What it costs to live in Cambodia.

We’ve been thinking a lot about moving on to another country, putting into consideration what and how much it would take to get us there. Moving here took some time to plan, but because I’ve traveled here before, I somehow knew what to expect when living in Cambodia. We did all the research pre-planning yet reality showed us something else when we actually got here.

The reason I wanted to share this post was because the industry here for my career is growing and there is plenty of opportunity for experienced people in the field to grow with us. We’ve been talking to friends back home in hopes that a few would want to venture out of Kuala Lumpur, to learn or give back to those who are still learning the ropes in this industry. They had concerns of course, as the salary package may not be as attractive to the ones they were used to back home.

In this post, I will share some of the expenses that I went through and how our lifestyle is currently like in the Kingdom of Wonder. Perhaps this could help those who wonder whether living here is more expensive than in Kuala Lumpur or any other parts of the city.

Flying (cheaply) into the Kingdom with 4 large luggages.

Our flight here was not paid for by any Company so we searched for the cheapest one through AirAsia (national budget carrier) and got ourselves 2 tickets to Phnom Penh city for $100 each (one way). Some people prefer to come in prior to moving, to scout the location and such, but we decided on coming in at least 1 week earlier for the same reason. We were also not given any special migration cost which we could redeem later and just packed as much as we could in 4 large luggages. The rest was kept in boxes at our families’ home. Prior to this, I sold my old furniture, books and gave away old clothes to minimize storage.

Consider all expenses back in Kuala Lumpur.

I kept my car because my parents said this would be a better investment compared to selling it and then getting a new one later. Forking out a new down payment amount for another car would set me back a bit and I wasn’t looking forward to anymore bank loans. I had just gotten a new place in Kuala Lumpur, completed recently and this means I need to continue paying the monthly progressive loans until deciding whether to reside in it or rent it out. Then there are other bills to settle and all this needs to be paid on time, monthly. This is one of the very important factors to consider when moving out of the country, unless you’ve paid up all your bills and your bank loans, then you’re free as a bird to migrate!

Tourist Visa (Free for Malaysians) vs Business Visa.

We Malaysians are a lucky lot because we get visa waivers in a lot of countries around the world, including Cambodia. We entered the Kingdom via tourist visa when we first got here but if the Company decides to pay for your visa then you will need to enter the country using the Business Visa. This needs to be applied at the immigration counter in the airport or land borders and costs $35 for 3 months. When you have the business visa you are allowed multiple entries into the country which is rather convenient. The company will then manage or compensate your business visa and prepare the necessary working permit for your employment here. If the Company decides not to manage your business visa then you can apply it as soon as you enter Cambodia.


Staying in a hotel for a few days. 

If you plan on arriving a week ahead like us, it’s probably better to search for cheap hotels, guest houses or boutique hotels for your stay here. Since my first office was located in Tuol Kork, about 20 minutes away from Phnom Penh city, we stayed in this area for a few days, before realizing that it’s more convenient to stay in a hotel within the city. That totaled to around $150 for 8 days staying in a hotel. There’s plenty of rooms here which allows guests to stay for 1-2 weeks (short term rentals) but you’ll need to negotiate on the cost before making a decision. Otherwise, stay with friends or relatives while searching for a place to live.

Renting a house or a room.

I’m used to living on my own pretty much until now and so I decided to look for my own place instead of room sharing with other people in a house. Mind you that those who do come here by themselves often choose to rent rooms instead as it is cheaper. If you don’t mind having housemates, sharing the kitchen, laundry, common area and making new friends, then I would recommend this option.

My option was a studio or a 1 bedroom because I knew earlier that a 2 bedroom might be too expensive depending on the location. Areas such as Toul Tompong (Russian Market) have 1 bedroom units for $250-$300 a month, while homes at the riverside will be around $350-$400. The BKK1 area is mostly for expats with units costing $500 and above for 1 room while the ones in Toul Kork cost around $200-$300 a month but further from the city.

These monthly rental fee often includes utilities + cable TV ($10 a month). Other additional costs would be the internet connection (I use Digi) which is $6 a month. Mind you the wifi connection in this country is super fast compared to Kuala Lumpur so that’s a plus point. A cheaper option for utilities is to request the water & electricity bills to come directly to you so that the landlord won’t be able to mark up the fee (like ours do). So prepare to set aside around $400-$500 for your rental fee and 2 months down payment for the first month.

Then there’s the transportation costs.

In Phnom Penh: Transportation in the city I shared transportation options and mentioned roughly how much it costs for each of them per month. If you prefer a quick and cheap mode of transportation, I would suggest the motodop  or motorcycle taxi that brings you anywhere you wish to for $1-$2 one way. They are able to zip through traffic and avoid traffic jam at ease. Just bear in mind that they might not know their way and you might need to direct them to the nearest landmark or guide them there directly.

The tuk tuk would be a safer mode of transportation (compared to the motodop) but it can be expensive as their minimum fee is $2 for 1 way and destination. If you want them to send you somewhere and pick you up, you’ll have to negotiate for a cheaper fee as they might just charge you for making them come to the same place to send you back. Taxis are reliable and safe, available throughout the night with just a phone call to the company. They charge by meter and able to give you a receipt if it is needed. The only issue is that if there’s a traffic jam, a taxi might not be the best option.

To summarize the cost for transportation, if it takes you $4 a day to work, then that totals up to $20 per week for a motodop. If you’re taking the tuk tuk, then it could be $6 a day, totaling to $30 a week. When you multiply that by the weeks in a month, you’ll roughly know the transportation cost to the work place.


Sending money back home. 

Now that you’ve managed your salary and save some, how do you send it back home? There are a few Malaysian banks here namely Maybank, CIMB, RHB and these provide services to transmit our money back home with a minimal fee. Out of the 3, the most convenient for me at the moment is Maybank because our ATM cards back home can be activated for overseas use and we can withdraw money easily from any Maybank ATMs here in Cambodia.

However, Cambodia does not have an online banking system or cash deposit for our saving account in Malaysia. Therefore we have to use the overseas via Telegraphic Transfer (T.T. for short) through the counter service. All we need is to bring our passport, fill up the form, include the amount to transfer and add on $17 fee for the service. I’ve been asked to open a new Maybank account here by depositing $100 but the service is still the same, meaning I still needed to go to the counter and fill up the form. It just relieves me from bringing my passport and showing it to them each time.

Sadly if you have a CIMB ATM card back home, it doesn’t work here in Cambodia and you’ll need to open a new bank account, deposit money, get a new ATM card. However, this ATM card is only accessible in Cambodia and can’t be used overseas. The T.T. charges for CIMB also changes from time to time. I once had to pay $13 and then it went up to $27 so always check with them the fee before proceeding the transfer.

That big question: How do you save money in Phnom Penh? 

  1. Choose your home in a location that’s nearer to work or the city. Working far from the city rakes up transportation costs 5 days a week while you get the convenience of a city and places of interest near your home, on the weekends.
  2. Negotiate the transportation costs up front or better yet test all options before figuring out the best one for your commute to work. There’s always the bicycle (second hand ones are cheap) or motorcycle renting which is cheaper than the cost of daily transportation services in the city.
  3. Pick up the local language, or at least the important words that would make you part of the local community. There are 2 different charges here for locals and foreigners (double charges). Knowing a few words in Khmer might get you a better price.
  4. Cook at home instead of eating out. In the wet market, vegetables, garlic, onions cost less than $1 (usually around 2,000 riel) while seafood, meat can go from $4 above depending on the weight.
  5. Eat with the locals. During lunch time, my colleagues would take me to the local food spots where 5-6 dishes can cost around 6,000-8,000 riel ($1.75-$2) per person and this is shared between 4 people. They definitely know where to go for cheap food.
  6. Pay everything by cash. There’s still lack of credit card machines here so when you don’t swipe your cards, you have less debt to pay back home. If you don’t have enough cash, then don’t buy it.
  7. Switch to a moderate lifestyle. If you’re used to going to hipster or high end cuisine every single day back home, you can cut those back here until you’re financially stable. Alcohol and soft drinks here are so cheap that you can see people drinking even from morning.

What to expect.

When I first got here, it took me some time to get used to people not following the traffic light signs, drivers going the opposite direction, people not queuing (or cutting queues), rubbish thrown out to the roads or people asking for donations. After awhile impatience replaced with empathy and we got used to it. Shopping malls, integrated city living, high end properties are being built rather progressively, giving more opportunities for the locals to earn a living in the city.

People are generally friendly and helpful but be wary of crimes wherever you go. One of our friends got her necklace snatched from the tuk tuk so this is why you should look for one that covers up the sides and the back. Always be alert and don’t use your handphone in the tuk tuk or the streets.

Despite the reality of things, I find it easy to adapt to a country that has somewhat similar food and culture. The pace of life here is more laid back as working hours are usually no later than 6:30pm unless there are urgent matters to follow up. The reason for this is that most of locals live far away from the city and driving late at night can be dangerous. We don’t work on weekends unless we have to and we can still get a city night life living here with all the bars, clubs, restaurants that’s available in the city.

There are the good and the bad which is all part of adapting and adjusting to the culture, life here in Cambodia. If you’re able to take a step back, be patient and open minded about the real scenario here then it’s a good place to live and grow.

About Yafieda Jamil

A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.

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