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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 money.

So here’s a practical guide to tourist money for Laos. All about ATMs, currency exchange, and card payments.

Which are the ATMs with the lowest access fees? (BCEL under 2 million LAK, Indochina bank if 3 million LAK with a VISA card)

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 between 2008 and 2019 and 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 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, with 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 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% commission too.

Everywhere else in Laos, you will need cash. Imagine going on a jungle trek to isolated villages around Nong Khiaw 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 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 and AMEX cards get rejected very often.

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

This may vary from province to province. In Luang Prabang, BCEL gave me 2.5 million but in Pakse, the maximum was only 2 million.

The sceen on a BCEL ATM where one picks what amount to withdraw. 2 million LAK is the maximum.
BCEL ATM in Pakse allows 2.000.000 LAK maximum per transaction

Withdrawal Fees

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 20.000 LAK (EDIT Feb 2024: the fee seems to have increased to 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%. Their ATMs only accept VISA cards!

That’s why it makes sense to withdraw the maximum at Indochina Bank – 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. At the end of the day, 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)

Exchanging Money in Laos

You don’t have to exchange money in Laos if you have a card with low fees like Revolut.

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 almost any country in the world right now, 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 a good idea to change it to something more widely accepted.

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 2023. Expect a 5-10% increase in 2024 (Note: 10.000 = 10k, all prices in LAK).

  • Papaya Salad: 20-40k;
  • Khao Soi: 25 – 40k;
  • Lao self-made barbeque in restaurant: 35k (that one was super cheap and amazing too);
  • Passionfruit cooler: 10 – 20k;
  • Can of beer (supermarket): 8 – 15k;
  • Can of beer (bar/night market): 15 – 30k;
  • Museums: 30 – 50k;
  • 1 day motorcycle rental: 80 – 130k;
  • Ticket from Luang Prabang to Nong Khiaw: 180k;
  • High-speed train from Luang Prabang to Vientiane: 320k;
  • 1-hour full-body massage: 100-300k;
  • Budget hostel: 50 – 180k (usually breakfast included); 
  • Guesthouses: 100 – 250k
  • Mid-range hotels – 300 – 800k;
  • Jungle trekking group tour – 500k – 1 million per day;
Nong Khiaw. I stayed in a private room here for 150k LAK (~7$)

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.

A 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 2.5 million LAK for Mastercard.

Can you use US dollars in Laos?

Generally no but with a few exceptions.

Visa on arrival is payable in US dollars.

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

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:

4 Comments

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

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

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