Before travelling to Laos, were you wondering how to change money to have Lao money on you? You’ll be surprised! Once you’ve withdrawn the note, you’ll be surprised by its high value. You’ll also feel like a millionaire! In fact, there’s a big difference between your local currency and the currency of Laos.
Despite this feeling of wealth, you may find it difficult to estimate the value of the Laos currency? To help you organise your finances yourself during your stay in Laos, read this article which explains everything about the Laotian currency: history, culture, exchange rates and unusual anecdotes.
What is the currency of Laos?
The Kip, the official currency of Laos, was introduced four years before the country’s definitive independence from France in 1945, replacing the Indochinese piaster which was used throughout French colonial Indochina.
Lao currency was originally called the Free Lao Kip in 1946, then renamed the Royal Kip in 1955. After the Pathet Lao seized power in 1975, the currency was renamed Pathet Lao Kip in 1976 and then Lao PDR Kip in 1979, following the proclamation of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic.
Banknotes in circulation in Laos include denominations from 500 to 100,000 kips. Kip coins include denominations of 10, 20, 50 and 100, although they are not currently in circulation.
The term “Kip” is used to designate the official national currency of Laos. On the foreign exchange market, it is abbreviated to LAK and represented by the symbols ₭.
The exchange rate is approximately 19,508 LAK to 1 EUR (updated in May 2023).
Although the kip is the official Lao currency, there are in fact three currencies accepted in commercial transactions in Laos: the Thai baht, the euro and the US dollar. In particular, the US dollar is accepted for high-value items and is paid in most hotels, restaurants and shops.
The kip cannot be used or exchanged outside Laos, so it can only be exchanged in Laos.
The difference between Lao Kip notes
Lao Kip notes are easily identifiable thanks to their bright colours. However, as they contain several zeros, it is important to recognise them to avoid any confusion when making a purchase.
The front of all banknotes, with the exception of the 1000 Kip note, features Kaysone Phomvihane, the leader of the Pathet Lao, against a background of popular Lao landmarks such as That Luang Tower, Wat Phra Keo Pagoda and Xieng Thoong Pagoda. Each note has a different colour, which can help to distinguish them.
100,000 kip banknote
The 100,000 Kip notes are purple and feature Kaysone Phomevihane on the front, against the background of That Luang Tower, and a representation of the statue and museum of President Kaysone Phomevihane on the reverse. There is also a special 100,000 Kip note to celebrate 450 years of the capital Vientiane, featuring That Luang Tower, the King Setthathilath monument and Wat Pra Keo pagoda.
50,000 kip note
The 50,000 kip notes are orange and feature Kaysone Phomvihane against the background of That Luang Tower on the front and the Presidential Palace on the back.
20,000 kip banknote
The 20,000 kip notes are olive green and feature Kaysone Phomvihane against the background of Wat Phra Keo pagoda on the front and the Theun-Hinboun hydroelectric power station on the back.
10,000 kip banknote
The 10,000 kip notes are light blue and always feature Kaysone Phomvihane against the background of That Luang Tower on the front and the Thailand Friendship Bridge on the back.
5,000 kip banknote
The 5,000 kip notes are dark green and feature Kaysone Phomvihane against the background of That Luang Tower on the front and the Vang Vieng cement factory on the back.
2,000 kip banknote
The 2,000 kip notes are pink-purple and feature Kaysone Phomvihane against the background of That Luang Tower on the front and the XeSet hydroelectric complex, Salavan province on the back.
1,000 kip note
The 1,000 kip note is light green and depicts three women from the main Lao ethnic groups: the Lao Lum, Lao Sung and Lao Theung on the front, and the landscape of the Lao countryside on the back.
Lao Kip notes also come in different sizes, which can help to distinguish them. The higher denomination notes are generally larger than the lower denomination notes.
Cost of living in Laos
The cost of living in Laos is generally lower than in many other countries in South-East Asia. However, this depends on where you live and your lifestyle.
In general, prices are higher in tourist areas and major cities such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang. Accommodation, restaurants and tourist activities can be more expensive in these areas. On the other hand, prices are often lower in rural areas and smaller towns.
Here are some examples of average prices in Laos:
Accommodation: Hotel rates vary according to comfort level and location. Basic hotel rooms start at around €10 per night, while luxury hotels can cost over €100 per night.
For food: Meals in local restaurants are affordable and can cost between 1€(≈19,000 kip) and 5€(≈95,000 kip) per person. More upmarket restaurants can cost between 10€(≈190,000 kip) and 20€(≈380,000 kip) per person.
For transport: taxis can be expensive, but tuk-tuks and local buses are cheaper. Tuk-tuk journeys can cost between €1(≈19,000 kip) and €5(≈95,000 kip), while buses generally cost less than €1(≈19,000 kip).
For tourist activity: prices vary depending on the activity and location. Visits to tourist sites can cost between 1€(≈19,000 kip) and 10€(≈190,000 kip) per person, while more expensive activities such as trekking can cost between 50€(≈950,000 kip) and 100€(≈1,900,000 kip) per person.
Change Laotian currency in Laos?
You can change money in many places in Laos, including banks, exchange offices, hotels and airports. The main foreign currencies accepted for exchange are the US dollar and the euro.
Banks are generally the best place to change money as they offer competitive exchange rates and reliable services. The most common banks in Laos are the Banque pour le Commerce Extérieur du Laos (BCEL), the Banque d’Investissement et de Développement du Laos (LDB), the State Bank of Laos and the Banque d’Agriculture et de Développement Rural (LDB).
Currency exchange offices may also offer competitive exchange rates, but it is important to check their reliability before changing money.
It should be noted that some places in Laos only accept the local currency, the Lao kip. It is therefore advisable to carry some kip with you for small purchases and for places that do not accept foreign currency.
It is also possible to withdraw cash from automatic teller machines (ATMs) in Laos. ATMs are commonly used in major cities and tourist areas, but may be less common in rural areas.
ATMs can be found in banks, shopping centres and large service outlets. In fact, it is advisable to withdraw money from ATMs located inside banks or shopping centres, as they are generally safer than those located in isolated areas.
What’s more, ATMs in Laos generally only dispense local currency, the Lao kip. It is therefore advisable to change money at banks or bureaux de change if you need another currency. Withdrawal charges at ATMs in Laos range from 10,000 Kip to 30,000 Kip (€0.6 to €2) per million Kip withdrawn.
Ultimately, it is also advisable to withdraw small amounts of money at a time to avoid carrying large sums of money around with you and to limit the risk of fraud or theft.
Pay in Laos: Cash or credit card?
As in other countries around the world, Laos has 2 main methods of payment: cash or credit card.
However, most Laotians generally use cash to pay when buying goods or exchanging services. Therefore, cash must always be available, especially in rural areas or in small businesses.
Meanwhile, in larger cities such as Vientiane and Luang Prabang, many hotels, restaurants and shops accept international credit cards such as Visa, Mastercard and American Express. However, we recommend that you always carry your money with you, as banks are not available everywhere.
In addition, mobile payment is becoming increasingly popular in Laos, with several options available to consumers. Mobile operators such as Unitel, Lao Telecom and Beeline all offer mobile payment services, as do financial technology companies such as Pi Pay and TrueMoney.
Finally, it’s also important to note that credit card fees in Laos can be high, up to 3% of the total transaction amount. Therefore, paying in cash is often more cost-effective.
Here’s a general overview of Laos currency to prepare for your future trip. Learning about this monetary system and changing is part of the fun of travelling as is learning a new language. It may seem a little complicated at first, but with a little practice, you’ll become a master in the art of using copper coins. Then all that’s left to do is pack your bags and enjoy your holiday in Laos!
Don’t hesitate to contact us if you’d like to take an interesting tour of Viet Nam – Laos and discover some great experiences.