Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 07/17/21
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 previously lived in Seoul, Dubai, Geneva, Islamabad, and Tokyo before Phnom Penh.
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?
I'm from New Jersey. Trips back home from Phnom Penh usually take about 30 hours with a layover in Seoul, Korea (5.5 hours) before the 14-hour flight to New York. Seoul is the fastest and most reliable connection right now and it's continued to be the case throughout the pandemic. Not difficult to travel to Cambodia, but it's long and you're tired by the end of the journey.
3. How long have you lived here?
4. What years did you live here?
5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, teaching, retirement, etc.)?
US Embassy direct hire.
Housing, Groceries & Food:
1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?
Housing here is great for both houses and apartments and the quality, size, and updates all depend on where you want to live and how much you want to pay. We've seen some enormous houses with five bedrooms in the middle of the city (although most of them are less updated) and we've also seen smaller but very modern apartments. We live in a smaller three bedroom house in a gated community by the river in Phnom Penh. It takes about 15 minutes for me to drive to work every day.
2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?
You can find many that are sold in America here. The grocery store Super Duper tends to stock (for a marked up price) many items you might miss from home if you're particular about brands. If you're not particular about brands, you'll be able to find almost anything at one of the many grocery or specialty stores here.
3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?
Certain medications like dye-free children's motrin, good hairspray, specific cosmetic brands you love (makeup, face cream), deodorant.
4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?
Every cuisine is available here and you order it via one of the food delivery apps and have it arrive within minutes. Very modernized and convenient!
5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?
We're living in the tropics, so some insects are to be expected. For some of the older houses, we had some issues with termites and centipedes and the occasional massive roaches. Ants are common but you can take actions to mitigate and significantly reduce the number. Geckos in houses/apartments are common and tend to freak out newcomers, but we always reassure them they are just as freaked out by you as you are of them and they actually help you out by eating the bugs (ants, mosquitoes). Mosquitoes are the most common and annoying pest, but you can reduce the number with fish outside, mosquito nets, bug zappers, and eliminating sources of open water.
1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?
Mail is tough here for most expats! DHL and FedEx operate at very pricey rates. For the local post office, shipments to and from China are quick and efficient, but to and from other countries (such as the US) are long, sometimes unreliable, and you need to pay a "tip" to pick up the package the the post office.
2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?
Household help is abundant and the quality varies greatly. We have a gardener ($80 per month part time), housekeeper/cook ($600 per month) and nanny ($600 per month), and other full-time nanny employed at the moment. We tend to pay our employees in the higher range because they are superb and we want to help them to improve their economic situation, and have paid our nannies significantly more throughout the pandemic since they have been with our kids (3 and 5) all day while schools have been closed. Some expats hear that rates for cooks/housekeepers/nannies can go as low as $250 per month and they demand to pay salary, but the cost of living has increased drastically in Phnom Penh, and we prefer to pay for someone good that's happy in their situation than drive a hard bargain.
3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?
Pre-COVID, everything was available, but gyms have been closed for a long time now. Many gyms are available and vary in price if you want more basic or luxuries. There's something for everyone.
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?
Larger stores always accept credit cards, but most smaller stores don't have the technology to accept credit cards. ATMs are common and generally ok to use, but there have been some instances in the past where machines have card readers that steal information and other ATMs have given out fake money. Recommend vigilance and looking closely at your money as soon as you receive it from the ATM. What most people use these days is a local bank account called ABA that you can use to basically e-pay for everything.
5. What English-language religious services are available locally?
I believe there are two to three Catholic churches, a synagogue, and two LDS churches here - all with English-language services. I'm sure there are more that I didn't mention. Everything is available here.
6. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?
A basic understanding of Khmer would be very helpful to speak to locals, but you can also get around fine without it - especially when frequenting most larger stores and popular restaurants. There is a large selection of local language classes/tutors at affordable rates.
7. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?
Yes. We noticed unfortunately most places here are missing accessibility for people with physical disabilities.
1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?
Buses were operating pre-COVID but we haven't seen them since the pandemic began. Everyone here uses an app to call a tuk tuk or taxi to take you from point A to point B. Reasonably safe and very affordable.
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?
Recommend bringing a car with a bit of height (SUV), as floods here are common during rainy season and could easily flood out a lower-riding car. SUVs are also helpful for roadtrips outside of Phnom Penh, which can often have several potholes and muddy terrain. Recommend not bringing a car you're too attached to, as motorbikes will inevitably skid across the side of your car on occasion, leaving random dents and dings everywhere.
Phone & Internet:
1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?
Yes! Several companies are available here. Install for us took about four days. They initially indicated it would be longer but we offered to pay extra and they made it happen.
2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?
We use a local provider on a monthly plan which has been great for data and calls. There are several competing companies to choose from.
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?
Very good veterinarians here and decent kennel services available. Ask around to many people before picking a kennel service as we know some that had pets get very sick (or die) at while in their care. Dogs do not need to be quarantined upon entry. Other considerations would be Cambodia is on the list of countries now requiring the particular titer test if a dog is traveling to the US without a rabies test from the US.
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?
Everything under the sun. Some colleagues have spouses that telecommute internationally full-time. Others are teachers at one of the international schools, some are graphic designers, some cooks, some have their own local businesses here. We have some friends who volunteer at the local animal shelter, some volunteer teaching english, and others are involved in some of the many NGOs here. Local salaries are low but in general the cost-of-living compared to the U.S. is also very low so it's manageable.
2. What volunteer opportunities are available locally?
Teaching English, animal welfare, children's issues.
3. What is the typical dress code at work and in public places? Is formal dress ever required?
Typical dress code in most office workplaces is button up shirt or polo with nice pants or skirt. Formal dress only usually required for special events like weddings or other balls.
Health & Safety:
1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.
Petty crime is a common occurrence so you need to always maintain vigilance with personal security - especially watching closely over your belongings - wallet, phone, bags. It's also key to make sure where you live has good security (guard, bars, etc), as thieves have been known to break into houses/buildings looking for items of value.
2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?
Basic medical care is fine. I have an amazing Japanese dentist and have been able to find a good doctor for most routine appointments and have had good service and care. For more extensive health concerns, we used to be able to medevac easily to Singapore or Thailand, but now with COVID, it's much more complicated and expensive and requires quarantine both ways. Extensive life-threatening injuries require a medevac.
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?
Moderate. I have asthma and notice it's worse when I frequently take tuk tuks instead of driving my car. Cambodia has no emissions standards for cars/trucks, so you'll see and smell many cars with the worst exhaust systems polluting the air and your lungs. We have the occasional neighbor who burns trash, which also affects my lungs significantly. We purchased and use air purifiers in all of our bedrooms and in our living room to reduce the pollution in the air in our house, and it's made a significant difference.
4. What do people who suffer from environmental or food allergies need to know?
Some people have seasonal allergies here, but I'm not sure what it's related to. I'm allergic to mold and am fine so it might be pollen or dust? Unsure about suggestions for people with food allergies.
5. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?
No winter blues, but the heat is oppressive and can lead to summer blues where you're a bit depressed because it's too hot to go outside and do anything.
6. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?
Hot all year long, really hot from April to June, rainy season from July to September.
Schools & Children:
1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?
Many options available. The three biggest ones people send their children to are ISPP, CIS, and Northbridge. I have no personal experience with any of them but have heard they are all great.
2. What accommodations do schools make for special-needs kids?
I understand the most accommodating school for special-needs kids is Northbridge.
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?
Yes, many preschools available here. The price varies with the same scale as the quality. We sent both of our kids to a Japanese preschool and had the best experience with them. They are a bit more expensive than others on the market, but the level of care and instruction was so much higher than the others and therefore worth it. Pre-COVID, most schools do provide before and after-school care.
4. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?
Yes, many options: gymnastics, ballet, Taekwondo, soccer, swimming, etc.
1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?
Tough question! Maybe 200K? Overall morale is very good. Cambodia is an easy place to live if you understand it and take it all in.
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?
There are a few various types of social clubs here, some restaurants host events like pub quiz. No recommendations.
3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?
This is a great city for families. Cambodians love children and you can easily take your entire family out anywhere - even to a restaurant - without getting judged. The restaurant staff might even dote over your children and play with them. I have some friends here that enjoyed their time here. I understand it's difficult for singles to meet people and socialize here.
4. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?
Yes, Cambodia seems to be in general supportive of LGBTQi rights and I haven't heard of issues from LGBT friends.
5. Are there problems with ethnic, race/racial minorities or religious prejudices? Gender equality?
There's a stark divide between Buddhist Cambodians and Muslim Cambodians, with stereotypes and prejudices against the Muslim community. Since it's a homogenous population of Cambodians, many find it difficult to understand racism and ethnic prejudices. In terms of gender equality, Cambodia still has a long way to go.
6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?
Meeting and really getting to know the local population. Attending Cambodian weddings, visiting Angkor Wat during the pandemic, island vacation at Koh Russey, trips to Kep with our dog.
7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?
It's tough now with so many places not operating due to the pandemic.
8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?
Yes! Bronze buddhist statues, beautiful paintings, excellent Seekers gin, lovely scarves.
9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?
Low cost of living, kind local population, warm weather all-year-round, the convenience of ordering anything and having it delivered to your door within minutes, Cambodians love children so your children will feel loved, any kind of cuisine you desire is available.
Words of Wisdom:
1. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?
2. If you move here, you can leave behind your:
3. But don't forget your:
Humor and humility.