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Moving to Cambodia? Wondering what it costs to live in Phnom Penh?
In this article, we delve into what life is like in Cambodia’s capital city, including the real cost of living in Cambodia and details you don’t always hear about.
Other articles you may like:
- 10 Awesome Places to go in Cambodia
- Best Bus Companies in Cambodia
- Unique Accommodation in Cambodia
- How to Extend a Cambodia Visa
- Best International Schools in Phnom Penh
Note: The original version of this article, written by Jen, first appeared on Tim Leffel’s Cheapest Destinations Blog. This is a more recent version, updated in January 2020 with some modifications and additions, including recent changes to getting a visa.
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Phnom Penh is at that sweet spot of development for expat living. An influx of foreign investment in recent years has meant more businesses, amenities, and quality international schools geared toward foreigners.
Gentrification has had its positives and negatives on the cost of living in Cambodia. But there is much to be said for the comforts and ease of life these businesses provide expats.
At the same time, Phnom Penh retains its chaotic pace and Cambodian charm. It’s not hard to get away from foreign influence and experience local living. And, to settle the debate on how to pronounce Phnom Penh, most people prefer to pronounce both Ps. It is not Nom Pen.
All the development means you’ll have the option to shop at organic food stores or pay half the price at local outdoor markets. A typical meal at a Cambodian restaurant costs less than $2. Or you can enjoy an upscale dining experience at a western restaurant for $100+.
Finding a coffee shop in Phnom Penh is easy, Cambodia has a huge coffee culture. A cappuccino at a foreign coffee chain costs $3, while a locally-sourced brew at a Cambodian stall costs less than $0.75. Eating local is an easy way to cut down on the cost of living in Cambodia.
You can rent a luxury, serviced apartment with a pool, gym, 24-hour security guard, and cleaning service for anywhere from $500 to $3,000/month, or live in a comfortable Cambodian style apartment for under $300.
It depends on what you want your cost of living in Cambodia to be and whether you are seeking western creature-comforts or want to experience a more local way of life.
Either way, the city has what you are looking for at prices much less than what you would pay in most developed countries.
Tuk-tuks and motorbikes, called “motos,” are the preferred method of transport for both locals and expats, though more and more luxury SUVs are crowding the roads every day.
Phnom Penh’s recently expanded international airport and numerous bus services make it a great base for travel throughout the region. Southeast Asian countries are all a short plane ride away. Comfortable buses are available for travel throughout Cambodia and to bordering countries.
The expat scene is a thriving community with interesting people, young and old, from around the world. There are always things to do in Phnom Penh. These can include networking events, restaurant openings, athletic tournaments, street fairs, documentary film showings, art galleries, plays, live music, stand-up comedy, and more.
Phnom Penh is a popular city for young expat families as well, with plenty of activities and businesses catering to children.
So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.
What is the Real Cost of Living in Cambodia?
(All money in USD)
Stevo and I earn less than $35,000 combined annually. We recently moved to a 1-bedroom apartment in a western-style building east of the Russian Market, one of the more popular expat areas.
For us, the cost of living in Cambodia is pretty cheap. We only pay $400 per month in rent (including utilities) plus $50-$80/month for electricity. Our rent includes housekeepers who come twice a week.
Previously we lived in a 3-bedroom Cambodian style apartment for $350 per month on the west side of the Russian Market. There we paid $75-100 for utilities (trash collection, internet, water, electricity) and $40 for a housekeeper who came twice per week.
We eat at restaurants about four to five times per week ($5-15 per meal for two). Cooking a majority of our meals at home with produce bought from a local outdoor market in Phnom Penh and meat from “western-style” grocers helps to keep our cost of living in Cambodia down.
We go to events around the city several nights per week. We both go to a gym in Phnom Penh. Stevo does cross-fit, and I do yoga. If you’re looking for a cinema, Phnom Penh has many to offer. From laidback independent movie houses to one of the few 4DX screens in the world, you’ll definitely be able to get your movie fix.
Because of the cheap cost of living in Cambodia, we can afford to travel around Cambodia about once per month to Kampot, Sihanoukville, Siem Reap, and other provinces in Cambodia.
We live better and feel happier than we did back in our hometown in southern California. Our life in Phnom Penh is simple, fulfilling, and never dull.
Money in Cambodia
Cambodia primarily uses US Dollars and Cambodian Riel. The exchange rate is roughly 4,000 Riel to 1 USD. Most transactions are made in USD with the small change given in Riel. ATMs dispense USD unless otherwise stated, in which case you become an instant thousandaire!
Where to live in Phnom Penh
Phnom Penh is divided into districts. A majority of expats live in BKK 1, 2 or 3, Russian Market, or by the Riverside. BKK 1 and 2 tend to be more expensive with restaurants, bars, and shops geared toward expats. BKK 3 (near the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum) and the Russian Market have a good blend of western and local amenities.
The Riverside area tends to be crowded with tourists and can feel seedy due to the lady bars and nightclubs in the area. However, it is close to many restaurants, shops, and attractive tourist sites.
Another area of the city growing in popularity with expats is Tuol Kork, located 20-30 minutes from downtown. Phnom Penh is expanding outward, and the further outside the city center you go, the lower your cost of living in Cambodia is going to be.
There are a variety of housing options in Phnom Penh ranging from upscale apartments with 24-hour security guards, pools and gyms, to basic Cambodian-style apartments in local neighborhoods. There are even old French colonial buildings and wooden countryside-style homes still available in parts of the city.
Western-style homes in gated communities with tree-lined streets and parks are also available. Many more of these housing developments are popping up on the outskirts of the city and near the airport. Housing costs range from hundreds to thousands of dollars per month depending on location, size, and style.
Cost of Housing
Typically, single expats pay anywhere from $150-550 per month depending on if they rent their own place or live in a shared apartment. Check out the Facebook group Phnom Penh Housing to see what housing options are available. If you are looking to rent a room in a shared house, check out the Facebook group Phnom Penh Shared Housing.
Couples and families can expect to pay $250-$1000+ per month depending on what type of amenities they require. Reasonably priced housing is available all over the city and can help cut down on your cost of living in Cambodia.
Some apartments include utilities while others charge an additional fee for water, trash pick-up, cable, and internet. One thing to note is that electricity is almost always charged in addition to rent and can be expensive. Landlords charge different rates to unsuspecting tenants, but the standard rate is usually 1000 Riel ($0.25USD)/kilowatt.
To keep our cost of living in Cambodia down, we use a fan during the day and only run our air-conditioner in one room for most of the night. Our electric bill is usually around $65 per month, to give you an idea.
Finding a Place to Live
There are many real estate agencies in the city to help you secure accommodation. You should not have to pay the real estate agent a fee as the landlord will pay them a commission.
We’ve lived in four different apartments in Phnom Penh, and had good experiences each time we moved working with local agents. We met most of the agents through apartment advertisements from the Phnom Penh Housing Facebook group.
Agents usually speak good English. In our experience, the best agents can take you to at least half a dozen different properties in a day based on your criteria. Once you find a place you like, the agent should go through the details of your lease together with you and the landlord or building manager.
Usually, you’ll need to give a one-month security deposit and first month’s rent. These shouldn’t be too much considering the low cost of living in Cambodia. Then all you need to is sign the lease and you’re done!
Real Estate Agents
In 2016 Stevo and I appeared on House Hunters International, an American television program on HGTV about expats findings homes around the world. Our agent from the show is Sophea. You can reach him directly by email at sopheasrun.agent (at) gmail (dot) com or through his real estate agency on Facebook. He was fantastic to work with and found us a great place to live within our budget!
Cambodians are some of the friendliest people in the world. They are quick to smile and happy to help. Many Cambodians in Phnom Penh speak English, making it easier to make Cambodian friends, and simplifying basic daily tasks like shopping or eating out.
That said, it is worthwhile to learn at least some basic Khmer phrases to enhance your experiences in the country overall.
Safety in Phnom Penh
Unfortunately, petty crime has risen in the past decade in Phnom Penh. It is rare to know someone living in Phnom Penh who hasn’t had something stolen from them. That goes for both foreigners and locals! Most often this is a phone or bag.
Like in the rest of the world, a vast majority of people in Cambodia are kind, decent, hard-working people who shouldn’t be overlooked. It is important however to take proper safety precautions, especially at night. Stevo and I have been robbed/attempted robbed three times between the two of us, a less glamorous cost of living in Cambodia.
A Brief Cambodia History
To understand Cambodia as it is today, it is important to know about it’s recent, tragic past. In the 1940-1960s Cambodia was developing at a similar rate to Thailand and Vietnam. During the Vietnam War, Cambodia’s northeast was heavily bombed. Concurrent internal strife in the country aided in the Khmer Rouge’s rise to power during the 1970s.
Cambodia’s people suffered a mass genocide by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979, who killed an estimated 1/3 of the total population. People were forced out of Phnom Penh into the countryside and made to work as farmers. Educated people such as teachers, doctors, lawyers, and business owners were killed first.
Hundreds of thousands of others, including women and children, died of starvation. Thousands more were put in prison, tortured, and forced into absurd confessions that they were spies of the KGB or had betrayed the Khmer Rouge in some way. They were brutally murdered and put into mass graves.
Today the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek Killing Fields in Phnom Penh are tourist sites aimed to educate visitors about the horrific atrocities committed against the Cambodian people. The Khmer Rouge retained their seat at the United Nations until the early 1990s.
The Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) located outside Phnom Penh only started trying Khmer Rouge leaders responsible for the deaths of millions, within the last decade. The trials are currently ongoing and can be viewed by the public.
Cambodia is still recovering from the loss of the majority of its educated population and the subsequent trauma that has been passed down to the next generations.
Working in Cambodia
Depending on their profession, expats in Phnom Penh live on an estimated $12,000 to $60,000 per year. Phnom Penh is a thriving city of opportunity and there are many jobs in Cambodia for foreigners. Expats work and volunteer in a variety of fields in Phnom Penh, from NGOs, education, hospitality and tourism, the medical field, consulting, technology, and business. The low cost of living in Cambodia attracts people from all walks of life.
Some expats come to the city on expat packages, in which case pay and benefits are usually more attractive. Many other people, including Stevo and I, simply show up and look for work. Integrating into the expat scene and learning about opportunities through word of mouth is a good way to find jobs that may not be posted online. If you are looking for an English school in Phnom Penh, check out our article on the best schools in the city.
We’ve also written an article on How to Find a Teaching Job in Cambodia.
If you are interested in getting certified to Teach English as a Foreign Language (TEFL), check out courses through MyTEFL, which let you complete a TEFL course online. We recommend getting a TEFL certificate to put you ahead of the competition when teaching in Asia. Two Can Travel readers get a 35% discount on all MyTEFL courses by entering the code TWOCAN35 at checkout.
Note: Two Can Travel partners with MyTEFL to bring our readers a 35% discount on all TEFL courses. Use the code TWOCAN35 when you check out.
Cambodian Visas (updated November 2021)
Cambodia has some of the laxest visa regulations in the world. Getting an Ordinary (E) Visa is as simple as showing up at an airport or border, ticking a box, and paying a few dollars more than the Tourist Visa price. You can extend an Ordinary (E) Visa to a year-long visa for around $300.
*Starting on September 1st, 2016 Cambodia started offering a 3-YEAR Multiple Entry Visa to foreigners from all countries. The idea was to encourage both tourists, investors, and foreigners who provide training and work in social development to come to Cambodia. They also hoped to meet the country’s goal of welcoming at least 7.5 million foreign tourists by 2020. *This has now ended.
In September 2017, the laws for getting an Ordinary (E) visa extended changed. Foreigners are now only able to extend to a 6-month or 1-year Ordinary (E) visa with proof of a Work Permit. You can read more about this change here.
Things are constantly changing regarding visas, and we will update this section when we receive new information.
Work Permits and Employment Cards (Updated January 2020)
Technically as of 2014, foreigners working in Cambodia are required to have government-issued Work Permits. However, this law only become more regulated as of September 2017. It is up to businesses to apply for Work Permits for their employees, but you can also apply on your own. Here is more detailed info about the process to obtain a Work Permit and Employment Card.
Combined with the inexpensive cost of living in Cambodia and cheap amenities, Phnom Penh is a prime place to work, start a business, or live a comfortable life of leisure with minimal visa hassles compared with other countries in the region. You can also find up-to-date information about Cambodian visas through the Embassy of Cambodia.
Medical Care in Cambodia
In the past, the common medical advice for travelers and expats in Cambodia was “Go to Thailand!” Thankfully medical care facilities in Cambodia have greatly improved. Many ailments can now be treated in Phnom Penh by foreign doctors and foreign-trained Cambodian doctors.
If you’re looking for a dentist, Phnom Penh has quite a few to offer. But in our experience, the best dental clinic in Phnom Penh is Roomchang Dental Hospital. We have been there several times and have always enjoyed good and professional service.
That said, certain medical procedures or tests may be unavailable or expensive in Cambodia. It may be necessary to seek medical care out of the country, namely in Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, or the Philippines.
Even traveling out of Cambodia for medical care is generally cheaper than being treated in the USA. Many expectant mothers choose Bangkok for prenatal care and delivery.
There is a wide variety of choices when shopping at markets in Phnom Penh. There are a lot of new malls in Phnom Penh but the best place for shopping is still the open-air local markets, big and small, scattered throughout the city. We do all of our produce shopping at these.
Shopping at the local markets helps keep the cost of living in Cambodia down and is always an adventure. Having sellers we regularly go to is a nice way to feel integrated into our neighborhood and practice our Khmer.
A large selection of fruits and vegetables are available at the local markets. Of course, produce that is in season is cheaper, but prices are quite reasonable any time of year. For example, in season mangos are 4000 Riel ($1)/kilogram and avocados are 8000 Riel ($2)/kilogram. (Yes, they have avocados here! Be still, my Californian heart.)
Imported fruits like apples and oranges are available at a price. I was once gifted four apples by a student’s parents that were bought at Aeon Mall, the largest modern mall in Cambodia. They left the price tags on, and each apple had cost $2.90! At the local market, apples will cost much less.
We occasionally buy eggs at the outdoor markets too but are skeptical of the meat that sits outside in the heat for hours on end. Instead, we buy meat from air-conditioned markets geared toward foreign customers. There are stores catering to western customers throughout the city, especially in BKK 1 and 2, near the Russian Market and at the Riverside.
The French influence in Cambodia lingers in the baguettes, croissants, and other fine baked goods at countless bakeries around town. Stevo and I find that we never crave anything from back in the States as we can get just about everything we want here.
You can find fancy meats and cheeses, name-brand peanut butter and chocolate, breakfast cereal, good wine, you name it, it’s likely you’ll find it. A nice baguette or chocolate croissant costs $1-2. We can even satisfy our In-N-Out cravings at Mike’s Burger House! Mike and his staff are fantastic people. Definitely stop in at some point, and tell them we sent you! 🙂
Drinking in Cambodia
Hard alcohol and spirits are surprisingly cheap in Cambodia. The nightlife in Phnom Penh is never boring. A 750ml bottle of Absolut Vodka goes for $10, Blue Sapphire for $12, and very few bottles cost more than $20. There are a few wine shops in town selling imported wine from around the world as well as craft beers.
The wines are about the prices you’d expect to pay at home or a bit higher. Drinking at restaurants is inexpensive. Cocktails, even at nicer restaurants and bars, are $2-8 and are often 1/2 price during happy hour. If you’re looking for a club in Phnom Penh, the Riverside area is teeming with them. Just follow the pounding music.
Local beers range from $0.75-$1.50 at most restaurants. A can of beer from a local shop is $0.50.
They use Cambodia-sourced flavors in their brews like lemongrass, coconut, and coffee. Their beers are delicious, affordable, and much stronger than most locally produced beers.
Getting around Phnom Penh is relatively cheap and easy, and there are many ways to do it. The main method of transport for expats and locals are tuk-tuks, carriages pulled by motorbikes. A ride across town should cost no more than $5, and a typical trip in the city will cost about $2-3.
In 2017 Grab, a service similar to Uber came to Cambodia. Download the app to get Grab cars, motorbikes, and rickshaws. Another similar service is PassApp, which you can also download to your phone.
We used both quite often because we liked not having to haggle over the price with a driver. It gets exhausting after a while!
Motorbikes are a great option for keeping your cost of living in Cambodia down and are always a thrilling experience. Unlike in Bangkok where the motorbike drivers wear fluorescent vests, Cambodia’s moto drivers are just regular guys who own motorbikes.
They often hang out in groups on corners or keep their eyes peeled for people who look like they need a ride, slowing down to check as they ride past. They don’t usually provide helmets for passengers, or even themselves. Yes, it’s dangerous, and don’t tell your mom, but man is it fun!
Taxis are also available in the city, mainly coming from the airport. You will need to book ahead or get extremely lucky to flag one down in the city. There are public buses as of 2015, but for now, there are few routes, and the schedule is unreliable.
Check out this video Jen took on her motorbike ride to work. While you’re at it, Subscribe to our Youtube channel! 🙂
Getting out of Phnom Penh
The Phnom Penh International Airport has undergone major renovations over the past several years and would be unrecognizable to anyone who remembers it from before.
Cambodia’s first Starbucks opened inside the departures terminal in 2015. The airport’s expansion means more international flights to and from the city. There are non-stop flights to countries throughout Asia every day.
There are flights from Phnom Penh to Bangkok, Thailand, and flights from Phnom Penh to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam for under $100.
Air Asia is the largest budget airline in the region. A flight from Phnom Penh to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where Air Asia’s hub is, costs about $50.
To find the best prices, try to book flights at least a month in advance if possible. Sometimes you can get lucky with cheap last-minute fares.
Many bus companies have routes around Cambodia and to bordering countries.
The buses and roads in Cambodia are much better now than they were even just a few years ago, making bus travel a lot easier than it used to be. There are many great bus companies in Cambodia to choose from, but there are a lot of terrible bus companies too.
Giant Ibis is one of our favorites. They have quality air-conditioned buses and mini-buses going to most parts of the country.
We usually book bus tickets with CamboTicket, Cambodia’s first online bus booking service, that works with dozens of transportation companies around the country. They also offer experiences in Cambodia like tours, performances, and more.
We have also used 12Go.Asia to book transportation in Cambodia. 12GoAsia is one of the largest transportation booking sites in Asia for booking buses, private cars, ferries, and flights.
Follow Two Can Travel’s Facebook page where we share discounts from CamboTicket and 12Go.Asia.
Private taxis are also available to hire anywhere you want to go for a reasonable price. You can book private taxis in Cambodia through both CamboTicket and 12GoAsia.
Surprisingly hiring a taxi in Cambodia isn’t much more expensive than booking a bus if you have 3-4 people sharing the cost of the taxi. If you have fewer than 3 people traveling then check out the Facebook group Taxi Share Cambodia to find open seats in shared private cars.
Should you move to Cambodia?
Phnom Penh is one of the best values for money in Southeast Asia. The cost of living in Cambodia has never been better. It is a city primed for opportunity and will best be enjoyed by those with an adventurous spirit and open mind looking to immerse themselves in a new culture, while still enjoying many comforts of the western world.