Laos: Border Crossing and Documentation

This post is about the government documentation we needed and obtained to bring our car and ourselves into Laos.

Laos In General

There is basically nothing on the Laos customs website on the process to temporarily import a vehicle. But we heard from our future China travel companions that the process is very easy. However, like Cambodia the process we experienced was a little different to the process they experienced. Overall it was very straight forward and only took about 35 minutes to complete the entire entry process. Like Cambodia, our Carnet De Passages was accepted by the officials which simplified he paperwork.

Before the Border

A recent photograph for the Visa on Arrival and is required and best obtained prior to the border. We have no idea if car insurance is mandatory in Laos, so we will still have to research that. We did not see anyone selling car insurance, so we suspect it is not required. We have heard that car insurance is available at the border near Pakse.

Border Crossing and Import Process

We crossed into Laos at the Veun Kham checkpoint which is located at the very southern point of Laos on the border with Cambodia. The Cambodian National Highway 7 joins the Laos National Highway 13 at the border checkpoint. The border was extremely quiet and we did not have to line-up behind others at any of the booths. This sped the process along.

There is a three-step process to cross the border in a private car. First, you get your tires sprayed to pass the health control. Then you apply for a Visa on Arrival which is essentially combined with immigration stamping us in. Once we were in the country we drove 2kms up the road to Customs where Sterlin was cleared. In more detail:-

  • Step 1: We were stopped at a first barrier which is Laos Health Control. It was a little unclear what we had to do here, so we got out of the car and waited. This question was soon answered as a man started to spray our tires with some type of liquid. Presumably insectide to kill bugs. We just went with the flow and once the procedure was complete we ended up paying the spray man USD $1 for the service. The friendly smoking official went to great pains to record our car details in his tattered logbook. We handed over our Carnet to assist him in correctly recording the details. Once the logbook was complete, the barrier was raised and we drove all of 50 meters to start step 2.
  • Step 2. We got blank forms for our Visa on Arrival application as well as blank arrival and departure cards. We retrieved some passport photos from the car and started filling out these forms. We hadn’t finished filling out the forms netalone signing them, when the official obviously thought we were taking too long, and promptly grabbed the partly completed forms from us. Along with USD $35 each for the visa. Then we waited. Around 10 minutes later our passports magically appeared at a different counter, along with a request for another USD $2 per person. These fees are a little random, but better to go with the flow. We quickly inspected our passports to ensure we were stamped in until April 17th, our planned entry date into China. Fortunately we were. We also had two very nice visas in our passports. Caroline even had her name misspelt. Regardless, we were in.
  • Step 3. The immigration official told us that customs was 1 km up the road. Back in Sterlin and 2 kms later we found the small customs office on the right side of the road. The office was empty, but it was not long before a guy turned up on a bicycle and opened shop. Clearly this is not a busy port of entry. I handed over our Carnet, which was quickly stamped with no questions asked. Well that was easy. After the official completed the paperwork, he smiled, got back on his bike and cycled away.

I am pretty sure Laos is not a signatory to the Carnet treaty, but hey, if they want to use our Carnet to let us into their county, who am I to complain. Hopefully we will not have issues when we leave. I suspect not. There was no police check, no road tax and no compulsory third party insurance. Not at this border crossing at least. This was the fastest and easiest crossing to date.

After the Border

A few days after we crossed the border we arrived in Pakse. We went looking for insurance agencies and some third party insurance. It is not entirely sure if Laos requires mandatory third party insurance is compulsory or not, but we felt it was probably a good idea to get some. The tourist office directed us to two places but we ended going to a third place which we found while looking for the others. The insurance company was called LaneXang Assurance. For $27 USD we got one month insurance. The official title of the policy we got was called “Short Term Motor Insurance Schedule”. All very easy.

The Policy
For display in the windscreen

Leaving Laos

We departed Laos at Boten and the border crossing into China. On the China side the border town is called Móhān (磨憨). Leaving was a breeze and took less than 20 minutes. There were lots and lots of trucks crossing, but we did not see any other tourists (besides those travelling in our convoy).

  • Step 1. First up was customs where we drove up to the crossing point and handed over our Carnet. There was a slight pause as this is unusual paperwork for them and we were asked to pull over to the side of the road while the paperwork was being processed. Stephen got talking with one of the officials, who was friendly and chatty himself. Caroline arranged to change our remaining Kip into Chinese currency. Once the Carnet was stamped we drove off to the immigration border point another 5 kms down the road.
  • Step 2. Once we got to Laos immigration we pulled over, parked and entered the immigration building. Here we completed our departure cards and joined a short line of truck drivers already waiting. It was not long before we were stamped out. Stephen and the other drivers could head back to their car to retrieve them while the passengers had to walk across the border. A quick flash of the passport and it was not long before Sterlin was driving across the checkpoint. Picked up Caroline on the other side and headed north to the Chinese border crossing.

And just like Cambodia, there was no inspection of the vehicle or the vehicle paperwork. There were no scammers trying to “help us”. All of the officials were quick and efficient and did not bother us with questions.