11 Tips For Expat Life in Cambodia

Phnom Penh is a vibrant city to live in.
Phnom Penh is a vibrant city to live in. | © Banksadam / Pixabay
Photo of Marissa
9 April 2018

If you’re planning on starting a new life in Cambodia, then prepare to get excited because a whole world of wonder awaits after all, the country is known as the Kingdom of Wonder. Here are 11 tips for making the most out of expat life in Cambodia.

Learn Khmer

While this isn’t essential, thanks to the high level of English that’s spoken across Cambodia and because everyone wants to practise their English on barangs (“foreigners”), it will enrich your life in many ways. Not only is it respectful to learn the language of your host country, it will enable you to secure cheaper deals at the market, get closer to local life and bring a barrage of smiles and laughs from locals when you break into Khmer a great ice breaker.

Learning to speak Khmer will bring rewards. | © EvgeniT / Pixabay

Stop comparing with life back home

You’re not living in England, America, Europe, Australia or wherever it is you’re from, so stop complaining about the driving, weather, noise and general way of life. Too many expats can be heard moaning and groaning about various traits of Cambodia that are simply cultural differences. If you don’t like them, it’s easy: hop on a plane and fly back home.

If you don't like Cambodia's quirks then get on a plane home | © garycycles / Flickr

Keep your cool

This tip follows the last point and is most likely where culture clashes may occur. Loss of face is huge in Cambodia, which means locals don’t like to say no or admit to not knowing something. This may cause frustration. For example, a Cambodian colleague may agree to carry out a task, but when the end of the day arrives, it still hasn’t been done. It’s likely you’ll be met with nervous laughter and eventually, an admission that they didn’t understand what you asked them to do. Whatever you do, remain calm, keep smiling and explain. Getting angry gets you nowhere in Cambodia — and elsewhere.

Keep your cool at all times. | © composita / Pixabay

Don’t be shy

Cambodia’s expat scene is alive and kicking, so don’t fret about making friends because there are plenty of people in the same boat as you, whether they are fellow newcomers or long-termers, who can remember all too well starting a new life in the Kingdom. There are heaps of social events taking place, so sign up for a few and get networking.

Don’t be shy and make friends. | © dimitrisvetsikas1969 / Pixabay

Network, network and network some more

This tip is particularly applicable if you’re looking for employment or a freelancer trying to secure contacts. In Cambodia, it’s often about who you know more than what you know, so check out the many networking events that litter the calendar. The Chambers of Commerce are a good place to start, with AmCham, BritCham and EuroCham all hosting monthly gatherings.

Network, network and network. | © nastya_gepp / Pixabay

Join some Facebook groups

Facebook is huge in Cambodia, so if you’re jumping on the #deletefacebook bandwagon, then you might want to think again. Facebook is a great tool to find out what’s going on, keep up-to-date with events in the Kingdom and source information. Popular groups include Phnom Penh Buy and Sell, Phnom Penh Expat & Forum and Phnom Penh Housing.

Use Facebook to keep up with what’s going on. | © LoboStudioHamburg / Pixabay

Get out of town at least once a month

Coping with the challenges that are thrown at you daily while living in a foreign country can take its toll and may become draining, especially when living in the chaotic capital. However, this can easily be remedied with a weekend at the beach, an escape to the jungle, a relaxing break on Kampot River or by hopping on a plane and exploring other parts of Southeast Asia.

Escape to idyllic Kampot River. | © Alex Kourotchkin/ Shutterstock

Don’t get stuck in the expat bubble

With such a thriving expat scene, it’s easy to hunt out fellow compatriots or other foreigners who call Cambodia home. Get out of your comfort zone and fully immerse yourself in the Cambodian experience we promise it will pay off.

Burst out of the expat bubble. | © Alexas_Fotos / Pixabay

Invest in good health insurance

Cambodia’s healthcare system is lacking, with some horror stories about the system flying around. There are a handful of private hospitals and clinics that cater to the majority of illnesses at crippling costs. For emergencies and serious accidents, the care simply isn’t available in Cambodia, meaning med-evacuation to Bangkok. If you don’t have health insurance, then you’d better hope you have a family willing to remortgage their house to cover the costs. At the very minimum, ensure med-evac and repatriation are included.

Invest in good health insurance. | © DarkoStojanovic / Pixabay

Cambodia is safe

Contrary to what some people living in the West may think, Cambodia is a safe country. The war finished a long time ago, and while there are many human rights issues raging across the country, protests are generally confined to the local population. Of course, like anywhere else in the world, crime happens and expats should be wary of bag snatches, which are a common occurrence, especially before major public holidays when Cambodians are expected to return to their homeland with stacks of cash for the family.

Cambodia is safe and full of friendly people. | © igorovsyannykov / Pixabay

Prepare to have the time of your life

Cambodia captures the hearts of many people who visit. Some clichés exist for a reason and the one about Cambodians being kind, gentle and happy is 100 percent true. The country is also developing at a rapid pace, which means exciting new opportunities and experiences are constantly cropping up. It’s also home to some stunning nature and contrasting landscapes that take in the beach, forest, rice fields, mountains and jungle. The only problem you’ll face is trying to leave.

Living in Cambodia is a rewarding experience. | © MelLorenzo / Pixabay