Vientiane, Laos Report of what it's like to live there

Personal Experiences from Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, Laos 06/03/20

Background:

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

No, we have had other assignments in Asia and Africa.

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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?

Washington DC. It's possible to get from Vientiane to DC in (just) under 24 hours going through Seoul. Other options include going through Bangkok. There are relatively few non-stop flights to Vientiane so you will almost certainly have to travel through Seoul or Bangkok. There are also non-stop flights (but not many) to Kuala Lumpur and Singapore.

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3. How long have you lived here?

Nearly two years.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Housing is nice, generally decent-sized houses with small to medium yards. Vientiane is not a big city but it is fairly spread out. There is little traffic compared to other capital cities in the regions and you can get almost anywhere in the city in 20-30 minutes.

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

If you shop locally, it's very cheap. Imported goods are more expensive and are relatively easy to find. Rimping Supermarket has a wide variety of choices and there are other smaller shops that stock up on western goods.

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

Maybe cleaning supplies? We did have some issues with ants so maybe products to deal with pests would be a good idea as well.

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

There are a wide variety of restaurants (French, Italian, Mexican, Russian, etc) and going out to eat is one of the great delights in Vientiane. A few pizza places deliver, but I never found a reliable delivery service like I have in other countries.

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

It is a tropical country so don't be surprised to find ants or other six-legged friends in your house. Mosquitoes were not too bad. I have seen one snake near my house in nearly two years here.

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Daily Life:

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

DPO. I never used local facilities.

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

Availability is widespread, ability to speak English is very limited. Most people employed a "maeban" for cooking and cleaning. Salaries for household help are about US $200-300/month.

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

There are a handful of gyms which are not too expensive. Free zumba classes near the river are offered every evening.

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4. 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 becoming more common in fancier restaurants and some shops (usually with a 3% fee). ATMs are common although they don't always work-- sometimes you'll have to try 4-5 before you find one that accepts your card, is working, and has money. I think they are relatively safe to use.

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

In Vientiane, you can find Catholic and Protestant services. I don't know which (if any) offer English language services but I would guess it's very limited.

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

You can get by without Lao, but life will definitely be easier if you can speak a little. You should not assume that people will be able to speak English.

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

Yes, I would think so.

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Transportation:

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

Taxis are safe although there are very few in town. Make sure you save the number of a reliable taxi driver. You shouldn't expect to be able to find a taxi or rickshaw waiting on any corner, like you can in many Asian capital cities. It is very difficult to move around without your own vehicle.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

SUVs are the most popular and are good for getting out of the city, but can be difficult to maneuver on narrow streets.

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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?

It takes a while (up to 30 days) to install. We were able to stream Netflix with no issues.

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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?

I think most people used a local provider which was reliable.

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Pets:

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?

Not sure about this one; I think there are kennel services available.

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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?

It would be very hard to find a local job here. Language barriers, government bureaucracy, and a small economy makes it almost impossible.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

Not sure, but there are plenty of NGOs (both local and international) operating in Vientiane that might need volunteers.

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

In diplomatic/government circles, most people dress in a fairly formal style, although the heat means jackets are taken off almost immediately once a meeting starts

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Health & Safety:

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

I generally found Vientiane to be a very safe city with little crime.

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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?

There are a handful of international clinics but any health issues that are marginally complicated or serious are done in Thailand. A Thai company is building a private hospital due to open in 2021 that could change things but for now medical care is limited.

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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 quality is quite good for 10-11 months of the year. In February/March, it can get very bad as fields (both in Laos and neighboring Thailand) are burned in preparation for planting.

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

It can be a tough post if you like to ever put on a sweater!

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

It's hot. Almost always very hot. If you're lucky there might be a couple of weeks in December or early January when the highs are in the 70s (25 C) but winter is very fleeting.

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Schools & Children:

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

Most families with school-aged kids sent them to Vientiane International School and most seem happy enough with the school.

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2. 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?

Yes, they are available although they are not necessarily 100% in English. We had a good experience at two different preschools.

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

The climate can make it difficult but VIS does offer a number of sports for kids. There are not many options beyond VIS.

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Expat Life:

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

It's a fairly small expat community in a fairly small town. Morale is generally high. If Vientiane is starting to feel too small for you, Bangkok is only an hour flight away.

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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?

The language barrier and cultural norms make it difficult to interact with local people extensively. However, the Lao are very friendly. Having small children that play with Lao kids is a good way to bridge the cultural divide.

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

It's probably better for families that single people. There's not a lot of nightlife (although plenty of it in nearby Thailand) and dating would be a challenge here.

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

Although Laos is next to Thailand, Laos is still fairly conservative and not overly-welcoming for the LGBT community.

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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?

Lao are very friendly but it's still challenging to make friends, probably as a result of language and cultural divides.

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

There are problems with ethnic and religious prejudices but I don't think it would affect expats very much.

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

Laos is a beautiful country and it's imperative that you get out of Vientiane to see the rest of the country. Luang Prabang is sublime, Vang Vieng is a fun weekend destination, and the Bolaven Plateau has great waterfalls and coffee. Kong Lor cave is also a good weekend trip (although it's a bit of a haul from Vientiane).

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

They say that Vientiane is a horrible place to visit but a nice place to live. What it lacks in sights, it makes up for in a relaxed, charming lifestyle. Enjoying a Beer Lao along the Mekong as the sun goes down is a simple pleasure but a pleasant memory. Vientiane is also a good base for exploring northern Thailand. If you need a little Western indulgence, Starbucks and McDonalds are only an hour away!

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

Yes, there are a number of markets with interesting woodwork and Buddhist figures.

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

If you're looking for big city excitement, this isn't it. If you're looking for a laid-back city with good restaurants and charming cafes, you could do worse!

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I was surprised by how difficult it is to get around without a car.

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

Yes, living in Laos was a great experience.

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

Sweaters and formal/evening wear.

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4. But don't forget your:

Bugspray, sunscreen, and sense of adventure.

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

"A Great Place to Have a War" by Josua Kurlantzick.

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Vientiane, Laos 10/31/18

Background:

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

No. I have lived in many other countries and on several continents.

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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?

Washington, DC. It takes over 24 hours to get there, usually though Tokyo/Bangkok or through Seoul. One can also travel through the Middle East and Thailand.

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3. How long have you lived here?

A few months.

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

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

Our housing is excellent and spacious. Commuting time runs fewer than 20 minutes. Sometimes worse, but it's much better than other SE Asian cities.

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

There are a lot of small stores with a random assortment of western goods which makes finding things difficult. Stuff is around, but when/where is a challenge. The cost of western goods is also a lot higher. If you're willing to buy local products, it can be very cheap.

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

None yet. We get most things on the local economy.

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

There are many restaurant options in Vientiane. There are also lots of food delivery and takeout options too.

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

There are many insects here. Ants, mosquitos, etc. It's a tropical environment.

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Daily Life:

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

We use the diplomatic post system.

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

There are lots of options. Someone full time will likely cost between US$300 and 400 a month.`

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

There are gyms and a variety of sports available (volleyball, rugby, soccer, basketball, tennis, etc). There's even Lao baseball. If you look hard enough, I think you'll find it. Not too expensive as a general rule.

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

It's mostly a cash economy. I haven't had any problems with ATMs.

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

There are several options available.

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

It's helpful, perhaps even very helpful, to have the local language, but it's not absolutely necessary. There are classes/tutors, but the language is challenging to learn.

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

Possibly due to the lack of paved roads, accessible parking.

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Transportation:

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

I have only used taxis, and they are safe and affordable.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

I would recommend an SUV due to the lack of paved roads and rainy season.

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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?

Yes. Installation takes two - three weeks.

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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?

I use a local provider. It's worked quite well once I figured out how to do it.

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Pets:

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?

Yes. No quarantine required. The fact that there are many dogs and cats roaming the streets makes it difficult to walk your dog.

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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?

It's not easy to get a job on the local economy. The company will have to get a work permit for you. Some people telecommute.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

There are many, but I am not familiar with them.

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

It's too hot to wear suits regularly. Most people dress in business casual.

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Health & Safety:

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

Not really. Petty crime exists, but it's better here than in most countries.

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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?

There are concerns about the quality of health care in Laos. Most people will choose to go to Thailand. This fact makes emergencies stressful.

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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?

Unsure. I think its better than most major SE Asian cities, but there's not good data. The suspicion is that during the dry season, it will be worse because of the burning of trash.

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

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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)?

Not that I know of.

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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, really hot, and sometimes rains.

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Schools & Children:

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

There are many private schools. The Vientiane International School seems to be the most reputable, but there are also other options that seem to be good as well.

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

This is a work in progress in Laos. My recommendation is that families work with the schools to see how/if they can 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?

Yes, but I don't have experience with preschools. The Vientiane International School has many after school activities.

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

The Vientiane International School has many after school activities.

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Expat Life:

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

Pretty large, and I think morale here is good.

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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?

Going out to dinner, dinner parties, sports clubs/events. There are options, but you have to look for them.

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

I think it's a good place for all as long as you don't mind living in a smaller city.

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

It seems to be.

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

Not really.

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

The Lao people are great. Extremely friendly. It's a beautiful country, and I cannot wait to explore more.

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

Sitting along the Mekong and watching the world go by is a lot of fun. Biking on Sundays, when there is less traffic, is also fun.

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

There's some shopping, but again, Vientiane is a small city, so there are not a ton of options.

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

You get to know many people quickly because you keep running into each other. Commutes are very reasonable.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

Not applicable.

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

Absolutely.

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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:

Dry-clean free items.

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

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6. Do you have any other comments?

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Vientiane, Laos 01/22/14

Background:

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

No, we were previously in Pakistan and Hong Kong.

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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?

Pennsylvania. We departed from Dulles and it was at least a full 24 hours through CA, Japan, and Bangkok.

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3. How long have you lived here?

2008-2011. It was originally a 2-year tour, but we extended for a third year.

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

U.S. government.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

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

The houses were big with little storage space in some houses, and large outdoor concrete sheds in others. Some have huge yards, mostly in the front of the house. Phone wiring in some houses were old and people could lose internet and phone service at times, especially during the rainy season.

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

While we were there, we were given a consumables shipment. So we did take advantage of that. Household supplies were found, just not as adequate as one may like from the U.S. Groceries, especially European and American ones could be found at Phimphone, Simeung, and the small "twin peaks" market for a cost higher than in the US.

With the Embassy, we had access to the Commissary in Bangkok and 3 or 4 times a year we would arrange shipments of orders from Bangkok that would arrive via train and customers could pick up their items. We could receive frozen/fresh items on dry ice, dry items, sodas, etc. It was a good benefit.

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

Car items, as we often waited for Amazon to deliver wipers, filters, etc. Tires. We came to post with nice tires, ended up blowing two of them, and got the best they had, which looked a little used to me.

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

No McDonald's or Burger King while we were there. There were great cheap restaurants where you could get a large bowl of mee/pho for less than US$3. Some of our favorite restaurants included L'Adress de Tinay - great French food, La Banneton for great baguettes, Le Silapa - my favorite by far - and I-beam. There was a cute crepes place that opened as I was leaving. Also Nudle - a take-out/delivery place. Silapa was probably the most expensive, but between the atmosphere, the gourmet food, and the friendly owners - it was worth it!

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

Mosquitos mostly, especially during the rainy season. We had nets over the beds (that GSO installed for us) and sprayed the kids. We managed three years with only a handful of bites. There was a great company in Canada that had pre-treated nets and shipped them pretty quickly.

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Daily Life:

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

We had an APO and the pouch when we were there. We did not have a PO that we could buy stamps from, so be sure to have a USPS.com account. You can buy and print stamps from home and bring in the packages to mail. Mail took about 3 -4 weeks to arrive at post.

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

Cheap and available. Cooks, nannies, gardeners are most common. I believe I paid around US$350/month for our nanny, housekeeper and gardener. We were told we paid more than most, but it was worth the peace of mind as we both worked.

Our nanny worked 6 days a week, including some late evenings. Our housekeeper/cook did everything including overseeing our menus for entertaining. Our gardener worked twice a week and took care of the yard and our dogs.

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

There is a gym at Sengdara that many expats used. There was also a gym called BeBe (?) that opened. We used the Embassy gym, so I am not sure how much it costs. I think it was around US$300 for a year at Sengdara when we arrived.

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

We did not use our credit cards or ATMs in Laos. We know people who did, most were successful.

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

There were a number of options. The CLO office will have a list of denominations and locations.

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

Learn it. It's difficult, especially with all the tones, but the Lao are so sweet and forgiving of your mistakes as you try to speak to them in their language. Many shop owners know enough English. Hand gestures can get you pretty far,too.

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

There are very few handicap-accessible buildings. Roads are in pretty poor condition and sidewalks are almost non-existent outside of the city center.

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Transportation:

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

There are buses, but I would not travel on them. I don't know of anyone who actually did. Tuks tuks were everywhere and can be cheap.

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2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?

We saw many different vehicles from small sedans to minivans. SUVs with 4-wheel drive would be great because of the roads and helpful especially during rainy season. If you have a American specific car, consider bringing along your own wipers, filters, etc to speed up the process when having your car serviced. We brought along a 2-year old Kia Sorento and were able to have it serviced regularly. It took trips throughout the country and never gave us any problems. Expect dings and scratches and at least one run in with a motorbike.

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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?

When we were there internet was provided by the Embassy. It was nice to have but would fail often. There were 3-4 outside companies that provided service. PlanetOnline I recall being more popular and offering better speeds. We paid for a full year when we signed up about US$150-$200, I think.

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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?

Our phones were provided by the Embassy, so I can't speak for personal cell phones. I do know sim cards were cheap.

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Pets:

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?

We did not bring a pet into the country, but I do not believe there was any quarantine. Remember to contact GSO with size of pet containers and information on your pet. There were two recommended vets that I recall.

Stray dogs are abundant here.

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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?

There are some EFM jobs at post. During our time one expat worked as a speech therapist. There is no real ability to work on the local economy.

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2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?

I volunteered with the Women's International Group (WIG) often and at the schools.

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

The dress code was more business casual in most offices. The Lao women would wear the long skirt called a sihn. It was pretty comfortable. Most men wore slacks and short sleeve Lao shirts. It is usually hot.

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Health & Safety:

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

We did have a few house break ins during our time, but no one was hurt as it was a time when people were away. During our time we also had 24-hour guards posted at Embassy housing clusters. As in any city in the world, there is petty theft (e.g., purse stolen from person on motorbike, pickpocketing in touristy areas).

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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?

Post now has a MED unit that was receiving a FSNP when we were leaving. Most of us used the Australian Clinic, with whom we had a contract at the time. For dental and most medical visits, we arranged through Bangkok or Udon Thani Hospital.

The local hospitals are very sad. We toured them and heard of stories from friends who had gone in for motorbike accidents and came out of the hospital with staph infections.

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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?

The air quality was between moderate and unhealthy, and can depend on where you live. We were in an area with more expats so we did not have as much garbage burning as some other parts did. Motorbikes are plenty. There is not a lot of heavy industry, so you do not have the smog you would expect from China.

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

There are three basic seasons in Laos. Monsoon season from about July/August to November, dry season from November to March, and hot season from April to August.

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Schools & Children:

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

There is essentially one international school that all dependents attended. Vientiane International School (VIS) is an accredited IB school starting from Pre K at age 3 to Grade 12. There was an active "Parents & Friends" group during our time that held great community events for VIS. I got to know many of the teachers in the Primary Years program and most of them were very dedicated to the students and genuinely caring. Of course, you also come across some who don't seem to have the passion for teaching anymore, which is a shame. VIS offered a lot of after school activities. During our time, my children took tae kwon do, soccer, baseball, rugby, art classes, played board games, etc. My experience was in the Lower School. So I do not have personal experience with the MS or HS although my friends seemed very happy with the teachers and curriculum.

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

During our time we outsourced a speech pathologist and occupational therapist for our son. VIS administration and the teacher were very willing to work with both therapists and myself to 1) offer a room for the sessions to be held during school at a time when work would not be too heavily missed and 2) come up with a plan of action.

From their website:
VIS serves a diverse community and therefore provides some limited services to students with mild learning difficulties. Defining "mild" is difficult and depends on many factors. A general definition for VIS is that a student with a mild learning difficulty can access the regular curriculum with;

some limited or short term additional adult intervention,
some limited additional time to compete tasks, or
some limited adjustment to expectations.

Learning difficulties are beyond mild when a student:

requires a separate programme of instruction,
needs significant ongoing adult intervention to access the curriculum
is unable to meet the requirements of the programme for a sustained period

Children can experience mild learning difficulties for a variety of reasons and the school will make accommodations where it is possible. Whether VIS can provide a suitable programme with support or not will be determined by considering information provided by previous schools, parents, external agencies and professionals and in-school assessments. Our programmes are challenging and are designed to meet the needs of college-bound students, and the context of the programme will be considered in assessing the likely success of the student. The basis for the decision will be in the best interest of the student and whether the school can provide a programme in which the child is likely to be successful. As partners in the education of your child, we seek to consider all relevant information during the admission process.

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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?

There are a few preschools with 2-3 Montessori schools. Santisouk Montessori is where my youngest went and it was good. If I had to do it again I would have put him in Alpha. I served on the Board for Santisouk and the Lao teachers were very caring of the children at the school. The advisor at the time was from Australia, I believe, and she was very instrumental in setting higher standards during the time I served on the board.

Nannies can be hired for daily childcare, including nights and weekends.

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

There was Sunday rugby open to all ages and abilities. There was horse backing riding, gymnastics at the Lao circus. Most sports programs were available through the school (soccer, basketball).

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Expat Life:

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

During out time it was pretty small. Our first year, morale seemed pretty low as some people seemed to want to be elsewhere. With turnover, a new group arrived and morale really seemed to improve.

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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?

For somewhere that seems like it has not much to do, as far as American comparisons, we were always busy. We'd have game nights, BBQs, swimming at the Ambassador's pool, playdates with kids' friends.

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

This is a great place for all.

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

In 2012, Laos held its first gay pride event. Homosexuality is legal in Laos. We did not witness any problems for gay or lesbian expats.

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

Nothing really that I witnessed.

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

It was amazing to tour to the country and see the life of the Lao people from Sam Neua all the way down to Champasak. We loved celebrating along our colleagues and neighbors during Pi Mai Lao (Lao New Year).

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

Sitting at a restaurant on the Mekong at sunset. Boat cruise on the Nam Ou. Explore the Kong Lor caves, drive to see the many beautiful waterfalls just outside of Vientiane. Visit the Plain of Jars, learn about silkworms and making natural dyes at Mulberry farm. the night markets in Luang Prabang and in Vientiane. Get up early one morning and give alms to the monks. Head south and visit the 4000 islands, go to Champasak and vistWat Phou.

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

Silver, wooden elephants, fabrics.

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

Laos is very cheap! Even with amazing French and Italian restaurants, and trips around the region, and weekly massages and mani/pedis. Some nice fresh markets found in the villages, as well as small mini marts catering to expats.

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10. Can you save money?

Yes! Even with regular trips to Bangkok, Phuket, within Laos, and neighboring countries, we were still able to save a lot of money.

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Words of Wisdom:

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

I just wish I was more prepared for the sheer volume of motorbikes that will come up on other side of you while waiting at a light.

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

Absolutely! It is a hidden gem.

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

Winter clothes, heavy jackets (unless you plan to travel back to the cold areas for winters).

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4. But don't forget your:

Patience. Laos is a great country, but you will need to practice patience as not everything will happen as quickly as you may expect it to. And sunscreen and bug spray.

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

The Dr. Siri books by Colin Cotterill such as The Woman Who Wouldn't Die (Dr. Siri)

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