When planning your trip to Laos, be that from Thailand or any other country, you'll need to consider how to manage your spending money.
The reason for this is that Laos Kip, US Dollars, and Thai Baht are all accepted currencies in Laos. Chinese Yuan can also be used in some areas of the country, but is not as common as the aforementioned three.
Prices are often quoted in US Dollars too, and ATMs aren't as friendly as neighboring countries.
Don't worry if this sounds a little confusing, the guide below will help you sort out your trip finances.
What Currency Should I Take to Laos?
Laos's official currency is the Kip and is issued in denominations of 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000, and 100,000.
However, Kip is not accepted or exchanged outside of Laos, so you will need to get your Kip once you arrive.
US Dollars are widely accepted, as is Thai Baht, and these currencies are easily exchanged inside Laos.
The most cost-effective currency to spend in Laos is usually Kip, because USD and Baht will generally be calculated with a slight mark up in favor of the seller.
That said, larger purchases are often quoted in US Dollars; things like luxury hotel room rates and meals at decent restaurants.
Local expenditure in markets and convenience stores are quoted in Kip. That said, a market trader is usually happy to take Dollars or Baht at an inflated rate.
Note that Kip is required to be offered by law; a shop keeper cannot solely trade in USD.
USD and Baht are good currencies to use inside Laos for three reasons:
- It is often easier to pay in these currencies in tourist areas.
- Dealing with a few Dollar notes is easier than mentally coping with the large denominations of Kip.
- You don't want to end up with excess Kip when your trip is over, because you won't be able to change it back.
Why Can't You Change Kip Outside Laos?
Banks don't want it because it's essentially useless outside of the country.
So unless you find a kind person who is traveling to Laos and wants to help you out with an exchange, it's of no value.
I've got Kip left over from my last trip sitting in my room, which is fine for me, as I'll probably get around to spending it. But if you are on a holiday and don't plan on going back any time soon, you don't want to be lumbered with a currency that can't be exchanged outside of Laos.
My advice is to travel with USD or Thai Baht (if you're coming from Thailand) to change up inside Laos (to Kip) as you need it.
Can I Exchange Money in Laos?
If you're visiting Vientiane or Luang Prabang, you'll be able to change money very easily. You can change all major currencies, including GBP, AUD, CAD, EUR and more.
Can I Use ATMs in Laos?
There are ATMs all over Laos, but there are withdrawal restrictions that limit you to between 700,000 Kip and 2,000,000 Kip per transaction (as low as US$85 and up to around $250).
Withdrawal fees are also variable, ranging from 10,000 Kip to 30,000 Kip per million Kip withdrawn.
Can I Use a Credit or Debit Card in Laos?
You can in many places, but there's a 3% fee on all transactions. If your card also charges you a foreign transaction fee, this can get pretty expensive.
Most ATMs located at banks accept PLUS, CIRRUS, VISA, MasterCard, Maestro, Cashpoint, JCB, Diners Club, China UnionPay cards.
How do I Pay for My Visa on Arrival?
The cost of the Laos visa on arrival is $50, but if you pay in Baht or Kip you'll get a poor exchange rate.
If you're in Thailand, it's easy enough to visit a currency exchange and get your Dollars before you travel.
On a side note, you will need to have two passport-sized photographs, and a confirmation of your accommodation to fill out the application. If you don't have a photo it will incur an extra fee.
If you want an eVisa, which will save hassle on arrival and having to get your $50, you can apply on the website.
For an extra $30, you can have iVisa take care of this for you:
Pro Traveler Laos Money Tips
Checking Exchange Rates in Laos
Download an exchange rate app so it's handy on your phone.
It can get confusing going from one shop to another and paying in different currencies, and often you are given a choice.
The exchange rate app will make sure that you are getting the best rate, be that USD, Baht, or Kip.
Consider that you might be given a price in Kip and then you ask to pay in Dollars.
The shopkeeper might give a random conversion that sounds about right, but actually it turns out you'd be much better off paying in Kip. At this point you can re-negotiate the price by showing the exchange rate.
It's also a good idea to compare rates with your home currency whenever you're traveling. It's easy to get carried away thinking that everything seems cheap, only to do a quick conversion and realize it's not that cheap after all.
Budgeting & Carrying Cash
Generally people visit Laos for just a few days. Often it's just for visa-run purposes. This means that you don't need to carry a great deal of cash.
Try to budget per day in advance and only take the cash you need in USD or Baht, or in the currency of your home country to exchange inside Laos.
If you are traveling for a week or two, carrying a large amount of cash is certainly not ideal.
Reduce this burden by booking your hotel accommodation prior to your trip so that you don't need to pay cash, or jump online and pay for your next room while inside Laos using a card.
To keep your cash safe, try to book accommodation that offers a safe inside your room. That way you won't need to walk around with all your money on you all of the time.
Tips to Start Planning Your Trip Now:
Book Your Accommodation
Don’t Forget Travel Insurance
Travel insurance is a must. I never travel without it. I’ve been using World Nomads for 15 years.
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