Phnom Penh, Cambodia Report of what it's like to live there - 05/04/24

Personal Experiences from Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Phnom Penh, Cambodia 05/04/24


1. Was this post your first expatriate experience? If not, what other cities have you lived in as an expat?

No, previously in Bulgaria, N. Macedonia, England.

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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?

East coast, USA, which is about 30 hours, connecting in South Korea. Direct flight from Washington, DC to Seoul, then another 5 hrs to Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh is pretty well connected to other Asian cities, though many flights leave at strange hours (very late or very early).

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3. How long have you lived here?

9 months.

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4. What years did you live here?


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5. What brought you to this city (e.g. diplomatic mission, business, NGO, military, teaching, retirement, etc.)?

Diplomatic mission.

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Housing, Groceries & Food:

1. What is your housing like? What are typical housing sizes, locations, and commute times for expatriates?

US mission housing is mixed-modern serviced apartments (2-3 BRs) and single family homes in busy business districts and and also a wealthier suburban-like enclave by the river (3-5 BRs). Houses tend to be older and much smaller than US standards. It's a growing city and there is construction everywhere and it's loud, messy, smelly in my opinion. Commutes to US embassy can be from 10 minutes to 30 depending in the morning. Evening commutes seem to be the worst and can be anywhere from 25 to 45-60 minutes.

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2. How would you describe the availability and cost of groceries and household supplies relative to your home country?

Phnom Penh just lost 10% COLA, and it's considered comparable to DC. However, there are some still very pricey items that are more expensive than in the US, especially quality dairy products and processed meats (lunch meats, bacon), hummus. Seasonal and local/regional produce is plentiful and affordable, just not what you might be used to (great tropical fruit, but expensive grapes and strawberries). You can find almost everything and US/European products at SuperDuper and other specialty stores, even refried beans, tortillas, and salsa: you'll just have to pay a bit more for it.

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3. What household or grocery items do you wish you had shipped to post?

Order cereal on Amazon, it's pricey here. Get a yogurt maker, we love ours. Household cleaning products and laundry detergents are all fragranced with dyes.

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4. What typical restaurants, food delivery services, and/or takeout options are popular among expatriates?

One of the best parts of this pos is the food and delivery options: amazing Asian food of all types (especially Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, and Indian), French, American, Italian, found some Greek and Turkish, Mexican. Can order anything delivery and it's fast, cheap, convenient through phone apps.

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5. Are there any unusual problems with insects or other infestations in housing?

Ants, roaches, termites, geckos, and mosquitos with dengue. One family we know had an adult python hiding in their ceiling until it fell through it.

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Daily Life:

1. How do you send and receive your letters and package mail? Are local postal facilities adequate?


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2. What is the availability and cost of household help, and what types of help are typically employed by expatriates?

Super affordable. We pay our nanny $300/month for part-time and our housekeeper/cook $300/month for part-time. Some people have drivers (tuktuks), gardeners. Not all speak English.

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3. What kinds of gyms or other sports/workout facilities are available? Are they expensive?

Lots of options, some don't have A/C. Small embassy gym. Some apartments have gyms. There's also lots of jiu jitsu and khun khmer boxing gyms, climbing gym, hotel gyms (Sofitel) that range from affordable to expensive.

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4. Do you feel that it is safe to walk, run or hike outside? Are there areas where bike riding is possible? What is the availability and safety of outdoor space for exercising? Are these easily accessible?

There are very limited places for walking/running but you can find them. Most of the city does not have sidewalks and people walk along traffic. I don't feel it's generally safe for walking or running but there are people who do. There's a river that cuts through the city and some pedestrian walkways along that are walkable, however, almost none are shaded and it's just too hot most of the year for it unless it's super early in the day or in the evening.

There is almost no usable green space in the city. The previously mentioned boardwalk areas but they're not actually green- everything is paved and there are very few trees. There's maybe one place in town that qualifies as an actual green park (Wat Phnom) and it's the main Buddhist Pagoda in town and very small.

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5. Are credit cards widely accepted and safe to use locally? Are ATMs common and do you recommend using them? Are they safe to use?

Yes, yes, yes. Though some have been known to issue fake bills.

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6. What English-language religious services are available locally?

LDS, Anglican, Jewish synagogue, others.

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7. How much of the local language do you need for daily living? Are local language classes/tutors available and affordable?

None. English is widely spoken here. Learning some Khmer doesn't hurt.

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8. Would someone with physical disabilities have difficulties living in this city?

Yes. Broken or nonexistent sidewalks.

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1. Are local buses, trams, trains or taxis safe and affordable?

I don't think I've ever even seen public transportation in this city. But tuktuks and taxis are easy to hail with Grab app, and super affordable: $1.50 for a 15 minute ride.

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2. What kind of vehicle(s) including electric ones do you recommend bringing to post, given the terrain, infrastructure, availability of parts, burglary/carjacking risks, etc.? What kind of car or vehicles do you advise not to bring?

It seems that 80% of Cambodians drive mopeds and motorcycles. Americans bring or buy them at post too. Lots of locals have priuses and other EVs. Asian brand cars are easy to fix here. Something with higher clearance probably a good idea with summer monsoon and flooding and bad roads or dirt roads in the city and in provinces. A small SUV makes the most sense I think but Cambodians also do love big cars, so you'll see lots of Ford trucks and other large vans in the city, surprisingly.

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Phone & Internet:

1. Is high-speed home Internet access available? How long does it typically take to install it after arrival?

Yes, but goes out sometimes. Some people get a backup internet service.

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2. Do you have any recommendations regarding mobile phones? Did you keep your home-country plan or use a local provider?

I kept Google Fi but also have local service.

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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?

Embassy or schools. Some work from home.

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Health & Safety:

1. Are there personal security concerns to be aware of at this post? Please describe.

High crime post, mostly petty theft and phone or purse snatching. I feel relatively safe here. Embassy houses are provided with 24/7 guards.

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2. Are there any particular health concerns? What is the quality of available medical care? What medical conditions typically require medical evacuation?

Dengue and mosquitos. No malaria though. Medical care isn't bad, there are European (lots of French) doctors or European-educated health care providers here that can address most things, though there also appear to be lots of medevacs to Bangkok. You'll probably get food poisoning at one point or another- food hygiene isn't the best, so don't eat the street food. I have no idea where the drinking water comes from (embassy provides filters) but if it's from any of the rivers, I don't even wanna know.

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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?

Pretty good.

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4. Are there any particular mental health issues that tend to crop up at post, such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (winter blues)?

Nov-April is the dry season and March and April are HOT. Oppressively so. Unless you like to swim, there's no way to be outdoors. Rainy season cools things down, but there are weeks when it will rain a lot.

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5. What is the overall climate: is it extremely hot or cold, wet or dry, at any time of year, for example?

Hot, dry season half the year and wet, humid season the other half. There are a few weeks from Dec-Jan when it's pleasant (70s-low 80s) and we could turn off the A/C, but it's fleeting.

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Schools & Children:

1. What is the availability of international schools? What has been your general experience with them, if any?

So many options, but most attend the International School (ISPP and embassy supported) or Canadian International School (CIS). There are a handful of others that embassy kids attend. All seem good.

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2. 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?

Lots of options and affordable. Some provide before and aftercare but most people have nannies and babysitters since it's so affordable.

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3. Are local sports classes and/or activities available for kids?

Lots of activities.

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Expat Life:

1. What is the relative size of the expatriate community? How would you describe overall morale among expatriates?

It's a big community, beyond the diplomatic missions there's lots of NGOs, UN, foreign private businesses, digital nomads, retirees from Australia and New Zealand, etc.

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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?

Lots of Facebook groups for any kind of activity. There's great nightlife, so people tend to go out.

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3. Is this a good city for single people? For couples? For families? Why or why not?

For all. So much to do.

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4. Is it easy to make friends with locals here? Are there any prejudices or any ethnic groups who might feel uncomfortable here?

Yes, Cambodians are generally quite friendly.

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5. Is this a good city for LGBT expatriates? Why or why not?

I believe so.

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6. What have been the highlights of your time in this country? Best trips or experiences?

Obviously Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Lots of other places to visit too- Kirirom mountains, Kampot pepper farms, Koh Rong Islands. Outside of Phnom Penh, there's lots of lush greenery to explore... when it's not scorching out.

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7. What are some interesting/fun things to do in the area? Can you recommend any “hidden gems"?

Angkor Wat, islands. For in and around Phnom Penh, the highlight is the food scene and nightlife.

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8. Is this a "shopping post"? Are there interesting handicrafts, artwork, antiques, or other items that people typically buy there?

Yes: amazing, affordable wood furniture, wicker anything, silk scarves.

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9. What are the particular advantages of living in this city?

The convenience: you can get anything delivered, not just food. I get meds delivered to my door when I'm sick. I had a tuktuk drive over my husband's passport to the airport when we forgot it once. Eating out is super affordable: like $30-40 dinners for a family of four. Affordable household help. For a city of 2 million with almost nonexistent public transport, traffic is not terrible...yet.

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Words of Wisdom:

1. What do you wish you had known about this particular city/country before moving there?

I heard there was no greenspace, but REALLY, there is no greenspace. If you want outdoor parks and playgrounds, or like to hike and do outdoor activities, this is not the post for you. Yes, you can find it outside of Phnom Penh, but it's at least a couple hours drive out. It's difficult to find places to do any outdoor activities besides swim because of the infrastructure and heat/humidity/rain.

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2. Knowing what you know now, would you still move to this city?

On the fence. There are pros and cons. As an outdoorsy person who loves four seasons, this has been a difficult adjustment.

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3. If you move here, you can leave behind your:

winter clothes. Unless you decide to get some winter in Korea/Japan or the southern hemisphere, which you will probably want to do come March.

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4. But don't forget your:

sunscreen, bug spray and all mosquito repelling/killing gadgets, handheld fans, ice box/coolers.

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5. Do you recommend any books or movies about this city/country for those who are interested in learning more?

First they killed my father, a film and YouTube: itchyfeetonthecheap, videos by Canadian expats living in Phnom Penh

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