Laisenia Qarase was born in Suva in 1941. He attended the Suva Boys Grammar School for his primary and secondary education; later he received a degree in commerce from the University of Auckland in New Zealand. Qarase subsequently held various positions as a public servant in the banking industry, becoming managing director of the Fiji Development Bank in 1983. He left public service banking in 1998 to become head of the Fiji Merchant Bank.
Qarase is married to Leba Qarase, whom he met soon after she graduated from nursing school in Suva. The couple has five children.