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Immigration Policy for Cambodia

Many expats end up living long-term in Cambodia, even if they don’t originally intend that as their destination. The warm climate, welcoming people, and large number of historical sites mean that people fall in love with the country and decide to stay long-term.

People who are considering moving to Cambodia should know what to expect before they get there. Here’s what they need to know.

Immigrating to Cambodia

Immigrating means moving one’s entire life to a new country. Immigrants may not leave their home country behind forever (though some do), but they will often move away for a long period of time.

These immigrants end up making new lives for themselves in their new country. They make new friends, pursue their careers, find a support system, and even do practical things like open bank accounts and find schools for their children in their new home.

Immigrating is different than visiting a place for a long time. Most immigrants don’t know when they will next return home, and some of them fully intend to stay away for a long time. They put down roots in their new location.

Reasons to Immigrate to Cambodia

People move to Cambodia for a number of different reasons. Different expats will cite different reasons for their immigration, and some will claim several of these as their motivation for moving to Cambodia. Reasons for immigrating may include: 

  • A desire to get away. Many people immigrate simply because they don’t want to live in their home country anymore. They may decide that they want an adventure, that they want to live somewhere where the cost of living is less, or somewhere where they can experience a different culture.
  • People who find work in Cambodia will relocate to be able to do their jobs. Similarly, many online entrepreneurs choose to work out of Cambodia simply because they can and they like life there.
  • People with family or a personal history in Cambodia may choose to live there so they can get to know their relatives or research their own family line and story.
  • Luxury for less. Cambodia has wonderful beaches that are relatively inexpensive to live on or near. People who enjoy this lifestyle may choose to live in Cambodia so they can be close to warm, gorgeous water every day.
  • People in nearby countries who face persecution or who don’t feel safe at home may move to Cambodia in order to get the security they need to thrive.

How to Immigrate to Cambodia

There are two common ways to enter Cambodia. These include the tourist visa, or T visa, and the business visa, or E visa. In general, the business visa is considered the better way to enter because it permits work in the country, which the tourist visa does not.

The best way to get a visa is to apply for it ahead of time at the Cambodian embassy closest to the traveler’s home. Travelers will need to submit a passport, a passport-sized photo of themselves, and any other required paperwork.

The business visa requires a letter from a company, sponsor, or from the Cambodian government supporting the application. There is also a fee associated with both types of visa, which may vary based on the applicant’s country of origin.

Once the initial visa application is processed, other family members who want to reside in Cambodia with the visa holder will need to apply for a visa, showing their primary visa holder’s acceptance as proof that they need one.

People can stay in Cambodia on their initial visa for up to 30 days. These visas are easy to extend, though. Extensions can be for 1 month, 3 months, 6 months, or 12 months. The 6 and 12 month versions allow people to go in and out of the country, while the shorter-term versions do not.

Note that extending a business visa is getting more difficult. Sometimes, applicants are now required to prove that they are working for a Cambodian company, and not just working sufficient to cover their expenses. Different people have had different experiences with this over the last few years.

The Cambodian Work Permit

People working in Cambodia should get a work permit once they are there. The government has not cracked down on these in the past, but is beginning to do so more and more. While it is technically the business’s job to get these for their employees, both the business and the employee can face consequences if they don’t.

These must be obtained through the Ministry of Labor. Applicants will need to submit: 

  • Three sets of application forms
  • A certificate of health
  • Three passport-sized photos of the applicant
  • A written contract for work with the employer
  • A valid passport with a Cambodian visa

The employer may need to provide more information as requested by the Ministry of Labor.

What does it Mean to Be an Immigrant in Cambodia

People in Cambodia are generally open to foreigners, though many expats there find themselves spending more time with other expats than they do with locals. This is not necessarily because they feel unwelcome, but may have more to do with cultural and other differences.

A few Cambodians resent Westerners and the culture that they bring to the country, though this is less widespread than many visitors might think. Overall, Cambodians are welcoming to expats, though it may take time to build relationships between individual people.

Expats need to make sure they understand some basic cultural dos and don’ts in Cambodia. For instance, visitors should not:

  • Touch anyone, especially on the head, without permission
  • Dress provocatively (this means covering shoulders and knees on both men and women)
  • Point their feet at anyone, however inadvertently
  • Bring up politics, unless the person they are talking to does so first

They should:

  • Show respect to elders, monks, and places of worship
  • Return greetings in the manner in which they are given
  • Sit when talking to monks or elders
  • Remove their shoes upon entering a home or a temple

Long Term Visit Versus Moving Permanently

There is not a lot of distinction between a long-term visit and a permanent move to Cambodia, except for the amount of time spent in the country. Because the visa simply gets extended for people who want to live in the country longer, the line between the two categories is easily blurred.

The largest difference between those who move to Cambodia permanently and those who are only visiting has to do with how much of themselves they invest in the country. People who are in Cambodia for the long haul will often go to greater lengths to make friends and other connections there, to build a lasting career there, and to invest themselves in getting to know that country and its people.

Because Cambodia only recently came through a bloody, traumatic civil war, there are a lot of ways that foreigners can invest in the country. They may learn about the history, then find ways to reach people who have been hurt or disenfranchised in the past. They may also choose to learn the language so they can interact more deeply with the people they want to help.

Refugees in Cambodia

All refugees in Cambodia are covered by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, office in Thailand. This office may place refugees in Cambodia, and can help refugees from Cambodia, who fled during political upheaval there in recent generations, return home and even reunite with family members.

Cambodia has no domestic policy for refugees and/or those seeking asylum. While the people are getting better at accepting people who fall into those categories, there is no way to get official status declaring one a refugee in Cambodia. Refugees are generally encouraged to make their way to the abovementioned office in Thailand.

Being a Resident in Cambodia

Cambodia does not offer any sort of “permanent resident” status, simply because it is so straightforward to extend visas once a person is in the country. They can extend these for literally as long as they want, provided they maintain employment or can prove income and do not have run-ins with the law.

Someone who wants Cambodian citizenship can go about getting it in one of three ways. 

  1. They can marry a Cambodian citizen, register the marriage legally, then live together in Cambodia for at least three years.
  2. They can donate cash, though the government, for the Cambodian people. The amount that will earn one citizenship varies and is subject to change.
  3. They can reside in Cambodia for seven years, and prove their competence in Khmer language (including writing and speaking) and history.

Most citizenship requests take 2-3 months to process. Once granted, Cambodia recognizes dual citizenship so some people will not have to give up their citizenship from their home country to also hold it in Cambodia.

Undocumented Immigrants in Cambodia

There are likely a good number of undocumented immigrants in Cambodia. These are made up of migrant workers who travel throughout the region, people seeking safety from unstable political situations in nearby countries, and people who overstay their visas.

It’s relatively easy to be undocumented in Cambodia. Though people will be deported if caught with an undocumented status, this is rare and usually only happens when large groups of migrants are caught together.

Still, undocumented people should make every effort to get a Cambodian visa. This is relatively easy for people of most nationalities, and should not present a major hurdle to most.

Is it Time to Move to Cambodia?

If all of this sounds amazing, it’s time to plan a move to Cambodia. Start with a travel visa, then get a job or start a business there. No matter what, it’s fun and easy to live and work in Cambodia. People who begin the process today will find themselves living there in no time.

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