• Jon Herbert

Cambodia: arrival by air - the essentials

Updated: Sep 8

You have arrived! Exciting times are inbound: be equipped to navigate the airport on arrival in Cambodia with confidence and minimise delay and disruption


1. Visa check / visa on arrival and passing through immigration at the airport

2. Buying a SIM card for your mobile phone

3. Currency, ATMs, and paying for different services

4. Getting from the airport to your hotel or residence

5. Looking after your belongings, and especially your smartphone!

6. Maintaining ‘face’ - keep smiling!

7. If you have a problem: services, police and medical care


An arial photograph of Phnom Penh from an arriving airplane

1. Visa check and passing through immigration


If you’re reading this, hopefully you have decided on the visa option for you. Alternatively, all you need to know about your options for Cambodia visas can be found here:


Cambodia Visa: general information

Covid checks - no testing for vaccinated passengers From March 2022 there is no mandatory covid testing for vaccinated passengers on arrival in (or departure from) Cambodia. On arriving in Cambodia vaccinated passengers must present a colour copy of the official vaccination certificate from their county of residence. Unvaccinated passengers are required to take a rapid antigen covid test on arrival at a published cost of US$5 and - if this is returned negative - effective 11 July 2022 there is no quarantine for unvaccinated passengers on arrival in Cambodia.


Be aware of any testing and other covid related requirements in departure and transit countries which may not be the same as the open requirements in Cambodia.

Visa on arrival (VOA)


Visitors arriving without an e-visa or regular visa need to obtain a visa on arrival (VOA). The process is straightforward although being prepared eases the way through to passport control:

  • Typically, a visa on arrival form is provided in-flight shortly before landing. Alternatively, the form can be collected at the VOA desk.

  • The form must be completed in English or Khmer with identification, address and telephone details including a Cambodian contact number (e.g. first hotel).

  • Queue on the left-hand side to hand in the completed form and passport and cash in US dollars (US$30/35 Tourist/Ordinary). A passport photograph is no longer required.

  • Move to the right of the VOA desks and wait in the line / huddle on the right until your passport is held up for collection with the visa sticker now enclosed

On paying in US dollars is given for US$40 (2x20) or US$50, but a US$100 bill will not be accepted for a single visa. There is an ATM and the withdrawal fee is $4+ for foreign account holders. Credit/debit card and foreign e-payments such as ApplePay are not accepted.

​Passing through Immigration at the airport: presenting the correct documents

  1. Covid vaccination certificate printed out and in colour will be requested several times, unless being tested as an unvaccinated visitor.

  2. Visa on Arrival (VOA) - if required: VOA form, passport, correct amount of cash in US dollars $ (not the yellow landing card or the blue customs docket)

  3. Passport control: passport, including visa/e-visa and yellow landing card completed with address and contact number in Cambodia (not the blue customs docket)

  4. Customs check: after luggage collection hand the completed blue customs declaration docket to the customs official or place it in the collection bin as you exit

Passport checks through immigration


Passport control is only a short distance from the VOA area. There are usually plenty of agents across several lanes and typically visitors passthrough in less than 15 minutes. No photographs should be taken, and polite, factual answers to questions such as purpose of visit and length of stay are mandatory. The yellow landing card must include a telephone number and address in Cambodia (e.g. first hotel). Following document check a webcam photo is taken, and e-finger prints may also be requested using the available scanner.


When the customs official hands back the passport(s) date-stamped landing card(s) will be enclosed. It is important to retain the landing cards which establish that there has been no sanctionable visa overstay on exiting Cambodia.


Collection of Luggage and customs declaration


In Phnom Penh there is a single luggage hall with two large conveyors and Siem Reap is home to a smaller but similar arrangement. In Phnom Penh there are also currency tellers and some shopping in the hall, and the lost item / luggage kiosk can be found here. In our experience the process for identifying and collecting delayed luggage is usually hassle-free, and we have collected items left in the hall accidentally without issue.


Changing foreign currency before you leave the arrivals hall


The foreign exchange desk is in the arrival hall which cannot be re-entered so this service must be used before leaving the terminal building (there are numerous ATMs outside the arrival hall).


Once all checked luggage has been collected the blue customs form must be dropped in the collection bin next to customs officials and there is a luggage scanner to be used only if requested.

Airport WIFI Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports have free WIFI available through ‘Vinci-Airports’ which can be easily accessed while you’re waiting for to pass through immigration.

After a long journey, you’ll congratulate yourself for having everything ready (cash, forms, colour vaccination certificate) beating the queue to saunter through arrivals. Welcome - you have officially arrived in Cambodia!


2. Buying a SIM card for your mobile phone


On exiting arrivals one or more uniformed individuals will offer a taxi or tuk-tuk ride to a hotel. As tempting as this may be for tired travelers, it is recommended to first obtain a local SIM card from of one the tellers conveniently situated at the airport because:

  • A 'home' SIM is unlikely to provide a reliable roaming service in Cambodia (and who would want to pay for it anyway)

  • Mobile internet expands travel options (see ride hailing apps) and connects travellers to hotels, contacts, and other support

  • It is quick and easy to obtain a SIM at the airport with passport in hand, and the kiosks provide an efficient and cheap service customised for foreign travellers

There are three mobile telephone networks in Cambodia: Smart, Metfone and Cellcard. We can report reliable and user-friendly experiences with both Smart and Metfone.


To buy a loaded SIM approach the kiosk, select a plan from the board (usually between $5 and $10), and present your passport (a copy is taken) and handset so that the operator can switch out your SIM. Your existing SIM will be returned, usually taped to a plastic card showing your Cambodia mobile number to safely stow for later use.


To keep a 'home' phone online for two step authentication or work requirements a spare handset for either SIM is a workable solution. Alternatively, SIMs can be switched without causing any issues to phone settings.


3. Currency and ATMs at the airport


The final item to check before heading to accommodation is having the necessary amount and - importantly - denominations of cash to hand. Currency options in Cambodia may differ from expectations and it is worth taking time to understand the nuances of the dual currency system.


Cambodia uses two currencies as legal tender: the Cambodian riel and U.S. dollars. US dollars are now only used in larger denominations from $10 upwards, whereas the riel is used for all transactions. Change under US$20 will usually be given in riel notes (there are no coins in circulation in Cambodia. The riel exchange rate is loosely pegged at 4,000:1 to the US dollar, which means that a 20,000-riel note is equivalent to around 5 US dollars.


Withdrawing cash from an ATM at the airport


If you’re not holding sufficient US dollars in denominations of US$10 or at most US$20 then there is a range of ATMs outside each of the airports which can be used to withdraw funds. ABA, Canadia, Maybank, CIMB, Shinhan and several other banks issue cash to foreign cardholders from ATMs with on-screen instructions in English language.


Annoyingly, withdrawing US dollar cash usually results in impractical US$100 notes being issued by the ATM (a tuk-tuk driver is not going to change $100), and because ATM fees are in the range of US$4 - 6 per withdrawal, withdrawing amounts under US$100 is uneconomical. The best option is therefore to withdraw riel (usually in denominations of 50,000 notes, which are equivalent to about US$12.50), or alternatively to withdraw US$190 / US$290 to receive at least some currency in practical denominations while avoiding hemorrhaging money on ATM fees.

Managing cash in Cambodia

Do: Familarise the USD:riel 1:4,000 ratio

Do: Find ways to equip denominations of US$ 10 and local currency wherever possible, for example by bringing US cash on arrival or withdrawing riel

Do: buy essentials such as food and toiletries in higher end supermarkets and mini markets (e.g., Lucky / Smile) to change high value USD bills.

Do: consider using a US dollar denominated charge card to avoid unfair, high foreign exchange costs, and then keep 'main' cards in a secure location

Do: be discreet with money - displays of wealth are not necessarily viewed as ostentatious in Cambodia, but that is not an incentive to become a target for petty crime

Do not: carry more cash than is comfortable or feel pressured to store cash in an insecure location. ATM fees are high, but not as costly as a lost stack of bank notes.

Do not: withdraw substantial amounts of US dollars in round numbers of US$100, unless you know you are going somewhere that these will be accepted - withdrawing US$[X]90 helps ensure that at least some lower denomination notes are issue

Do not: assume that you can pay by debit card or credit card everywhere you go - higher end hotels and restaurants generally will accept cards as do most supermarkets. Visa is the most widely accepted brand in Cambodia

Holding securely an appropriate amount and denomination of cash while in Cambodia can be painful at times, but the challenges can be managed with a little forward-planning and further information on this topic can be found here:


Cambodia: the colour of money


4. Getting from the airport to your accommodation


Transit options and ambience differ between Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports, but in either case it is worth considering online ride haling options. In Cambodia the most popular and available ride hailing apps are Grab and PassApp.


Travel options from Phnom Penh International Airport


Phnom Penh airport offers a range of travel options, mostly designed to take visitors to the downtown area of Phnom Penh. If this is not the desired destination, then a ride hailing option may be preferable and will be cheaper, more so if the destination is close to the airport. The journey to central Phnom Penh can take from 45-60 minutes in a tuk-tuk and 45-75 minutes in a taxi, depending on the traffic situation. Options include:

  • $? Private car from your hotel: arrange it with your hotel in advance and look for your name board in the forecourt beyond the exit of the arrivals building.

  • $15-$18 Air-conditioned Taxi from the airport to downtown Phnom Penh. Suitable for 3 or more adult passengers and those travelling with a reasonable amount of luggage. Limited visibility of what is going on outside, protects against weather.

  • $9 Airport tuk-tuk suitable for 2-3 passengers depending on luggage (remorque style larger carriages do not operate from Phnom Phen International Airport). Experience the heat, the road and everything on it, and people watch with impunity.

  • $4-$6 Hailed / e-hailed tuk-tuk. Make a booking using an app or negotiate directly with a driver at the airport carpark gate. Luggage must be hauled to the carpark exit because the pick-up point is beyond the barriers to promote the airport services.

  • Shuttle train discontinued in 2020, touted to return to service around the end of 2022


Phnom Penh Traffic - taking a ride on the wild side


Phnom Penh traffic is erratic, and there is frequent traffic congestion particularly during rush hour on weekday mornings and evenings. Consequently, the 12km trip from the airport to downtown Phnom Penh can take 45 minutes to an hour. Taxis provide a comfortable ride after a flight, particularly if your group is not used to the heat or if it is raining. Alternatively, an intrepid tuk-tuk ride provides a more immersive (and cheaper) experience.


Travel Options from Siem Reap International Airport


Siem Reap is altogether more laid back and navigable in comparison to the capital, and many hotels and guest houses offer a free pick-up service from the airport. The journey from the airport into town is comparatively leisurely along good roads with limited traffic congestion and depending on your destination should take between 10 and 20 minutes. To the extent that you don't have a ride booked through your accommodation there are a few comfortable options available.

  • $10 Air-conditioned Taxi door to door from the airport to your hotel. Suitable for 3 or more adult passengers and those travelling with a reasonable amount of luggage

  • $9 Airport tuk-tuk suitable for 2-3 passengers depending on luggage. Convenient option outside the airport, but expensive considering the distance to town.

  • $4-$6 Hailed / e-hailed tuk-tuk. Make a booking using an app or negotiate directly with a driver at the gate. Remorques style tuk-tuks are available in Siem Reap and can comfortably convey 4 or more passengers with luggage for $1-$2 more than a tuk-tuk.

Ride haling apps in Cambodia

Ride hailing apps are a reliable choice for visitors to Cambodia. Apps can be efficiently downloaded in a few seconds from your usual app store, and features such as secure online payment, fixed tariffs, destination assurance and journey tracking help limit uncertainty and avoidance of misunderstandings around price and destination that can arise from negotiating directly with a driver with limited English language.

Grab Headquartered in Singapore Grab is Southeast Asia's most widely recognised 'super app'. At the time of writing in June 2022 Grab's services in Cambodia centre around ride hailing services in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap - for example Grab does not yet operate in Battambang.

  • Internationally recognised brand assurance

  • Setup online payment options to avoid the need to deal with cash

  • Destination and pick-up confirmed: track progress and ETA on your mobile

  • Options for tuk-tuks, remorques and air-conditioned taxis are available

  • Price is fixed - so no need to negotiate the 'tourist price' - and service ratings and gratuities can be added on the app once the journey has concluded

PassApp

Cambodia's home-grown alternative to Grab and Uber, PassApp has wider coverage than Grab. The default setting is to simply pick you up and take you where you tell the driver that you want to go for a metered fare: so for example if you wanted to go to the riverside area in Phnom Penh but don't know exactly where you can hail a pass app ask the driver to take you to the Riverside and on arrival tell the driver where to stop.

  • Well known and reliable service in Cambodia - smaller tuk-tuks that can convey a maximum of 3 passengers tend to be the norm

  • Cash payments are preferred, but there is an option for online payment, which needs to be set up in advance of your ride

  • Metered fair and fixed destination options: track progress and ETA on your mobile

  • Widely available service including in locations outside of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap

Confirm and reconfirm your destination


It is advisable to definitively agree destinations with drivers. Confirming the destination on a map (e.g. Google Maps) or via a ride hailing app can help avoid confusion.


This is important because frequently confusion does arise, leading to a ride to the wrong destination, even when a passenger believes they have communicated clearly. This can in part be explained by considerations around 'face', where driver does not wish to infer a lack of knowledge or understanding, although there can be other factors such as similarly named hotels - or simply the old taxi drivers 'trick' of extending a 'tourist fare'.


5. Looking after your belongings


Cambodian people are friendly, welcoming, dignified, and trustworthy. However, as with almost any destination there are a minority of opportunists who prey on unwary tourists. Cambodia is a poor country and the dollar in an expat's pocket (or in the resale value of a handset) is potentially more valuable to residents than the average foreigner.


Travel insurance


Before travelling to Cambodia, it is highly recommended to secure reliable travel insurance, not least to support potential emergency medical expenses or an airlift to a hospital in another country, as discussed here.


Travel insurance can protect against some of the pain of potential loss or theft, for example provided a police report is submitted insurance will often partially cover the cost of lost or stolen items including smartphones.


Types of street crime in Cambodia


Violent and serious crime involving tourists is uncommon in Cambodia - after all behaving aggressively or speaking angrily is considered a loss of 'face'. On the other hand, there are numerous anecdotal stories of petty crime, including bag and smartphone snatching and 'stealing by finding' where an unattended bag is 'liberated' for commercial gain. These incidents can and do happen to everyone from time to time, but steps can be taken to manage the risk and impact.


Securing belongings in transit


While not prolific, passing bag snatchers passing on motorcycles have been known to pluck bags and phones from loose fingers. Keep bag straps secured and avoid hanging smartphones outside of vehicles as much as the myriad of sights might tempt a few photos.


Be mindful of your environment and think twice before 'flashing the cash'


While displays of wealth are not necessarily viewed as ostentatious in Cambodia, this is not a reason to be indiscreet with cash and expensive items such as jewelry and electrical items, potentially advertising a target for petty crime.


6. Maintaining ‘face’: keep smiling


The concept of 'face' is an expansive topic and there are books on the phycology of 'face' in Asian culture, which is a social concept prevalent in Cambodia and elsewhere in the region. The owners of this site can't profess to be experts in this area; however, we do believe that individuals can seek sufficient understanding of 'face' to avoid unnecessary embarrassment and maintain positive interactions with Khmer people, and this includes on arrival at the airport if there is an issue, for example handling questions at immigration or reporting lost luggage.

​Loss of face

Interacting and behaving in a way likely to cause embarrassment or a loss of status - especially publicly - may be considered as a loss of face, both for the protagonist and the recipient, and this situation is frowned upon and to be avoided.

Giving face

Acknowledging people, speaking in a friendly way, and making light of or politely ignoring any minor issues can be considered as examples of giving or at least maintaining face, which is important etiquette likely to result in more positive interactions.

The Cambodia philosophy is that although all people have challenges and difficulties, 'good' people will behave in a friendly manner in handling disputes and grievances, which means smiling and remaining calm when handling an incident. Visitors who can apply this discipline are more likely than not going to achieve a more favourable and certainly amicable outcome from the matter at hand, and staff at the airport are there to help passengers and will endeavor to do so especially if asked politely.


When all is said and done there are situations when as paying customers we can and should seek restitution in an assertive in a friendly way, but visitors can still try to be as polite as possible and maintain a calm disposition. This approach is more likely to 'give face' than 'lose face' resulting in a more favourable outcome for all concerned.


Face and tuk-tuks: getting to the correct destination


From time to time, unwary visitors may find they arrive at a different destination to the instructions given to a driver. This may be because the driver has misunderstood an unclear instruction, or that the driver is unclear on the destination but has decided to 'give it a shot' rather than relating that the destination is unknown, due to a perceived loss of face. This situation happens to experienced expats and even Khmer individuals from time to time, but the likelihood of this situation occurring can be managed:

  • Speak slowly and clearly, and use street numbers / names and general locations and landmarks to home in on the right location or at least area (e.g. riverside, Wat Bo)

  • Show the destination on a maps application on your mobile and track the progress of your journey so that you can stop and redirect if necessary

  • Consider using a ride haling app to lock in the destination you want, but still track progress and be wary of any 'shortcuts' because these may involve uncomfortable, poor-quality roads, and may not save much (or any) time


7. If you have a problem – police and medical care


Be insured for medical emergencies


Phnom Penh and Siem Reap have some increasingly equipped private hospitals in both, but there are still occasions when an airlift to Bangkok or another location is required, for example due to severe injury resulting from a road accident. Public medical care availability and quality is insufficient to meet the needs of visitors and expats and private medical care can be costly. It is highly advisable for visitors and foreign residents to insure against medical costs which will provide assurance to medical practitioners that payment for treatment will be forthcoming.


For tourists and new arrivals comprehensive travel insurance is an inexpensive option and cover will encompass medical, travel and incident risks, and while a claim event is to be avoided an issue is likely to be more manageable with insurance. Some credit cards include travel insurance so some travellers may not even need to pay an additional premium for adequate insurance (but be aware that if you have two or more policies you can only make one claim per risk event, and insurers do compare notes).


For longer term expats ongoing medical plans can be more expensive relative to travel insurance depending on age and other factors, but there are several options that can be considered, and some local insurers offer accident and medical emergency insurance which is less costly than 'international expat insurance'.


Eligibility and any policy exclusions, scope of cover, the claim process and key contacts should be familiarised in advance of travel, and the key contacts and cover note should be easily retrievable while on the move.


It's not like home


Cambodia is classified as a developing country, and this is reflected in the availability of services and infrastructure, which may not be comparable to services in your home country. While visitors may receive preferred treatment there is no entitlement, and the quality of services may be considered from an unfamiliar perspective.


Khmer people place a great deal of pride in being kind and helpful, but this will not always translate into immediate support in an emergency, for example a road accident where there may be some perception of liability. Be aware of your environment, be careful in the selection of your destinations and activities and have the contacts and tools to hand in case there is a problem, because adopting safe behaviours is the surest way to maintain an improved chance of managing an incident effectively or even avoiding it altogether.


Ask your hotel and local agents to help


Your hotel or accommodation, agent or other contact - to a varying degree depending on the nature and class of service or extent of your relationship - should be able to assist you if you experience a situation, and will hopefully be able to at least help you make calls to the emergency services (in Khmer language), direct transportation to police and medical facilities, and may even offer to even send a representative to accompany you to the police station or hospital to help with the next steps.


Medical contacts


In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap there are several private ambulance services, medical centres and hospitals that can be contacted, but your first option should be to ask your hotel or agent to assist, if possible. If your insurance package includes a list of preferred hospitals in Cambodia and you have this to hand, then this should assist in identifying appropriate contacts. Alternatively, if there is a critical emergency the Royal Phnom Penh Hospital or the Royal Angkor International Hospital in Siem Reap are modern private hospitals, but it is suggested to call the emergency number of the hospital in advance to check that the assistance you need can be provided and be aware of costs and insurance eligibility.

'Tourist' Police contact


Police services operate mostly in daylight hours and may not have a presence at night, particularly away from major tourist areas. If reporting a crime, such as a lost or stolen item, there may be an expectation of a small discretionary 'fee' to support the cost of prioritising assistance, and if you have a local contact who can help guide you through any expectations this may help avoid a cultural misunderstanding.


Tourist Police - Phnom Penh


T: 012 942 484 A: St. 598, 12107, Phnom Penh


Tourist Police - Siem Reap


T: 012 402 424

A: Mondul 3 Village, Sangkat Slor Kram, Siem Reap City, Siem Reap


Police (general)


T: 117


When making a call it may be helpful to have a Khmer contact to hand so that important points can be clarified in Khmer language, especially if communication with the 'non-tourist' police.


Family arriving at Siem Reap airport

80 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All