Lao Ministry Warns Foreign Tourists Against Illegal Currency Exchange

100,000 kip bills (Photo: Laotian Times)

The Office of the Lao Ministry of Information, Culture, and Tourism has recently issued a notice cautioning foreign tourists against engaging in unlawful currency exchange at unauthorized shops.

According to the notice, all transactions for communication services, tour guides, accommodations, and dining must be conducted in the Lao kip (LAK) currency and processed through legal banking systems.

Meanwhile, foreign currency transactions can be conducted through various electronic means, including QR scanning, and Point of Sale (POS) terminals, as well as international payment platforms such as Visa, Mastercard, UnionPay, WeChat, and Alipay.

The notice instructs local authorities to oversee travel establishments, including travel agencies and tour guides, in advising tourists to ensure compliance with regulations. It further stipulates that any service providers or tourists found violating these regulations will face fines as determined by the law 

To facilitate currency exchange for tourists visiting Laos, the tourism ministry also recommends the use of EZyKip, which caters to tourists without a bank account in Laos. Launched in late January, the app enables cash withdrawals from over 400 BCEL ATMs nationwide with zero fees through QR scan.

The notice is consistent with prior directives issued by Lao Prime Minister Sonexay Siphandone, which are geared towards bolstering the oversight of foreign currency within the nation. The objective is to encourage greater use of the Lao Kip, mitigating the challenges associated with the depreciation of the currency.

To address the issue, in January 2023, the Bank of Laos (BOL) revoked the business licenses of a total of 113 exchange businesses affiliated with commercial banks to better control foreign exchange in the country. Additionally, in October 2022, the BOL also banned exchange units associated with commercial banks from selling foreign currency and limited daily foreign currency transactions.

Despite efforts, the depreciation of the Lao Kip persists, reaching a record low against foreign currencies, particularly the US dollar, Thai Baht, and Chinese Yuan. This reflects broader economic challenges, including trade deficits.