Communication in Laos:
Can I access internet with a Lao SIM card?
With the development of communication system in the whole world, Laos also benefits from that. So with a simple SIM card, for sure you can access to internet.
Though it is still basic, it is good enough for you to connect with your friends or family during the trip in Laos
Below you will learn about the communication system in Laos, the main providers so that you can choose the one that suites most to your travel plan
Lao, sometimes referred to as Laotian language is the national language of Laos PDR.
Modern Lao (language) is heavily influenced by the Thai language. A vast number of technical terms as well as common usage are adopted directly from Thai.
Like other Thai languages, Lao has a complex orthography and system of relational markers.
Spoken Lao is mutually intelligible with Thai and Isan, fellow Southwestern Thai languages, to a significantly high degree where its speakers are able to effectively communicate each speaking their respective language.
These languages are written with slightly different scripts but are linguistically similar and effectively form a dialect continuum.
Lao is written with the Lao script, a traditional abugida. Although there is no official standard, the Vientiane dialect has become the de facto standard in the second half of 20th century.
Read more about Some basic phrases for travelers in Laos
It is recommended to use the free apps on your smart phone to make the international call with your friends and family.
Otherwise, it can be made from Lao Telecom offices or the local post office in most provincial capitals and are charged on a per-minute basis, with a minimum charge of three minutes.
Calls to most countries cost about 2000K to 4000K per minute. Office hours typically run from about 7.30am to 9.30pm.
Roaming is possible in Laos but is generally expensive. Local SIM cards and unlocked mobile phones are readily available.
Coverage & Costs
Lao Telecom and several private companies offer mobile phone services on the GSM and 3G systems. Competition is fierce and you can buy a local SIM card for as little as 10,000K from almost anywhere. Calls are cheap and recharge cards are widely available. Network coverage varies depending on the company and the region.
The country code for calling Laos is 856. For long-distance calls within the country, dial 0 first, then the area code and number. For international calls dial 00 first, then the country code, area code and number.
All mobile phones have a 020 code at the beginning of the number. Similar to this are WIN satellite phones, which begin with 030.
Free wi-fi is pretty standard these days and available in many guesthouses, hotels and cafes in the main tourist destinations around Laos. Internet cafes are still around in Vientiane but mostly running as a online game center, hence, it is not the place for tourists to visit and try to connect with the world.
The most popular way of connection is via your SIM card. There are 2 options of 3G and 4G depending on the speed you want and the budget that you can pay.
With a local SIM card and a 3G or wi-fi connection, the cheapest option is to use internet-based messaging and call apps via a mobile device. Topping up a phone for as little as 50,000K can give you enough data to last a month.
If you want more speed, 4G option is for you with a little extra.
Mail & Post
Sending post from Laos is not all that expensive and is fairly reliable, but people still tend to wait until they get to Thailand to send parcels. Heading to Cambodia, it’s probably smarter to post any parcels from Laos.
When posting any package leave it open for inspection by a postal officer. Incoming parcels might also need to be opened for inspection; there may be a small charge for this mandatory ‘service’.
The main post office in Vientiane has a poste restante service.
Main Telco providers in Laos
Save your money with a local SIM Card
If you’re planning a trip to Laos, a top tip for keeping down costs is to switch to a local SIM card.
Take advantage of better tariffs, plans and deals to reduce your roaming rates. Laos has some good SIM card options, but the coverage can sometimes be questionable.
You can get 1GB of data from the top telco provider in Laos for just LAK10,000 (US$1.20). So, whether you’re a short-term visitor or long-term traveler, you can save money by using a local SIM card.
Telco providers in Laos
There are four main telco providers in Laos: Unitel, Laotel, Beeline and ETL. Locals and travelers use SIM cards from all four networks, and they can be trusted whatever plan you choose.
According to OpenSignal’s coverage map, the signal can vary between providers depending on what province you are situated.
All four networks tend to have stronger network coverage around the main towns and cities. It’s advisable to carry several different SIM cards (cheap to purchase) especially for the northern provinces.
About the Laos telco providers
All four telco operators are partially or fully-owned by the government.
Voice and data rates are similar and within agreed price caps, to encourage lower prices.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved re-sellers.
A starter pack costs around LAK10,000, and comes with pre-loaded credit.
There’s no ID needed when purchasing a SIM card. Credit can also be purchased from official stores, approved resellers or at supermarkets right across the country.
Below, we have broken down each telco provider and highlighted exactly what they can offer you during your visit to Laos.
Unitel (or StarPhone) is the largest provider in the country with the best overall coverage.
It offers customers 2G, 3G and 4G/LTE services and the prices and packages are relatively good compared to other providers.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for LAK10,000, which comes with LAK5,000 credit.
Once you have registered your personal information to activate the SIM card, a further LAK10,000 credit will be activated on the phone.
The standard default data rate is charged at LAK800 per MB on 2G and 3G, and LAK300 per MB on 4G.
There’s also a data-only SIM card available called Sim Net, which can be purchased for LAK10,000 and comes with 300MB of data.
Once you register your personal information with the provider you will receive an extra 300MB data.
Lao Telecom (LaoTel)
LaoTel is the second largest provider in the country with good overall coverage.
It offers customers 3G and 4G/LTE services and the prices and packages are relatively good.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for LAK5,000, which comes with LAK5,000 credit.
The standard default data rate is charged at LAK300 perMB. Lao Telecom also offers good Wi-Fi hotspots in Vientiane and other key areas.
Voice and data SIM cards are also available for LAK5,000 and come with varying options, so check with the retailer at time of purchase.
Lao Telecom also has a SIM Net data-only SIM card which can be purchased for LAK30,000, or LAK40,000 for a Micro SIM.
Beeline has the third largest market share in Laos, but offers the fastest speeds.
There is a 4G/LTE network in the pipeline, however, their 3G service is good.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores or approved re-sellers and so can credit, which can also be purchased at supermarkets or corner stores.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased for LAK10,000, which comes with LAK5,000 credit.
There is also a data-only SIM card available. The following packs can be added:
- Unlimited Internet for one calendar day: LAK6,500. Text code: AD1 to 234
- Unlimited Internet for a month: LAK150,000. Text code: AM1 to 234
- 1.2GB per day: LAK5,000. Overuse is charged at LAK300 perMB. Text code: BD1 to 234
ETL is the smallest provider and has the worst coverage out of all four networks.
Their 3G platform is extremely limited and they can’t offer a 4G/LTE platform yet.
Prepaid SIM cards can be purchased from official stores and approved re-sellers, and credit can also be picked up from supermarkets and corner stores.
5 tips to buy a Laos SIM card
- Lao is the language spoken in Laos. It’s unique to the locals, so if you aren’t familiar with Lao you may want to download Google Translate onto your phone before you travel. However, because tourism is so popular, English is also widely spoken.
- Locals call a SIM card a “Chip” or “SIM”.
- Ask the sellers to set up the SIM for you, since they will know how to do it.
- If you want to recharge, the word for you is “bat term ngeun”, then show your fingers
- Get to the shops early to receive better assistance and to avoid the crowds.
You may want to learn to say Hello in Laos. CLICK HERE
Pros and cons of top Laos telco providers
All networks require you to have a SIM-unlocked, GSM-compatible phone. To double check you have this phone, contact your provider before you set off on your travels.
- Good value for money
- Prepaid credit when required
- No in-store contract needed
- Could be compatible with your current phone
- Some areas can suffer from bad coverage
- No phone devices offered with the SIM card packages
- Can only be used on SIM-unlocked GSM phones
Hope that you have the general idea of the communication System in Laos, and now you have your choice of telco provider for your travel in Laos. For us, we recommend UNITEL, which has the largest coverage, and reliable service.