Cambodia is now revamping its immigration laws

A busy Phnom Penh airport in April 2020 before the last plane out.

Phnom Penh authorities are preparing a parliamentary bill to introduce sweeping changes to the country’s immigration legislation in preparation for the post-pandemic world. Cambodian interior minister Sar Kheng last month ordered a working group to examine the issues because “the current law dating from 1994 is outdated given technological advancements in the digital era.”

Cambodian immigration rules for most visitors have traditionally been simple. There were basically two types of visas on arrival: a tourist visa for 30 days, which could be extended once, and a business (later called a general) visa which could be the basis of a one year extension of stay without any questions being asked. The country was one of the first countries in Asia to introduce a prior electronic visa for short-term travellers. In Cambodia, visa extensions were and still are mostly handled by agents.

In 2018, the government introduced a swathe of changes to extensions of between three and twelve months. There were now different options for retirees, those seeking employment, those actually working and a discrete student category. But, according to the well-run and informative blog Moving to Cambodia, there is still considerable confusion. The documentation required for different visas varies from agent to agent. So it is possible to obtain a retiree annual extension for under US$300 and no paperwork at all. Those in employment need a work permit as well as a visa, but the process is by no means uniform.

From July 1, 2020 it has been compulsory for foreign citizens to register their details and address on the Foreigners Present in Cambodia System (FPCS) application. The requirement applies to all foreigners including tourists, residents and diplomats. Those responsible for registration are owners of hotels and condominiums, homeowners and, if necessary, the visitor personally. If an individual is not registered, he or she cannot extend a visa and property owners can be fined for non-compliance. Sounds a bit like a hi-tech variant of the awesome TM30 form in Thailand.

According to Facebook’s lively forum Cambodia Visa and Work Permit Group, there is still debate about the details such as who is responsible for updating the application if someone moves address. So far about 11,000 foreigners have registered, although the number is low because Cambodia currently allows no tourists into the country and insists that returning business people in employment have substantial medical insurance (at least US$50,000) and undergo 14 days self-financed quarantine on arrival as well as the usual Covid-19 tests and approval from the Cambodian embassy in the country of departure.

The government’s working group, led by the justice minister Ang Vong Vathana, is said to be considering these and other allied matters, including an updated definition of what is Cambodian nationality. But an official confirmed that there will be new documentary requirements for all long-stay foreigners based on experience to date with the most recent regulations. Applicants for the one year extension of stay for retirees in particular will undergo more substantial documentary checks about their income or capital. There is likely to be an expansion of the electronic visa system and more substantial use of new technology by visa-issuing consulates and embassies abroad.

Any new law is not expected to be on the statute books before next year and will need to await the reopening of border posts and the resumption of normal air traffic in a post-pandemic scenario. But it does seem probable that all visitors to Cambodia, both short term and long, will be subject before too long to more bureaucratic and monitoring procedures. Well, expats in Thailand know a thing or two about that subject.