How do these expenses for living in Cambodia compare to yours?
A 2-bedroom apartment with a pool for $350, a $5 massage for an hour, a full-time nanny or housekeeper for $120 a month, meals out for $2, taxis for a dollar or two.
As I’ve mentioned a few times before, I’ll be putting out a book later this year on cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. (Update – it’s out now!) In the course of that, I’ve been interviewing loads of expats living in different countries. If you pinned me to the wall and said I had to tell you which country was the absolute cheapest place to live in different regions, Cambodia would be the answer in Southeast Asia.
Cheap Living, Easy Visa
On top of the cheap living and the pure ease of getting things done, you’re welcome to stick around for a while. “This is one of the easiest countries in the world to get a business visa,” said Justin Garnett. “You just pay a little extra when you arrive for the upgrade. Then you can extend for a full year for $280. From there it’s very easy to rent a space and open a bar, a restaurant, or a service business. As long as you don’t do anything stupid, it’s no problem.” Just keep it above board, he advises. “As soon as you start f#cking with the system, it’s going to come down very quickly. The judicial system is not going to be your friend.”
When I spoke to Humphrey of New Zealand, who lives in the capital, he echoed the ease of getting a visa in Cambodia and not having any hassles. “When I need to renew my visa, I give them some money at a motorbike shop or travel agent and hand over two photos. The next day I have my passport back and it’s done.”
Plus you don’t have to worry about sneaking around if you want to tend bar or take scuba divers out for PADI certifications. “This is one of the few countries in the world where you can just roll up and work,” says Humphrey. “It’s not like Thailand.”
Apartment and House Deals in Cambodia
As with anywhere you’d want to live, it pays to take your time finding a place to stay to get the best deal. If you look online though, the prices are quite reasonable even for those in a hurry. In Phnom Penh, the most expensive places are right by the river and you can pay as much as you do now if you want. But they go down quickly as you count the blocks back from there. It is common to spend $250-$300 for a one-bedroom condo and $400-$650 for one that has several bedrooms and lots of facilities. In Siem Reap prices are far lower. If you spend $600 there you’re going to have a swanky villa with a pool, all utilities included. Most of the condos and apartments you can find online range from $250 to $550 per month. Go to a smaller town with fewer tourists and it drops again from there.
When I asked Humphrey what he spends on a regular basis, he stressed that he was living large and wasn’t very careful with his money. “I earn about $2,000 a month and I spend about $1,500,” he said. Even in the nicest bars, it’s still 50-75 cents for a half pint of beer. Liquor here is cheaper than at duty free in an airport. If you spend more than $4 on a meal it was a very fancy place. Women are cheap, but I’m not a player now,” he insists. “I have a girlfriend.”
“There are plenty of dirty old men on a pension down at the beaches though,” he adds, “and I know a few that easily get by on $1,200 a month. They live well on that amount.”
Justin is a family man, so his story is very different. He’s got a house full of relatives in the compound, a place where he spends around $750 on rent, utilities, and maintenance for a 4-bedroom house “with a huge garden.” He estimates that he probably spends $3,000 a month supporting the extended family of his wife he met here, along with his own kids, but can’t imagine going back to his old life in Australia. “I pull up to the house and the kids run inside. I always know there’s someone to take care of them. We’ve never ever paid a babysitter.”
He now has a vacation getaway place he made happen from his savings. “I bought a block of land with a 3-bedroom house that needed some improvements,” he says. All told I’ve spent$21,000 and I have an acre of land. If you buy land somewhere, you can build a home here for 10 grand.”
I also interviewed a hotel manager living in Siem Reap who was just plain flabbergasted at how cheap it was where he was living. “I don’t know anyone who pays more than $500 a month for a nice large apartment or house here,” he says, “And even if you run the air conditioning 24/7 you won’t be able to spend more than $300 per month on all utilities added together.”
He has worked in several other countries in Asia and can’t imagine spending less than he does now on food and drink. “I cannot think of anything outrageously expensive except some imported food stuffs.”
Cambodia is not for everyone, of course. It’s a hot tropical country with the bugs and diseases that implies. Most people fly to Thailand for serious medical care. The Khmer Rouge killed off everyone who seemed intelligent, which didn’t exactly result in an enlightened gene pool. The beaches here are okay, but they don’t compare to those in neighboring countries.
Do your homework and give the place a trial run before making a move. If your funds are limited, however, this is probably the best bargain in Asia outside the Indian subcontinent.
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