Cambodia surpassing Thailand as expat Shangri La

Published:  9 Feb at 6 PM
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Overshadowed for years by its next door neighbour Thailand, Cambodia is coming into its own as the preferred destination for expats looking for friendliness, natural beauty, an inexpensive cost of living and straightforward visas.

Famed for decades for its spectacular Angkor Wat temples, Cambodia has drawn tourists to its mostly unspoiled land for several decades, with its attractions as an expat hub now resulting in increased numbers of arrivals looking for a safe, friendly, laid back life. In addition, the country is growing its economy at a good rate, offering economic benefits to both investors and expat professionals.

In addition to Cambodia’s straightforward, comparatively inexpensive visa requirements, there’s little or no prejudice towards foreigners, all of whom are welcomed with genuine smiles. Many Cambodians now have English as their second language of choice, and US expats will be happy to note the US dollar is the country’s defacto currency, thus making running online and offline sales and export businesses much easier.

Unlike in Thailand, all expats including retirees are allowed to work via the simple purchase of a work visa, and volunteering is also permitted. There’s a good choice of diverse locations, from the busy capital Phnom Penh through historic Siem Reap and the smaller towns of Kampot and Kep to the buzzing beach resort of Sihanoukville. Colonial Battembang may not be blessed with a beach, but many expats are happy to call it home.

Cambodia lies at the heart of Southeast Asia, with Phnom Penh’s international airport linking to air transport hubs in the rest of Asia and the Middle East although as yet there are no direct flights to the West. Cheap bus travel covers the country’s main cities, and getting around on a daily basis is easy.

Dependent on personal requirements and finances, Cambodia’s cost of living is remarkably low. International Living’s recent survey, aimed at US citizens, placed the laid-back country at the top of a list of inexpensive destinations. Compared with Thailand, everyday expenses are cheaper with the exception of electricity, and internet services are far more reliable and faster. The country’s economy is growing more quickly nowadays and soaring foreign investment is improving its infrastructure and services such as banking.

Since Thailand’s military coup three years ago, many long-term expats have moved across the border and started a new life in Cambodia. An oft-heard comment is that their experiences remind them of life in Thailand several decades ago as regards lifestyle, local people and affordability in general. Favourable comments also include a great choice of Western style restaurants and inexpensive housing whether renting or buying.
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