What it Costs to Live in Cambodia

 

cost of living in Cambodia

How do these expenses for living in Cambodia compare to yours?

A 2-bedroom apartment with a pool in the capital city for $500, 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.

A while back I put out a book on cutting your expenses in half by moving abroad. (Get it here!) In the course of that, I interviewed 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 Southeast Asia, Cambodia would be the answer. It’s one of the cheapest places to live in the world really, edged out by just a few.

living costs are cheap in Cambodia

Cheap Living, Somewhat Easy Visa

On top of the cheap living and the pure ease of getting things done, this used to be a country that let you easily stick around for a while. When I interviewed Justin Garnett for the book he said, “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.”

Alas, easy visas you can get at a motorbike shop or travel agency seldom last, especially in an election year when candidates need to talk about crackdowns. Those nasty immigrants are always a good target.

Khmer living

While this used to be one of the easiest countries in the world to work legally, in 2018 the visas regulations have changed and are actually being implemented this time around. Foreigners who want to stay in the country long term will now need a work permit to extend their visas for 6 or 12 months. There are ways around it, but you can’t just show up and get a one-year visa anymore just by paying a couple hundred bucks.

It is still easier to live here on a tourist visa than it is in Thailand, with less frequent border runs, but assume you will only be able to stay six months at most after arrival, with extensions, less after you have been here a while. Here’s how local resident Jen Joslin explained it in her post on living in Phnom Penh, the capital.

Currently, getting an Ordinary (E) visa is as simple as showing up at an airport or land border, ticking a box, and paying a few dollars more than the Tourist visa price. You need an Ordinary (E) visa if you want to extend your stay in Cambodia for more than one month. You can extend that visa to a three-month E visa one time without leaving the country. If it is your first time in Cambodia, then you can extend your Ordinary (E) visa for a six month (E) visa one time. Otherwise, to get an (E) visa for 6 months or one year you now need to have a government-issued work permit.

If you do qualify, your business visa is good for one year.

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 $300-$400 for a one-bedroom condo and $400-$650 for one that has several bedrooms and lots of facilities. Naida Dizdarevic, Regional Director of Operations for Journeys Within, a Wild Frontiers Company, pays $350 a month for her “one-bedroom western style apartment in a good area” of the capital. She pays $30 to $50 a month on utilities.

American couple Jen and Stevo live near the Russian Market in Phnom Penh, another popular area for expats with lots of great restaurants and bars. They pay $400 plus about $75 in utilities per month for a one bedroom serviced apartment with a rooftop gym and weekly cleaning service. They spend about $1600 per month for both of them to live in Phnom Penh, all in.

The cost of living in Cambodia, including Siem Reap, home of Ankor Wat.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.”

cheap food costs living in Cambodia

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.”

Food, Drink, and Transportation in Cambodia

happy hourNaida says she spends about $200 a month on groceries, but that’s deceiving because she eats out so often. “Entertainment is my biggest expense as people tend to meet out instead of at home. I would say I spend around $500-600 a month.”

It won’t cost you a whole lot when you do eat out though unless you go upscale. You can eat with the locals in the market for around $1 for a simple one-dish meal with rice. It’s relatively easy to find a meal with multiple items for $3 or go to what would be considered a “nice restaurant” at home for well under $20 for two, including drinks. Those drinks won’t set you back much either: beers are often less than a buck and you have to be in a swanky place to top the $5 cocktail level.

Market prices are super cheap, with $1 easily getting you a kilo on standard items like fruit, vegetables, and rice. Naturally you’ll pay a lot more for imported items though.

For transportation, most residents end up doing what the locals do and using a motorbike to get around. Naida says, “I cycle around town but spend around $50 a month on tuk-tuks.” A trip of a mile or two will run you $2-$3 in a tuk-tuk or taxi. A motorcyle taxi will be half that amount if you’re willing to jump on the back of someone’s seat.

Getting to another city in Cambodia won’t cost you too much. A reasonably comfortable bus ride will generally range from $4 to $12, the latter being the best available on the longest route.

What Are the Downsides?

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, though you can get the basics done here.

This is one of the world’s poorest countries for a variety of complicated reasons, but it’s unique in the world that the Khmer Rouge killed off everyone who seemed intelligent, including doctors, professors, engineers, and architects. People are reluctant to acknowledge the outcome of that with the following generations, but it’s clearly going to take a very long time to recover and catch up with more developed neighbors. Add in the war in Vietnam, lingering land mine injuries, and a dictator who has been in office for more than three decades and there’s a big hole to climb out of. This year the sole opposition newspaper lost its independence, selling to the owner of one of the government’s own PR firms.

You can expect the infrastructure to be less than ideal, which of course is true for almost any place where you can live abroad for cheap. Bureaucracy will be a pain, toilets won’t be as nice as you’d like, you can’t drink the tap water. The beaches here are okay, but they don’t compare to those in neighboring countries. This being the tropics, it’s pretty much always hot and steamy outside, so you need to be okay with that.

But hey, if you start feeling stressed, you can get an one-hour massage for $5 – $10.

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.

This post originally went up in 2014 (I have left some old comments that were evergreen) and was updated in May of 2018.

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Comments
  1. Jeremy

    Cheap booze, good food, and daily massages – sounds like a good place to let go of all your stresses.

  2. Dee

    Hi Tim, thanks for a very informative site 😃 I live in Scotland and plan to visit Cambodia for the 1st time next year. Iv done the Thai thing to death and just fancy a change. I’d LOVE to live in Cambodia, let’s face it, you don’t get many warm days in Scotland 😜 beautiful though it is. However I’m a social worker and don’t think there would be many openings in Cambodia… So I will need to be content with visiting for three weeks once a year. I look forward to visiting and enjoying the country. Keep up the good work

  3. Ray

    We visited Cambodia (siem reap and penohm penh ) this year and have travelled extensively over the last ten years or so, my wife and I both felt Cambodia was a wonderful country and the people among the friendliest we have ever come across!
    It was without doubt the cheapest place to live for the time we spent there and we did some research as to returning and working in the next 5 years or so. There are rules and regulations about none locals buying property and running business but plenty of people willing to give advice and share experiences if you just ask! As in all ideas about moving to and living in another country they can cause worry and stress. Just use a little common sense, if something feels wrong or too good to be true it often is just that.ask and ask again until you are satisfied with the answers. Talk to other expats who have set up home there and locals alike, they will be happy to help if they can. My thoughts on Cambodia are that you could do far worse in other places and spend twice as much to do so, but you won’t feel as comfortable and relaxed while you are settling in to the lifestyle. Give it a go and thank me later… Cheers!

  4. salim

    ya and l forget l live on 500 dollars in cambodia with a rent 135 dollars room , and some of cambodia friend with bachelor degree work in traveling agency , earn 200 dollars and she told me not a bad salary for her ,so seriously when l hear some poeple talk about 2000 dollars , this salary what l hade in france

  5. Josh

    I’ve been visiting Cambodia for 11 years now and it is ‘the land of my dreams’, especially the lovely town of Kampot on the coast, the country’s 4th largest city (still “fun-sized” though). Many foreigners have already settled across the river in a village named “Bokor Mountain Village” and I will as well, after I stop working. It has one of the best micro climates I have encountered in all of SE Asia (fresh air coming down from the Elephant mountains regularly plus a very beautiful landscape). The area is already targeted for retirement villages for citizens from other Asian countries such as South Korea; many hectares have been purchased, so things are really happening around Kampot, with more conveniences being added in the future (and hopefully jobs for the locals). Bokor Mountain Village already has a store/snooker/massage place, an eco resort and a gym is not far, for example. I just hope that the pace of development can preserve most of the natural beauty of the region.

    You can own land there (via a trusted Khmer represantative) and build the house of your dreams. Some may prefer the hustle & bustle of Phnom Penh but the (ever increasing traffic ruins it for me) but I prefer the “middle way” of being out in the green, yet close to a medium sized city.

    But don’t move there because it’s cheap – move there because it’s the place you want to be. Cambodia may be rough around teh edges but it’s still a diamond for those of us who love Asia and can adapt reasonably well.

  6. Eileena

    Hey Tim what is the procedure for buying land/house there. Any good sites? Thanks!

  7. Dan S.

    Ditto Eileena’s question above….

    Justin speaks as if one can go out and buy land with a house just as easy as
    doing so here in the U.S. I’m supposing that he was only able to do so because of
    a Cambodian wife, no?

    • Tim Leffel

      It totally depends on who you ask Dan, and how long they’ve been living there. On paper, foreigners can’t own land unless they set up a corporation. In practice, setting up that corporation is not very hard if you’re willing to pay a lawyer the right fees for paperwork and any money he has to slide to someone else to get it done. That’s what I hear anyway–I haven’t had any personal experience in it.

  8. Peter Wierstra

    Great article Tim and very true I feel…I have been to Cambodia for 8 year and am now married to a lovely Khmer lady and will live soon in phnom Penh permanently or at least 6 months per year.
    I have travelled extensively in Asia ,but for me Cambodia offers me,as a pensioner,everything I need…cheap housing,affordable food and a warm people who welcome foreigners with open arms.
    Kampot and Phnom Penh are the places I will retire to..if you are prepared to immerse yourself in Khmer culture and life…this is the place!!

  9. Mikey

    Hey cool blog man. I just came back from Cambodia. It is awesome. I agree on the price but they seemed a little cheaper than you listed. Siam Riep locals said they spend around 150 dollars for rent and yes food and drinks are that cheap! It was absolutely wonderful! I know where i am retiring!

  10. Wade K.

    Numbeo shows Cambodia considerably more expensive than where I am now, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, but after investigating it appears how much Cambodia costs depends on how you want to live. I recently saw a nice enough studio in Siem Reap for $115 a month plus utilities. Get away from the tourist zone and good meals drop by half. I think Siem Reap is the best place for most Americans used to choice. Over 800 restaurants with about every kind of cuisine available, can even get Cajun food! And has a new multiplex playing the latest movies in English with Khmer subtitles.

    I checked out visas and the new ordinary visa scheme has several categories including one for retirees. You need a passport, a passport size photo(which if you don’t have one they’ll scan your passport photo for $2), and the fee. You can get a visa for 1, 3, 6, or 12 months. I might be wrong, but this is only after you go through your 30 day tourist visa then want to extend. If I remember right the fee is the equivalent of $35 a month. A little pricey long term, but appears pretty straightforward and easy to get.

    I’ve been told Battambang is worth looking into for super low prices.

  11. Robert

    As you point out, cheap living doesn’t necessarily mean good living. I’ve been in Thailand for 16 years and been to Cambodia many times. For most of us expats here, Cambo is a no go. Unless you are really broke.

    As you say, infrastructure is terrible. Traffic is crazy. If involved in an accident, forget about an ambulance. They’ll just toss you into the back of a pickup and take you to the nearest hospital. Which probably won’t have the facilities to care for you.

    Drugs are rampant as is crime. Some like it there. But most are there because they can’t afford to live anywhere else. Or, like the availability of cheap booze and drugs.

    Best to spend a few months there before making any commitments.

    • Josh

      Robert, are you honestly claiming that traffic in Thailand is *not* crazy? I used to get the ThaiVisa online newsletter and it was always filled with the most horrendous high speed accidents.
      Ditto on the drugs and crime. I’ve been visiting Cambodia since 2003 and I’ve never personally encountered any – but then again I’ve no interest in drugs. You try to keep your wits about you, dress decently, be polite & respect the culture to avoid breaking any taboos.
      I also doubt Thai expats cite the higher price of beer as one of the reasons why they like it there (to use your argument in reverse).

      It might surprise you but many expats are in Cambodia because they really like it there and feel they’ve made the right choice. The argument that Cambodia is so cheap and which you keep turning into an argument to look down on those that have chosen to live there, as seen in your repeated “broke” quotes, very much depends on where you live & your lifestyle anyway. There are probably expats who live cheaper in Thailand in some of its more rulral areas.

      Who needs all that runaway development and malls when you can have all that nature to explore (I’m talking outside of Pnohm Penh here, big cities aren’t for me)?
      Who needs a population that pretty much despises you for being there?

      You need to be a mature person though and sort of have your shit together to make it last.
      I’ve said it before: Don’t live somewhere because it’s cheap, live there because it’s the place you want to be. … So yeah, Cambodia’s terrible, best not to come.

  12. Aryan

    Hello guys …I am planing to give a visit to Cambodia ..from what I read it sounds great, except for one negative comment . What I am concerned about is the crime rate..Those Asian’s looks crazy in the movies ..lol.. I am from Iraq by the way :) Maybe it is just stereotype ..I will be 30 soon , is it a fun place there ? do they have nice proper gyms ?
    What about diseases? Like Malaria and other fatal one .. what medician I should carry with me if I decide to come over …Many thanks for the great article and the enriching comments …

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