LAOS

Laos Flag
Country Description: Laos is a developing country with a socialist government which is pursuing rapid economic reform. Outside of Vientiane and Luang Prabang, tourist services and facilities are relatively undeveloped.

Passport and/or Visa Requirements: Information about entry requirements may be obtained from the Embassy of the Lao People's Democratic Republic, 2222 S St. N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008, tel. (202) 332-6416. Laos has announced the availability of visas on arrival, subject to certain conditions, beginning June 1, 1997.

Medical Facilities: Medical facilities and services are limited and do not meet Western standards. The blood supply is not screened for HIV or AIDS. Doctors and hospitals often expect immediate cash payment for health services. U.S. medical insurance is usually not valid outside the United States. Supplemental medical insurance with specific overseas coverage, including provision for medical evacuation, may prove useful. The international travelers hotline at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention may be reached at (404) 332-4559 or visit the CDC home page on the Internet: http://www.cdc.gov/ for additional health information.

Travel Warnings, Advisories and Areas of Instability: Street crime has been on the increase, particularly motorcycle drive-by theft of handbags and backpacks. The loss or theft abroad of a U.S. passport should be reported immediately to the local police and the U.S. Embassy. Useful information on guarding valuables and protecting personal security while traveling abroad is provided in the Department of State pamphlet "A Safe Trip Abroad." It is available from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, D.C. 20402.

Road Safety: Public roads are mostly unpaved and poorly maintained. There are no railroads. Public transportation in Vientiane is generally poor and unreliable. Taxis are available, but meters and fixed rates do not exist. Drivers speak little or no English. Most taxis are old and poorly maintained. Traffic is still relatively light but undisciplined. Pedestrians and drivers should exercise great caution at all times. Drivers often operate poorly maintained vehicles on crowded, potholed streets. Theoretically, the traffic moves on the right, but most cars, like pedestrians and bicycles, use all parts of the street. Cyclists pay little or no heed to cars on the road, and bicycles are rarely equipped with functioning lights or reflectors. This makes driving particularly dangerous at dusk and at night. Defensive driving is necessary. The U.S. Embassy in Vientiane advises its personnel to wear helmets while operating motorcycles and to wear gloves and sturdy shoes.

Persons traveling overland in some areas, particularly Route 13 north between Kasi and Luang Prabang, and Route 1 south of Mouang Khoune in Xieng Khouang Province, run the risk of ambush by insurgents or bandits. Americans traveling outside urban centers by road or river are advised to clear such travel in advance through relevant Lao government offices and are also advised to contact the U.S. Embassy for current security information.

Religious Workers: Religious proselytizing or distribution of religious material is strictly prohibited. Foreigners caught distributing religious material may be arrested or deported.

Marriage to a Lao Citizen: The Lao government imposes requirements on foreigners intending to marry Lao citizens. U.S. citizens may obtain information about these requirements at the U.S. Embassy in Vientiane. A marriage certificate will not be issued by the Lao government unless the correct procedures have been followed. Any attempt to circumvent Lao law governing the marriage of Lao citizens to foreigners may result in deportation of the foreigner and denial of permission to re-enter Laos. Two U.S. citizens (actually two non-Lao nationals) cannot marry in Laos.

Photography Restrictions: Police and military may confiscate the cameras of persons taking photographs of military installations or vehicles, bridges, airfields and government buildings. Confiscated cameras are seldom returned to the owners. The photographers may be arrested.

Criminal Penalties: While in a foreign country, a U.S. citizen is subject to that country's laws and regulations, which sometimes differ significantly from those in the United States and do not afford the protections available to the individual under U.S. law. Penalties for breaking the law can be more severe than in the United States for similar offenses. Persons violating the law, even unknowingly, may be expelled, arrested or imprisoned. Penalties for possession, use or trafficking in illegal drugs are strict and convicted offenders can expect jail sentences and fines.

Local police and immigration authorities sometimes confiscate passports when outstanding business disputes and visa matters remain unsettled.

Embassy Location and Registration: U.S. citizens living in or visiting Laos are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy and to obtain updated information on travel and security within the country. The U.S. Embassy is located at Rue Bartholonie (near Tat Dam), B.P. 114, in Vientiane; mail can be addressed to AMEMB Vientiane Box V, APO AP 96546; the telephone numbers are (856-21) 212-581, 212-582, 212-585; the consular officer's emergency cellular number is (856-020) 511-740; the Embassy wide fax number is (856-21) 212-584.

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