This week we look at some of the issues of retiring to Cambodia rather than to Thailand.
Where to Go
There are three main locations in Cambodia for expats: the capital Phnom Penh, the town of Siem Reap close to the Angkor Wat temple complex and the beach resort of Sihanoukville. They are all very different. Phnom Penh is undergoing a massive building and refurbishment orientation with infrastructure, particularly roads, changing the skyline and image as we speak. Siem Reap is much quieter and has managed to keep its small town image in spite of the tourist surge in recent years. Sihanoukville is a much newer venue, has more casinos than it needs and is very popular with Chinese and South Korean tourists.
The Visa Situation
Much easier than Thailand. You can obtain a 30 day tourist visa on arrival at a Cambodian airport or border post for 30 days at a cost of $US30. There is also an electronic visa online. This tourist visa can be renewed only once for another month. Expats who don’t want to keep leaving the country obtain a business visa (actually called an ordinary visa) at the airport for $US35. This lasts for 30 days but can be converted into a one-year, multiple entry visa quite easily. There are different options including searching for a job, a work permit and, of course, retirement. There are agents in Cambodia who know the ropes and can arrange these visas. Personal attendance at immigration police stations is not encouraged and is not necessary.
The Retirement Option
The one year retirement visa automatically has multiple entries contained in it. The visa agent can obtain it for you at a cost of around $300, a little more if you need it within a day or two. Applicants under 70 years will likely be required to show proof of their pension in their home country, but those over 70 do not need any financial documentation. At the time of writing, it is not even necessary to show proof of address in Cambodia. The retirement visa does not allow to work, but work-related visas are much easier to obtain than in Thailand. There is no 90 days reporting nor anything similar. One year visas are obtainable only in Cambodia and not at embassies or consulates worldwide.
Cost of Living
In a word, living in Cambodia is cheaper than in Thailand. Note that the US dollar is the currency in major use and the Cambodian riel is really a small-change currency except in rural areas where expats seldom venture. Cigarettes, alcohol and eating out are certainly cheaper than in Thailand though a few items – such as electricity and petrol – are more expensive. But inflation and taxes are eating away at the former bonus of cheap living in Cambodia. Many expats say that it is about 10 percent cheaper to live in Siem Reap than in Pattaya. But it’s just a rough guide. It should be noted that there is very little/zero public transport in Cambodia and you will likely need to use motorbike taxis or tuk-tuks to get around.
Most retirees in Cambodia elect to rent their house, condo unit or flat. One reason is that land titles are not always reliable as the Pol Pot, Khmer Rouge rule (1975-1979) destroyed many. In the main expat areas there is a broad choice of accommodation as there is in Thailand. Prices are obviously higher near city centres or beaches. Prices are similar to Thailand, maybe slightly higher, and utility charges are certainly not cheaper than in the Land of Smiles.
Bread and Butter Issues
Cambodia’s infrastructure is behind that of Thailand. Thus there are no postal deliveries to most private addresses and you may have to rent or share a post office box number. The main roads are fine, but country roads tend to be very rough. There is nightlife though less choice than in Thailand. Cambodia does not yet boast expat clubs as found in Pattaya, apart from online advice services, and clubs and societies can be thin on the ground. Golf courses are expensive. There are far fewer retirees than in Thailand and most Europeans and Australians are working. Hospitals in general are not up to Thai standards and clinics are more expensive than here. It is possible to obtain a driving licence without too much hassle. Internet and wi-fi services have improved a lot.
The big attraction for many expats is the visa situation, much less bureaucratic and burdensome than in Thailand. But remember that could change! As in Thailand, the majority of tourists are Chinese, especially in beach resorts. Unless you have employment, you will likely discover there are fewer choices what to do with your time. English is widely spoken and understood and Cambodians are in general friendly and kind-hearted. With care, you will likely find that monthly financial outgoings are less than in Thailand, although the differential is becoming less. Check it out and best of luck.