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Living in Cambodia

Settling down in Cambodia allows you to experience a diverse and fascinating country firsthand. But living there can also be quite a challenge. We offer advice on healthcare, the housing search, and education, as well as an insight into religion and Khmer culture.
Religion and cultural heritage are taken very seriously in Cambodia. It is important for visitors to be respectful.

At a Glance:

  • The vast majority of Cambodians are practicing Buddhists, but the nation is also home to members of many other faiths and backgrounds.
  • The cost of living is extremely cheap in comparison to that in the majority of Western countries.
  • There are certain restrictions on foreigners buying property in Cambodia, so many expats find it easier to rent. Either way, the internet will be your best friend while house hunting.
  • The education system in Cambodia is severely underfunded and so the teaching quality is not of a high standard — international schools may be the best option for expat kids.

Getting to Know the Khmer People

Today, there are about 15.9 million people living in Cambodia, 90 percent of them being of Khmer origin. The remaining 10 percent is made up of Vietnamese, Chinese, and other minorities. Cambodia is a country of rural dwellers. The majority of the population has settled down in villages and small towns in rural areas near the rivers, while just over twelve percent of the overall population lives in the capital, Phnom Penh.

Local tribes and peoples living in Cambodia also include the Khmer Loeu and the Cham. The Khmer Loeu are highland tribes who live in the northeastern provinces of the country. The Cham are made up of two groups based on their religion, the traditional and orthodox Chams. Orthodox Chams live mainly around Phnom Penh, while the other group is largely scattered across the country.

Respecting Religion

Similar to the population in Thailand, Myanmar, or Sri Lanka, a majority —approximately 95% — of the people living in Cambodia are practicing Buddhists. In addition, Christianity, Islam, Daoism, and Confucianism are also practiced. The latter two are particularly common among the Chinese minority.

While living in Cambodia, you should be respectful of the local culture and religion. This includes dressing in modest clothing when you visit religious sites. Make sure to always cover your upper arms and legs, and remove shoes and hats before stepping inside. It is also customary to make a small contribution when visiting a temple.

Staying Healthy

The average life expectancy at birth is 67 for males and 71 for females. The median age of the people living in Cambodia is 24. The prevalence of HIV/AIDS is among the highest in Asia. In 2016, around 71,000 people in Cambodia were living with HIV. However, in the last decade, a lot has been done to promote HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention, and to reduce the number of deaths caused by the disease.

The country’s traumatic and war-torn history has left a lasting impact on a massive number of Cambodians. In fact, there is a high prevalence of PTSD and other stress-related conditions among Cambodians who experienced the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Cambodia’s recent history of war and political instability has affected the country’s ability to develop a good healthcare system. Government expenditure on healthcare is particularly low, at around 1% of the GDP, which is much lower than its neighbors Thailand and Vietnam. There is a massive disparity between the quality and availability of healthcare in Cambodia’s cities and its rural areas, where many are forced to travel long distances to get the treatment they need. Currently, Cambodia’s social security system only covers employment injuries for formal workers. In most cases, as an expat, your employer will provide you with healthcare coverage.

Necessary Vaccinations and Precautions

Before you move to Cambodia, you will need to take a few health precautions to avoid contracting any diseases. The following vaccinations are recommended for everyone who plans on travelling to or living in Cambodia:

  • hepatitis A and B
  • typhoid
  • measles, mumps, rubella (MMR)
  • tetanus, diphtheria

If you plan on spending a lot of time outdoors and in high-risk areas, you should also get vaccinated against rabies and Japanese encephalitis. Cambodia is a country with a high risk of malaria, so you should take an antimalarial drug. Make sure to talk to your doctor about possible side effects. If you cannot take enough medication with you when you move, or plan on staying in an area without sufficient medical care, you should also pack medication for emergency self-treatment, in case you develop any malaria symptoms.

As of 2016, the Zika virus — which is spread through mosquito bites — is endemic in Cambodia, and has been categorized as posing a moderate risk. The risk to travelers is unknown and because of this, women who are pregnant or who are planning on trying for a baby should discuss their travel plans with their doctor, as Zika infection has been found to pose a risk to the baby. There is currently no vaccine for the Zika virus.

As always, make an appointment with your family doctor prior to your move to discuss all your healthcare needs.


We do our best to keep this article up to date. However, we cannot guarantee that the information provided is always current or complete.

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