Southeast Asia’s quiet and somewhat forgotten country, Laos is one of the region’s most visually stunning and culturally rich destinations. Boasting a thousand-years old history, many of Asia’s most significant historical sites, and a relaxed and slow lifestyle that keeps stress levels low, this small Asian nation has become a popular retirement destination for those seeking a change of pace from Western life.
Until very recently, Laos was a strict communist country locked off from the rest of the world via draconian trade restrictions and a visitor-unfriendly immigration and visa system. This has changed dramatically in the last decade. While Laos still has an official communist government, it is becoming a relatively open country.
Visas are easily available for tourists, less easily available for businesspeople, and rarely available for those that wish to retire to Laos officially. However, a variety of unofficial retirement visa options have emerged in recent years, with retirees and expatriates in Laos making the most of them to make their lifestyles possible.
Does Laos Offer A Retirement Visa System For Foreigners?
Unlike its significantly more popular neighbor Thailand, Laos does not offer any form of retirement visa for non-citizens. Visitors to Laos can apply for a thirty-day tourism visa upon arrival in the country, which can be extended to ninety days of validity from inside Laos using the country’s immigration offices.
Business visas are available for foreigners aiming to invest in Laos, with relatively few capital requirements assigned to the visa itself. Given the somewhat informal nature of Laos’ business scene, many foreigners have successfully applied for and received business visas for Laos without any large investment in the country.
Finally, Laos is working on a residence system for foreign nationals that are married to Lao citizens. This is current in the works and has been for several years, and may not become a possibility for quite a long time. However, it has been announced as a work in progress and will eventually become part of Laos’ immigration system.
If Laos Does Not Offer Retirement Visas, How Do Foreign Retirees Stay There?
There are several unofficial ways to retire in Laos, each of which carries its own set of advantages and disadvantages. The first, most popular, and undoubtedly quickest method for remaining in Laos for the long term is to make use of successive thirty-day tourism visas, each extended to ninety days of validity from inside Laos.
These visas can be applied for back to back as you leave and return to Laos, with no formal limit on quantity of validity of the tourism visas. Thousands of foreigners in Laos reside in the country legally using this method, and an informal ‘visa run’ bus and tour industry has emerged for the sole purpose of serving foreign expatriates.
The second method is to stay in Laos long term using a business visa – a twelve-month visa that allows for limited investment in Laos, as well as the purchase of many possessions that are off limit to tourists. Foreigners in Laos on a business visa are able to purchase vehicles and drive legally, but cannot own land.
Business visas formally require an investment in Laos or the ownership of a small business in the country, but these regulations are frequently ignored by officials in the immigration department, allowing foreigners with no real business presence in Laos to remain in the country long term. A variety of ‘fixers’ have set up shop for the sole purpose of helping foreigners to apply for and receive these business visas.
What Restrictions Apply To The Laos Tourism And Business Visas?
As Laos has no formal retirement scheme for foreign nationals, life in the country can be somewhat limited by the type of visa that you qualify for. Foreign nationals on all visas are forbidden from purchasing land in Laos, which limits the amount of properties that many foreign retirees can live in.
Retirees staying in Laos on a tourism visa are also officially forbidden from using a motor vehicle in the country or applying for a driver’s license. As with many of the other regulations in Laos, this rule is also somewhat flexible and dependent on the mood of police – many foreign tourists in Laos buy cars and drive without issues.
Finally, there are restrictions on the type of work that foreign nationals in Laos can perform, and finding work as an expatriate or retiree can be difficult. The English-teaching industry in Laos hasn’t quite reached the level of penetration that it has achieved in Thailand, and part-time teaching opportunities are relatively rare.
Requirements For Applying For A Laos Tourism Or Business Visa:
Laos visas are relatively easy to apply for and receive. Tourism visas are available on arrival to Laos for citizens of all Western countries and most Asian nations. The only nations that need to apply in advance of arriving to Laos are located in Africa and South Asia. In this case, visas must be applied for at a Laos embassy abroad.
Business visas are best applied for from within Laos, typically with the assistance of a specialist ‘fixer’ or local visa agent. The requirements for visas in Laos are far from formal or set in stone, but all visas to the country generally require a passport with at least six months of validity, as well as a sheet of passport-sized color photos.
While Laos’ lack of a formal retirement visa makes it a less foreigner-friendly place than nearby Thailand, the country has made a real effort to improve its links to the rest of the world in recent years. The announcement of a permanent residence visa for foreign nationals married to Laos citizens is a fantastic sign for this Asian nation.