Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 11/15/20
Personal Experiences from Phnom Penh, Cambodia
1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?
I’ve also lived in Kuala Lumpur, Addis Ababa, Niamey, and Mexico City.
2. What is your home city/country? How long is the trip to post from there, with what connections? How easy/difficult is it to travel to this city/country?
San Juan, Puerto Rico. Between 32-36 hours away. Phnom Penh, Seoul, New York or Detroit or Atlanta, San Juan. It’s a pain to get home.
3. What years did you live here?
4. How long have you lived here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
My house is huge. High ceilings, separate kitchen, separate laundry room, upstairs family room, bathroom in each bedroom, covered outdoor space on the 2d floor and exposed outdoor space on our roof and in our small yard. The house is old, there is dark wood everywhere, and we have a grandiose staircase. Our windows are tinted and natural light is blocked by the external property walls, which are a few feet from the window. We do have a bit of green space outdoors.
Expats outside of the diplomatic community usually live in apartments with modern amenities and lovely views of the city and river.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
Groceries and other supplies are expensive. You can get almost anything if you’re willing to shop around and be flexible with brands.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Organic, sulfate, paraben, and aluminum-free toiletries.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Tons of western, including increasing amounts of vegan and vegetarian options.
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
Not really. I’ve heard ants and cockroaches can be an issue, but if you don’t leave food out you will be ok. Some people have issues with termites.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
No clue about local mail, but I know oriole have found options.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Nannies, cooks, cleaners, gardeners and drivers are all cheap. A few hundred a month for full time.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Limited gyms and expensive, especially if you want western standards, but I live in an area with lots of expats and have several choices nearby. Diplomatic families join Sofitel for swimming and tennis. There’s a country club for horses. You can get passes for roller skating, trampoline, rock climbing. Most of the places don’t have A/C, so be mentally prepared to sweat.
4. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?
I only use ATMs that are physically attached to a branch bank. Stand alone ATMs often have fake money. People use credit cards for groceries and shopping at western style shops, but I don’t.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
There’s a handful but I haven’t visited any.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
You can survive with just a few words, a few basic phrases will help with tuk tuks and the market, but you would be ok without any. There are many places where you can take lessons.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes! No proper sidewalks, crazy traffic, few places to walk to, no ramps.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Tuk tuks are really cheap and available through an app. Cars are also available but I only use them for airport trips.
2. What kind of car do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car do you advise not to bring?
Small SUV because of dirt roads outside of town and flooding during the rain season.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes. Just a few days by to install. Mostly prepaid and mostly reliable.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
Local provider with prepaid service. Super cheap and easy to get credits anywhere in the country. Not sure how calls are charged, but internet seems to last forever on prepaid.
1. Are qualified veterinarians and/or good kennel services available? Do animals need to be quarantined upon entry to the country? Are there other considerations regarding pets that are particular to this country?
There are a couple of options.
Employment & Volunteer Opportunities:
1. What types of jobs do most expatriate spouses/partners have? Locally based or telecommuting? Full-time or part-time? Can you comment on local salary scales?
Expats come here with diplomatic missions, schools and NGOs. Some spouses have started small businesses or worn with their sponsoring organizations, but most don’t work.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Conservative, but not extremely formal, except with diplomatic missions. It’s too hot to wear suits.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Purse snatchings by motos.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Dengue. There is some medical care, but most foreigners see other foreigners and there are few specialists. Before CoVid people traveled to Thailand and Singapore for care.
3. What is the air quality like at post (good/moderate/bad)? Are there seasonal air quality issues? Does the air quality have an impact on health?
It’s generally ok, but can get hard for some during the dry months (April and May).
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Language will be an issue with food allergies and restaurants.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
Groundhog Day syndrome can affect some.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot and humid or hot and dry.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
There are many great choices.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
3. Are preschools available? Day care? Are these expensive? What has been your experience with them, if any? Do the schools provide before- and/or after-school care?
Many. Also many after school activities in schools and elsewhere.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, but mostly paid and not super varied. Playgrounds are not a big thing here.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Huge and great.
2. What are some typical ways to socialize, either with local people or with other expatriates? Are there groups or clubs that you can recommend?
Bars, western style markets, informal groups by area of interest. Everything is on Facebook.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
Yes to all. Slow pace of living, lots of expats, great schools, good weekend escapes, amazing restaurants, availability of products. Expats are happy here. Life is more expensive than in other pm cities in the region, but life in general can be affordable and is way cheaper than back home.
4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?
I don’t have local friends, but I don’t speak the language and haven’t made a huge effort either. My work comes with a community and my kids’ school is another. That’s been enough for me.
5. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Kids’ school, freedom from CoVid!, weekend escapes, cycling across the river from the city.
6. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
Cycling across the river, weekend escapes, restaurants, art workshops.
7. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Not tons, but there is a growing market.
8. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Words of Wisdom:
1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?
It’s worth traveling locally.
2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
I’d rather move somewhere else, but if the choice is back home versus here, I’d stay here.
3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
Winter clothes, fancy clothes, car for daily life.
4. But don't forget your:
Bike, flip flops, light cotton clothes, mosquito spray, sunblock, bathing suits...