Money in Laos: A Tourist Guide to ATMs, Cards and Exchange

In a certain weird way, Laos feels like nobody should be using money there. It’s rural, rugged, slow. Everything is simple and easy-going. But you still need some money, right?

So here’s a practical guide to tourist money for Laos. Everything about ATMs, exchanging currency, and paying by card. From a backpacker for backpackers, although the information here is valid for all sorts of travelers.

Which are the ATMs with the lowest access fees? (BCEL and Indochina Bank)

Can you use Revolut in Laos? (Mostly yes)

All this and more in this guide to money in Laos!

Currency in Laos

The currency in Laos is the Lao Kip with code LAK.

The Lao Kip was pretty stable until 2019 but has since been dropping in value (which is good for you, the foreign traveler, but it sucks for the Laotians).

Just like money in Indonesia and money in Vietnam, the Lao Kip has a lot of zeroes. Try to disregard the last 3 – that makes money management easier.

In this guide, I use k (as in kilo) instead of the last 3 zeroes (000), thus 10.000 = 10k.

500, 1000, and 2000 Lao Kip banknotes on a table
Lao Kip banknotes aren’t the prettiest

No coins are in circulation in Laos anymore.

The banknote denominations are 500, 1000, 2000, 5000, 10.000, 20.000, 50.000, and 100.000 (<5$) being the largest banknote. This means that just like with Indonesian money, you will be carrying a thick stack of banknotes in your wallet. Thankfully, Laos is just as cheap.

Can you use your card in Laos?

You can seldom use your foreign card to pay in Laos. Card payments are accepted at very few places.

Cards are accepted at high-end international hotels and some souvenir shops in big cities like Vientiane and Luang Prabang.

Expect to be charged a 2-3% card payment fee too.

Everywhere else in Laos, you will need cash. Imagine going on a jungle trek to isolated villages around the Bolaven Plateau and the locals take out a POS terminal. Right, it ain’t happening.

ATMs in Laos

You will not struggle to find ATMs in cities. Luang Prabang and Vientiane have plenty, Luang Namtha, Vang Vieng, and Huay Xai have a few too. Nong Khiaw has at least 2.

If the town isn’t too isolated, there will be at least 1 ATM.

BCEL ATM - the best to withdraw money in Laos
BCEL ATM in Laos is the most common (and one of the best for withdrawals)

VISA cards are accepted by all ATMs. Mastercards are mostly accepted, but some ATMs (for example Indochina Bank) may reject them. Maestro will get accepted at BCEL ATMs but may not be at others. American Express is almost universally not accepted.

The maximum withdrawal amount on ATMs is between 1 and 3 million LAK. The maximum is at Indochina Bank ATMs at 3 million.

The sceen on a BCEL ATM where one picks what amount to withdraw. 2 million LAK is the maximum.
BCEL ATM allows only 2.000.000 LAK maximum per transaction. It was reduced from 2.5m at some point in late 2023.

Withdrawal Fees

Quick answers:

  • BCEL charges 30.000 and allows withdrawals up to 2.000.000. Accepts all cards.
  • Indochina Bank charges 40.000 and allows up to 3.000.000. Accepts only VISA cards.

ALL ATMs in Laos charge a withdrawal fee.

This is on top of any fees charged on your end from your bank. The latter you can avoid by using a FinTech solution like Revolut, Curve, or Monese.

The fee is almost always 30.000 LAK regardless of the withdrawn amount, except for JDB bank which charges 3% with a 40.000 LAK minimum.

BCEL used to be the best bank to withdraw money in Laos. However, after they increased their fee and decreased the maximum withdrawable limit, their fee of 30.000 LAK comes to 1.5% if you withdraw 2.000.000 LAK.

On the other hand, Indochina Bank allows you to withdraw up to 3.000.000 LAK for a fee of 40.000 LAK, which is 1.33%. However, their ATMs only accept VISA cards!

That’s why the best ATM to withdraw money in Laos is Indochina Bank but only if you have a VISA card and withdraw the maximum. The fee of 1.33% is the lowest you can get in Laos.

BCEL is a close second with their 1.5% fee. All other banks charge at least 40.000 LAK and have lower withdrawal limits making them worse.

Indochina Bank Laos logo
Indochina Bank- the bank with the lowest ATM access fees (as a percentage) in Laos

Indochina Bank is not as widespread as BCEL, which is the most common bank in Laos. In big cities like Vientiane, Luang Prabang, Pakse, Savannakhet, and Luang Namtha you will find at least 1 ATM from each bank.

Smaller cities and villages may have only a handful of ATMs. If there’s only one ATM in a town, it will likely be BCEL. Bottom line, BCEL is not that bad to withdraw from: just 30.000 LAK! And if you have a Mastercard, it’s the best option!

BCEL bank logo
BCEL – the most popular bank in Laos and the one with the lowest fees (in absolute value)

Visa vs Mastercard Exchange Rates

The last time I went to Laos, I withdrew 3.000.000 LAK from an ATM of Indochina Bank using my Revolut Visa card.

I was baffled by the horrible rate at which euros were exchanged to Kip. The exchange was done by my bank – I didn’t use automatic conversion!

I did another withdrawal from a BCEL ATM using my Monese Mastercard. The rate was a whopping 6% better than what I got on my Visa.

I first thought the problem was Revolut. It may be. But then others reported using their Visa cards in Laos with similar results – bad rates. I now think that the problem is the Market exchange rates that the Visa system works.

Since the Lao Kip does not have a huge volume of international trading, the spread between Buy and Sell can be as high as 16%! It appears that Visa is indeed using this ridiculous spread, whereas Mastercard uses a standard 1-2% spread.

This adds another layer of complexion about withdrawing money in Laos. Long story short – withdraw using Mastercard for better rates.

Exchanging Money in Laos

You don’t have to exchange money in Laos if you have a card with low or no fees.

But I understand if you carry cash when traveling and exchange it for the local currency. It’s normal and safe. So here’s how to be prepared about exchanging money in Laos.

What currency to bring

If you’re getting your visa on arrival, payment in cash is mandatory. You can pay with US dollars (everywhere), Thai Baht (for borders with Thailand), or Vietnamese Dong (for borders with Vietnam).

The VoA costs 40$. If you don’t have a passport-sized photo, that’s another 1$. If crossing during a weekend or public holiday, that’s another 1$.

Your banknotes must be IMMACULATE! Wrinkles, creases, cuts, and any damage will result in rejection. US banknotes older than 2009 will also be rejected.

Alternatively, you can get the Lao eVisa for 50$.

As with any other country in Southeast Asia, the US dollar is the best foreign currency to carry to Laos.

You will have no issues exchanging these currencies in bigger cities:

  • Euro;
  • British Pound;
  • Thai Baht;
  • Chinese Yuan;
  • Japanese Yen;
  • Swiss Franc;
  • Australian Dollar;
  • New Zealand Dollar;
  • Canadian Dollar;
  • Singaporean Dollar;

If your currency is not on the list it’s better to change it to something more widely accepted. You cannot go wrong with US dollars.

Where to Exchange Money

You can exchange at:

  • Banks (Not that many around. Bring your passport!)
  • Airports (worst rates)
  • Exchange bureaus in a city (Best rates)
  • Hotels (just okay)
  • Tour Agencies (bad rates considering there’s usually a bureau nearby)
  • Dodgy guy at the market (you’re setting yourself up to be scammed)
wooden exchange bureau office in Luang Prabang
Probably the most famous exchange bureau in Luang Prabang

Tips for Changing Money in Laos

Most of these are common sense and not any different from other countries. Here are my top tips:

  • Higher denominations = higher rates;
  • Damaged banknotes = lower rates + fee (if accepted at all);
  • Don’t accept foreign banknotes with ANY damage (if changing Kip back to USD for example);

Talking about changing LAK back to USD: it can be difficult. Many travelers have reported extreme bureaucracy or outright refusals when trying to get rid of Lao Kip. Don’t withdraw too much LAK in the first place and if you must exchange back into USD, be patient and persistent.

Pro Tips and Common Scams

I’ve compiled some smart tips from my travels to Laos and fellow travelers’ confessions to give you a heads-up.

  • Never take any banknotes with tears or holes; Lao Kip banknotes are often old and fragile. Anything that’s torn will likely not be accepted by someone else, so don’t take it either.
  • Mentally ignore the last 3 zeroes to make calculations easier. 50.000 is just 50k, 20.000 is 20k.
  • Know the multiple of your currency. Say you use US dollars and 10.000 LAK is around 0.5$. Your multiple is 5. If the price of something is 40.000 LAK, ignore the zeroes, multiply by 5 and you have 20, i.e. 2$. In this example, it’s easier to just divide by 2 but for other multipliers this trick is handy.

How much cash to bring to Laos?

This depends on your way of traveling and your budget. Laos is cheap and what you need you can get from the ATM.

My advice is to have at least 200$ just in case something goes wrong with your bank cards and you need emergency cash until you sort it out.

When I went to Laos I had exactly that much stashed away but since I exclusively used my Revolut card, I didn’t have to exchange a single time.

Example prices

These are actual price ranges from 2024. Expect a 5-10% increase through 2024 (Note: 10.000 = 10k, all prices in LAK).

  • Papaya Salad: 20-30k;
  • Khao Soi: 25 – 40k;
  • Lao self-made barbeque at a restaurant: 35k (that one was super cheap and amazing too);
  • Passionfruit cooler: 10 – 20k;
  • Sugarcane juice: 10 – 15k;
  • Can of beer (supermarket): 8 – 15k;
  • Can of beer (bar/night market): 15 – 30k;
  • Museums: 30 – 50k;
  • Waterfalls on the Bolaven Loop: 10 – 20k;
  • Kong Lor Cave boat ride: 200k per person;
  • 1 day motorcycle rental: 120 – 180k;
  • Ticket from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw: 200k;
  • High-speed train from Luang Prabang to Vientiane: 320k;
  • 1-hour full-body massage: 100-200k;
  • Budget hostel: 50 – 180k (usually breakfast included); 
  • Guesthouses: 100 – 250k
  • Mid-range hotels – 300 – 800k;
  • Jungle trekking group tour – 500k – 1 million per day;
Tad Koo waterfall
Tad Koo Waterfall on the Pakse Loop (Bolaven Plateau). Entrance fee: 20.000 LAK (1$)

Bargaining

Bargaining is common in Laos, especially in traditional markets.

In the eyes of locals, every foreigner is rich. Thus, the first price you hear will be double or more what the locals pay.

It’s not uncommon to get a price 10 times higher than the actual!

That being said, I’ve found Lao locals and vendors to be way kinder than their Vietnamese counterparts and not overprice too much.

As a foreigner, you will never get the price for locals. But if you bargain playfully and politely, you can easily get a 50% discount most of the time.

The rule of thumb is that if there’s a price tag, don’t bargain. This is not entirely true as merchants put tags on stuff at (for example) the Luang Prabang night market and then end up selling them for less. Just ask for a discount 🙂

Tipping

Tipping is not part of the culture in Laos.

It’s not expected and it’s not common. Lao people don’t tip.

However, tipping is very much appreciated and will bring good fortunes (and new friends) your way!

Frequently Asked Questions

Let’s answer some of the most popular questions about money in Laos.

What is the ATM withdrawal limit in Laos?

ATMs have a withdrawal limit between 1 and 3 million Lao Kip (49 to 121 USD).

The ATM with the highest withdrawal limit is Indochina Bank at 3 million LAK for VISA cards and BCEL at 2 million LAK for Mastercard.

What is the ATM with the lowest fees in Laos?

For Mastercard, the best ATM is BCEL. For a withdrawal of 2 million LAK, the fee is 30.000 (1.5%).

For Visa cards, the best ATM is Indochina Bank. For a withdrawal of 3 million LAK, the fee is 40.000 (1.33%).

Can you use US dollars in Laos?

Generally no but with a few exceptions.

Visa on arrival is payable in US dollars. You can pay in other currencies but the exchange rate will be quite bad.

Tours and jungle treks are often advertised in US dollars and payment in such is expected although not strictly mandatory.

Zip lines, Via Ferrata experiences, and various adventure sports are advertised in US dollars and payable in USD or Lao Kip.

For most daily transactions only Lao Kip is accepted.

Can you use Revolut in Laos?

Yes, Revolut cards work in Laos. Both VISA and Mastercard work. You can withdraw from ATMs and pay on POS terminals with your Revolut card.

Similar fintech apps like Wise, Monese, Curve, N26, and Starling also work there.


If you are going to other Southeast Asian countries, you may want to read my money guides for them too:

12 Comments

  1. I’m in Lao now. Beware Lao-Viet ATMs. I asked for 3,000,000LAK and it would have given it to me, but with a fee of 134,000LAK!

    Also some businesses will say you can pay with Mastercard but must convert to USD first (at a bad rate of course, 20,000:1). It’s not true, ask them to try charging LAK.

    I have been surprised how many places will allow you to pay with credit card, certainly more than I thought. Always with a 3% surcharge of course, but paying with a Mastercard +3% can be a lot more favourable than paying with/withdrawing cash from a Visa card (yes as you say Visa hits you with about 7% margin).

    1. Don’t try any other ATMs except for BCEL and Indochina bank 😉
      Your advice is helpful, thanks Brian 🙂

  2. Did you check whether BCEL do a dynamic currency conversion automatically without giving an option to withdraw in local currency?
    I was charged over 8% at an ATM and it’s not from my bank, as they will give close to the visa rate.
    Bcel not informing you before making the withdrawal is pretty much a scam. Never had this anywhere else in the world…

    1. This is not BCEL. I was also charged a bad rate by Revolut in Laos but a very good rate by Monese.
      Some banks use a horrible spread of up to 15%. Since the Lao Kip is not traded a lot internationally, shit like this tends to happen.
      But yeah, it’s not dynamic conversion, it is a high margin from your bank due to low trading volumes and a big difference between sell/buy.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Ok thanks for replying and the information.
        But I have been using ATMs in Laos for a decade and this year is the first time that I have seen any “spread” like this.
        My banks do not charge fees for using overseas ATMs, and are usually very close to the Visa or MasterCard rate. I have messaged them asking for more information anyway.

        1. I will be curious to see what they tell you and will be grateful if you share with me (email me if not a comment) for the benefit of others 🙂

  3. Thank you, useful information. I am heading there in 3 weeks

  4. Really appreciate you posting this info. Can I assume that Lao ATMs are like most of the world and will spit out the largest denomination notes – 50k and 100k only?

    1. Most ATMs (BCEL definitely) disperse only 100.000 LAK notes.
      If the ATM disperses lower denominations, it will let you know and some even ask what notes you want.
      One ATM I saw even had 10.000 and 20.000 LAK notes.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Thanks Simon – really helpful 🙂

  5. Prof Kris says:

    This was so helpful as we are teachers and traveling to Laos this Chinese New Year and were worried about what currency to bring and use. Thanks!

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