Visa Run: Thailand to Vientiane, Laos

Thai and Lao visa's

I’ve gotten a lot of emails about my recent visa run to Vientiane, Laos, so, I thought it might be a good idea to write a post detailing my visa run while also including all the available options.

Depending on where you are living in Thailand there are several ways you can make it to Nong Khai and the Lao border. You can take the bus from just about anywhere in Thailand and the cost will be minimal, anywhere from 500-800 baht. The downside is that the further away from the border you are the longer the bus ride. From Pattaya or Bangkok you are looking at 10-12 hours. The bus will make a stop in Udon Thani; if there are still enough people on board that want to go to Nong Khai then the bus will move on, if not then you will have to take another bus to the border.

The next option is to take the train. Another minimal cost option at just a little more than the price of a bus ticket, but again depending on where you are coming from it may be an over night ride. The trains do have sleeper cars and it is a great scenic way to make it to the border.

Yet another option is using a visa service. There are many to choose from in Pattaya and Bangkok as well as the rest of Thailand. They will set you up in a comfortable minivan with 5 other passengers, usually with movies, wifi and snacks for the 9-10 hour journey from Pattaya or Bangkok. They will also take care of getting you across the border and all of your visa paperwork at the Thai embassy in Vientiane. They collect the passports and head off to the embassy while you are taken to the hotel. The next day they collect the approved visa’s and you begin the long ride home.

While the VIP visa services sound like a good idea you will definitely pay a hefty premium for their services. They advertise 7,000 baht everything included but the the actual price is usually 10,000 baht.

The last option is Flying, the one I took as it meant being comfortable, less time to the border and great value for the baht. There are two options when flying, you can fly directly to Laos which runs approximately 5,000 baht or you can fly to Udon Thani for 1,500 baht and take a minivan to the border. Once you disembark the plane and collect your luggage, if any, head down stairs and buy a minivan ticket to the Nong Khai border for 200 baht.

Lao Visa Run 1 Thai/Lao Visa Run 2 Thai/Lao Visa Run 4

Once at the border you will be approached by many people asking you if you need a picture for the Lao visa or any paperwork done. They will also try and get you to buy a minivan service to the capital of Laos, Vientiane.

Tip: you will need 1 passport sized picture for your Laos entrance visa and 2 passport sized photos for your Thai visa paper work at the Thai embassy. Get them ahead of time and avoid the hassle and expence of doing it at the border or embassy.

Once at the border all you have to do is leave Thailand and get an exit visa stamp and then look for the bus on the other side that will take you across the Friendship Bridge into Laos for 50 baht. Once over the Friendship Bridge you are now in Laos; you will disembark the bus and fill out the visa papers to enter the country. Once the papers are filled out you go to window 1 and turn them in with one passport sized photo, your passport and $35.00, if you are Thai then all you need is your Thai I.D. card and 30 baht for 1 day or 150 baht for a 3 day visa.

Thai/Lao Visa Run 5 Thai/Lao Visa Run 6 Thai/Lao Visa Run 7

I’m pretty good at haggling so I talked one of the minivan wranglers into picking me up on the other side after finishing the lao visa and driving me into town for 300 baht ( the going price is 500 baht ).

Tip: if you use a minivan from the Lao border into Vientiane set up with the same minivan to pick you up at your hotel the day you leave and take you to the embassy to get your passport before heading back to the border. Doing this ahead of time will save you 2-300 baht and you won’t have to worry about it.

If you take the plane route as I did then you will definitely arrive in town too late to apply for your Thai visa the same day. The Thai Embassy only receives visa applications between the hours of 8:30am & 12pm daily, Monday through Saturday. So, get your hotel room and check out the town, have a good dinner on the river front and get some sleep for the next days visa fun.

Note: You cannot get your Thai visa in one day. You will be in Vientiane, Laos for at least 2 days.

The Thai embassy opens it’s gates at 8:30 am but there will be a line out front of the gates starting at 8 am so get there early or chance spending a few hours waiting.

You’ll notice as you pull up to the Thai Embassy all manner of Lao people looking to help you with your visa process. They will fill out the visa application for you, take your pictures and even get a number and stand in line for you…all for a price. There are even a few that will take care of the whole process for you for 3000 baht while you go and have lunch. Personally I wouldn’t chance any of these offers when my visa is at stake. If you are smart you already have everything you need and will just have to do a little waiting.

Thai/Lao Visa Run 8 Thai/Lao Visa Run 9

Tip: Download and print out the visa application form found on the Thai Embassy Web Page. Make sure it prints out on one piece of paper on both sides as the Thai embassy will not accept an application on 2 sheets of paper. Fill it out before you make the visa run and attach the passport sized photos. Be prepared and you will get through the visa process quicker. Make sure the copy is very good and clear.

The line in front of the embassy gates is just for getting into the Embassy grounds, once in you will still have to get a number and wait to be called to the outside window for processing.This part I leave up to you the reader. Many people will run as soon as the gates open and push people out of the way to get a number, Yes, You can get a number faster but you will still be an asshole. And Probably why I ended up with the number 69.

Thai/Lao Visa Run 10 Thai/Lao Visa Run 11 Thai/Lao Visa Run 12

When the Embassy staff start calling numbers they will do so in groups of 5-7 and the numbers will also be shown on a digital display. You go to the window indicated and turn in your paperwork and passport. The paper work is checked for accuracy and the passport checked to make sure it’s good. If everything is fine you are told to go into the Embassy and pay for the visa. Again you will be on the number system and waiting. Once your number is called inside you go to the window indicated and pay your fee if any and you will be given a receipt. DO NOT LOSE THIS RECEIPT. This is the receipt you will use the next day to pick up your passport…no ticky no washy.

Now you have 24 hours to explore Vientiane before you can pick up your passport and fresh visa. The city center has a beautiful fountain and park to explore as well as the riverfront and several beautiful Wats.

Thai/Lao Visa Run 13 Thai/Lao visa run 14 Thai/Lao visa run 15

The next day arrange for a minivan to pick you up from your hotel at noon and head to the Thai embassy. You cannot pickup your visa until 1pm or after. Again there will be a line outside the gates with many familiar faces. Once the gates open you will again get a number and wait inside to be called. Once called you can pick up your passport and begin your journey back to Thailand.

The visa run to Laos is really not difficult but many people making the trip for the first time worry about it. I hope this post will alleviate some of those fears. The most important thing is to be prepared. Make sure all your paperwork is in order and you have the requisite number of passport sized photos…oh, and don’t forget your passport.

For more information on what the requirements may be for a specific visa please visit the Nong Khai Thai Immigration Website , Royal Thai Embassy Vientiane, Laos or The Thailand Immigration Bureau.

Needed for Visa Run:

  • Passport
  • Photo Copy of relevant Passport pages ie, Picture page, Entrance Stamp and Exit Stamp pages.
  • Visa Application & any associated paperwork such as information for employment visa or Education Visa
  • 2 passport sized photos attached to visa application

Make sure you check that all your travel documentation is valid before traveling otherwise you find your low cost holidays just got a lot more expensive, do take out travel insurance which also covers your flights and hotel as well as replacing lost documentation.


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31 Responses to Visa Run: Thailand to Vientiane, Laos
  1. Paul Garrigan
    December 3, 2010 | 4:49 pm

    Hi Talen, I haven’t needed to go to Laos this year, but I kind of miss it. I would do that border run in my car; I hadn’t finished the down payments though so I wasn’t allowed leave Thailand in the vehicle. There are a few secure car parks right beside the border; I’ve left my car there with no problems. I can’t remember how much it cost but it wasn’t too expensive.
    Paul Garrigan recently posted..My Least Favourite Memory of Teaching in ThailandMy Profile

    • Talen
      December 3, 2010 | 6:47 pm

      Paqul, it must be nice to do that border run in your own vehicle. I did see the car park.

  2. Lloyd
    December 3, 2010 | 6:11 pm

    The cost of entry into Laos depends on origin of the issueing passport, payable only in USD, China $20USD, Australia $30USD, USA and UK $35USD, ‘most’ ASEAN countries should have fees waived, however in practice this only seems to apply for Thais and Cambodian citizens. Change is given at most Loa immigration check points.

    The LAOS visa application actually states 2 passport sized photos, mostly ignored, often photos taken at the Thai immigration point are rejected due to background colours, incorrect sizing or attire (supposedly singlets are not accepted).

    The ‘going’ prices for a minivan from outside the duty free shop at the Loa immigration entry terminal is 300 Baht or $10USD.

    It is arguable wether to take USD or THB into Laos as both are equally accepted, however often the exchange rate for USD/LAK (Lao Kip) can be significantly lower than the equivelent USD/THB it can be worth using mainly THB. Not all Laos ATM machines are part of the VISA/Mastercard/Maestro network, cash can still be withdrawn from these ATM’s however there is a statutory charge of $5.70USD for debit or $6.30USD for each credit card transaction, it does not tell you this anywhere when withdrawing the funds, look for the appropriate VISA/Mastercard/Maestro network Logo. The reason is LAK is a regulated currency and exchanging money incurs a Government duty.

    Under certain circumstances a visa for Thailand can be issued within one day, only by prior arrangement with the appropriate embassy (for persons injured and seeking urgent medical attention or being deported from Laos etc).

    • Talen
      December 3, 2010 | 6:44 pm

      Lloyd, you are correct that the Lao Visa fee depends on the passport of origin but Lao Visa fee’s are payable in a few currencies not just USD. I paid for mine with Thai Baht. Thai’s also don’t get a free ride as I had Thai with me and she paid 150 baht for a 3 day visa. Other Thai’s were charged 30 baht for a 1 day visa. The Lao visa application I filled out only called for 1 photo ( I had thought 2 were required also) .

      All the minivans lined up at customs were asking 500 baht for a trip into town and it took me a bit to get a guy that would go down on price. Unfortunately is was a Sunday morning and many people were heading into Laos so they were making money.

      I only used Thai baht while in Laos…as you said the upside is the better exchange rate…the downside though is everyone giving you change in kip.

      • Lloyd
        December 3, 2010 | 7:23 pm

        I’ve seen some Thais pay however my wife and her family have never paid, so I think ‘locals’ may get a free ride, at 30 baht per day its close to a normal visa.

        My wife visits our family shop in Vientianne roughly monthly and she just laughed and said 500 for farangs so maybe its local rates again, Ive gone alone and only paid from 200-300 baht every time. If you ride a bicycle the immigration officers in Lao will sometimes charge 20 baht entry onto the bridge.

        Getting rid of the KIP is a pain, I tend to invest my lose change in beer Lao works well for me!

        • Talen
          December 3, 2010 | 7:55 pm

          Lloyd, I think you are right about the locals. I seem to remember someone telling me that locals in the towns on either side get across for free.

          I think Sunday mornings are possibly the worst time to cross…all kinds of people and the minivans pretty much have a captive audience.

          I got rid of my kip the easy way…drank all the beer lao in my fridge the night before and paid the room bill with it :)

  3. Snap
    December 3, 2010 | 9:09 pm

    Hi Talen, THANKS! I have a question though. My school handed me an envelope and said take it to the consulate in the morning and pick it up in the afternoon. Time is not an issue as we’re staying in Laos for several days, so I can collect it the next day or whenever. My question: Did your school prepare all the docs/photos for you, did you have to source anything yourself? I skimmed over my documents and they look intact/complet (like what would I know)…but, I will reconfirm this with them before I leave.

    • Talen
      December 3, 2010 | 11:47 pm

      Snap, the school should have all your paper work together including the letter from the Ministry of education as well as paper work from the school and copies of your passport ( you need to sign all the copies at the bottom ). You will probably have to get your own photo’s done. Definitely re-confirm with them before you go because once you are there it’s too late. It’s definitely not a one day affair but since you are staying a few days it won’t be a problem.

  4. Steve
    December 4, 2010 | 12:03 am

    Hi Talen,

    Actually sounds like a nice way to get away from Bkk or Pattaya or wherever for a few days. I definitely have Vientiane on my list of getaways, just not for a visa run. Very nice write up though and should be quite helpful for anyone planning their first Laos visa run. And as always very nice photos :)
    Steve recently posted..Retire in ThailandMy Profile

    • Talen
      December 4, 2010 | 6:14 pm

      Steve, it was a nice getaway but after two days in Vientiane it’s time to move on. Not much to see and much better areas of Laos to visit.

  5. Mike
    December 4, 2010 | 8:40 am

    Talen, nice to get your take on this one. In my days of visa runs I of course used Cambodia taking an organised jaunt from BKK.

    I would certainly have organised my own trip if I been like you.

    Sounds relatively straight forward as long as you pay attention to the detail.
    Mike recently posted..November in ThailandMy Profile

    • Talen
      December 4, 2010 | 6:13 pm

      Mike, it really is straight forward and there are always people to ask along the way as well.

  6. Martyn
    December 5, 2010 | 4:52 pm

    Talen you’ve made life a lot easier for many people with this post. It really is a complete step by step guide for a hassle free visa run to Laos.

    I’ve done a visa run to Laos once before and bumbled my way through the whole procedure, a copy of this post would have made it plain sailing.

    Excellent article and very well written too.
    Martyn recently posted..Thailand Blogs – November 2010 ReviewMy Profile

    • Talen
      December 5, 2010 | 11:28 pm

      Thanks Martyn. Hopefully it does come in handy for anyone doing their first visa run to Lao…I have an upcoming post that is even more important…it’s all about Beer Lao :P

  7. Catherine
    December 5, 2010 | 10:04 pm

    Excellent post Talen – one to bookmark. Skimming through, I’d fly as well. And how do those visa vans get away with charging so much when it’s cheaper to fly?
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    • Talen
      December 5, 2010 | 11:24 pm

      Cat, I would guess that people automatically assume it’s more expensive to fly when it’s not.

  8. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Catherine Wentworth, Talen. Talen said: Visa Run: Thailand to Vientiane, Laos [...]

  9. Snap
    December 8, 2010 | 5:56 pm

    Talen, sorry for bugging you again…we head for Laos in two days. As you stated, the visa into Laos costs US$30 – $35, but what about your ED visa at the Thai Consulate…did I miss it? I asked so many questions at school yesterday, I forgot to ask this one.

    Flying…before we decided to go on a road trip, I looked at flights. The cost was around $400 return at the time, directly into Vientiane, via BKK, way over my budget…I didn’t even think about doing it out of Udon Thani! Mai bpen rai, I get to see a lot of country side this way :)

    • Talen
      December 8, 2010 | 6:03 pm

      Snap, The ED visa will cost you 2000 baht at the Thai embassy. Yeah, the direct flight to Laos is expensive but the flight to Udon Thani is cheap…works out well.

  10. Colleen
    December 11, 2010 | 12:58 am

    Thanks for all the info. Have done an organised bus run to Cambodia, but a very long day for only a 14 day extention. I have booked the sleeper train from Bangkok, but as I had my bag with all cards etc snatched downtown lastweek, I am unable to do a hotel booking ( no credit card!!) Will this be a problem or is accomodation fairly easy to just walk into ( wed 15th)?.

    • Talen
      December 11, 2010 | 11:05 am

      Colleen, Hotel is easy you just need to show them your passport. Many hotels and always rooms available at walk in.

      • Colleen
        December 11, 2010 | 9:06 pm

        Thanks for putting our minds at rest.

  11. [...] a big beer drinker anymore but without question one of my favorite beers is Beer Lao. On my recent visa run to Laos I had ample opportunity to enjoy my favorite beer in quantity. On arrival at the hotel I was a bit [...]

  12. Tony
    January 17, 2011 | 11:04 pm

    Great post as I’m leaving for Vientiane to get my ED visa next week.

    The form that you mentioned that needs to be printed on 1 page is it this one?

    I’m taking the train for this trip. Does it save time/hassle to get the Laos visa before I leave in BKK?

    I’ve read it takes 2 days to process the ED visa. Does that means 2 days from the day I submit my paperwork or 1 day to submit and 1 day to pick up?

    Any recommendations for a place to stay in Vientiane?
    Tony recently posted..Sukiya Japanese RestaurantMy Profile

    • Talen
      January 18, 2011 | 5:14 pm

      Tony, Sorry it has taken me a bit to respond…internet has been down for me the last 2 days almost.

      Yes, that is the correct form that has to be printed on one page ( front and back )

      Don’t bother getting the Laos visa ahead of time…it only took me 10 minutes at the border from filling out the short form to paying and then receiving the visa.

      The two days are the day you submit the paperwork and picking up the visa the next day…it’s definitely an overnight affair.

      I stayed at a real dump not far from the embassy…actually it wasn’t too bad but there are all kinds of places from cheap where I stayed to more expensive by the riverfront. The taxi driver usually know the best places in your price range.

  13. Tony
    January 21, 2011 | 7:18 pm

    Thanks for the info. This being my first run to VT I’m a little nervous about it so I’m trying to minimize the hassles as much as possible.
    Tony recently posted..Joyopolis at Odaiba in Tokyo JapanMy Profile

    • Talen
      January 23, 2011 | 3:15 am

      No problem Tony. I was worried about it too but it’s really smooth and easy you shouldn’t have any problems.

  14. Tony
    January 24, 2011 | 5:10 pm

    If I leave Vientiane on February 1 and take the overnight train to BKK what time does the train get into Hua Lamphong?

    • Talen
      January 24, 2011 | 5:26 pm

      Tony, I’m not sure as I haven’t taken the train before. I would think it would arrive in the moring but don’t take my word on that.

  15. thai ed
    May 22, 2011 | 5:19 pm

    Wauw, I have not been to Laos for years for my visa trips – usually i just go to Cambodia instead. I think they change the rules for the tourist visa so much and so often that I find it easier to get non-B visa or retirement visas instead.

    • Talen
      May 23, 2011 | 12:12 pm

      Thai, Cambodia is actually much harder and stricter these days for most visa’s except retirement.