It's one of Southeast Asia's most isolated countries but after more than two years of border closures, Laos has opened up to all international tourists this week.

The landlocked country, which borders Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and, China to the north, was one of the final Southeast Asian countries to welcome tourists back.

Throughout most of its border closures, foreigners were only permitted to visit Laos for essential reasons, before it cautiously reopened to tourists from select countries in January. But this week, the popular backpacking destination took a huge step forward by opening its borders to all international tourists... with some restrictions.

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Unidentified tourist swimming at blue lagoon in Vang Vieng
The tourism resort of Vang Vieng is welcoming back visitors ©Ging o_o/Shutterstock

Laos entry rules

If you're fully vaccinated, you'll need to present proof. You don't need a booster but you must have completed the required recommended dose of a primary vaccine schedule which usually means two doses, or in the case of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, one dose. The final required dose should have been administered at least 14 days before departure.

If you're unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, you'll need to take a pre-departure PCR or antigen COVID-19 test within 48 hours of departure and present the negative result upon arrival.

All test and vaccine certificates must be uploaded to this mobile application before travel.

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Laos, Champasak, Ruins of Wat Phou (Vat Phu), former Khmer Hindu temple complex
Ruins of Wat Phou (Vat Phu), former Khmer Hindu temple complex, are among the sites open to visitors ©Paul Biris/Getty Images

You'll also be required to take out medical insurance that covers COVID-19 treatment, just in case you contract the virus on your trip, in which case you'd be responsible for the costs of your own medical treatment.

Children under 12 are exempt from vaccination and testing requirements.

Electronic visa applications for Laos are now open and eligible travelers can apply online. The Laos tourism board said approval usually takes about one business day, but it's still a good idea to apply well in advance of your trip.

Can tourists explore Laos without restrictions?

Before this week, tourists who visited Laos were only permitted to do so as part of a pre-booked tour and they had to stay in certified hotels. But those rules have been scrapped and tourists are free to roam places like the capital Vientiane, checking out its riverside markets and street food venders; the ancient city of Luang Prabang in the north of the country; and the backpacker resort of Vang Vieng, generally as they would have pre-pandemic.

Face masks are still required in some places and officials in some areas with higher virus activity may implement stricter curbs.

The state-run Vientiane Times newspaper said, per ABC News, that the decision to reopen Laos was based on falling virus case numbers. Deputy Health Minister Snong Thongsna confirmed the average daily number of new infections is less than 200 now, after falling from 2,000 in February.

This article was first published May 2022 and updated May 2022

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