Introduction to Expat Life

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Old Market area, Siem Reap, Cambodia
Photo by @kaeru423 (Instagram)

Visitors to Siem Reap are easily seduced into staying a while longer, or even settling here permanently, after falling prey to its easy going vibe. Drawn here by temples and tourism, travellers often return – for longer, next time – because of the relaxed way of life and the relatively inexpensive cost of living. Its plethora of eclectic eateries, the diverse expat community, short flight routes to other desirable Asian destinations and a wealth of opportunities to start businesses, volunteer their time or skills or raise a family, are just a few of the reasons people chose to make Siem Reap their home. The sunshine, tropical gardens and outdoor lifestyle (let’s not forget the cheap beer) don’t go unnoticed, either.

Siem Reap in the heart of South East Asia

Exploring Asia on a budget, once the reserve of intrepid explorers or gap year backpackers, has become so much more accessible, with the advent of low cost regional airlines, a growing and competitive accommodation market and attractive entry requirements, including e-visas and visas on arrival for many nationalities. Slow Travel, as a concept, has increased in popularity, too – including those with young families wanting to stay a while and soak in a country’s culture before children become embroiled in school systems back home. Siem Reap makes an ideal base for further travels in this culture-rich region, with Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, to name but a few, being only an hour or two away by plane, or a manageable road trip by bus or shared taxi.

Settling in

Finding a place to live will be a priority, but temporary accommodation, whether you decide on a guest house, hotel suite, short stay apartment or holiday let, is in plentiful supply. Many business owners are happy to negotiate an all-in price for longer stays – it pays to ask! Take your time finding a more permanent pad. The process can be made easier with the assistance of one of the many real estate or property finding agents in Siem Reap. You’ll need to view a few places before settling on your chosen abode, although there will be a mind boggling selection of apartments and houses to choose from. Have a budget and perhaps a preferred location in mind before you go house hunting. More on finding a place to live here. At the same time, you’ll also be arranging your extended visa if needed, a work permit application for employed expats, and opening a bank account. Our how-to guides will ease you through these processes.

Finding your tribe

Wherever you wander in Siem Reap, whether it is to a bar, the school gates or the bustling markets, you’re never far from another expat, and you’ll be on chatting – or at least nodding – terms with many people from various parts of the world, who have all come to find themselves making Siem Reap their base. Community events, charity fundraisers, pub quizzes and school events are good ways to mingle, and through Facebook groups there are often ways for people to join together for local causes. Residents of Siem Reap enjoy a steady stream of events throughout the year. Whether you are a music lover, a foodie, into yoga, art enthusiasts or cyclist, there are myriad opportunities for like-minded souls to meet.

Families

Siem Reap, home to several international schools and a range of exciting activities for children of all ages provides a safe, fun and friendly home for families. Parents find Siem Reap easy to get around, by bike, tuk tuk or even a family car, to go to school or to the markets. Outside school, children have the chance to learn to play a musical instrument, take part in sports or even circus skills, art classes, dance classes, swimming lessons, football or wall climbing tuition. It’s all here, whatever your children’s interests. Home comforts are reassuringly available in supermarkets, pharmacies and stores in the city – including familiar food brands, baby supplies, equipment or home ware. Also don’t miss our guide on travelling with kids to Siem Reap.

Culture and traditions

Expats and locals alike celebrate the many colourful religious festivals, public holidays and special occasions throughout the year. Take the time to learn to cook Khmer cuisine from those who know – and are more than happy to take you with them to the market for fresh ingredients, then cook up a storm in the kitchen. Learn to speak Khmer at one of many language schools in the city, or engage in an organised language exchange social, befriend a Khmer neighbour who will have you speaking the basics in no time. Making the effort with the language, even if it’s just the pleasantries, will be greatly appreciated. It can help with negotiating or getting directions, too.

Have you moved to Siem Reap recently? What has your experience been like? We’d love to hear from you! Contact us or share your story in the comments below!

Clare Lawrence is a long-time expat, originally from England, with six years in the UAE under her belt as well as over a year here in Siem Reap. She has written on expat life, saving money, holidaying with children and budget travel for a number of magazines and websites, including Siemreap.net.