There are few places around the world where it is so easy to assimilate as Cambodia. A number of things make life as an expat in Cambodia easy, from the low cost of living and minimal visa regulations to the relaxed attitude of the locals and widespread use of the English language, it it is hard to find any other place where expat life comes so easily. Check out some things that make life in Cambodia better than living in countries like Vietnam or Thailand.
Widespread Use Of The English Language
Anybody who speaks a decent amount of English will find communicating in Cambodia to be relatively easy. The Cambodian people have put a high priority on learning the English language over the last 15 years and as a result, a large number of the younger population speak a reasonable amount; as do the majority of the people working in the tourist industries. Unlike neighboring Thailand or Vietnam, you will rarely encounter communication difficulties throughout your daily routine.
As an expat in Cambodia, setting up bank accounts, internet accounts, cable accounts, getting a lease, and the like: is easy as you can almost always find an employee working there who has a decent command of English. The same goes for pharmacies, clinics, grocery stores, and more. The majority of the expats I know living in Vietnam often result to crude drawings or bringing along a Vietnamese friend to accomplish these same tasks in Ho Chi Minh City.
Surprisingly, the few places where you may find it difficult to find an English speaking employee are the government ministries, such as the Ministry of Transportation or your neighborhood Sangkat where all formal contracts are stamped. The good thing is that you rarely, if ever, need to visit one of these places. Any service you need to obtain from one these ministries can usually be done by visiting a travel agency and having them handle the necessary paperwork for you. Things like visa extensions and driver’s licenses can all be handled by one of the many travel agencies spread throughout most major cities in Cambodia.
The USD Is An Official Currency
Things like Philippine Pesos, Vietnamese Dong, and Malaysian Ringit just don’t make sense in my head. It’s not that I don’t understand how to do the conversion; it’s more that they just don’t hold a real value for me. Despite having lived abroad for some time now, I along with a number of expats I know, need to convert the price of things they buy into their home currency to really understand it’s cost. It’s hard to explain, but if you’ve lived or traveled abroad you know, you inherently understand the value of money in your home country.
I know exactly what $20 is, how much it is worth in my mind, what I would be willing to pay $20 for, and what I think would be overpriced at that cost. I also know that 80,000 Riel (the Cambodian unit of currency) is also worth $20, but truly knowing the value of it and what is cheap or overpriced at that cost still eludes me. Luckily, as an expat in Cambodia, I rarely have to worry about it.
In addition to the ease of use and lack of doing multiple daily conversions in your head, Cambodia’s use of the USD as one of its official currencies holds a number of benefits to you if you are from America. For example, your money can be stored in a Cambodian bank account in USD. You can also choose to continue using your bank account from back home in America and won’t have to deal with exchange fees for transferring your money into a different currency. Many expats living in the Philippines withdraw their money from banks in USD and then have to go somewhere to exchange their USD into Philippine Pesos. Every time you transfer or exchange money, you are losing some in the process, after all, that’s how these banks and currency exchange companies make their money.
Lax Visa Regulations
Compared with its neighbors, Cambodia has the laxest visa regulations in the region. Not only is it ridiculously easy to get a long term visa to stay in the country indefinitely, you will also get work permission.
To obtain a one-year visa business visa with multiple entries permitted all you have to do is ask.
It’s that simple.
When you enter the country, either at the airport or at any overland border crossing, just tell them you would like a business visa instead of a tourist visa. They won’t ask any questions about your planned work and it will only cost you $25. This initial business visa is valid for 30 days. Once you have arrived at your planned destination, most likely Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville, Kampot, or Siam Reap; you can go to one of the previously mentioned travel agencies and tell them you want a one-year visa extension. You will need to supply four passport sized pictures and leave your passport with them to send to the ministry. The total cost should be about $280, including the agency’s fee. In about two or three weeks you will get your passport back with your beautiful new one-year business visa.
Now for the best part, unlike the Philippines and Thailand, once your visa reaches its expiration date, you don’t have to leave the country to renew. You just go back to said travel agency and reapply for another one-year visa. You can keep doing this indefinitely and I have never heard of anyone being denied. Also unlike Thailand, you don’t have to continually notify the government of your address every three months. As an expat in Cambodia you’ll experience some of the world’s laxest visa regulations.
Low Cost of Living
It’s no secret. The cost of living is going up and not just back home in America. It’s happening all around the world.
I know, I know. You see articles and advertisements online everyday touting places where you can live on $500 a month. Sorry to be the one to tell you this, but there is almost no place left in the world where you can live on that budget in the western style you are accustomed to.
Popular expat destinations like Costa Rica and Thailand are getting more and more expensive as they develop and their economies grow. Living in Thailand on $1000 a month and enjoying all the western amenities you know and love is veritably impossible now in any of the major cities or beach towns. The same can be said for the Philippines. Unless you are living in the countryside, a more realistic budget for you would be closer to $2000 a month; especially if you want things like high speed internet, aircon, and hot water.
While the costs of living in Cambodia have also gone up considerably over the last 10 years, it is still quite easy to live a comfortable life on $1000 a month, without having to worry about constant budgeting or sacrificing some of your favorite creature comforts, like your morning cappuccino or enjoying a nice steak dinner. Keeping all of your expenses around $1000 a month in places like Sihanoukville or Battambang, which are laid back, but still offer a number of dining options and western amenities is easy. If choosing to live in Phnom Penh or Siam Reap, you can still keep your costs low, but it might take a bit of budgeting as you have access to a large number of high-end restaurants and shops. If you want to live without budgetary constraints, a more realistic figure in those places would be between $1500 and $2000.
These are just some of the things that I enjoy about being an expat in Cambodia. Don’t just take my word for it though. Here is Sam’s story. He is an American expat retired in Cambodia for the last 10 years. And if you are considering making the move to Cambodia, read Tips for Starting Your New Life in Cambodia.
Author’s Favorite Travel Gear
Joby Gorillapod: I’ve never claimed to be a great photographer, in fact more often than not I forget to bring my camera when I go place. Those times I do, though, I try and remember to bring this handy little tripod. It is great for wrapping around poles when you want to gain a cool perspective or stabilize the camera to record video.
Sungwoo Foldable Keyboard: I work a lot when traveling and this helps me get my job done comfortably and efficiently, without having to lug around a full-sized laptop. It can be folded, rolled, and stuffed into nearly any sized pack, plus it’s waterproof, which helps when I spill my Jack and Coke all over it. Yeah…this happens more often than I’d like to admit.
Kelty Redwing 32: I love this backpack. It is just large enough to fit all of my stuff, without being too large to lug around when packed full. It’s so durable it even survived being dragged behind my motorcycle for a couple of minutes.