Over the past decade more and more expats of all ages from the U.S. have been moving to Cambodia, the Kingdom of Wonder.
Without a doubt the attraction of the world famous temples of Angkor Wat has made Cambodia a must see destination in Southeast Asia, but what is it about the country that turns tourists into expats?
Some are attracted by the nation’s rich history, traditions and culture while others have realized the economic benefits of relocating to one of the most open economies in the region for foreign investors and professionals.
One reason expats and tourists often give for their love of Cambodia is the positive attitude of the local population towards foreigners, who are regularly greeted with a friendly “Khmer smile” and treated as special guests wherever they go.
English is the second language of choice for many Cambodians, especially in major cities and destinations, thanks to the growth of tourism and increasing number of international companies entering the market.
Cambodia is also unique as it is one of the few countries in the world to use the U.S. dollar as the defacto currency, which provides economic stability and makes life easier for those who run businesses or rely on overseas incomes.
Select Your Scenery: Colonial Cities, Beautiful Beaches, Pristine Islands and Ancient Temples
For many people their first taste of the “Pearl of Southeast Asia” begins in the capital city of Phnom Penh which offers an enticing mixture of colonial-era buildings, Royal palaces, Buddhist pagodas, and local markets which are complemented by the city’s expanding skyline of skyscrapers and condominiums.
While Phnom Penh is popular with investors and professionals, the city of Siem Reap is the key driver behind the booming tourism industry, with visitors flocking to “Temple Town” to see the magnificent Angkor Wat Temple Complex–the largest religious monument in the world covering an impressive 17,609,757 square feet.
For those with a love for beaches and the ocean, the country’s main coastal destination is Sihanoukville, which is popular with Cambodians, expats, and tourists alike. Offering something for every budget, it is possible to live like a backpacker in a bamboo hut or spend your time in a five-star hotel with its own private beach.
Other favored expat destinations include the colonial city of Battambang, the relaxed riverside town of Kampot, and the chilled out coastal resort town of Kep.
Cambodia: The Heart of Southeast Asia
Cambodia’s geographic location literally places it at the heart of Southeast Asia and it has quickly become a hub for regional travelers with three international airports in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanoukville, catering for millions of visitors each year.
Many expats and retirees move to Cambodia to enjoy the laidback tropical lifestyle, while others relocate for professional reasons or to set up their own businesses.
It is estimated there are now more than 100,000 expats that are permanent residents in the country and whose presence explains the large variety of international restaurants on offer, with cuisine from almost every country in the world being well-represented.
There is also a proliferation of associations and chambers of commerce such as Amcham, Britcham, Auscham, and Eurocham which are all popular with the business community as well as for expats who like to network.
Another indicator of the country’s potential is that its economy is one of the fastest growing in the world, with foreign investment pouring into the manufacturing, agriculture, telecoms, banking, and tourism industries that is creating business and job opportunities for locals and expats alike.
Convenient Living in Cambodia
Without question Cambodia offers the most flexible and accessible long term residence visa of any country in Asia, with a one-month business, or “E”, visa available on arrival, which can be annually extended with a minimum of paperwork for just a few hundred dollars.
When it comes to costs, Cambodia ranked first in the Cost of Living category in International Living’s 2020 Annual Global Retirement Index, making it an enticing proposition for those on limited incomes or pensions seeking an affordable place to relocate overseas and enjoy relative luxury.
A single person can live in comfort for $1,250 per month while a couple could spend as little as $2,000.
If you are dreaming about moving to Southeast Asia to experience a higher quality of life, whatever your budget, then Cambodia may well be the country for you.
The Pros and Cons of Living in Cambodia
When reviewing the pros and the cons of something it makes sense to narrow down exactly what you’d like to look at. For those considering a move to Cambodia one of the most popular areas of focus is the opportunity for a higher standard of living without paying through the nose. With this in mind, it’s clear that these five areas are top of the list when it comes to the pros and cons of living well in Cambodia:
1. Enjoying a Lifestyle Upgrade
Pro: Luxury Living at a Fraction of the Price
The cost of living in Cambodia is very affordable with everything from rent to groceries, bars, and restaurants providing excellent value for money. This means that even those with limited incomes can enjoy a significant lifestyle upgrade. A couple might spend as little as $1,355 a month in the main cities and towns of Cambodia.
In the capital city of Phnom Penh, it is possible to rent a centrally located apartment and enjoy daily visits to restaurants, buy groceries at Western-style supermarkets, and still have enough money left for a nightly drink at the city’s expat pubs and bars. When it comes to property, it’s easy to find a well-appointed apartment for under $355 a month while utilities are equally affordable at around $70 for electricity, water, and Pay TV. The cost for a cleaner to tidy up your house once a week will set you back a very reasonable $28 or $35 a month. Expect to pay as little as $7 to your local mobile operator for unlimited calls, messages, and internet.
Con: You May Never Want to Leave!
Of course, once you’ve upgraded your lifestyle you will very quickly get used to enjoying all the little luxuries and creature comforts at such reasonable prices. This means that the idea of leaving can be a bit of a turnoff after you realize just how much more expensive the costs are for pretty much everything back home.
2. Leading A More Active Social Life
Pro: There’s No Shortage of Things To Do
There is so much to keep you busy as an expat in Cambodia, including a large number of bars, pubs, clubs, and hotels with special promotions, happy hours, quizzes, movie nights, and even pool parties. The wide range of opportunities for an affordable sundowner make expat life very attractive, with many establishments selling fresh draft beer for $0.70 a schooner. Spirits and cocktails are available at equally reasonable prices making happy hours very much a must-do for those who like to get out and about. If you prefer to have people round for a party at home, then decent wines imported from Europe can be purchased for as little as $7 a bottle while a slab of 24 beers costs about $11 for a mainstream brand or $18 for a premium brand.
Con: You Have to Balance Your Activities
With so much affordable booze, it can be tempting to spend too much time socializing with a drink in hand. So, you really do need to be able to balance your social activities, in order to maintain a healthy lifestyle. You might also consider taking part in free meditation sessions or heading to a variety of regular events at different local and international cultural centers.
3. Great Options For Eating Well
Pro: Dining Out Every Night Is Not Expensive
For many expats in Cambodia, dining out on a daily basis proves to be far more affordable than spending time and effort preparing meals at home. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, or dinner, there are enticingly priced options to consider instead. Enjoy a feast of grilled pork with steamed rice and pickled vegetables at a local restaurant for a breakfast costing less than $3 or grab a sweet and treacly Cambodian style coffee for about $.70.
For lunch and dinner, the world is your oyster at one of the countless expat restaurants run by a United Nations of talented chefs. Italian pizzerias, Aussie burger bars, French patisseries, American steakhouses, Chinese noodle shops…you name it and Cambodia has got it. And while the quality of the food available is quite high, the prices remain surprisingly low with $4 to $7 covering the cost of a large and tasty meal at many an excellent establishment.
Con: It’s Easy to Overdo Things
Naturally, it can be easy to overdo things, especially if you tend to enjoy your food a bit too much. But if this is the case then all you have to so is signup at one of the country’s inexpensively priced gyms and health centers. Membership fees at a nicely air-conditioned gym in Phnom Penh with modern equipment, saunas, and even a swimming pool start from around $25 a month.
4. Professional Dental Treatment
Pro: Excellent Dental Hospitals
Expats in Cambodia have long appreciated the top-notch treatment available at the country’s leading dental clinics and hospitals. Phnom Penh is currently the epicenter of Cambodia’s dental tourism industry with the largest establishments regularly upgrading their facilities and services to meet the growing demand from foreign patients.
Providing both the latest state-of-the-art treatments and large retinues of surgeons and technicians with overseas qualifications these dental clinics have thrived by offering up to 70% cost savings compared to the same treatments available in the U.S. Whether you require a simple clean and polish or the most advanced cosmetic surgery Phnom Penh has become well known for its price competitive yet highly professional dental services.
Con: Root Canals Anyone?
No matter how big the savings are the fact remains that a root canal is still about as much fun as it sounds…even if it costs you half the price for a higher standard of treatment than you could normally afford.
5. Visas and Immigration
Pro: Cambodian Retirement Visa Now Available
Cambodia has recently launched a dedicated Retirement Visa (known as the ER visa) that is now available upon arrival at the airport. The main criteria you need to satisfy are being aged 55 years or older and holding a valid passport (preferably from a developed nation). Immigration Officials will usually issue a one-month ER visa which can then be extended through a travel agent or visa broker for up to 12 months with multiple-entry at a cost of only $275.
Although the ER visa has proved to be a popular and competitive option compared to visa options in other Asian countries it does mean you cannot seek employment in Cambodia. For those wishing to work or run a local business the Business Visa is still the most appropriate visa to get. But with such low living costs and so many options for fun at hand…who’s got time for work?