For Baby Boomers who remember the Vietnam War, the Killing Fields and Pol Pot, Cambodia probably doesn’t sound like a great place to visit, let alone retire. But that was more than 40 years ago, and today the scars have healed. Once again Southeast Asians welcome Americans with open arms—partially due to the money we spend, but also due to the population’s relative youth and generally friendly dispositions.
So now, Cambodia looks like an appealing new country to live in. Its economy is booming, the country is nothing short of beautiful, you can’t beat the tropical weather, the people are cool, and, frankly, it’s not all that expensive. In fact, Cambodia wants you there But, really, can you afford it? Well… consider these points.
Housing Is Cheap
In Phnom Penh—the big city—a small apartment goes for $200 a month, a two-bedroom with a pool is $350 a month. Buying a place isn’t bad, either. For 1,000-1,100 square feet—a typical two-bedroom—you’ll pay $300,000 in the center of town. Further out, you'll pay less. And all the new construction means those places are everywhere, have western amenities, and the competition is keeping the prices down. However, a foreigner can’t buy land. There are ways around that restriction: You can lease it, or form a company with locals, then buy the land through the company.
Food and Booze
In a nice bar or restaurant—and there are plenty popping up in the major cities, mostly run by expatriates—a beer costs between 50 and 75 cents and a nice meal is priced around $4. Breakfast costs $3. Actually, foodies will love it there, because it’s not just Asian cuisine on the menu; there’s Mexican, Italian, Indian. Everything but British food. Don’t eat British food, is standard advice.
An hour’s massage costs around $5. Taking a taxi may cost as much as $2. Need a full-time housekeeper? $120 a month. You can run the air-conditioner around the clock and pay $300 a month. At least, so long as the electricity is up and running, because in Cambodia, that’s not always a sure thing. In the city of Sihanoukville, a day out for two—breakfast, dinner, renting a boat for the afternoon—costs about $25. In Manhattan, that’s the price of a 10-block cab ride and a small coffee at Starbucks.
It’s so easy. Pay a little extra for a business visa ($280 for one year) and you’ll have no problem renting a place where you can set up a bar, a restaurant, or scuba, sailing, or martial arts lessons. Crafts, too. Just don’t do anything illegal, else the judicial system will come down on you, hard. Cambodian prison may sound fun, but it’s no place to spend your retirement.
Big-box stores? Pffft! Cambodians still shop at local markets, and vendors still wander around selling fruit. And you know what? The people are friendly.
The Bottom Line
Even on a Social Security check you can live decently. Just $1,500 a month buys a luxurious, upper-middle-class lifestyle. Remember, though, it can take years to adjust to a foreign culture. Their native language is not your native language, and even you learn to speak some of theirs (or vice versa), it's usually hard to carry on a complicated conversation. Their values, ideas, concepts and judgments aren’t your values, ideas, concepts and judgments.
The feeling of isolation and loneliness can be staggering, and that’s why expats from the same countries—even, say, a draft-dodging socialist from Maine and a gun-loving Supply-sider from Texas—will hang out together whereas back home they'd be natural enemies. However, it’s also the expats who own most of the bars, restaurants and other places where Westerners love to go.