Visa & Passport
Visas are not required by citizens of: Brunei and Myanmar (14 days), Japan, Luxembourg, Russia, South Korea and Switzerland (15 days), Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. (30 days)
A visa on arrival is also available to most (but not all) nationalities entering at the airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabang and Pakse, as well as the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge between Nong Khai in Thailand and Vientiane and on the Lao/Vietnam-Border. It is also available when entering via Stung Treng (Cambodia), although guesthouses in Cambodia and the Lao embassy in Phnom Phen will pretend that it is not in order to make money with visa services. When applying for a tourist visa or to obtain a visa on arrival, one (maybe two at Lao embassies) passport photo is required although you may be able to pay a USD1 fee for your passport photo to be scanned upon arrival.
Prices range from USD35-42 depending on nationality - Americans USD35, Canadians USD42, Australians USD45, Chileans USD30. As of June 2013, EU countries should pay USD30, with no extra payment for processing except maybe if you forgot to bring a passport picture. Paying in Vietnamese dong, Lao kip, or Thai baht is possible too, but the mark-up means that travellers should try to bring US dollars.
Visas can be obtained in advance from Lao embassies/consulates. The fee varies by nationality/embassy; USD20 is common, although can be as high as USD63 (in Kuala Lumpur). Processing times also vary; 2-3 days is typical, though you may be able to pay an extra small amount (around USD5) to receive the visa in as little as one hour. In Phnom Penh the travel agencies can arrange the visa the same day (but may charge as much as USD58) while getting it from the embassy takes a few days. Getting a visa from the embassy in Bangkok costs around 1,400 baht for most nationalities, plus 200 baht more for "same day" processing. It's cheaper and quicker to get one at the border.
Visas are also available at the Lao PDR consulate in Khon Kaen, Thailand. Thai and English (limited) are spoken by consular staff. Hours are Monday-Friday, 08:00-12:00 and 13:00-16:00. Several changes took place in Feb 2012, with prices have increased and are now similar to those charged by the Laotian Embassy in Bangkok.
Visas for Americans, Britons and citizens of several EU countries cost 1,400 baht/USD45, Australians and New Zealanders pay 1,200 baht/USD38, Canadians pay 1,700 baht/USD54 while Chinese pay 600 baht/USD20. Officially, visas can be picked up the next day, or pay an additional 200 baht to have the visa issued within 1 hour. Officially, only baht is accepted although if you don't have baht, they may take US dollars. Note: a 30-31 baht to the US dollar rate has been reported, making it more expensive than getting one on arrival and paying in US dollars. Given that a visa for many countries can cost USD20-42 at the border, getting a visa at the border is cheaper and quicker. Note: If you are taking the direct Khon Kaen to Vientiane bus and you require a visa for Laos, the bus company will not sell you a ticket unless you have a visa already issued.
There are Visa-on-Arrival facilities at the international airports in Vientiane, Luang Prabangand Pakse, and at all border crossings (see below), including now overland from Cambodia. Visa on arrival facilities opened at Voen Kham -north of Stung Treng, Cambodia- in February 2010. The cost varies between USD30 and USD42 if paid with US dollars, considerably more if paying with Thai baht and border officials will not accept Lao kip. If you pay in Thai baht, the cost is usually 1,500 baht (about USD47-48). A USD1 "out of office hours/overtime" surcharge at the Friendship Bridge in Vientiane, and a small possibly 10 baht to USD1 entry stamp fee, might also be charged.
Entry permit extensions (sometimes referred to as "visa extensions") are available from the Immigration Department in Vientiane, the Immigration Department in Luang Prabang, the Police Station in Pakse, and possibly other cities. Extensions are not possible in Lao's second city, Savannakhet, although you can do a border run from there to Thailand to get a new 30 day visa. The cost is USD2 per day plus a small "form fee" ranging between 5,000 kip (Pakse) to USD2 (Luang Prabang). The process is very easy; turn up in the morning with your passport and one photo; fill in a form (in Luang Prabang they do this for you) and come back in the afternoon for your extension.
If you want to extend for longer than two weeks and are near the Thai border, it can be more cost effective to nip over the border (entry to Thailand is free for most western nationalities) and return immediately to get a new 30 day Lao visa.
Extensions are also possible via agencies elsewhere in Laos. They will courier your passport to Vientiane and back again, around USD3 per day minimum of 7 days.