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.
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
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 beachside 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.