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Can Foreigners Own Land in Cambodia? Here’s How.

It is a common knowledge in Cambodia’s real estate industry that foreigners cannot own land property in the country. Under Article 44 of the Cambodian Constitution, “only natural persons or legal entities of Khmer nationality shall have the right to land ownership. 

Yet, since Cambodia is a country that attracts a lot of foreign investors, the question is “are there ways for foreigners to own or have the rights to land properties in the Kingdom?”  

Luckily, THERE IS, be it for residential, commercial, or agriculture purposes, a foreigner can legally own or have a right to a land property under these methods: 

Ways for Foreigners to Own/Have Rights to Land Property 

1. LEASING A LAND UNDER LONG-TERM CONTRACT [LEASEHOLD]

Foreigners or foreign entities are permitted to acquire control over Cambodian-owned property through a lease agreement. Entering into long-term leases will guarantee rights over property to foreign individuals and entities.  

Property lease agreements in the country may be termed for a minimum of 15 years up to a maximum of 50 years. The term of the lease can be extended for consecutive periods of 50 years . The lease contract can include a provision that the land would not be sold to anyone else without the lessee’s consent. This method is the simplest and provides some protection stating the foreigner’s legal rights to land property.

A perpetual lease may be registered against the title to the land being leased. Registration of the long-term lease with the relevant Land Office is not a condition of lease validity and there is no legal mandatory requirement to register the lease. Nonetheless, to help secure the foreigners’ land tenure and enforceability against third parties, perpetual leases should be registered against the title of the land with the relevant Land Office. Once registered, the relevant Land Office will issue a lease certificate to the lessee. The lease gives the lessee all the necessary rights to develop the land.

Moreover, a foreign bank or foreign entity can take security over real estate in Cambodia. In fact, it is very common for foreign lenders to set up a structure of securities in Cambodia, including security over real estate in order to guarantee payments. A borrower (local or foreign) can grant hypothecation over a long-term lease and such act can be recorded in the certificate of the long-term lease to serve as security for the payment of the borrower’s debt. 

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2. INVESTING IN LAND THROUGH CONCESSIONS

Allowing a person or legal entity to occupy, utilize, and have rights over land property is called “land concession,” which is established under an agreement issued by government authorities.  

The most sought-after concessions are ELCs or Economic Land Concessions that are generally allocated for agricultural developments. Additionally, ELCs allow investors to clear land for industrial purposes. However, concessions are only limited to lands that are no more than 10,000 hectares. But likewise with the long-term lease, this method is granted through a 50-year concession and is subject to renewals. 

Application of such might take some time since the investors must apply for their rights to the land property through the Ministry of Agriculture. Thereafter, the Council for the Development of Cambodia, and representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, and some relevant provincial government authorities will then need to approve the application, considering any potential social and environmental effects of the concession. 

After these departments have approved the concession, the office of the Prime Minister must sign and authorize the Ministry of Agriculture to formally conclude the concession agreement. The approximate timeframe to complete the process and grant the concession is usually between six and nine months. 

3. FORMING LAND HOLDING COMPANY/TAKING THE MINORITY STAKE 

A foreigner may form a Land Holding Company (LHC) through a joint venture where the majority stake is a Cambodian and the minority stake of up to 49% is a foreigner. An LHC is legally able to purchase land and property in Cambodia. 

The 51% Cambodian shareholding can be held by 1 or more nominees who may, through a Power of Attorney and other legal instruments, give control of their 51% shareholding to the 49% minority foreign shareholder. Meaning to say, in setting up an LHC, the minority shareholder (which is the foreigner) has 100% of the rights to make the actions and decisions within the company. 

It is one of the lowest-risk options because the company and its assets can be configured to provide layers of security to the foreign shareholder or its lender. However, this approach carries the high registration fees, annual admin costs, and a potentially high tax burden when later disposing of the property asset.  

4. THROUGH A CAMBODIAN NOMINEE 

Purchasing land through a Cambodian nominee, also known as a nominee structure, has historically been the most common system used, due to its simplicity and low cost.  

Under this structure, foreign investors would need to “nominate” a Cambodian national to be the legal owner of the land being purchased and sign a ‘trust agreement’ with them in which they agree to hold the land in their name. However, the risk lies on whether you are approaching a trusted nominee or not, so it’s advisable to use a professional nominee from a trusted service provider, like IPS-Cambodia, to keep everything purely professional. 

It is recommended that in addition to the trust agreements, the property being purchased is mortgaged, using the foreigners’ name as the loan provider. Documents registering this mortgage are placed at relevant land offices making the sale of the land and its title, or its use as collateral for another loan, not possible unless the foreigner first instructs the relevant land offices to release the mortgage that has been placed on the property and its title. 

5. MARRYING A CAMBODIAN 

Similar to the nominee structure, when a foreigner is married to a Cambodian citizen, they are permitted to buy a land property under the name of their spouse on the title deed.  

It should be noted that under the Cambodian Law, a foreigner married to a Cambodian, but is not a citizen of Cambodia, is not permitted to be registered on a land title. However, if a foreigner has been granted citizenship, both the spouse and the foreigner’s name are allowed to be registered on a land title.  

6. ACQUIRING A CAMBODIAN CITIZENSHIP 

Under Cambodian Law, only Cambodians have the right to own a land in the country. Therefore, acquiring a Cambodian citizenship would earn a foreigner the right to own a land completely without having to partner with a majority Cambodian stakeholder, lease, or undergo a nominee structure.  

Hence in practice, it is quite difficult to obtain citizenship and would only really be a possibility for investors putting greatest amounts of capital into the country. 

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OTHER RELATED QUESTIONS ON FOREIGN PROPERTY OWNERSHIP:

What companies are considered “foreign”?

A company is considered to be “foreign” if it has a registered office in Cambodia and a foreigner owns the majority (51% stake) or 100% stake of the company. Likewise, a company is considered “local” or Cambodian if it has a registered office in Cambodia and a Cambodian national owns the majority (51% stake) or 100% stake of the company.  

Can foreigners own a property (considering they can’t purchase land) in Cambodia?

Yes, they can. Although Cambodian law prohibits foreigners from owning land, they can legally own properties, be it condominiums, apartments, or offices, as long as it is not located on the ground floor of a building (and at least 30% of the other properties in the building are Cambodian owned). Such properties are commonly “strata-title.” The title is also protected with certain provisions that ensures that the property cannot be demolished or replaced without the foreigner’s consent or appropriate level of compensation. 

Are there any advice or recommendations for foreign investors seeking to invest in Cambodia?

According to Guillaume Massin, Managing Director of DFDL Cambodia and Vice-President of European Chamber of Commerce in Cambodia: 

  • Investors must make sure that any land they intend to develop has been registered with the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. A land that has not been registered will not be subject to the same legal protections which could result in investors losing control over the land without any legal recourse. 

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