Money in Lao
The currency in Lao is Kip the denominations are in thousands which can get a bit confusing. Most places display prices without the last three zeros ex. 20K vs 20,000. Prices are low for pretty much everything and you can barter lower at most tourist shops or markets. About 6K Kip will get you $1CDN.
How to get Kip
The best way to get money in Lao is to take it out of the ATM, you will get the best rates, you can take out what you need and can be sure you are not getting ripped off. If you must exchange money they will accept USD, Euro and Thai Baht but make sure the bills are crisp and not torn or worn. Currency exchange place are not as widely available as in other Asian countries but can be found in larger towns.
The best ATM to take money out of is the BCEL hands down. They are one of the most common banks to see and they charge a flat 20K fee for each withdrawal versus every other ATM that charges 3% of your total withdrawal. ATM’s are plentiful but not always working, if one ATM declines your card try the next (even the same bank) it will probably work. ATM’s tend to go down on the weekends and are often empty by Sunday night. We would recommend you always keep enough money on hand to get you through 2 days.
If the ATMs really aren’t working for you, you can go into any bank and withdraw money but it will cost you 3% or more. You must have a bank card with your name embossed on it and a matching passport. Two of our three bank cards we had with us did not have our names and would not work in the bank.
Paying in other currencies
Most businesses will allow you to pay in USD, Thai Baht and often Euro’s (We actually had to do this one day when all the ATM’s stopped working). They are just happy to have the business. Many tourist places charge in USD but you can pay in Kip. This is not the case in very small towns, Kip is all you can use there.
When leaving Lao it is important to know you cannot exchange Kip outside of the country so make sure you spend or convert your last kip before leaving the country. You can find exchange places at most airports and major border crossings.
Are you planning on visiting Laos? Did anything surprise you? Which tip was most helpful? Let us know in the comments below!