Volunteers have been working in Laos for years, usually on one- or two-year contracts that include a minimal monthly allowance. Volunteers are often placed with a government agency and attempt to 'build capacity'. These sort of jobs can lead to non-volunteer work within the non-government organisation (NGO) community.
The alternative approach to volunteering, where you actually pay to be placed in a 'volunteer' role for a few weeks or months, has yet to arrive in Laos in any great capacity. A couple of groups in Luang Prabang need volunteers occasionally, and there are also local projects in places as diverse as Huay Xai, Muang Khua and Sainyabuli. The website Stay Another Day is a good resource for unpaid volunteer opportunities.
With a large number of aid organisations and a fast-growing international business community, especially in energy and mining, the number of jobs available to foreigners is increasing, but still relatively small. The greatest number of positions are in Vientiane.
Possibilities include teaching English privately or at one of the handful of language centres in Vientiane, work which pays about US$5 to US$10 an hour. Certificates or degrees in English teaching aren't absolutely necessary, but they do help.
If you have technical expertise or international volunteer experience, you might be able to find work with a UN-related program or an NGO providing foreign aid or technical assistance to Laos. These jobs are difficult to find; your best bet is to visit the Vientiane offices of each organisation and inquire about personnel needs and vacancies, then start seeking out potential employers socially and buying them lots of Beerlao. For a list of NGOs operating in Laos, see the excellent www.directoryofngos.org.
If you’ve ever thought about living and working in Laos, then why not teach English as a foreign language (TEFL)? It could be the key to funding your travels and experiencing new cultures in a totally new way. You don’t need teaching experience or even the ability to speak the local language – although you might learn it while you’re out there.