Updated July 2011
For those who have never been to Cambodia and who are considering travelling here, Khmer 440 has compiled a list of frequently asked questions and answers dealing with visas, immigration, customs, money, health and crime.
Visas when arriving by air
The simplest way to get a tourist visa is on arrival rather than making an unnecessary trip to a local Cambodian Embassy, assuming a traveller’s country even has one.
The process on arrival at the newly refurbished Phnom Penh international airport is then straightforward if time consuming. Travellers fill in their visa/departure arrival forms and then line up with other arrivees. A passport photograph is expected and travellers who do not bring one are often made to wait and then charged an extra dollar or two and allowed in anyway. Tourist visas are non multiple entry and cost $20 for thirty days although they can be extended for another thirty days for an extra $20. If a traveller needs to extend then there is no reason to return to the airport as many travel agents in Phnom Penh can take care of the process.
The Khmer authorities have recently installed new computer systems at passport control which has slowed down the procedure of getting through to the baggage reclaim so a useful tip for travellers is make an effort to be first in line when it?s time to apply for a visa.
Visas when arriving by land
There are six entry points by land and visas are available at each. Technically visas should cost the same as when arriving by air but tourists coming from Thailand will be asked for between 1000 and 1100 baht for a 30 day tourist visa thereby being scammed of about $5. Cambodian law clearly states that a tourist visa costs $25 for 30 days so travellers are within their rights to firmly complain if the border guard insists on 1000 baht or more.
Are there any other complications?
Not really. Travellers need not show proof of onward travel or sufficient funds for the length of their stay. The Visa form itself is simple and can be completed quickly. Travellers from African, South Asian, Middle Eastern countries are usually scrutinised far more thoroughly than Westerners however and this particularly applies at Phnom Penh International Airport since the arrival of the new US funded computer equipment.
What if I want to stay longer?
This is a simple process. Travellers can apply for a business visa on arrival. These cost $25 for the initial 30 days and can be extended for as long as you want via any number of small businesses in Phnom Penh with ?Lucky! Lucky!? motorbike rental shop being especially popular.
The 6 month and 12 month business visas cost $145 and $280 respectively and are both multiple entry. When extending visas it is not advisable to go to the Dept of Foreigners. Instead most travellers deal with a local travel agent where their passport, money and a photo is all that is needed for a next day service. Travellers should ensure that their business visa is labelled E Class.
Is there a departure tax at the airport?
No. Since April 2011 the departure tax has been included in the price of your plane ticket.
What happens if I overstay by mistake?
If travellers overstay for a considerable period of time then they will need legal help. If they merely forget by a few days then they can expect a $30 fine plus an extra $5 for each day of their overstay. Unlike in Thailand, they won’t be thrown into jail.
Tell me about the immigration procedure on arrival.
Travellers give their passports to a uniformed official who will fill a whole page of their passports with a stamp. This procedure can take a few minutes and the newly computerised procedure at Phnom Penh International Airport has slowed matters down.
What about customs?
When flying in travellers are supposed to declare all sorts of electronic equipment but this is generally not a problem as these rules are, in practise, not enforced. Many business travellers bring in laptop computers and are neither stopped nor questioned.
How about getting from the airport to my hotel?
The official taxis are safe and the journey can take 30 minutes to an hour depending on traffic conditions. The taxis cost $7, but if possible try and arrange a hotel pick up as this can be cheaper or even free. When using an official taxi, ensure that the driver takes you to the hotel of your choice rather than his; he may be trying to earn commission. This can of course avoided by having a prior hotel booking. Also do not allow him inside your hotel as once again, he may try earning commission. Budget travellers and the adventurous can walk out of the aiport and hail a motodop who will be happy to take them into town for a dollar but it would be a good idea to have a map to show the driver where you?re staying.
Once in Cambodia, which currency should I use?
Travellers should use both the $USD and the Khmer Riel. Unlike Thailand, Cambodia has no coins so Riel functions as small change. Travellers will need lots of local currency especially when dealing with motorbike taxi drivers or when in rural Cambodia where the locals will struggle to change a $5 note. Dollars are useful for larger purchases or when dining out in decent restaurants. It is sound advice to always check the state of dollars when receiving change as ripped or torn money will not be accepted elsewhere. The highest riel note is currently 50,000 riel and the lowest is 50 riel and most traders will give change at the rate of 4000 riel to a dollar.
Essentially, the dollar is the currency of Cambodia and most prices are quoted in the dollar rather than the riel. Most Khmers are pretty honest about giving change but occasionally a traveller might find a merchant who insists on giving 3900 riel instead of 4000 as a dollar change or a money changer who puts a few 5000 riel notes into a wad of near identical 10,000 riel notes.
What about changing money?
Cambodia now has plenty of ATM machines.
For changing dollars into riel, then the local money changers are the best bet. They are scattered all over town and can always be found at or in markets. Just look out for glass boxes stuffed with cash and usually presided over by a woman. The 5000 and 10000 riel notes are practically identical so travellers should scrutinise their money carefully.
Do I need to worry about counterfeit dollar bills?
This is an occasional problem but it’s unlikely that travellers will receive one on a short holiday visit. To be safe however, it’s best to scrutinise large denomination bills. At the time of writing, there have been reports of Nigerians bringing fake $100 bills into Cambodia.
What about Travellers Checks and Credit Cards?
If travellers are staying at a medium range hotel or above then it should be acceptable to pay by either credit cards or traveller?s checks but it might be a good idea to ask on arrival. More and more retail outlets in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap are accepting credit cards especially Visa, Visa Electron and Mastercard so if travellers are dining at an upmarket venue they will most probably be happy to take credit card payments. Visitors may have difficulty changing travellers checks any where else than the bank though, and should remember to take their passports.
Do I have to haggle and bargain everywhere?
If travellers go to the market and want to buy silks and fabrics, carvings, antiques or anything else apart from food then it is acceptable to haggle. Most visitors offer half the quoted price and take it from their. It is wise to haggle in a good natured way, keep smiling and the vendor will do likewise. Remember that 1000 riel is 25 cents though, so spending 30 minutes trying to get the price of kramah down by 25 cents is not considered acceptable. At the end of the day that 1000 riel is far more important to the vendor than to the traveller.
Generally speaking, Khmer market vendors are nowhere near as ruthless as their Vietnamese counterparts.
It’s also worth remembering that some things cannot be haggled for. If travellers eat out in a local Khmer restaurant, then they shouldn’t haggle about the price of food and drink.
Upmarket souvenir shops near the Riverside in Phnom Penh may give visitors a slight discount but it isn’t acceptable to haggle in supermarkets.
Shall I tip in restaurants?
Khmers usually tip small amounts, usually rounding the bill up to the nearest dollar when paying, but Cambodia is not like the USA or the UK where a 10-15% service charge is either added or expected. However, if a traveller feels that the service has been especially friendly, and this is quite possible as Cambodia has overtaken Thailand as the land of smiles, then it could be considered appropriate to give 500 or 1000 riel to your waiter or waitress. Wages for service staff in Cambodia are low.
What about tipping beggars?
Most organisations working with homeless or disadvantaged Khmers advice tourists not to; instead they recommend donating to a worthy project providing assistance to the marginalised and vulnerable. Giving $5 to a one legged beggar is only going to make him dependent on tourist cash and more likely to bother tourists. Giving money to street children often only ends up in them buying glue to sniff or palm wine for their fathers to drink. If travellers really want to do something in the here and now then they could either give a very small denomination note or buy the beggar something to eat. Making a donation to a local charity is another option.
What?s the internet connection like?
Internet connection in Cambodia varies, but has improved enormously in recent years and there are now many places – bars, restaurants and hotels – offering free wi-fi with speeds of up to 1mbps. Therefore, it’s easy and convenient to get connected using your smartphone, laptop or notepad.
In addition, many cheap $1ph internet cafes still exist although many of the cheaper places have badly maintained virus-filled computers, but at the better cafes travellers can often hook up their laptops or at least use be able to download photos from their digital cameras and save them onto their flash drives.
Can I phone home?
This is possible. Many internet shops offer online phones and the charges for this service are surprisingly cheap. Usually between 500-1000 riel a minute depending on where ‘home’ is.
How do I get around?
Most travellers use motodops, the local name for motorbike taxis. The drivers can usually be identified by their baseball caps. Contrary to many reports travelling by motodop is usually quite safe as the average motodop drives slowly. His bike is his sole source of income so he is unlikely to take risks. The vast majority of road traffic accidents in Cambodia involving motorbikes happen to young men in the 18-25 group rather than motodop drivers.
As a traveller your biggest problem is that the motodop will recognise you as such as and will try and squeeze as much money as possible out of a visitor as he can. A good idea would be to agree a price before embarking on the journey. In general 1000 -2000 riel is sufficient for most rides although 3000-4000 is a fair price for a ride from the riverside to the Russian Market. Be aware however that prices rise when a moto is shared or after dark when many of the older motodops return to their families.
It’s also advisable to have exact change when dealing with motodops as they seldom have change for a dollar bill let alone a $5. For visitors planning to do a lot of travelling during the day it is wise to negotiate a daily rate and $5 should be considered a generous amount to pay for 5 or 6 hours service in the daylight hours.
Taxis with an English speaking driver can be hired for about $20 per day.
Tuk tuks are safer but more expensive. $1 seems to be the minimum price and 6,000 – 8000 will get you right across town.
Do I need to worry about my personal safety?
Attacks on foreign tourists are usually opportunist crimes and Cambodia is certainly a safer place to travel and ever before. Neverthless, it’s not good idea to walk down dark streets late at night or display large amounts of dollar bills in public places. The average Khmer is far more likely to tell a traveller that the back zipper of their day pack is undone than to try and take something out of it.
What if I need the help of or have to deal with the Cambodian Police?
Sadly the Khmers do not have an effective and efficient Tourist Police as can be found in Thailand. Generally speaking the Cambodian Police force are very badly paid and not especially well trained. Travellers should have an insurance policy that includes reimbursement for stolen goods.
If a traveller needs the help of the local police they will generally do their best but to obtain this level of service will often necessitate paying a bribe. It has been suggested that $20 or $30 is the going rate for a report allowing a traveller to make an insurance claim. Getting into a dispute with as local is not advisable but generally speaking and unless the local is especially rich or well connected then the police will be fair and will try and find an appropriate solution to the problem depending on who they think is right or who offers to pay the largest bribe. The criminal police wear a beige uniform, the military police who guard key buildings wear a dark green uniform and the highly unpopular traffic police wear blue shirts. Many expats simply refuse to stop when waved down by the traffic police but if stopping is unavoidable the 2000 riel is the official fine for a minor traffic infraction. The police often try asking for much more but will usually settle for 2000 riel. The important thing is to smile and try and stay friendly. As in any Asian country it is unwise to show anger and it is especially unwise to show anger when dealing with the police in the Cambodia.
What if I commit a criminal offence and am caught?
Far from being a playground for pedophiles, Cambodia is now making a determined effort to address its reputation as a destination for tourists wanting to engage in with inappropriate relationships with children. If caught, a sex offender can expect up to 20 years in a Khmer jail plus prosecution in their home countries afterwards. The Cambodian authorities are taking this matter very seriously and want to make examples of offenders.
Marijuana is no longer on open sale as it used to be. Being caught with other drugs such as heroin or amphetamine pills however could result in having to pay a lot of money followed by deportation and if a visitor doesn’t have the money then they might be sent to jail until the money to pay the ‘fine’ can be found.
What about my health?
Cambodia is a tropical country so it’s advisable to drink plenty of water every day to prevent dehydration. Traveller’s can buy bottled water on virtually every street corner but should make sure that it comes with a plastic seal around the neck. Bottled water costs between 500-1000 riel a bottle depending on quality. Other than that, tourists should be wary about patronising vendors of cheap street food. Diarrhoea is easily acquired. Nor is it advisable for visitors to expose themselves to the sun for long periods of time. In the city a hat will suffice but when at the beach visitors should limit their sunbathing or use a strong sun cream
What about more serious health concerns?
It’s sensible for travellers to ensure that their vaccinations are up to date before leaving home. Local medical practitioners in traveller’s home countries should be able to vaccinate for Hepatitis A as well as making sure that typhoid, tetanus, polio and diphtheria jabs are up to date. Rabies is present and Cambodia and therefore it is wise to avoid dogs in rural areas and when venturing into the provinces.
What about Malaria and Dengue Fever?
For a short break in Phnom Penh and Sihanoukville then a visitor should have no worries. It’s rare for travellers to contract malaria in Angkor but when travelling to Rattanakiri or Mondulkiri then it may be worthwhile taking a course of anti malarial tablets. Most people use doxycycline and it advised to take 2x100mg tablets from two days prior to entering the malarial area until 4 weeks after leaving. Some people have reported side effects which could include heartburn or indigestion so it?s best not to take this drug on an empty stomach. Furthermore doxycycline shouldn?t be taken by pregnant women or by children under 12.
Malaria is spread by night time mosquitoes so it’s advisable to cover arms and feet when out at night in malarial areas. When sleeping in budget accommodation mosquito nets work well but should be properly tucked in and checked for holes. It?s also a good idea to buy a can of bug killer such as the excellent ‘Raid.’ Travellers should spray their bedrooms an hour before going to bed and then keep the doors closed and themselves out of the bedroom. By the time its time to go to bed any mosquitoes present will have died.
Dengue fever is far less serious than malaria but still highly unpleasant. It’s spread by day time mosquitoes and in a short trip to Cambodia a visitor would be very unlucky to get infected but it’s still a good idea to use mosquito repellent on exposed body areas when out in the daytime.
What if I need to see a doctor?
It?s important to get sound medical insurance (including medivac cover) before coming to Cambodia. If a traveller gets seriously hurt for whatever thing then the important thing is get to Bangkok as soon as possible. Phnom Penh’s main hospital, Calmette, is really not comparable to medical facilities in Thailand although the Emergency Room is considered efficient and has western doctors. Otherwise there is the SOS Clinic (023-215-811, near the US embassy on street 51) which can help with medical evacuation. If a visitor’s problem is less serious then Dr Gavin Scott is a British GP who runs the Tropical & Travellers Medical Clinic (No. 88, Street 108, 012-898-981).
Dr Scott charges $50 per consultation and more for any treatment or drugs that may be needed. He will give patients the paperwork to claim this money back from their health insurance policies.
What about pharmacies?
Phnom Penh seems to have a pharmacy on every street corner and many Khmers use pharmacies instead of doctors as a source of medical advice. An enormous array of drugs are sold over the counter without prescription and occasionally we hear reports of counterfeit drugs being sold. One recommended pharmacy in Phnom Penh that operates to international standards is the ‘Pharmacie de la Gare’ on Monivong near the train station. This pharmacy is reputable in all ways however and refuses to supply sedatives or the sort of strong pain killers that you’d need a prescription for in your own country.
In In Siem Reap, the Psah Chas pharmacy has received good reports. It can be found opposite Psah Chas.
Are there any Western style supermarkets?
Yes there are. Phnom Penh has Pencil, Thai Huout, Bayon and a number of branches of the Lucky Supermarket chain, all of which serve western brand name food, fancy breads and cheeses, plus the sort of toiletries a visitor would expect to find in their home country; Gillette deodorant, Mach 3 razors etc. Cambodia doesn’t have 7-11s yet but the city has numerous small 7-11 style minimarts open around the clock.
Phnom Penh also has a couple of quality delicatessens serving luxury western foods such as Spanish Hams and exotic imported cheeses. The best is probably Veggies on Street 240.
I’m in trouble and need to contact my local embassy.
Here is a selected list
Australia Villa 11, Street 254 023 213 470
Canada Villa 11, Street 254 023 213 470
China #256, Mao Tse Tung 023 720 922
Denmark #8, St 352 023 987 629
France #1, Monivong 023 430 020
Germany #76-78, St 214 023 216 381
India #777, Monivong 023 210 912
Japan #75, Norodom 023 217 161
Myanmar #181, Norodom 023 213 664
Poland #767, Monivong 023 217 782
Russia #213, Sotheros 023 210 931
Singapore #92, Norodom 023 360 855
S.Korea #64, St 214 023 211 901
Sweden #8, St 352 023 212 259
Switzerland #53d, St 242 023 219 045
Thailand #196, Norodom 023 726 306
UK #27-29, St 75 023 427 124
USA #27, 240 023 216 436
Vietnam #426, Monivong 023 362 531