Thirty-day tourist visas are readily available on arrival at international airports and most land borders.
Citizens of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), as well as Japan, South Korea, Russia and Switzerland, enjoy visa-free access to Laos. Most other nationalities can obtain their visa on arrival, including EU citizens, North Americans and Australians. Citizens of some African and Middle Eastern countries must apply for a visa in advance.
The Lao government issues 30-day tourist visas on arrival at all international airports and most international border crossings.
The whole process is very straightforward. You need between US$30 and US$42 in cash, one passport-sized photo and the name of a hotel or guesthouse. Those without a photo, or who are arriving on a weekend, holiday or after office hours, will have to pay an additional one or two dollars.
The visa fee varies depending on the passport of origin, with Canadians having to fork out the most (US$42) and most other nationalities paying between US$30 and US$35. It's cheaper to pay in US dollars as a flat rate of 1500B (around US$45) is applicable in Thai baht. No other foreign currencies are accepted.
For those not eligible for a visa on arrival, Lao embassies and consulates abroad offer 30-day tourist visas. The process involves roughly the same cost and documentation and generally takes three working days. In Bangkok you can get your visa on the same day for an additional 200B express fee.
Business visas, valid for 30 days, are relatively easy to obtain as long as you have a sponsoring agency in Laos. A business visa can be extended by up to a year.
The 30-day tourist visa can be extended an additional 90 days at a cost of 20,000K per day, but only in major cities such as Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse and Savannakhet.
Overstaying a visa is not a major crime, but it is expensive. It costs US$10 for each day overstayed, paid at the immigration checkpoint on departure.
Customs inspections at ports of entry are lax, as long as you're not bringing in more than a moderate amount of luggage. You're not supposed to enter the country with more than 500 cigarettes or 1L of distilled spirits. All the usual prohibitions on drugs, weapons and pornography apply.