Want to start living in the Kingdom of Wonder? It is one of the best places in Asia to live as an expat. Over 100,000 expats are currently residing here and life is good! To help you, Realestate.com.kh has put together another Cambodia expat guide.
If you’re just planning a visit check out our visitor guide to Cambodia. This Cambodia expat guide, however, will show you what it’s like for new residents.
Firstly, let’s see what some expats currently living here in Phnom Penh have to say:
Avigal Orha, a Phnom Penh expat from Israel, works for a humanitarian NGO. She has lived in the Kingdom on and off for over four years. Currently, she resides with a roommate in a Western-style apartment near Russian Market.
“People are always friendly and helpful and there is a nice community feeling to the [Toul Tum Poung] area,” she said.
Alfred Amayo, a gin distiller and entrepreneur originally from London, said that he came to Cambodia just over a year ago. He only meant to stay for a month, but he fell in love with the country and the active lifestyle in the capital.
“Cambodia is most exciting for its F&B [food and beverage] scene, which is still very young but has a lot of promise. The local bartenders are really excited to learn, and there are a plethora of new bars popping up every month — it feels like I’m discovering amazing venues every week,” he said.
Amayo currently lives in a fifth-floor apartment with two roommates. He enjoys the proximity to his workplace and the affordable rent costs.
Filipino native Carmela Torres, a real estate marketer by day, band vocalist by night, has resided in Phnom Penh for almost two years.
“The best thing about living in Cambodia is the affordability and the freedom to start a business,” said Carmela. We asked Carmela if she had any advice for readers of the Cambodia expat guide. She said future expats should shop around to find the best housing deal.
A Cambodia expat guide to history
Cambodia’s history is rich and nuanced. It goes back at least five thousand years. For the sake of keeping our Cambodia expat guide simple, however, we will focus on three main periods: the Angkor Empire, French colonisation and the Khmer Rouge regime.
First, let’s talk about the Angkor Empire. Today, Cambodia is a relatively small country. From around 800 AD to 1430 AD, however, the Kingdom covered most of Southeast Asia. Not only that, but it also produced the amazing temples such as Angkor Wat and Bayon near Siem Reap.
Interestingly, the Angkor Empire began as a Hindu empire and only later became Buddhist. Because of this, most of the architecture at Angkor Park depicts Hindu imagery. The heritage of this era is a point of pride for most Cambodians.
Starting in 1867, Cambodia was a “protectorate” in the area known as French Indochina. Hence, it was in the same category as Laos and Vietnam. Cambodia is still deeply influenced by France’s legacy. Many colonial buildings still stand and you will see French names adorning hospitals, roads, and landmarks.
The country recovered independence in 1953 and became a constitutional monarchy under Norodom Sihanouk. His son is the current reigning monarch.
Khmer Rouge regime
Most people in the world already have some knowledge of Cambodia’s most infamous period. After deposing the American-backed Lon Nol government in 1975, the Khmer Rouge came to power. The group was ultra-Maoist and their leader, Pol Pot, pushed a vision on the country as an agrarian utopia.
Arbitration executions, forced labour, and torture were all prevalent during this time. Ultimately, between 1.5 and 3 million people died, around 25% of the population. If you want to learn more about this dark period, check out the 1984 film The Killing Fields, the book First They Killed My Father and the film adaptation of the same name directed by Angelina Jolie.
One lasting effect of the disastrous Khmer Rouge is that Cambodia’s population is disproportionately young. Around half the population is younger than 25. Education is still developing slowly, too. Because of this, many companies look to expats to fill certain positions.
No Cambodia expat guide would be complete without saying this: It’s important to network if you want to find work fast.
Finding work in the Kingdom
A large chunk of the expat population in Cambodia work in the education sector. Virtually all teach at private schools or language academies. Teaching hours and salary vary widely, but most schools look for native English speakers with some TEFL certification.
There are a large number of non-profit organisation in the country that often hire expats as well. Additionally, many expats are employed in the tourism, technology or business sectors. Some are solicited to come to Cambodia, but many simply show up and then find work.
This isn’t as crazy as it might sound, either. There are many great resources for finding jobs such as the website Bongthom.com and several job-based Facebook groups. Cambodia’s visa process is pretty hassle-free as well.
Which visa do I get?
Cambodia issues visas on arrival at border crossings or airports. There are two main types of visas that are relevant to expats. A type T, or tourist visa, is $30. It lasts for 30 days and can be renewed only once for an additional $45 dollars. This is just a single entry visa.
The second type of visa that expats should know about is the E-visa (E class, not electronic visa). An E-visa is $35 and can be extended indefinitely if you prove employment. It can then be extended for varying increments of one month up to one year. A one-year extension currently costs around $300.
Note: This Cambodia expat guide recommends getting an E-class visa if you plan to look for work here. If you enter on a tourist visa then decide to get a job you will have to make a trip to the border an enter on an E-visa.
Finding a home away from home
Most expats in Cambodia are based in Phnom Penh. That’s not to say there aren’t plenty in the other major cities of Sihanoukville and Siem Reap, however.
In Phnom Penh, popular expat areas are Boeung Keng Kang (BKK) 1, 2 and 3, as well as Russian Market (Toul Tom Poung), Tonle Bassac and the Riverside area. To learn more check out all of our location profiles.
Thankfully, we have hundreds of listings for expat rentals in Phnom Penh.
Offerings will be fairly similar in both Siem Reap and Sihanoukville. Both are growing every day and seeing more and more apartment and condo buildings pop up. We also have plenty of options on our site for rentals in Sihanoukville and rentals in Siem Reap.
Housing options across the Kingdom span a wide range of prices. You could end up paying as little as $200 or as much as $2,000 per month depending on the space.
It can often be helpful to go through one of the Kingdom's real estate agents to help you find a place. Agents are given commissions by landlords so it doesn’t cost you anything.
Just like you would in other countries, it is not uncommon to sign a lease for a set period of time, pay a security deposit and your first month's rent prior to moving in.
Here’s a guide on how to choose the right Cambodian real estate agent for you.
Most landlords will charge you for electricity. The typical rate is around US$0.25 per kilowatt. Read your contract before you sign. Some landlords may try to pad that. Make sure you understand your contract before you sign!
An expat’s daily routine
Cost of living is quite low here compared to Western nations. A mid-priced meal for two costs less than $15 and street food can feed you for less than $5.
Travelling around the country is simple. Even taking weekend jaunts around Southeast Asia is doable. The writers of this Cambodia expat guide have one piece of advice, however: be patient. Remember, it’s the journey, not the destination that counts.
Staying put can be entertaining, too. Each city has thousands of restaurants and bars to try. What’s more, tons of people speak English here so you don’t need to know Khmer before you come. Learning a few key phrases is always helpful, however. You will be sure to make friends if you can speak the language.
Buying groceries in the Kingdom can be fun and easy. If you feel adventurous, go to one of the many open-air markets. Prepare your haggling skills in advance; there are no set prices on anything.
Missing something from back home? Plenty of chain stores around the country have Western food. Lucky, Super Duper, Thai Huot and Aeon will have what you are looking for.
Going to and fro
Within Phnom Penh, expats and locals mostly travel by hiring a tuk-tuk and motorbike taxis called motodops. Luckily, there are now ride-hailing apps like Grab (the Southeast Asia version of Uber) and its local competitor PassApp.
With both of these, you can hail anything from an autorickshaw to a van. Even better, the app calculates the exact fare. No need to negotiate price!
Many expats choose to buy a bicycle or small motorbike to get around. Traffic can be hectic, however, so ride at your own risk. You can drive anything below 125cc legally without a licence. And this Cambodia expat guide would be incomplete without reminding you to always wear a helmet.
Hold on to your bags
Yes, petty crime is fairly common in Cambodia. Nearly all of it comes in the form of bag snatchers. Thieves usually ride motorbikes and target those in tuk-tuks. So, keep wallets in a secure pocket and use backpacks instead of small purses.
Learn more about home and personal security in Cambodia.
No airlift necessary
Cambodia does have international-standard hospitals and clinics. Most are found in Phnom Penh and include the government-run Calmette Hospital, Sunrise Japan Hospital, and the private Royal Phnom Penh Hospital. U-Care Pharmacy and Pharmacie De La Gare have the best reputations among expats
For major issues, many recommend going to Thailand, Singapore or Malaysia. In these countries, care is still much cheaper than in most Western nations.
It’s a Mecca for retirees
Cambodia is consistently in the top 20 on InternationalLiving.com’s yearly index of best countries for retirement. Retiring in weaker economies is becoming a global trend among heaps of expats.
Meanwhile, the government has released plans to increase Cambodia’s attractiveness as a destination for foreign retirees. The proposed policies would give retirees the right to buy, rent or sell property in special residences.
For a deeper dive, read our article on foreign ownership in Cambodia.
A life of wonder
Why are so many people entranced with Southeast Asia? It’s unlike any other place on earth. Further, the lifestyle here is completely unique. Above all, when you talk to expats most will say it’s the wonderful people they meet who keep them here.
You don’t have to be a fearless adventurer to make the move overseas, either. Cambodia is becoming more and more accessible every day. So, if you have that itch for travel don’t waste another day. Come to Cambodia and see for yourself what all the hype is about.
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