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Laos banks with international ATM card service.
LAK (kip) Exchange Rates
In Laos, mainly in the capital Vientiane, several banks have international ATMs accepting PLUS and CIRRUS cards for VISA, MasterCard, Maestro, Cashpoint, JCB, China UnionPay and Diners Club. These include ANZ Bank Lao (Australia New Zealand Banking Group) BCEL Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao (Lao Government bank), Banque Franco-Lao (BFL) Joint Development Bank JDB and Phongsavanh Bank PSV.
Various Lao banks with local, Chinese, Malaysian, South Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian and French owners or partners now offer MasterCard and VISA debit and credit cards to their customers, and some of them accept international cards. Thai banks are not linked to the Thailand banking system or ATM network. Thai VISA and MasterCard cards can be used at Lao banks with international ATM card service. See right.
MAYBANK of Malaysia opened its first branch in Vientiane in late 2012 (blog post), joining ANZ as a well-known international bank in Laos.
BCEL has the widest national coverage for VISA/MasterCard cashpoints that can also be found at international airports and Friendship Bridges to Thailand. While a few Lao banks like LDB have branches and domestic ATMs in all provincial towns, most banks are located in Vientiane only.
See also Banks, Banking, ATMs below for transaction limits etc.
If you are planning a visit to Laos, your entry point is likely to be from Thailand. Thai currency is still accepted all over Laos, making it a useful currency to carry or exchange. Some US dollars will come in handy too. You'll need $30-$42 if you are getting a Laos visa on arrival. Paying in Thai baht is possible and convenient, but it is more expensive than paying with US dollar bills.
Paying with cash in the Lao PDR can be confusing for the first-time visitor. Due to the tiny value of one kip, three currencies are in common use in Laos. Purchases are supposed to made in Lao kip and official bills and receipts are likely to be in kips. However, higher value items (from tourist hotel rates to vehicles and properties) are quoted and may be paid for with US dollars or Thai baht in cash or converted back to kips at the current exchange rate.
The seller will usually show you the converted price on a hand calculator. Caveat emptor (buyer beware): always check that the amount makes sense, and also your change. 'Mistakes' in exchange rates will be invariably in the vendor's favour. That applies anywhere – not only in Laos!
Hotels, convenience stores and restaurants with computerized POS (point-of-sale) equipment may print a cash slip or bill showing the total in the three main currencies, making it easier to understand, but the rates may also be in their favour. Change will normally be given in kip, but you can also ask for baht or dollars – a good idea when your Lao visit is nearly over.
To convert Lao kips to Thai baht
easily, ignore the zeroes and multiply by 4; e.g. 10,
x 4 =
40 baht (actual 37.8). See the table for main currency
from BCEL; these may differ slightly with other banks including
the Bank of the Lao PDR; rates for large
transactions may be negotiated; there is also a link to Bangkok Bank Thai baht exchange rates
for different currencies. For reference, one US dollar is worth about 30 Thai baht.
Lao Kip : Unless you want to keep Lao banknotes as souvenirs, change your kips back into baht or dollars BEFORE you leave. They cannot be exchanged outside the country, except at Bangkok Bank, Nong Khai (main branch or in Tesco), where you will get about 10% less than in Laos. You could also try at the bus station near the Friendship Bridge. In Bangkok, the train, bus station or airport where people on their way to Udonthani, Nongkhai or Vientiane might change Lao money for you, but expect a bad rate. See more TIPS below.
Lao banking centres around three all- or partly-government-owned banks: the Lao Development Bank (LDB), the Bank for Agricultural Development and the Lao Bank for Foreign Trade (BCEL – Banque pour le Commerce Exterieur Lao). BCEL is also the main commercial bank with its headquarters on Pangkam Road near the Mekong River.
BCEL has branches in 12 Lao provinces and also has internet banking, but there is a $10 signup fee plus $7.50 per month (60,000 kip) to subscribe to the online service. They also offer a gold trading service for account holders; bank visit or fax required for transactions. Foreigners need a suitable valid visa.
WARNING. ATM scams are operating in Laos via Thailand's criminal 'mafiya', according to Lao media. Cards have been copied and user keystrokes photographed at certain BCEL machines. Always cover your fingers when entering a PIN at any ATM and report any suspicious activity nearby.
There are also several joint-venture/government banks including Lao Viet Bank and Joint Development Bank (JDB). ANZ (Australia & New Zealand Banking Group) now fully owns ANZ Laos, formerly ANZ Vientiane Commercial Bank (ANZV/ANZVCB). Most banks are near the Morning Market in Lane Xang Avenue and the street nearby, while BCEL is near the Mekong on Pangkham Road. See below for a list of most Vientiane and Lao banks or representative offices, with contact details.
Laos banking hours are Monday through Friday 0830 - 1530 (8.30am to 3.30pm). Reduced staff during their lunch break which in Laos can be anywhere between 11.00am and 2.00pm!
Laos has several banks with international ATMs including ANZ Laos, JDB, BCEL, BFL and PSV which accept PLUS and CIRRUS network cards for VISA, MasterCard, and possibly JCB, Discovery and Diners Club. In 2011 BCEL ATMs added China UnionPay cards. There are many ATMs in and around Vientiane now, including the Friendship Bridge. BCEL has machines in other provinces including Luang Prabang (also JDB), Pakse (where ANZ also has ATMs) and Vang Vieng. Phongsavanh (PSB) is in Vientiane and some other provinces. As power supply and phone/data connections can be unreliable outside Vientiane, it's always advisable to carry some cash and possibly travellers checks. Credit card cash advances can be obtained in other provinces from bank branches and exchange kiosks.
Phongsavanh & Bangkok Bank ATM links
Phongsavanh Bank ATM cards may now be used for cash withdrawal and account balance checking at Bangkok Bank ATMs in Thailand. A reciprocal arrangement is planned for Bangkok Bank domestic card holders in Laos at Phongsavanh Bank ATMs. Provincial branches of PSV.
ATMs dispense local currency (kips) in denominations between 10,000 and 100,000 (the 100,000 Lao kip note is now in circulation) with transaction amounts, fees and daily limits varying slightly between banks. There is an 8 million kip daily withdrawal limit per card through the Lao ATM network. At 2013 current exchange rates this is around $1,000, €800 or £700.
*Transaction limits and fees: ANZL allows up to 2 million kip ($250) per transaction with a 40,000 kip ($5) fee, up to the 8 million kip daily maximum. BCEL and PSV offer 1 million kip at 20,000 kip per transaction; PSV allows 5 million per day; JDB charges 30,000 kip per 1 million kip transaction, with a 4 or 5 million kip per day maximum depending on card issuer.
Note that your own bank or card issuer may charge extra for foreign transactions too. Check before you leave home to get the best ATM card for use abroad. Some overseas banks refund the Lao bank ATM charges.
LAO BANK ATM LOCATOR MAP & LIST (somewhat out of date as there are many more ATMs now). JDB ATMs are mostly in Vientiane; there is a list of ANZ Laos, BCEL and PSV bank ATMs.
When attempting to withdraw money from an overseas ATM, it's advisable to get a printed receipt for transactions and contact your own bank promptly if you have a problem. If no receipt is forthcoming or your card is retained in the dispenser, make a note of the time and date and teller location. In the event of non-payment or a retained card, call the bank immediately using the phone number displayed at the ATM.
FAILED TRANSACTION. If an ATM withdrawal 'goes through' but no cash is issued by the machine, or it fails with an error message (any receipt should show a zero amount withdrawal) it should be reversed automatically by your bank and appear as a credit on on your online banking statement within a couple of days. If this does not happen, contact your bank direct. Local bank staff will probably be unable to offer much assistance. A particular bank's ATMs may go offline or out of service temporarily. Try another bank.
"CASH IS KING" In the Lao PDR, paying cash is still best, in kip, baht notes or small US dollar bills. Upcountry, especially in remote villages it's advisable to pay in kip. In the cities, many hotels, tour operators and restaurants quote prices in dollars, or in all three currencies. Paying by credit card in shops and restaurants and some hotels usually incurs a 3% or more surcharge.
THAI BAHT TIP: A few 1000 baht notes ($30 value) are very easy to carry or conceal. Before crossing the Friendship Bridge into Lao, get some baht from an ATM in Nongkhai (outside banks and convenience stores or at the Friendship Bridge itself, where the ATMs are near Thai Exit Immigration. Baht are readily accepted for purchases in Lao and may be less confusing for tourists than kips which are available from ATMs on the Lao side of the bridge; also on the main routes into Vientiane itself. Note that not all banks can accept foreign cards.
Occasionally a particular ATM or group of them will give error messages like "unable to process your transaction", or "ask your bank to link to our network". These are temporary (Lao) network 'outages'; try later or use another ATM or a different bank's cash machine.
LAO ENTRY VISA TIP: The cost of a 30-day visa-on-arrival depends on nationality, ranging between $30 and $45, so it's wise to carry $50 or more in notes. You can also pay in Thai baht, but at a poor exchange rate.
CAMBODIA ATM TIP: If you're visiting Cambodia before going to Laos, you can get US dollars from ATMs in Siem Reap (Angkor Wat) and Phnom Penh.
Western Union's coverage is extensive throughout most of Asia, and Laos is no exception, with over 100 agencies in banks and even small post offices, as well as the Vientiane Main Post Office opposite the Morning Market (Talat Sao). MoneyGram operates through several local Lao and Thai bank branches.
Transfers Between Lao Banks and
the new Lao Securities Exchange
A system may now be in place allowing cash to be transferred electronically between Lao banks including the stock exchange. This will ATMs more flexible and share transactions easier. At present, cash has to be withdrawn at one bank and physically deposited at another.
THAI BANK ACCOUNTS IN LAOS
For Thailand bank account holders, opening an account with the Vientiane branch of a Thai bank, does not give access to Thailand's banking network or any noticeable benefit – unless anyone knows otherwise.
THAI BANKS & LAO ATMS
However, a Thai bank VISA or MasterCard can be used at international ATMs – as can those from any local or foreign bank. Apart from local ATM fees, Bangkok Bank (and maybe others) charge 150 baht per transaction.
Foreign banks in Laos were until mid-2008 not allowed to have ATMs except for domestic accounts. Since then, ANZ Laos (formerly VCB and ANZVCB), 100% foreign-owned by the ANZ Group, has an increasing number of ATMs; it offers accounts with domestic or VISA cards to locals and foreigners with work permits. There are now ATMs at the ANZ Laos Pakse Branch which opened in 2009. So far this is the only branch outside the capital, although there are plans to open in Luang Prabang. Lao banks that issue VISA/MasterCard cards for use at international ATMs include ANZ, BCEL, JDB, PSV and BFL. There may be more.
Compared to many countries, although reducing over the past three years, Lao bank annual deposit interest rates are high, with term deposits of Lao kip to over 12% – from 8-9% for 1 year up to 13% for longer periods offered by some banks. Rates for USD or THB deposits are lower, but have been increasing. See Lao bank websites listed below.
Mainly for foreign and local residents of Laos, fixed deposits are safe and quite lucrative forms of investment as US$ and Kip are freely interchangeable within the country. However, non-Lao citizens need a current work permit to open fixed deposit accounts with a Lao bank.
Banks everywhere use different compounding periods for calculation of interest on fixed term deposits. Lao banks range from once annually to daily balance. Compare them for the best interest and make you sure understand their rate structures. It can make a difference to the return on larger deposits.
For transfers to a Vientiane bank account from overseas it may be possible via a bank account in Thailand (SWIFT), then arranging a transfer to Laos, but you should check with the Thai bank and compare the charges (and degree of difficulty) with a direct transfer using an overseas correspondent or intermediary bank direct.
The cheapest way to get money into Laos is by ATM; For visitors from Thailand, however, as the banks charge 150 baht per transaction and use bad exchange rates, it's far better to bring baht in cash or get baht from a Thai ATM before crossing the border. Use baht for purchases in the Lao PDR or change them locally.
Bangkok Bank account holders in Thailand can transfer money to the Vientiane Branch for collection by a non-account holder, simply by providing the name and passport number of the beneficiary. Funds will be available in kip, baht or US dollars. Foreigners can open US dollar, baht or kip accounts at this branch too.
Bangkok Bank apparently tells its account holders that their ATM cards cannot be used in Laos because Thai and other foreign banks (with the exception of ANZ) are not allowed their own ATMs. However, Bangkok Bank VISA Electron or MasterCards can of course be used in Laos ATMs or anywhere in the world where PLUS or Cirrus network cards are accepted. Visa or MasterCard logos are displayed on most ATMs that accept them.
BCEL accepts incoming foreign transfers in US, Canadian, Australian, Singapore and Hong Kong dollars, pounds sterling, euros, Japanese yen and Thai baht.
Bank drafts (banker's checks) for foreign countries including Thailand are available from BCEL (2nd floor in the new HQ). Certain other banks may offer this service.
MoneyGram (agencies at BCEL, Thai Military and Siam Commercial Banks) or Western Union with agencies at banks and post offices, may in some instances be cheaper.
As money is must be transferred to Laos in a major foreign currency, it can be kept in that currency or exchanged at a local bank for Lao kip.
Coins with face value up to 50 'old' kips were issued between 1952 and 1985 and no longer in circulation. Currently, Lao banknote denominations are from 500 to 100,000 'new' kips. As a result of the 1997 regional economic crash, along with other Asian currencies, the Lao kip was devalued by 87%. As inflation increased, the buying power of the 500, 1000, 2000 and 5000 kip denominations in circulation at the time became lower and lower. Thick wads of notes were needed for even small purchases. This is one of the reasons the Thai baht and US dollar are still accepted today; another is the fact that Lao kips cannot be used or exchanged outside the country (see Lao kip tip above). By 2013 even the highest value note of one hundred thousand kips was worth about $13.
By 2002, 10,000 and 20,000 Lao kip notes had been introduced, followed by 50,000 in 2006. In 2010, blue-themed 100,000 kip commemorative bank notes were issued for Vientiane's 450th Anniversary as the Laos capital and available only at banks (now also in circulation). A new 2,000 kip note was released in December 2011. Officially released on February 1st 2012, a green-themed 100,000 kips note (printed in Russia in 2011) was in a few Lao ATMs by March.
See some Lao bank note images on the right. Note that apart from denomination, serial number and date of issue, only Lao text (no Western characters) appears on Laotian bank notes. Truly a 'local currency'.
Back in 2006, one US dollar bought 10,000 kip, with 20,000 kips to the British Pound (GBP) and 15,000 to the euro (EUR); one Thai baht (THB) was worth 250 kips.
Between 2007 and 2010, the government through the central Bank of the Lao PDR decided to increase the value of the currency by almost 20% against the US dollar, moving it from 10,000 to 9,000 by early 2008. It has been around 8,000 from late 2010 and below for much of 2011 and 2012 which it began at 8,005 and varied between 8,020 and 7,965 – higher than in recent years.
However, 2013 has seen the Lao kip at new 'highs' against the US dollar, dropping to 7,721 during March and even further to just below 7,600 in April, but rising gradually to as high as 7,656 so far in May. There are 30 Thai baht to 1 dollar and 1 baht is worth 257 Lao kips.
Banking Hours in Laos: Monday to Friday - 8.30 AM to 3.30 PM (0830-1530)
List includes locally-registered banks with Thai, Malaysian, Korean, Vietnamese, Cambodian and French joint ventures with private and government partnerships. Some may have direct transfer facilities with their originating countries. Most use correspondent banks for SWIFT transfers.
Click images to see enlarged.