Work and Travel in Laos
VOLUNTEER AND PAID WORK OPPORTUNITIES IN LAOS FOR TRAVELLERS
Laos is a landlocked country that has formed part of the main Asian backpacking trail in recent years. This is good news for anyone who wants to work in Laos. The boom in tourism for the country, and the region as a whole, means there are always people searching for volunteers.
But what anyone who wants to work and travel in Laos should remember is that this is still an extremely impoverished country run by a Marxist one-party regime. That means there are tonnes of international organisations to choose from, as well as more traditional volunteering operations. You’ll find a particular need for medical volunteers in this country.
Backpackers in Laos have a huge number of volunteering opportunities available. But you have to bear in mind that the time of year you go will have a big effect. Laos differs from other Asian countries in the sense that there are only two main seasons. You have the dry season and the wet season, which take up practically half the year each. There are volunteering opportunities throughout the year, but the dry season will yield far more chances.
This guide is going to introduce you to the volunteering opportunities that anyone who wants to work in Laos should consider.
VOLUNTEER WORK VISA / PERMIT REQUIREMENTS FOR LAOS
Laos’s boom in tourism has occurred mainly because of their openness for the vast majority of nationalities. A typical tourist visa from the Department of Immigration can be obtained on arrival for no more than $40 USD, or the equivalent in your currency. This is a mere formality and you will be able to enter the country. Russian citizens have an advantage because they can enter for 15 days without a visa.
What you have to remember, though, is that there are separate volunteer visas, known as a B2 visa. The B2 visa is actually encompassed within the standard business visa. This can give you 60 days and multiple entries, but naturally can’t be obtained on arrival.
If you work with an international organisation they may already have a deal with the government that can easily get you a visa as soon as you’re accepted onto the program. Some travellers have also said they have been able to enter the country on a tourist visa and ‘upgrade’ to the business visa for the purposes of volunteering.
It also has to be said that although a huge number of volunteers do work without a volunteer visa, due to Laos’s low administrative efficiency, we don’t recommend that you do this when you work in Laos. Penalties can be severe for anyone who’s caught, which will apply to both you and your host. Punishments can include fines, deportation, and imprisonment.
SEASONAL BACKPACKER SKILLS NEEDED IN LAOS
Spring in Laos covers the end of the dry season and part of the wet season. The shoulder season will give you the best of both worlds. Sadly, most tourism-based jobs will be preparing to close down for the season. This leaves you in a position where you’re more likely to find a job working for an international organisation.
By far the best spring work in Laos will come if you happen to have specific skills the population don’t have. Doctors are always in high-demand, as are conservation experts. Eco tourism and conservation is kicking off in Laos, particularly around the Luang Namtha area. If you’re willing to work in Laos as a volunteer with these skills you should easily find a position for you.
Sadly, summer is the worst season for volunteering in Laos because this takes up the entirety of the wet season. The weather hits its height and travelling around Laos can be difficult. Many roads outside the major cities of Vientiane, Luang Prabang, and Pakse are obstructed, flooded, or completely unusable due to the heavy rains.
As said in the previous section, working travellers may be able to find volunteering jobs in Laos in the summer, but there’s no specific seasonal work on offer.
From late September the wet season ends and the dry season begins again. You’ll notice that this is the time most volunteering positions in the tourism sector begin to come up. Guesthouses throughout the country are always searching for foreign volunteers to take on basic duties, including reception work and housework.
You can also find work in the eco-tourism sector, which tends to take place far away from the urban centres. Many of these companies require help with marketing and advertising, including the handing out of fliers and spreading the word on social media. You may even be helping with tourists as part of trekking tours throughout Laos’s stunning countryside.
This is also the time of year for English schools to begin hiring volunteers again. English is one of the few skills that Laos lacks almost entirely. The language of the country comes from an entirely different school and English has not been widely spoken up until ten years ago. The country is making a real drive to promote learning English in the country.
You should apply for English schools at least a few months in advance of coming to the country. Many schools are over-subscribed due to this part of the world being a major backpacking destination.
Winter takes in the second half of the dry season, and the rest of the main tourist season. There’s no specific seasonal work for the winter time. But working travellers in Laos should be looking at the same types of jobs as detailed in the previous section.
The tourism sector is bringing in over a million people per year, and demand for English-speaking volunteers is high.
ATTITUDE TO FOREIGNERS WORKING OR VOLUNTEERING IN LAOS
The local people have never displayed any hostility towards foreigners working in the country. Due to the one-party system there’s no great influx of foreigners outside of the tourism sector. What you should bear in mind, before taking on unskilled work, is that Laos remains one of the poorest countries in the world, with a third of people below the international poverty line.
Some travellers in Laos may decide it’s morally wrong to take a job away from the local, particularly if it’s an unskilled job, such as labouring.