Expats moving to Cambodia may experience culture shock, especially those who stray further than the capital, Phnom Penh. The country is steeped in history and has experienced many hardships which are still evident today. Expats may be shocked by the level of poverty and corruption Cambodia still faces today.
Cultural differences in Cambodia
The greeting in Cambodia – the sampeah – is similar to the Thai wai. The greeting is done with a bow while pressing one's hands together as in prayer, and is generally seen as a sign of respect and politeness.
During a meal, expats should only start eating after the most senior person at the table has begun eating. Expats should also be aware that it is seen as disrespectful to make eye contact with anyone who is older or considered to be of a higher social status.
Poverty in Cambodia
The country is no stranger to struggle, but expats may be shocked by the level of poverty that still exists. Poor sanitation also means the country suffers from a high infant mortality rate.
Outside the capital, the majority of the population lives in rural areas, often as subsistence farmers. In the cities, the poor live similarly to those in the countryside, which is juxtaposed with the wealthy middle classes living in the urban areas.
Bureaucracy in Cambodia
The official political system in Cambodia is a multi-party democracy – but in reality, it is a one-party state. The government has received frequent criticism for ignoring human rights and suppressing political dissent.
Cambodia suffers from corruption and often ranks as one of the most corrupt countries in the world. Expats may encounter corrupt practices in ordinary activities such as obtaining medical services, dealing with alleged traffic violations and pursuing fair court verdicts.
Expats should also be aware that companies deal with extensive red tape when acquiring licences and permits, particularly construction permits, and that the demand for bribes is common.
Gender in Cambodia
In terms of gender roles, Cambodia is still very traditional, with men considered above women in Cambodian society. Expat women should dress modestly, covering their shoulders and knees. In the capital, people are more open-minded, and Cambodian women hold jobs outside the house.
►Accommodation in Cambodia provides tips for finding housing
"Apart from the obvious language issue (we will have to learn some conversational Khmer as a family) and the tropical climate, we have had to emerge from the virtually crime-free bubble that was Dubai. Pickpocketing and opportunistic theft (mostly wallets, phones and handbags) are a well-known downside to the bustling tourist market scene here, so we have to remember to only take essentials out with us and not to flaunt any valuables or leave them lying around."
Learn more about life in Cambodia in our interview with British expat Clare.
Are you an expat living in Cambodia?
Expat Arrivals is looking for locals to contribute to this guide, and answer forum questions from others planning their move to Cambodia. Please contact us if you'd like to contribute.
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