Living in Vientiane, Laos

Vientiane, similar with the rest of the former French Indochina, is a laidback destination. Amid the European-style villas and chic cafes, you will find Buddhist temples and a calming view of the riverfront. Lifestyle in the Lao capital is very much like its façade: an infusion of East and West cultures and customs. You can travel around the city on a bicycle, like in a typical European city, and be offered to a wide range of dining and leisure options.

 

The tropical climate is perfect for afternoon strolls, but always dress up appropriately. Laos is a conservative society and revealing clothing and scandalous manners are frowned upon. Take a look at common aspects of living in Vientiane.

Travelling around

Driving

Driving in a foreign country is not always advisable. First, the traffic rules can be extremely different from what you’re accustomed to. Second, local police authorities are quick to apprehend foreign drivers, a practice that leads to a lot of bribery and corruption cases. Third, filing for insurance claims can be difficult.

If you’re staying in Vientiane for at least six months to a couple of years, driving around can be a practical transportation option. Importing a car is not a very good idea as the import tax for automobiles is 100 per cent (yes, it’s equivalent to buying a second car!). Don’t worry. There’s plenty of brand new and used cars available in Laos. If you’re gunning for a second-hand car, you should prepare around USD 10 000 to USD 15 000.

Before we go over the requirements in getting a driver’s license in Laos, please be informed that some insurance providers in Laos only pay claims when the driver is using a Lao-issued license. If you opt to use your International Driving License, your better check with your insurer if you’re covered while driving in Laos.

There are two types of license you can apply for: a temporary driving license and a “permanent” driving license. A temporary driving license is valid for a one year and is only issued to expat residents. The more permanent driving license is valid for five years. The requirements for both licenses are as follow:

  • Your valid passport, and a copy of it;
  • Your work permit or residence certificate, and a copy of it;
  • Your valid driving license issued in your home country, and a copy of the front and back;
  • A passport-sized photograph; and
  • A fee of 50,000 kip or USD 7.

You can expect your license after three business days.

Public transportation

Vientiane is a walkable and bicycle-friendly city. Think Parisian streets with a line of temples and Buddhist statues in the backdrop. If you’ve been to other parts of Southeast Asia, you may have ridden the legendary tuk-tuk or motorised carriage that come in various sizes. There are two types of tuk-tuks to Vientiane and it’s important to know the difference to avoid getting ripped off.

The tourist tuk-tuk is the most expensive because well, they service foreigners. You’re billed at least 100 per cent more than a local. This public transport is found outside tourist sports and hotels. The wandering tuk-tuk is a bit cheaper and unlike the tourist tuk-tuk, this can pick you up anywhere. The wanderers are also open to negotiate fare depending on your destination.

You can also go for the fixed route share jumbos which operate in set routes for fixed rates. There are taxis, mostly will allow you to negotiate fares, as well as buses.

Neighborhood

Looking for a home is much easier in Vientiane than in any other neighbouring city. The simple reason? The demand is in the capital. You have a wide range of housing options in Laos’ top residential neighbourhoods. There are grand European-style villas, modern serviced apartments and modest flats popular among foreign students and expat workers on short-term assignment. Here are recommended districts for your home hunting.

Sikhottabong District

The Sikhottabong district, home to the Wattay International Airport, is one of the major residential and business areas in Vientiane. The district is popular among expats for its dazzling riverfront scenery. Grab your bicycle and have a tour in this beautiful neighbourhood of French villas and Buddhist temples. Plans are underway to develop the 24-hectare Nong-or Zone to include a park, a shopping centre, dining establishments, schools and apartments.

Sisattanak District

Most foreigners in Vientiane are found strolling the streets of the quaint streets of Sisattanak district. Several foreign embassies and consulates are located in this area, as well as the regional office of the World Health Organisation. Sisattanak is also home to Vientiane International School, more than a hundred hospitals and clinics, and a string of European restaurants.

Chanthabouly District

Another main district in Vientiane is Chanthabouly which houses the World Bank group, Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), numerous airline regional offices and travel agencies. This neighbourhood also offers a long list of housing accommodations such as three-bedroom villas and two-bedroom apartments. Chanthabouly, like all other districts in the capital, is walkable. If you’re in a hurry, hail a tuk-tuk!

Housing

After the French rule ended in Indochina some sixty years ago, they left an unmistakable legacy: their architecture. Restored Lao-styled villas adorn the tree-lined boulevard in Vientiane. Three- to five-bedroom houses with large gardens are the most popular housing accommodations for expats in the capital. There are also apartments and flats, but since rents for houses are generally affordable, people would go for large spaces.

Under curreliving in Vientianent laws, foreigners are prohibited from owning real estate properties in Laos. Expats buy houses from Lao citizens on 30-year leasehold agreements. The contracts include a stipulation on a right to purchase once the law changes. Foreign investors and retirees usually enter into leasehold agreements.

A three-bedroom traditional house with a large garden in Sikhottabong district is on sale for USD 400,000 while a four-bedroom house in the Sisattanak neighbourhood is available for USD 250 000. A three-bedroom, three-bathroom villa in the Hadxaifong area is on sale for USA 165 000.

Expat can rent out apartments in Vientiane at a fraction of the cost in most Western countries. A two-bedroom fully-furnished apartment in Chantabuly district can be rented for USD 500 per month. An apartment with similar features in Sisattanak district is for USD 800 per month. A luxurious two-bedroom, two-bathroom home in Chantabuly is for USD 1 800 to USD 2 000 per month, inclusive of use of swimming pool and gym.

Education

Studying in a foreign country is a truly rewarding experience. Young children get a head start on diversity and tolerance and build lasting friendships with people of various faiths and ethnicities. If you are bringing your family to Vientiane, you have a lot of options for your children’s schooling.

Primary and secondary education are mandatory in Laos. There are about 9 000 primary schools in the country, most of the premiere institutions are in Vientiane. Primary school students, aged six to 10 years old, are taught the Lao language, mathematics and physical education. Secondary education is divided into four years of lower secondary and three years of upper secondary education. Only students who pass the lower secondary exams move on to the upper school.

There are roughly 1 000 secondary schools in Laos. Most expat families choose to send their kids to international schools that use American, British or Singaporean curriculum. Some of the international schools in Vientiane are as follow:

Sikkhotabong District, Vientiane

Tel. No.: +856-20-2222-0528

Sokpaluang Village, Vientiane

Tel. No.: +856-21-3140979

Xaythany District, Vientiane

Tel. No.: +856-21-740098

Sissatanak District, Vientiane

Tel. No.: +856-30-9818999

Sissatanak District, Vientiane

Tel. No.: +856-21-486001

Vientiane is regarded the centres of tertiary education in the country. Some of the universities/colleges for expats are as follow:

The National University of Laos (NUOL) is the leading tertiary education institution in the country. It has an extensive offering of programs in 11 colleges including architecture, economics and business administration, environmental sciences and social sciences. Foreign students are welcome to apply.

The Rattana Business Administration College (RBAC) has undergraduate, graduate and vocational programs. The school has a roster of renowned Lao and foreign professors.

Soochow University is the first overseas university founded by a Chinese university. It offers undergraduate programs in international economy and trade, international finance, computer science and technology, and Chinese.

Know more about Vientiane, Laos with our relocation guide for expatriates:

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