Recommendations about living in Cambodia

      Some friends asked me to write about living in Cambodia, as I have lived here for more than 16 years already. My first recommendation would be, please don’t come to live in Cambodia. Actually I feel as Heinrich Harrer of the Jean-Jacques Annaud’s movie ‘Seven Years in Tibet’ (1997), though I had doubled that time record. To start, I did not come to live in Cambodia just because I was looking for a new life or to settle in a new country, but because I joint a Missionary Institute to go to the most farthest frontier of the world to make a small contribution to Humanity, so I am an atypical expatriate.

16 Years in Cambodia

If you want to walk in Cambodia, walk with Cambodians.

      Why somebody would like to come to live in Cambodia? There are plenty of countries that could be a better option, for example, Hawaii or Colombia. 

      For some reason, many Westerns have come to live in Cambodia and their mind got somehow poisoned by the hidden Cambodian incantations (including myself), so just try to avoid to come here as much as possible, otherwise you will finish as another version of Heinrich Harrer . Well, as in the movie, as it is in Tibet, here we say that if a problem can be solved, there is not use worrying about it. If it can’t be solve, worrying will do no good.

      The first thing you need to let at home, in your own country, is the International Standards, the ISO recommendations and all that stuff made in developed countries. Any attempt to live in an ISO’s life in Cambodia, will condemn you to live inside a protected bubble in Phnom Penh, such as the ‘Hab’ in Mars, where Mark Watney survived in the 2015’s Ridley Scott’s movie The Martian. If you have enough USD or Pounds or Euros in your bank account to build your own Phnom Penh’s bubble and see the country from a protected rover “to explore”, pay for it.


Living in the Phnom Penh ‘Hab’ would be a good option.

      However, if you insist that you can live in Cambodia, because you have a friend that has been successfully living in Cambodia for more than 16 years out of the bubble or ‘Hab’, so get ready to assume the following facts:

  1. It is not true that Cambodia is a cheap country. Yes, by sure, your European or American minimum wage is a luxury salary here, but you are a barang, expatriate or foreigner, so you have to pay the double of everything, including to visit the Angkor Temples, the thousands brides to get anything done in time or any attempt to enjoy any bubble for Westerns in Phnom Penh.
  2. If you want to open a business in Cambodia, it is not easy too. Include in your investment the thousands bribes to local authorities for due permissions and get ready to contract unskilled personnel that will ask you big salaries, even if they know little about their jobs and, worst, work much less than you would dream them to work. Initiative and creativity will be your problem, not of your local staff 🙂 Contracting other expatriates? Yes, there are plenty of them wandering around the country, eager to get some incomes, but they will charge you as in their own countries. I calculate also that there are billions of Western restaurants, trillions of guesthouses ran by expatriates, uncountable tourist agencies, many Western-ran-Brothels, trillions of guys trying with real estates, so I don’t oversee a big success for any small investment in those terrains.
  3. NGO employee? Yes, Cambodia is a haven of NGOs. 90% of them do nothing and get much funds. Probably they will need a professional social worker, manager or expert in writing thousands of thousands of pages about how Cambodians live badly, when they live in the Phnom Penh’s ‘Hab’. Too many places for volunteers, but remember, volunteers do not get pay, not because they are cheaper, but because they are priceless. NGO’s hunters are becoming a species in Cambodia. Maybe you can become one, until our government start to take responsibility of its society.
  4. Teaching English? Yes, there is plenty of work, but the income is not so meaningful either. Just forget it if you are not a real professional teacher. The fact that you speak or are an English native, does not make you a Teacher. Let the wood for the carpenter.


      You have to accept also the following realities:

  • The road traffic is a chaos, it is crazy, nasty, it does not follow rules, anybody can drive a car, a motorbike, a tuk-tuk, a skate…
  • Forget to ask safety measures everywhere. There is not a culture of safety. Be sure that you go everywhere in a safe way and don’t monitor what you see, otherwise you will become crazy.
  • Be clean, don’t through garbage everywhere, but don’t expect that Cambodians will do it. It is not in their mind so far.

expatBeing in contact with other expats will help you very much, but becoming part of a ghetto, is coming back to the Martian ‘Hat’, that will make you far from the Cambodian heart. If you want to look for other expats to share your Tibetan years in Cambodia, dial now


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About Albeiro Rodas

Albeiro Rodas (in Cambodia Sky Ly Samnang), is a MA in Digital Communication, independent journalist and a Salesian of Don Bosco from Amalfi, Colombia, based in Cambodia since 1999. He is the creator of the Don Bosco schools of journalism in Sihanoukville and Kep with young people from poor communities and the founder of the Don Bosco Kep Children Fund. Medal for Social Commitment UPB (2010); among the 100 more upstanding Colombians abroad (Marca Colombia, 2012, and among the 12 Colombians that are making this a better world 2013 (

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