling in the wet season. Cancellation cover is an excellent way to keep the costs of delays, missed travel and rearranged accommodation from adding up too much.
- Don’t commit to motorcycling around Laos unless you’re an experienced rider. The roads are poorly maintained and can be almost pitch black at night, and are often filled with livestock and local traffic. It’s neither the time nor place to learn how to ride.
- Tuktuk drivers are usually familiar with tourist spots and are often great value for getting to them.
All travel insurance policies have exclusions. If you violate them the insurer has the right to refuse claims. Some exclusions to look for in your policy include:
- Motorcycle licensing, equipment or driving. If you plan on getting around Laos on a motorbike, you need to look at policies carefully. Some will exclude drivers who do not hold an Australian motorcycle licence while others may have restrictions around safety equipment or whether you’re covered only as a driver or passenger.
- Recklessness. A general exclusion found in many policies, insurers reserve the right to not pay claims resulting from reckless behaviour. Essentially, when you make a claim insurers will look at what happened and ask themselves whether your decisions were of a sound mind and what a reasonable person would have done. If the answer is no, they might refuse to pay. Approaching a wild elephant, for example, might be considered reckless behaviour.
- Under the influence. Insurers may not pay out for losses or damage suffered while under the influence of drugs or alcohol. Bear this in mind when enjoying the nightlife, and cut yourself off before it’s too late.
- Activity exclusions. If you’re having an adventure holiday it’s essential to know which activities are and are not covered. Being aware of the precise limitations of your cover lets you take appropriate steps ahead of time.
- Plan your trip. You should know which countries you’ll be visiting and for how long. Make a list of all the specific activities you’ll be doing, such as elephant riding or mountain biking. These parameters let you work out what kind of travel insurance policy you need and which activities it should cover.
- Choose your level of cover. Comprehensive travel insurance delivers more protection at a higher price, while basic travel insurance offers more rudimentary coverage but is generally more cost-effective.
- Decide on a maximum price you’re willing to pay and your coverage must-haves, then compare policies from a wide variety of different insurers and rule out the ones that don’t meet both of these requirements. Narrow the field by ruling out unsuitable policies.
- Get quotes for all the remaining effective policies. This lets you find out how much it will cost you personally, rather than just having rough indicators.
- Pick a policy based on suitability of cover and price, as well as your impression of that insurer’s customer service and claims procedures. Travel insurance reviews are a good way of doing this and can be referred to throughout the process.