This post “Cost of Living in Cambodia: Siem Reap”, contributed by Joshua Clayton at A World On A Page, is the first in our new series of posts on the monthly cost of living in various cities and countries around the world.
Joshua, originally from the UK, has lived in Siem Reap for the last 4.5 years. He spent 2 years working and travelling around Australia before finding himself in Cambodia. He was offered a job at ABOUTAsia Travel, and given his love of travel, has stayed ever since.
READ ABOUT OTHER CITIES IN THE WORLD WHERE YOU CAN LIVE FOR UNDER US$2000 PER MONTH
Where is Cambodia?
The ‘Kingdom of Cambodia’ is a small country with approximately 16.7 million people in Southeast Asia. Its landscape consists of plains, great rivers, the Mekong Delta, mountains and the Gulf of Thailand coastline. The country has land borders with Thailand to the Northwest, Laos to the Northeast, Vietnam to the East, and the Gulf of Thailand to the Southwest.
Cambodia lies amid important overland and river trade routes linking China to India and Southeast Asia. The influences of many Asian cultures, alongside those of France and United States, can be seen across the country through architecture and cuisine, but it is most obvious in the capital city of Phnom Penh.
Where is Siem Reap?
Siem Reap is an area located in the northwest part of Cambodia. Once the seat of power for the great Khmer Empire, this location is home to the most ornate temples and as such, is the most popular tourist site for those taking a tour of Cambodia.
Monthly Cost of Living in Cambodia: Siem Reap
Living in Cambodia is very affordable, especially by European city standards. It is claimed Cambodia is one of the cheapest places to live not only in in Southeast Asia, but the world.
Using the Cost of Living Index Comparison Calculator on the Expatistan website:
- Cost of living in Cambodia is 61% cheaper than in Australia
- The cost of living in Cambodia is 55% cheaper than in United States
- Cost of living in Cambodia is 58% cheaper than in United Kingdom
N.B. The Cost of Living Index shows the difference in living costs between cities. The cost of living in the base city is always expressed as 100. The cost of living in the destination is then indexed against this number.
Cost of living is vital information if you are looking to move to or live for a longer period of time in another country. Overall costs will vary according to the individual, their personal circumstances, and their lifestyle but the basic necessities such as accommodation, utilities, transportation, food and entertainment, will be very similar. On this basis, this article will determine approximately how much a person needs to earn or spend, to live comfortably in Siem Reap.
N.B. The official currency in Cambodia is the riel (r), however, US dollars are accepted everywhere by everyone. Expect to receive small amounts of change in riel from market vendors and in supermarkets.
Siem Reap: Small Town Charm with Great Connections
Siem Reap is a town in Cambodia’s North West, best known for being the gateway to the temples of Angkor and the ruins of the ancient Khmer Empire.
Outside of the pandemic, the town is an important stop for international tourists from all countries, and jobs serving these visitors make up some 50% of the jobs in town, including my own.
The high numbers of international tourists open up a large, and ever changing, number of options for eating, drinking and nightlife as businesses spring up and close down. Dining options are especially plentiful, with high-end gastronomy outlets sitting alongside riverside food carts. For retirees, the huge tourism industry means that English is prevalent and learning Khmer, while always advised, is not strictly necessary.
The tourist connection also makes it a great base from which to explore the region. Other Cambodian cities such as Phnom Penh, Kampot, Kep, Battambang and Cambodian islands such as Koh Rong are also worth exploring.
Pre-covid, Siem Reap had direct flights to Da Nang, Saigon, Hanoi, Pakse, Luang Prabang, Bangkok, Phuket, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and numerous Chinese hubs including Hong Kong and Guangzhou, making it very easy to tick off those bucket list destinations in Southeast Asia.
READ MORE: 14 OF THE BEST THINGS TO DO IN SIEM REAP
Cost of Accommodation: Siem Reap
Private House with Pool or Studio Apartment?
Siem Reap has a lot of options for accommodation. Depending on how comfortable you want to be, a basic studio can set you back less than 200 USD a month, while a two bedroom fully furnished private villa with a swimming pool might take you up to 1,000 USD a month or more.
At least initially, I’d steer people towards apartments over houses. Apartments typically come with free Wi-Fi, utilities paid directly to the landlord, a housekeeper and cleaner, and a night watchman or security guard. Most landlords with foreign occupants speak a good level of English which makes getting a new bottle of gas or finding a drinking water supplier easy, and when you are fresh off the boat and still finding your way around the less you need to worry about the better.
In my experience, and certainly for newcomers, using a real estate agency is a big help. An agent helps with finding you the right apartment, negotiating a contract, and they can be a mediator if necessary between you and the landlord. My recommendation is IPS: Independent Property Services. I’ve personally moved apartments three times and used their help for each one.
With that in mind, moving apartments in Cambodia is easy, so don’t feel like your first apartment is your last. Buying a property is much more complex due to laws prohibiting foreigners from owning land, and should really be considered only once you are settled and have decided to remain in the city.
With so many apartments springing up around town, it’s hard to pin down any particular area for the best options to live in. In general, if you want easy access to amenities within or near the city centre, then Sivatha Road, Taphul Road and Wat Bo Road are popular areas, as there is a high concentration of restaurants and mini-marts on these roads. When searching, always ask for a google map location as many properties are only listed to the Sangkat (Commune) which covers a very large area.
Monthly Cost of Utilities: Siem Reap
Burning Money Keeps You Cool in the Hot Summer
Mobile phone costs for most people are negligible. With Whatsapp, Messenger, Telegram and other free internet-powered services ruling the messaging arena, a SIM card that gives you data is all you need to stay connected. Personally, I spend $1 per week on an internet package for my phone and almost never run out of data. Rental properties almost always include internet and cable in the monthly rate, and 4G powered home broadband is offered on a pay-as-you-go basis by Smart. Internet in Cambodia is improving with Fibre in some areas. In Siem Reap serious online gaming is off the cards for most people, but the internet is perfectly adequate for emails, browsing and watching Netflix.
The largest expenditure in terms of utilities is electricity, specifically running air conditioning. If you want your entire apartment to feel like a fridge at all times, expect to pay hundreds of dollars a month in bills. For most people who only use the air conditioning at night in their bedroom, you can generally spend less than a hundred a month – varying by time of year and the size of your room.
Costs of Transportation in Siem Reap
Two Wheels are Perfect for Getting Around
Buying a car in Cambodia can be particularly expensive, especially when comparing the vehicle prices to what you might find back home. Motorbikes are the way to go. Motorbikes under 125cc do not require a licence, and the Cambodian favourite – the Honda Dream – is 124.85cc. Most expats eventually get a small scooter for getting around town, although many cycle exclusively. Town itself is small, and even those living on the outskirts should only expect a 10-15 minute drive to get around. Those living within the centre can expect to get to their favourite shop within 5 minutes on most days. When the 38 roads project is complete, pedestrian access around town should also significantly improve.
With the introduction of ride-hailing services like PassApp and Grab, getting a remok or rickshaw around has become easier than ever, with bargaining and the need to give directions all but disappearing as GPS and set fares became popular with both locals and expats. An average ride across town comes to around 1.5-2 USD, depending on distance. Even this low rate can quickly rack up if made every day however. A decent, well-maintained scooter can be bought for 600 dollars, so those planning a long stay will quickly make up their costs, as well as be that much more independent.
Fuel costs will vary but for me, working a full time job and driving from one end of town to the other every day on a 150cc motorbike costs 10 USD a month on fuel. As of the time of writing, the price of fuel was just under 1 USD per litre. If you choose a good motorbike or scooter then maintenance should boil down to oil changes every couple of months and the odd flat tire – easily less than 10 USD per mechanic visit.
Cost of Food / Drinks in Siem Reap
No Cooking Means No Washing Up
This is where costs will really vary depending on your preferred lifestyle and ability to go without comfort food. For those who enjoy cooking, it is easy to get through a week on 60-70 USD, even for a couple. Find a good fruit and vegetable supplier at your local market and (especially if you learn some Khmer) you can easily eat a healthy, varied diet on a budget. Rice and noodles are of course cheap and easily available and will make up the mainstay of your meals. Cambodia has won world’s best rice before, so you may as well enjoy it.
Where expats quickly find the costs start to rise is at the supermarket. While the large Angkor Market and Makro both offer very western shopping experiences with a huge variety of products, regional and imported, they also come with higher prices. This is especially true of comfort food, which can reach extortionate levels compared to the prices back home. As own-brand products are not available in Cambodia, you’ll pay a premium for that jar of Branston Pickle.
This is assuming you choose to cook or eat at home at all – many expats in Siem Reap do not. With so many cheap options available, going out for lunch and dinner each day is easily affordable. Restaurants like My Little Café have a large menu of Asian options from fried rice to grilled chicken to Pad Thai, and a meal with a drink will cost under 5 USD per person. Even going out for more western food, most meals with a drink will only cost 10 USD a person.
Unless you frequent the beautiful Raffles Elephant Bar, an evening drink will only cost a few dollars. Most draft beer is 50 cents (2000 riel) to 1 USD, with a cocktail and glass of wine being around 3-4 USD in most bars. Expect to pay double these prices if you want to live the high life and visit high end restaurants and dining establishments within the numerous 4 and 5 star hotels.
Staying Safe, Healthy and Legal
Siem Reap has one major international hospital – Royal Angkor, and numerous smaller clinics. For anything really serious, you would want to get to Phnom Penh, or ideally, Bangkok. Having medical insurance that covers emergency evacuation is a good idea. I know one expat who had to have life-saving surgery in Phnom Penh and the out-of-pocket costs were over 10,000 USD.
Personally, I hold insurance for emergency in-patient care, and pay out of pocket for out-patient care. If I break an arm, I can go to Neak Tep clinic and get it fixed up for well under a hundred dollars, while if I have a serious motorbike accident, I am covered for medical evacuation or overnight stays at the Royal Angkor.
Visas are 290 USD per year. Cheap, especially compared to other countries, but expect to forget about it until a month before it is due and then be grumpy because it is still 290 USD that you have to pay out. For couples who renew at the same time, it can be a particularly expensive month.
Overall Monthly Cost of Living in Cambodia: Siem Reap
Assuming a nice, spacious western apartment and eating out at comparatively ‘fancy’ restaurants most of the time our costs are:
- Accommodation: 400 USD per month in rent for a comfortable 2 bedroom apartment
- Electricity: 100 – 200 USD per month
- 4G Home Broadband: 18 USD
- Mobile Phone: 5 USD
- Transportation: 10 USD in petrol + 5-10 USD in maintenance
- Groceries: 100 USD
- Dining Out (per person): 560 USD
This gives a total cost of approximately 1,760USD a month for a couple living a very comfortable life. With a little economising and finding cheaper accommodation, this can easily be brought down to well below 1,500 USD a month, and if you enjoy cooking at home, you can bring this all the way down to 1,000 USD a month for a couple.
Is Temple Town For You?
Siem Reap is a cheap and comfortable place to live that is reasonably well connected in the region. The Temples of Angkor are spectacular, and the recent addition of a 6-month pass for residents makes the area great for walking and cycling around. Because the town is small, traffic is generally not bad outside of Christmas, Golden Week and Chinese New Year, and this lends a very laid-back feel to town.
However, it doesn’t come without challenges. Businesses almost exclusively focus on tourists. Clothes shopping is somewhat limited to Brand Collection outlets and a Zando shop in the relatively new Heritage Walk, along with sellers at local markets like Psa Leu. Serious shoppers will need to go to Phnom Penh or Bangkok to get their fix, and finding specialist items like camera or computer equipment can mean ordering the item in.
Businesses are constantly opening and closing. While this means there is always something new to try, it can also lend a very ‘temporary’ feel to town, and it isn’t uncommon to see friends leaving every couple of years. Away from the 5 star hotels, Siem Reap is still a small town in a poorer country, and infrastructure is underdeveloped. Power cuts are not uncommon and historically, roads do not last a long time.
If you like the idea of living next to Angkor Wat, test the waters. Get a business visa (ordinary visa) on arrival and extend it for three months. Rent an apartment or find a long-stay deal at a hotel during that time to trial the area, meet some people and get a feel for the culture. It is one thing to read about living in Siem Reap, and quite another to wake up at 5AM to the sound of wedding music for the 3rd day in a row. Living in Siem Reap is not for everyone, but it does offer an excellent lifestyle for the right person.
Josh Clayton loves to travel, firmly believing that conscious, ethically operated tourism can support a healthy environment and create sustainable livelihoods. Working and living in South East Asia, he sees both the best and worst of what international tourism can do. He loves to write, both professionally and creatively, and you can find more of his musings on his website: A World On A Page.
TRIP PLANNERS FOR CAMBODIA: RELATED BLOG POSTS
Want more info to help you plan your Cambodia trip? Check out all the articles we’ve written on travel in Cambodia below and continue planning your trip.
- 14 BEST THINGS TO DO: SIEM REAP, CAMBODIA
- COST OF LIVING IN CAMBODIA – SIEM REAP
- BEST ISLANDS IN CAMBODIA