Vientiane, Laos Report of what it's like to live there - 03/20/24

Personal Experiences from Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos 03/20/24


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, we have lived abroad in Japan and Korea.

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2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?

My hometown is Los Angeles. No direct flights from Vientiane so we have to fly to LA through Bangkok or Seoul. It takes about 24-48 hours to get back to the U.S. Travel within SE Asia is easy but it can be expensive from Vientiane. We have the option to fly out of Udon Thani, Thailand to Bangkok which is much cheaper (it's about a 1 hour drive from Vientiane and you have to cross the land border which can take time depending on what time you go).

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3. What years did you live here?


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4. How long have you lived here?

Almost two years.

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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?


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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

Blue Roofs housing neighborhood is the biggest group of single family homes with 3-4 bedroooms/at least 3 bathrooms. It is very safe for kids so many families with young children live here. It feels like 1950s' America with kids running around. We live in the Blue Roofs and really loved our experience here.

Our neighbors are great and our child has many friends. However, it might not be the right place for everyone since it can feel like you're living in a fishbowl with co-workers. There are other housing clusters with a few homes and there are a couple apartments in downtown Vientiane for those folks who don't have big families. The commute time to work is about 10-30 minutes depending on what time you're on the road. There are many inexperienced drivers on motorbikes and cars so you have to drive carefully.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Food is generally cheaper in Laos than the U.S. Rimping supermarket is a Thai supermarket with 2 locations in Laos that seems to have the largest selection of imported food. Local beef is not very tasty and you pay a lot for imported beef from the U.S./Australia/New Zealand.

Most food items are imported into Laos. Imported cheeses and meats can be expensive but Cafe Vanille's market has a good selection of imported cheeses/cured meats and homemade yogurt/cheese. We go to Makro warehouse (like Costco) in Nongkhai, Thailand for fresher and slightly cheaper options for imported fruit (Korean strawberries, New Zealand apples, salmon) and Tops Supermarket at Central Udon Thani mall. We usually bring a cooler whenever we go to Thailand for grocery shopping. We know plenty of people who buy groceries within Laos without any issues. There are a few good bakeries in town as well.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

I wish I shipped more pasta sauces I like as there are limited selections here. We shipped a lot of laundry detergent (Tide), dishwashing liquid (Dawn), mosquito repellent (spray), and sunscreen (aerosol) in our consumables shipment. Others made sure they shipped a lot of wines/beers/hard liquors that they like. There is a commissary in Bangkok that you can order from but it can be a little expensive with limited inventory.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

Lots of cheap takeout options through apps: Chompa, Food Panda, etc. However, some of the better restaurants stopped using food delivery services so you have to pick it up in person.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants, roaches, and geckos are pretty common. Mosquitos are here all the time and dengue fever is common you have to put on mosquito repellent especially if you have young kids. We sleep with the mosquito nets above our beds at times.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?

DPO and pouch. DHL and Federal Express are available but very expensive. Don't recommend local Lao postal system as it is unreliable; USPS does not deliver to Laos.

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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Maebans (housekeeper, cook, and/or nanny) are plentiful but finding someone who is experienced with expat families and have a great command of English are fewer and more expensive. Most families with children employ maebans full-time (monthly salary is between $300-$600). We also have a gardener who's great (current salary is $100/month). Some people hire drivers or chefs as well.

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3. Do you feel that it is safe to walk, run or hike outside? Are there areas where bike riding is possible? What is the availability and safety of outdoor space for exercising? Are these easily accessible?

Some people run outside but there are stray animals and not a lot of sidewalks to run. There's not much outdoor space for exercising here.

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4. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Embassy gym is adequate but can get busy during the day. Vasy gym is the newest and most expensive that expats like to go to. Sengdara is also a common gym that people go to and this gym has a pool. Gym memberships are really affordable compared to the U.S. Personal training is significantly cheaper here than in the U.S.

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5. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Credit cards are not widely accepted. Some people open BCEL accounts (local Lao bank) where they deposit money so that they can pay via QR code. We chose not to open a Lao bank and use cash everywhere. We use the Embassy cashier to withdraw Thai Baht and Lao Kip. There have been ATM scams so try to get money out of the ATM located inside the Embassy.

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6. What English-language religious services are available locally?

We know people who attend English-language services at the Church of Latter Day Saints and the Catholic Church. There are other English-language religious services available for the large expat community.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

You don't need to know Lao to live here. There are many expats and the places expats generally go to usually have some English fluency. The Embassy offers Lao classes and there are a few Lao classes/tutors that are affordable.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

It would be extremely difficult for someone with physical disabilities to live here. The medical care is not that great so you would have to go to Thailand or Singapore for more significant medical care.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

We wouldn't recommend local buses as there isn't a reliable and timely public transportation system here. Taxis are plentiful and people use the app Loca to call for taxis. Most Embassy folks have their own cars that they drive.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

There are many dirt roads here so it will be likely that you will get at least one flat tire here. The road conditions can be rough especially during the rainy season. SUVs are recommended but you can be ok having a sedan.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Our section already had our internet installed when we arrived. The internet is high-speed but it can go offline randomly due to the power lines. There are less frequent blackouts that usually get resolved quickly but it was worse when we first arrived in 2022.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

We got Google Fi and it's been great. Some people get local SIM cards that they refill.

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1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?

People have brought dogs and cats here but it appears to be a process to bring their pets to Vientiane from Bangkok. Since we didn't bring any pets, we can't really comment on the details.

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Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:

1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?

One of the reasons we were interested in Vientiane was the number of EFM jobs available. There are regular EFM and EPAP positions available. Some spouses have teleworked. I have some expat friends who worked as substitute teachers or English teachers but I can't comment on the pay.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are plenty.

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3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?

Dress code is business casual and folks dressing generally more casual on Fridays.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

We feel safe here as we try to be situationally aware of where we are. We lock our doors to our homes and our cars and try to exercise good judgment. Guns are generally not prevalent in Laos as it is in the U.S.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

You'll have to wash your fresh produce with baking soda and/or vinegar so you don't get sick. It is not uncommon to experience gastrointestinal distress when you first get here. French Clinic and Alliance Medical Centre are the only places in Vientiane that appear to offer decent medical services. We have a great Health Unit at the Embassy. You have to go to Bangkok or Singapore for more significant medical care.

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3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?

Air pollution during the burning season can be quite bad so we taped up our windows and doors. The farmers generally slash and burn their fields since agricultural equipment is too expensive for them. Also, many people burn their trash including diapers and plastics as they are unable to pay for trash pick-up service.

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4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?

Tape the windows, doors, and vents to keep the air pollution out. We have four air purifiers that we received from the Embassy which we keep on at all times. There is a lot of fish sauce that's used in Lao cuisine so, if you have are allergic to fish sauce, you may not be able to eat Lao food out.

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5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

I don't think so.

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6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

It's hot all the time. It is hot or hotter. There are a 2-3 weeks in December where it's cooler at 70 degrees.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

Embassy children generally go to Vientiane International School (VIS) or the French School. The IB program at VIS can be a little frustrating at the primary school level as they don't have a curriculum like the U.S. Some people who returned to the U.S. said that their children were behind in their studies as they didn't learn the specific materials required for the grade levels. VIS can be more difficult for grades 11 and 12 when the IB program is in full swing. VIS is adequate but not the level of international schools in Bangkok or Tokyo.

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2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?

If your child has special learning needs, none of the schools here seem to be able to accommodate.

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3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?

Younger children go to Santisouk Montessori or Toukata. They are not as expensive as VIS. People seem to like both schools.

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4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Very limited extracurricular options for kids here. We have a Kumon center in the U.S. mail us math and reading worksheets every quarter and do Zoom classes once a week to supplement the school curriculum.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

Large expat community that is diverse and you can find your own niche. You can make many friends within and outside the Embassy if you make the effort.

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2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?

School communities, tennis groups, volunteering, and other ways to meet new people.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

Vientiane is great for couples and families but for single people who are looking to date it might be difficult.

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4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

Our friends who are LGBT really enjoyed their time here and didn't feel discriminated against.

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5. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

It might be hard to make friends with locals as not everyone is able to speak English well. I'm not sure which groups might feel uncomfortable here.

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6. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?

There is definitely a gender inequality here.

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7. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Some people described Laos as a "hidden gem" and in some ways it is. It is like going back in time when things were a bit slower and not as hectic. We enjoyed traveling all over SE Asia while being stationed here.

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8. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Luang Prabang is great and there are other parts of Laos that are beautiful. Generally you have to fly and then drive in bad road conditions to get to some great places. There is a highway that connects Vientiane with Vang Vieng for a quick getaway.

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9. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

The textiles and bamboo furniture/baskets are great. A lot of women get tailored dresses here and the clothes are so gorgeous.

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10. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

We found it easy to find your community here as there is a large expat community with people who are looking to make friends. It has been fun and we know that we will miss living here when we move.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

Not really.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

Yes, we would.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

Winter clothes.

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4. But don't forget your:

Sunscreen and mosquito repellent!

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

Not sure.

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