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Cambodia is fast becoming the desired destination for expats seeking laidback life in the tropics. As the country develops in leaps and bounds, settling into your new life abroad is becoming increasingly easier. Here are some essential tips for moving to the Kingdom of Wonder.
The capital of Phnom Penh is where most expats tend to flock, with Siem Reap and Sihanoukville also home to a healthy expat scene. Slowly, more are opting for Kampot and Battambang, where rents are much cheaper and the pace of life much slower. As the capital, Phnom Penh is at the centre of the action and while it is a relatively small city, is becoming busier by the day as more traffic hits the roads and construction starts on a new high-rise condo seemingly every day. However, this is where the majority of major organisations are based and where many expats find themselves for work. With Siem Reap being much smaller, and laws governing no building can be higher than Angkor Wat, there are no high-rise condos in the town, although smaller apartment blocks are cropping up increasingly, fitted out to Western standards. Accommodation in Kampot, Battambang and other parts of Cambodia tends to be local.
Finding somewhere to live is super easy. There’s a growing number of estate agents, offering a range of properties from upmarket, Western-style apartments up to sprawling villas. IPS Cambodia comes recommended. However, these tend to sit in the higher price bracket so if you’re looking for something cheaper, or fancy sharing a house, your best bet is to sign up to one of the Facebook groups where calls for housemates and tenants are made multiple times a day. Apartment for rent Phnom Penh and Siem Reap Houses & Apartments for Rent are good places to start. Moving in can be done the next day, with a month’s deposit usually needed, as well as a signed contract and photocopies of your passport and visa. It’s advisable to confirm the cost of electricity and water and what furnishings are included.
One of the most daunting aspects of moving abroad and starting your life from scratch is making new friends. Thankfully, the expat life in Cambodia is thriving, with people from all corners of the globe and all walks of life choosing the country as their home-for-now. This makes making friends easy, with many people in the same boat. There are activities, clubs and events catering to every taste, from baking, Gaelic football and ultimate Frisbee, to horse-riding, handicrafts and rugby. These make a great place to pick up a new hobby while making new friends. Keep an eye on Facebook too as restaurants, bars, cafes and hotels are constantly promoting their eclectic range of events. Pick one you fancy, head along and get chatting.
While making friends is easy, saying goodbye isn’t. But as a transient country, with Cambodia welcoming a constant cycle of foreigners here on short-term contracts, living in Cambodia means waving off your new best friends is something you have to get used to. This can become draining if you’re in the country for the long-haul so try and find a few long-termers for a bit of stability, while enjoying the constant flow of new faces.
Cambodians love to network and there’s no shortage of networking events that take in a healthy mix of locals and the expat business and NGO scene. Attending these events comes highly recommended as a good way to meet new people when you’ve just landed, while getting to grips with the local scene – especially if you’re planning on setting up your own business or looking for work. There are many chambers of commerce operating in the country, such as EuroCham, BritCham, AmCham and AusCham, which hold monthly meet-ups, with free flow wine, beer and soft drinks, as well as nibbles, included in the ticket. Note, as with a lot of Asia, business cards are big in Cambodia so go armed with a stackful, hand it over using both hands and read the receiving card carefully to be polite.
Many people come to Cambodia without securing work first and finding a job is relatively easy, depending on what you want to do and your skillset. The backpacker bars are a popular option for travellers stopping off in the country for a longer stay, while many younger expats teach English in schools of varying standards. With Cambodia home to thousands of NGO, many expats work in development and aid, and there is a healthy crowd of freelance journalists, photographers and digital nomads. There are several recruitment agencies, although these tend to be geared towards locals, and websites such as Bong Thom and Facebook groups, such as Cambodia Job Announcements, list vacancies. As with the previous point, networking is a good bet. Often it comes down to who you know over what you know, so get those cards printed and hit the events.
While the network of roads connecting the country is constantly improving, traffic certainly is not. As the middle-class continues to grow more cars are hitting the roads, clogging up the capital’s mostly small streets. This can make driving a frustrating game. Many expats rent or buy motorbikes to weave in and out of the traffic, or by bicycle. The Facebook group Phnom Penh Buy and Sell often lists these for sale. Alternatively, transport is cheap, with plenty of tuk-tuks and motodops – motorbike taxi – waiting to transport you about. Transport apps, such as PassApp, Uber and Grab, are also available in Phnom Penh.
Cambodia’s healthcare system is seriously lacking, with horror stories constantly flying around expats’ circles. Private hospitals and clinics are able to cater to the majority of illnesses and ailments, but this obviously comes at crippling costs. And for emergencies and serious accidents, the care simply isn’t available in Cambodia, meaning med-evacuation to Bangkok – at a cost that can cause families to remortgage their home or get into huge debt. This means investing in solid health insurance is essential. At the very minimum ensure medi-evac and repatriation are included.
One re-occurring theme you may have noticed is the use of Facebook groups. Facebook is huge in Cambodia. There are groups for almost everything, with many businesses opting for a Facebook page over a website, Facebook messenger used to communicate, and groups created for events and activities. This means if you’re on a Facebook detox, keeping up-to-date with what’s going on is very difficult. So, suck it up, even if it’s for a few minutes to see what’s going on tonight.
This is especially relevant to those living in Phnom Penh, which can quickly become claustrophobic. However, this is easily rectified with a weekend away once a month or so, and nothing is too far away. Fancy going wild in the jungle? Head to Mondulkiri. A weekend at the beach? Otres. Or relaxing at the river? Go to Kampot. Bangkok is less than an hour’s flight away, Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam is six hours away by bus, and there’s the whole of Southeast Asia waiting to be explored during Cambodia’s many long public holidays.
Cambodia is a safe country, however, as in many other parts of the world, opportunist crime is common, especially in Phnom Penh and around holidays when people are expected to return to their homelands laden with cash. Bag snatches are common so use your common sense and don’t leave it hanging out of the tuk-tuk, or walk down the street late at night texting on your phone. It’s also advisable to keep doors and balconies locked at night, and windows shut to avoid tempting any passers-by from paying an unwanted visit.