A Southeast Asian country entrenched in historical sights and beautiful scenery, Cambodia's complicated past and dynamic present make for an enriching expat experience. Previously a French colony, the country still has remnants of its Francophile past. With Buddhism being the dominant religion in the ‘Kingdom of Wonder’ magnificent temples abound.
Living in Cambodia as an expat
Cambodia's capital and largest city is Phnom Penh – the country's political, economic and cultural centre. Despite the images of rolling hills and ancient fortresses that often come to mind when mentioning Cambodia, the capital is urbanised and fairly fast-paced. Most expats who move to Cambodia settle in Phnom Penh, making it easy to meet people and make friends. Cambodia has one of the fastest-growing economies in Asia, showing a significant increase over the last decade. Agriculture is the most dominant economic sector. Other booming sectors and foreign investment attractions include textiles, construction, garments and tourism. Expats looking to work in Cambodia may find a role in one of these industries or in areas such as teaching English as a foreign language.
Despite Cambodia's advancing economic growth, the country faces some challenges and sociopolitical issues, including widespread poverty and a lack of political freedom. Much of this is the result of stunted progress due to decades of war, not to mention the Khmer Rouge regime that ruled Cambodia from 1975 to 1979. With these events now in the distant past, the country is well on its way to growing its economy and implementing policies and programmes to eradicate poverty. Expats moving to Cambodia may experience elements of culture shock and should familiarise themselves with the local social conventions.
Cost of living in Cambodia
The cost of living in Cambodia is generally cheap, depending on one’s budget and income. Many expats report that it is possible to enjoy a good quality of life and still have money to save. Accommodation varies in price, with the capital being the priciest place to live. There are noticeable discrepancies in rental prices, so it is best to shop around. Expats will also have to budget for the cost of healthcare, as comprehensive private health insurance is essential in Cambodia.
Expat families and children in Cambodia
Education in Cambodia has faced numerous challenges, although there have been improvements over the years. The standard of state education might be significantly lower than what expats from Western countries are used to. Fortunately, there are several excellent international schools, with most located in the capital.
Expat parents will also have plenty to keep their little ones entertained during the weekend and school holidays. Nature-loving expats will enjoy exploring Cambodia’s idyllic beaches, national parks and water parks. The history buffs and older children can tour the majestic temples and museums.
Climate in Cambodia?
Cambodia has a tropical climate, distinguished by the wet and dry seasons. The rainy season (May to October) comes with high humidity levels and mild temperatures, while the dry season is unseasonably hot.
Despite the challenges the country continues to face, the lifestyle in Cambodia is easy and affordable. With incredible sightseeing opportunities and proximity to other tourist destinations, Cambodia is an attractive choice for expats.
Population: More than 17 million
Capital city: Phnom Penh (also largest city)
Neighbouring countries: Vietnam, Thailand, Laos
Geography: Cambodia lies entirely within the tropics, with a long coastline along the Gulf of Thailand. The landscape is characterised by a low-lying central plain surrounded by mountains.
Political system: Unitary dominant-party parliamentary elective constitutional monarchy
Major religion: Buddhism
Main languages: Khmer is the official language. French is spoken by many older Cambodians, but English is becoming more prevalent thanks to an influx of tourists in recent years.
Money: The Cambodian riel (KHR) is divided into 100 sen.
Tipping: Tipping isn’t common practice in Cambodia, but a small gratuity for excellent service is effusively appreciated.
Electricity: 230V, 50 Hz. Three-pin rectangular blade plugs are common, but two-pin plugs are also used.
Internet domain: .kh
International dialling code: +855
Emergency contacts: 117 (police), 118 (fire), ambulance (119)
Transport and driving: Driving is on the right-hand side of the road. Public transport options are limited.
►See Cost of Living in Cambodia for more information about monthly expenses
"You can have a really nice lifestyle on relatively little here, which is one of its biggest draws. Everything from rented accommodation to hotels, eating out and transport to fish and local produce at the market is extremely inexpensive."
Read more of Clare's expat interview about Cambodia.
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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