Cambodia is one of the cheapest places to visit, work, or retire. There are many articles extolling the virtues of this small country in Southeast Asia. Of how easy it is to find work, how lax the Cambodian Government is when it comes to owning or buying a business. How cheap is it to live here and how convenient is the lifestyle. But we need to understand how much does it really cost to live in Cambodia? What is the actual cost of living in Cambodia?
Cost of living is vital information that you need when living or working in another country. Cost is parallel to an individual’s lifestyle but averages out in terms of basic necessities. In this article, we looked at necessities like food, housing, and transportation. We determined how much a person needs to earn or spend, to live comfortably in Phnom Penh.
Where is Cambodia?
Cambodia is a small country with approximately 16 million people in Southeast Asia. It is part of the ASEAN group, which makes it visa-free for most Asian passport holders to visit. The country has land borders with Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam.
For the past 20 years, Cambodia has enjoyed major economic development. It is the 2nd fastest growing country in Asia and among the top 10 fast-developing countries in the world. This economic growth is expected to continue until the next decade.
The fast-growing economy directly affects local wages and the inflation of market prices. The high economic growth resulted in Phnom Penh’s climb to the 76th spot in the Worldwide Cost of Living Survey.
Salary of Locals
“The minimum wage for locals has been increasing. But not at the same rate as the cost of food and accommodation, which has increased more. Wages for expats have always been comparatively high. These seem to remain the same amongst the expats that I know”. This is the observation of IPS-Siem Reap Branch Manager David Granger.
David had been living in Cambodia for the past 15 years. Although he admitted that he didn’t really feel the gradual changes. “Not much has changed for me. I’m still experiencing life the same way I always have, and doing things I always have. The pleasure for me in living in Cambodia is the culture and the friendliness of the people here, and that has remained a constant.”
|Minimum Wage Locals (Approximation)||Current||10 Years Ago|
|Construction Worker||$7-$10 / Day||$2 / Day|
|Factory Worker||$300 / Month||$80 / Month|
|Hospitality Worker||$150 - $300 / Month||$60 - $80/Month|
|Unskilled Worker||$150 Month||$60 / Month|
Employment Opportunities for Expats
Cambodia is strife with employment opportunities for foreigners. It is a top destination for expat educators. Many international schools are built around the country. There are also a lot of foreign companies that hire expats. These jobs require a higher level of English communication. Among them are writers, digital nomads, marketing professionals, and academic staff.
The country is also a choice destination for interns. Many students from western countries go to Cambodia for on-the-job training. They work in non-government organizations for free, or for a small allowance. This work is in exchange for the official work hours they need to graduate.
Additionally, foreigners sometimes choose to open their own business. Cambodia is an ideal place to own a business. It has a welcoming attitude to foreigners. It also has easy business registration processes. To top it all, the country has special laws on foreign direct investments.
US Dollar and Cambodian Riel
USD is used at the same time as KHR in all provinces in Cambodia. Give or take a few Riels, the exchange rate is around $1 = 4,000 KHR. Generally, foreigners use USD for expensive commodities and KHR for small change. Local and foreign businesses accept both currencies. Even ATMs dispense USD unless you choose the KHR option.
Food and Basic Cost of Living in Cambodia
|Chicken||$4.50||Eggs||$1 / Tray|
|Pork||$5.00||Milk||$2.5 / L|
|Beef||$9.50||Water/Liter||$3.5 / 5L|
|Rice||$0.75 - $1.25||Soy Sauce||$2|
|Tomato||$1.25||Laundry Soap||$2 / KL|
|Lettuce||$1.25 - $2.50||Shampoo||$3|
|Banana||$0.75 - $1.0||Dishwashing Soap||$1|
Food prices in local markets typically don’t have price controls. Meaning, the seller determines the price of the items he/she is selling. Prices will depend on the ability of the consumer to haggle. Other factors like holidays and citizenship determine the price of goods. Products bought in supermarkets may have a slight price increase of $1-2 per kilo. However, they have a fixed price and no haggling is needed.
The average monthly food budget for 1-2 people in Phnom Penh would cost roughly $200. That would include rice, meat, vegetables, fruits, water, dairy products, and condiments. Toiletries (shampoo, conditioner, bath soap, toothpaste, laundry detergent, and cleaning products) are approximately $50 or less. Prices are lower when the raw materials are bought in any of the popular markets in Phnom Penh and cooked at home.
Long-time Phnom Penh resident and Filipino citizen Raf Diongco believes that the cost of living is still low. This is compared to the prices in his home country. He is a Restaurant owner and had been living in Cambodia for 17 years.
According to Diongco, price changes depending on the market that they cater to. “In the last 10 years, prices have gone up roughly 30-40% on average. But those prices differ depending on location. Food and house rentals are higher in predominantly expat-populated areas like the Russian Market and BKK.” He did note though that house rentals increased dramatically. “10 years ago, you can rent a 2-3 bedroom flat or shophouse for $100 – $150, while Villas can be rented from $250 – $350”
There are many real estate properties for rent in Phnom Penh. They are available for all types of spaces and budget. From the single unit apartments to villas, there is always one that will fit your needs. Popular expat areas are BKK1, BKK2 and BKK3, Russian Market, Tonle Bassac, 7 Makara, and Daun Penh. These areas are inside the city and have condos and apartment buildings. Toul Kork, Sen Sok, and Chroy Changvar are cheaper options located near the outskirts.
As a general rule, the farther the area is from the city center, the lower the cost of food and housing prices.
Villas are the choice housing type for large families living in the city. These villas usually comprise of 3 rooms or more. They also have larger spaces, both indoors and outdoors. Villas in Phnom Penh are sometimes used by non-government organizations as headquarters. It can also be offices for small to medium-sized companies. Other times, it is used by expats that brought their families to live in the country long term. This type of housing provides space and amenities that regular apartments don’t have.
Rental prices for Villas differ depending on the location, furnishings, and amenities. On average, they range from $1,500 to $3,500, sometimes higher depending on the number of rooms and land area.
Single Unit Apartments
Single unit apartments are studio or 1-4 bedrooms in apartment or condominium buildings. Foreigners living in the city alone prefers this type of housing spaces. It is also ideal for a group of friends living together and sharing the rent and utilities. They are leased in 6 months or yearly terms.
Apartments for rent in the city range from $500 – $2,500. The price depends on location, amenities, and furnishings. For large condo buildings like De Castle, Embassy, J-Tower, the rental price can range from $1,000 and above. These condos are located in the middle of the city center.
|Housing Spaces For Rent||Inside the City||Outside the City||Avg Rental Price|
|Single Unit Apartment 1 Bedroom||$800||$300||$650|
|Single Unit Apartment 3 Bedroom||$1,500||$800||$1,200|
|Villa for Rent 3 Bedrooms||$2,000||$800||$1,500|
|Serviced Apartment 1 Bedroom||$1,200||$800||$1,000|
|Serviced Apartment 3 Bedroom||$2,500||$1,700||$2,000|
|Housing Spaces For Sale||Inside the City||Outside the City||Avg Rental Price|
|Single Unit Apartment 1 Bedroom||$150,000||$60,000||$120,000|
|Single Unit Apartment 3 Bedroom||$350,000||$150,000||$250,000|
|Villa forsale3 Bedrooms||$600,000||$12,000||$300,000|
Serviced Accommodations are in-demand, especially in the city center. This type of housing option is ideal for foreigners and locals who spend most of their time working. Serviced accommodations remove basic household tasks like cleaning, throwing garbage, and washing the dishes. Sometimes, it also comes with laundry services.
Serviced Apartments and condominium typically have cleaning and laundry services, and building security. These daily or weekly services come with an additional fee.
Shared Housing Spaces
For Interns coming from Western and European countries, shared housing spaces are the best housing option. It’s cheap, conveniently near the urban areas, and comes with instant friends. Interns usually work for free or for a minimal allowance in Cambodia. Instead of completing their work hours in other countries, they chose Cambodia because of the affordable cost of living.
A shared apartment can range from $100 – $300, which comes with your own room and bathroom, and shared kitchen and living spaces. Housemates evenly share utility charges.
Gas and Utilities
|Gas and Utilities||Expense|
|Electricity divided by the number of people in the household||$0.10 / kwh|
|Water divided by the number of people in the household||$0.10/ m3|
|Internet fee and speed||$12 / 10mbps|
|Gasoline||$1 - $1.10|
|LPG||$12 - $15 / 13kg|
There is a little bit of difference in terms of Utility prices for locals and expats. Electricity is $0.25 / kWh, while water is $5 per person for usual expat housing. Locals pay the standard government rates.
Additionally, foreigners pay a “foreigner fee” for an internet connection under their name. 6 months’ monthly payment required in advance. Locals only pay for installation fee and at least 3 months advance monthly payment.
|NAGA Clinic Fees||Local||Foreigner|
|Standard General Practice Consultation||$15||$30|
|Regular Local Clinic Fees||Local||Foreigner|
|Standard General Practice Consultation||$5||$6|
Healthcare is a major concern for most of the foreigners living in the city. A few years back, getting sick means a quick visit to Thailand for a check-up. Nowadays, there are good hospitals and clinics available for emergency care.
A regular consultation fee with a Foreign Doctor would cost roughly $25 and above, while Dental Cleaning is around $15. Fees are different between locals and foreigners though. For example, the regular consultation fee for a local in Naga Clinic is $15, and $30 for foreigners.
Factory Phnom Penh Site Operations Manager Callum McCulloch noted that the largest change in the quality of life in Cambodia is access to global goods, health care, communications, transportation, and financial services. Callum had been living in Cambodia for the last 16 years.
“Not all of these would be confined to just Cambodia, but consider communications. The lack of mobile coverage and Internet access in the early 2000s compared to now is incredible. Health Care is another large change. Many more providers offer health care that in my early days here you would never consider treating here. You would be on the first plane to Bangkok.”
However, there is still a price difference in medical services for locals and expats. This is true for the majority of clinics around the country.
Transportation, especially in Phnom Penh had dramatically changed in the past few years. Commuting until about 3 years ago requires constant haggling with tuk-tuk drivers. Price control happened when app-controlled services like Grab and PassApp started.
Callum reflects on the changes in the transportation sector. “It is easy to forget how horrible and limiting the transportation network was in the mid-2000s. Except for possibly Sihanoukville, traveling to other provincial destinations was a bone-jarring and extremely long ordeal.”
“Even within urban areas such as Phnom Penh, the side roads that branched off the major thoroughfares were potholed and frequently not surfaced (yes, even in BKK1 – Remember St 57 anyone?). Now day trips and movement around the country is considerably better allowing for times away from the rat race of the city.”
Nowadays, there are many tuk-tuks, motos, car rental services, and taxis roaming around Phnom Penh. The city bus also started transporting people around the major thoroughfares in the later part of 2018. One ride costs 1,500 KHR. Short tuk-tuk and moto rides cost 3,000 KHR and flag down rate for taxis is 4,500 KHR. Additionally, the Royal Phnom Penh train also started its operations again.
Luxury and Nightlife Prices
|Lunch for one person on a local restaurant||< $5|
|Lunch for one person on mid-range foreign resto||$5 - $6|
|Lunch for one person on fast food outlets||< $10|
|Night out for 2-3 people (with alcohol) on local clubs||< $50|
|Night out for 2-3 people (without alcohol) on local clubs||< $30|
|Night out for 2-3 people (with alcohol) on foreign-owned clubs||< $60|
|Night out for 2-3 people (without alcohol) on foreign-owned clubs||< $40|
|One night stay at a local guesthouse||$15 ++|
|One night stay at a hotel||$35 ++|
What’s life in the city without enjoying nightlife and the luxuries that Phnom Penh has to offer? Every few days or so, you would want to go out and experience the pulse and beat of the city’s pubs and clubs. Locals and Foreigners alike enjoy a beer or two after a long’s work.
A beer in Phnom Penh costs about $0.50 when bought in grocery stores. In bars and clubs, it ranges from $1 – $3. Wine costs about $8 per bottle in supermarkets and doubles that amount in bars. Cocktails range from $3 – $8. A night out with a group of 2-3 people will set you back less than $10 each if shared. It’s very cheap compared to other Asian, European and Western countries.
What is the Real Cost of Living in Cambodia?
Compared to many Asian countries, the cost of living in Cambodia is still relatively cheap. A foreigner living alone in the city can easily get by on $800 – $1,000 per month if he cooks his own food and indulges in minimal luxuries.
“During my time here, I have seen a definite increase in foodstuffs across the board. An example would be that a R2500 plate of pork and rice now sells for R4000/R5000. Fruit and Vegetables have increased in prices as well."
"Imported goods have always been a premium product and thus expensive to everyday people. Over the last 15 years, prices in restaurants, both those that target expat and local diners have gone up marginally, but in no way significantly considering the time in question.” added Callum.
A typical foreigner salary is roughly $1,000 – $2,000, depending on the industry and position in the company. For that salary, one can live comfortably in a nice one-bedroom western apartment. You can dine in mid-ranged restaurants a few days a week, even enroll in a local gym. However, the influx of foreign investments and foreign money may change all that. For now, the quality of life is still pretty good all around.