Tips for Starting your Expat Life in Cambodia

Cambodia is quickly becoming one of the leading expat destinations in South East Asia. As the neighboring countries get more and more expensive, Cambodia has somehow managed to keep...
Moving to Cambodia

Cambodia is quickly becoming one of the leading expat destinations in South East Asia. As the neighboring countries get more and more expensive, Cambodia has somehow managed to keep the cost of living relatively low. It’s one of the few places in Asia you can still retire comfortably for $1000 a month. But moving to a new country is a daunting experience and you are bound to have a lot of questions that will make you pause and re-evaluate your decision. Don’t worry, you are about to find out just how easy it can be. By demystifying some of the major hurdles, such as applying for a visa or opening a bank account, you will see just how smooth your transition can be.



Getting a visa is one of the biggest hassles most expats face when moving to a new country, luckily for you, this is not a problem when moving to Cambodia. Getting a permanent visa to live in Cambodia is easier and cheaper than just about any other country. The only requirement for a one-year, multiple-entry visa is that you request a business visa when entering the country. Tourist visas cannot be extended, so it is vital that you get the business visa upon entry. If not, you will have to leave the country and re-enter on a business visa before applying for your extension. There is need to apply for your visa in advance, no matter whether you enter overland or by air, visas are available on arrival for most western nationalities. Your 30 day business visa will cost you $25 upon entry and the one year extension costs only $250 if you go to the embassy yourself. A much easier option is to use one of the many travel agencies around town and they will handle your visa extension for a cost of $280. Renewing your visa is just as easy and there is no requirement for you to make a border run or leave the country.



Driving in Cambodia

Your first time driving in Cambodia will probably be an intimidating experience. It may seem like the traffic is chaotic and coming from all directions, but don’t worry, you’ll be an old hand in no time. Phnom Penh is the worst of it, with frequent traffic jams and overloaded streets. The rest of the country has a minimal amount of traffic, but you still need to keep aware as driving through red lights is a common practice for many.

Cambodia is a left-hand drive country, which means they drive on the right side of the road. As with most official documents in Cambodia, getting your driver’s license is easy. Just go into one of the many travel agencies or car/moto rental companies around any of the major towns. Bring your driver’s license from your native country, a copy of your passport showing your one-year visa, 4 pictures, and $60. They will give you a temporary permit that allows you to start driving legally that same day. You should receive your official license within three weeks. That’s it.


Opening a Bank Account

In order to open a bank account in Cambodia, you will have to provide either proof of local employment or a lease contract. With one or the other and your passport showing your one-year visa, you will have little difficulty opening an account at any of the Cambodian banks around town. You will also find that they speak English in almost all banks, so communicating with the employees shouldn’t be a problem.


Deciding Where to Live

Living in Cambodia

This is a completely personal choice depending upon what you are looking for. Most expats living in Cambodia live in Phnom Penh, Siam Reap, or Sihanoukville; but that doesn’t mean that there are not a number of other viable options. If you like peace and quiet, you might prefer living in the riverside town of Kampot or the seaside town of Kep. For cooler weather and mountainous surroundings you have the options of Ban Lung or Sen Monoroam. Phnom Penh offers more of a “big city” feel with the best job prospects. It has some of the best food in the country, as well as the most western products and amenities readily available. Sihanoukville has the best beaches in the country and manages to have a number of foreign restaurants and entertainment options while still keeping a bit of a small town feel. My best recommendation would be to come here and spend a month in each of the cities you are considering living. Renting a hotel or small apartment on a month-to-month basis is cheap and it will allow you to figure out which city offers the best atmosphere for you.


Renting a Place

Currently, foreigners are not allowed to own land and can only purchase 2nd floor and higher properties. For this reason, most expats living in Cambodia choose to rent. When looking for a place to live, it is easier to just use one of the real estate agents in town, it won’t be any more expensive and finding homes or apartments for rent on your own can be very difficult. Most of them are poorly advertised and many not at all. Expect your realtor to get one month’s rent as commission, but don’t worry as this is paid from the owner not you. In Phnom Penh, you should expect to pay anywhere from $300 to $700 a month for western style apartments, with number of fancy, modern-style lofts available for $1000 or more. Homes in Phnom Penh start around $300 a month for Khmer style and $500 a month for something a bit more westernized. Down in the beach side town of Sihanoukville prices are a bit cheaper, with western style apartments ranging from $200 to $550. Khmer style homes can be rented as low as $200 a month and western styled homes or villas start around $400. You can find small studios for around $100 a month just about anywhere in Cambodia.

A number of other factors also make living in Cambodia an expats dream. For example; the use of the U.S. dollar as an official currency eliminates the need for many to do conversions in their head regularly; the Cambodian riel is used mostly for change under one dollar. There is also a widespread use of the English language and, in the cities; most people under 25 speak it, as does everybody involved in the tourist industry; western restaurants, financial buildings, grocery stores, etc. With the ease of moving to Cambodia nowadays, the only thing left for you to do is book your ticket.


Author’s Favorite Travel Gear


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.

Mava Sports Drybag – Usually when I travel I head to beach destinations in developing countries, so I need something that can keep my stuff dry when I am in the water. The 10L version is just big enough to hold my book, towel, wallet, T-shirt, and phone when I swim. It also has a convenient mesh water bottle holder on the outside.

Brett Dvoretz

A long time traveler and recent expat, Brett wandered through over 25 countries before he decided to settle in the little beach town of Sihanoukville, Cambodia. After struggling through the process of setting up a new life abroad, he decided to start Expats and Aliens to help other expats find the info they need before making the leap.

More Posts - Website

AsiaCambodiaTips and Guides
8 Comments on this post.
  • Annie
    30 November 2015 at 10:30 am

    Im anticipating moving to Cambodia, but already bought the plane ticket so no backing out now. I have been there before and loved the experience. I haven’t been back for a couple years and bought my ticket after traveling most of the US. Reasoning on why I went there: my brother had moved there. His friend introduced this life time experience to us Americans. He has now lived there for 3 years and haven’t left sense. He has grown to love it. I could imagine how much he misses home and the easy access to a lot more but that hasn’t changed his mind. I will be finding a job as soon as i get there to Phenom Penh. My plan is to stay 6 months at the least. I know as a fellow foreigner i would love to hear from you.
    Your info has helped but i do want to know more with driving laws etc…
    Contact me anytime on this email

  • Yasmin
    10 April 2016 at 12:36 am

    Hi Brett. I am a Malaysian and will be travelling to Cambodia soon and i intend to stay for long. Malaysian passport holder is exempted from visa and can only stay in Cambodia from 14-30 days. I would like to know the procedure to extend my stay for more than the period allowed. Do you have any information?

    • Brett Dvoretz
      20 May 2017 at 2:41 pm

      I don’t know much about visas for Malaysians. I am sure any travel agency would be able to help, though.

  • Alex Clark
    16 May 2016 at 9:12 am

    Can I get a one year visa on arrival at the airport? I am a Canadian living in Thailand and have been offered work in Cambodia.

    • Brett Dvoretz
      20 May 2017 at 2:42 pm

      No. You can only get a one month visa on arrival at the airport. Just make sure to ask for a business visa. Then you can go to any travel agency and extend it for one year. If you get a regular tourist visa you cannot extend it for one year.

  • A
    30 May 2016 at 10:01 am

    Khmer style aparment from 200$? I think you should stop write about things you dont know.

    You can get a Khmer one from 60$. Or a really nice renovated one for 100.

    • Brett Dvoretz
      20 May 2017 at 2:34 pm

      That wouldn’t really be an apartment. That would be one room, more like a studio or hotel room. I didn’t include that in my article as most expats wouldn’t want to stay in a place like that. By Khmer style apartment, I am referring to something with multiple rooms.

  • sam lev
    3 August 2017 at 8:03 pm

    thank you right to the point, cheers!