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The New Destination for Retirees and Expats, Cambodia

The Kingdom of Cambodia has become one of Southeast Asia’s most up-and-coming destinations for tourists and expats looking to enjoy the exotic charm of a country that also offers the most attractive cost of living in Asia. Cambodia has flexible visa requirements for citizens of Western countries who can obtain annual long-stay visas with a minimum of paperwork and a processing fee of just $285 per year. When you get there, everything from entertainment to renting is very affordable in Cambodia.

The government has released plans to increase Cambodia’s attractiveness as a destination for foreign retirees, according to a draft policy obtained from the Ministry of Tourism Wednesday this week by the Cambodia Daily.

“The draft includes a range of proposals to extract more income from Cambodia’s tourist industry by encouraging foreigners to buy property and stay longer in the country, with involvement from the ministries of tourism, finance and land management,” said the Cambodia Daily report.

The proposed policies are said to include measures such as the development of “special residences” throughout Cambodia with commercial tourist properties and a wide range of useful facilities. “Special tourists” such as retirees would have the right to buy, rent or sell property in these special residences, and also be entitled to longer-term and more flexible vi¬sas, according to the draft of the policy.

Cambodia has found its place as a small but shining success story in the developing world. Its success to date has been found not by building factories, but by building a tourist industry. In the process, several towns have emerged that are welcoming increasing numbers of expats.

It is not the obvious choice for retirees, but it’s ranked 21 of 25 nations on the most recent International Living Annual Global Retirement Index.

This is the big-city choice. Phnom Penh is the center of Cambodia’s government and commerce and has a population of more than two million. But Western residents say it’s the laid-back café culture that keeps them here.

Vestiges of the city’s French colonial past can be seen in grand old mansions and tree-lined boulevards. Tourists are catered to in accommodations that range from budget guesthouses to five-star hotels. French restaurateurs have returned, and most any other Western or Asian specialty can be found as well.
Massive new construction is underway, much of it to build Western-style apartments and condos. Phnom Penh is growing fast. A one-bedroom in the center of town costs an average $650, and a three-bedroom averages $1,500. Condo prices are about $175 a square foot.

A seaside resort town on the Bay of Thailand, Sihanoukville is the gateway to exploring many beautiful offshore islands. It also is a deep-water port, so it holds an important place in Cambodia’s industrial development. It is a thoroughly modern town, which barely existed a half-century ago.

Named for the father of the current king, Sihanoukville first made it onto the Western radar as a backpacker’s paradise, and a beach town par excellence. To this day, it boasts of accommodations priced “from $1 to $5,000 per night.”
Prices are even lower than in Phnom Penh. A one-bedroom apartment in the center of town averages $240, and a three-bedroom goes for $400. Condo prices are about $90 per square foot.

It’s fair to call Siem Reap a boom town. As recently as the year 2000, it was little more than a village, with few paved roads and no taxis. Today, Siem Reap has a population of nearly 200,000, and its international airport is just a few miles from the fabled temple ruins of the Angkor Wat region, Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction.

But this tourist town now attracts visitors in its own right. Its historical sites like the Old French Quarter are carefully maintained, and traditional Cambodian crafts are a specialty in its many markets. Siem Reap has a lively arts scene, made up of both locals and expats. A one-bedroom apartment rents for about $280 per month. Condo prices run about $95 per square foot.

If you are considering relocating to Cambodia, an advance visit to any or all of these three towns is definitely recommended. The country is still a choice for the adventurous. Expats in need of medical treatment tend to fly to nearby countries that have more advanced facilities. In that, as in many areas, Cambodia is still catching up to the best of Asia. However, those who have gone stress the advantages of spectacular natural beauty, a welcoming population and a super-low cost of living.

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