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FAQ (and not so FAQ)

Legalities: visas, police, corruption

Most recent update: January 13, 2009

1.) What's the deal with tourist visas?
2.) What if I'm arriving by land?
3.) Any scams involved in getting a visa?
4.) What happens if I forget to bring a photo?
5.) What's the application form like?
6.) Do I need to show proof of onward travel/sufficient funds to receive a visa or pass through immigration?
7.) What's the deal with business visas?
8.) Can I extend my visa and how do I do it?
9.) What if I overstay my visa?
10.) Okay, I have my visa, what about immigration procedures?
11.) Can I rely on the police to help me out if I have a legitimate problem?
12.) Is this one of those countries where the local is always right and the foreigner is always wrong?
13.) Okay, the police are corrupt, can they help me scam my enemies?
14.) What if I'm riding a motorcycle (or driving a car) and the police stop me?
15.) What about more serious offenses (drugs, etc.)?
16.) Do I need to be concerned with customs procedures?

Q: What's the deal with tourist visas?

A: Very easy in Cambodia. For whatever reason everybody in the world needs a visa except citizens of Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, and Laos, as well as Overseas Cambodians. Tourist visas are issued at Cambodian embassies and consulates worldwide or more conveniently on arrival at both international airports, Siem Reap and Phnom Penh as well as all land crossings. They cost $20 and you need one passport photo. Multiple entry tourist visas are not available. Tourist visas are good for thirty days from arrival and may be extended once for an additional thirty days.

For a couple of years now a successful e-Visa program has been in effect. Despite initial skepticism the program appears to be successful and for an extra $5 you can avoid a possible wait at the visa on arrival line and avoid some of the overpricing scams that occur at many of the land crossings. Be advised, though, that the program is still not implemented at all land crossings. Check the e-visa website for more details about this and anything else to do with the service, as well as purchasing one. If you're concerned about giving your credit card details to the Cambodian government, fear not, the program is run through Pay Pal and no one in Cambodia will ever see your credit card number. I know many people have used it and no one has reported any problems than the occasional computer failure at the point of arrival. The website is here:http://www.mfaic.gov.kh/e-visa/index.aspx.

Q: What if I'm arriving by land?

A: Same as if arriving by air, visas are available on arrival at all overland crossings between Cambodia and Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam, and the land crossing from Laos (not the river). Additional information on these border crossings may be found in the Transportation section of this FAQ and the Cambodia Overland section of this website.

Q: Any scams involved in getting a visa?

A: If you're arriving by air, not likely, at least for westerners. However, for Overseas Khmers there are often attempts made at extracting $20 even though the law clearly states that the visa is gratis. If you're an Overseas Khmer, be very wary of offers to help with the visa or any claims made about difficulties in obtaining it and so forth. I've also heard reports of Filipinos, Malaysians, Singaporeans, and Laotians being duped into paying a visa fee which they are not required to pay.

If you're arriving at any of the overland crossings they will try to overcharge you, despite a government campaign to stop the practice. There are signs that clearly state the visa fee is $20. However, you will almost certainly be asked for 1000 baht if arriving from Thailand and in the neighborhood of $25 if arriving from Vietnam. They will tell you it'll be faster this way. And it will - if there are forty people waiting ahead of you. Otherwise, there is no wait no matter what. Basically, if you fork over the 1000 baht they will bump you to the head of the queue. But if there is nobody waiting... then you can just pay $20 and you'll get your passport back in minutes.

Users of the tourist buses from Khao San Road can expect to be charged a minimum of 1200 baht and as much as 1600 baht if they're dumb enough to believe whatever b.s. story they're being fed by the bus operators that day as they have a lot of interesting lies as to why you have to pay at least 1200 baht and I don't even have to know what the lie of the week is for I know it's a lie.

Another scam to be wary of is touts seeking to "assist" you in the visa process. Ignore all offers for help, you don't need these people for anything.

If you're applying for a business visa the proper fee is $25, but you can expect to be asked for 1500 baht. They often can get away with this by asking for a bunch of paperwork which you won't have but waiving that requirement if you pay 1500 baht. This again, is a land border issue and not an airport issue.

Q: What happens if I forget to bring a photo?

A: You'll pay anywhere from one to three dollars or if entering by land from Thailand, 100 baht. Considering Cambodia law states that a passport application must be accompanied by a photo, the small fee is a request which you have little chance of getting around as they could I suppose, send you back from where you came. Do not worry if you forget a photo.

Q: What's the application form like?

A: The visa application form is so simple a monkey could fill it out. For most westerners, the only requirement for obtaining a visa - tourist or business, is that you have a valid passport and the proper money. The same holds true for business visa extensions. There are no questions asked, no verification of employment, nothing. You pay the money - they give you the stamps. It's that easy. Don't waste time worrying about showing onward tickets, proof of funds, contacts, etc. Nobody cares. Ask and you shall receive (for the proper fee). Cambodian visas are primarily about one thing and one thing only - raising hard currency. The visa process has little to do with controlling who gets in to the country, for how long, or for what purpose. They really don't care.

However, the relative ease of the visa process is not universally applied. If you are African, South Asian, Middle Eastern, or even from one of the poorer Asian countries and you are arriving overland you may encounter some hassles in the visa process and it would be to your advantage to have a visa before you arrive. And nine countries are on the Cambodia axis of evil and visa-on-arrival is pretty much out of the question without a lot of preliminary documents, letters of invitation, etc. The countries are: Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Bangladesh, Sudan, and Sri Lanka.

Q: Do I need to show proof of onward travel/sufficient funds to receive a visa or pass through immigration?

A: In general, no. For most western nationalites, proof of sufficient funds is satisfied by having the $20 necessary to buy the visa. Onward travel remains of no interest to the immigration authorities. Unlike Cambodia's neighbors the government here seems happy to have you stay around for awhile.

However, as stated above, non-westerners may be scrutinized more thoroughly, and if passing through from Thailand via land, you may be subjected to the Thai immigration requirements. In other words, if you are of a nationality that requires a visa to enter Thailand, given that visas are not issued at the land crossings, you may be required by Cambodian authorities to produce either a re-entry permit for Thailand or proof of onward travel as they want to be sure you don't get stuck in Cambodia.

Q: What's the deal with business visas?

A: Business visas are also issued at the same locations as tourist visas. At the airports they cost $25, but coming in from Thailand they will probably ask for 1500 baht. Business visas are issued to anyone who plans to stay longer than a month. Other than that, there are few if any questions asked. The exception is as usual, at land crossings, where they may give you the third degree as to why you need a business visa and they are doing this solely to find a reason to charge you more money. At other land crossing, they will sometimes use your lack of supporting documents as an excuse for charging you 1500 baht. "Oh, if you had the documents we could issue you the visa for $25, but since you don't we charge you more." Or something like that.

The initial visa, regardless of where you purchase it, is a single-entry thirty-day visa. There is no such thing as a multiple-entry business visa. What they do offer are six-month and twelve-month business visa extensions, and these are multiple-entry.

If you receive a multiple-entry business visa from some embassy somewhere you may rest assured that the visa is bogus and you're likely going to have problems when you arrive. This may sound surprising, seeing as it was issued by a Cambodian consulate somewhere, but indeed this has happened to people on numerous occasions. I emphasize again... there is only one kind of business visa initially offered and it is a single entry 30-day visa. That's it. No others.

Business visas are not available through the e-Visa program.

Q: Can I extend my visa and how do I do it?

A: Tourist visas, which are valid for 30 days, may be extended only once for an additional 30 days for $45. Business visas, also valid for 30 days, may be extended indefinitely. Fees are approximately $150 for a six-month multiple entry extension and $275 for a full year multiple entry, fees will vary slightly depending on what agent you use and intricate matters of the cosmos which are well beyond the scope of this FAQ.

For business visas you can do one of two things. For a one-year extension you can pay the official fee of approximately $150, fill in some forms and produce some documents none of which you will get right the first time or even the second time. Once you finally get the paperwork right you'll wait at least three to four weeks to get your passport back. Your second choice is to pay an agent $275 (more or less) whereby you only hand over only your passport and a photograph. Your passport is returned to you the following day (occasionally the second day) with a valid one-year multiple-entry business visa extension and no questions are ever asked as to why you want the extension, who you work for, etc. As I said in a previous answer, visas in Cambodia are in most cases not about controlling who is in the country but about raising hard currency.

Regardless of whether you want express service or regular service, and trust me, you want to pay the extra money for the express service, use an agent. A qualified agent includes most any hotel, guesthouse, travel agency, and even motorbike rental shop. Give them your passport, a photo, some money, and there you go. Done. Do not waste your time going to the Dept. of Foreigners to do it yourself. However, if you really are a masochist (or just someone stupid) who enjoys playing run around games with corrupt and unfriendly officials, the office is across the road from Phnom Penh Intl Airport.

Visa extensions are added to the expiration date of your existing time allowance. So in other words, if you entered the country on March 4, you'd be allowed a stay until April 4. If you go for a six-month visa extension on say, March 15, you will be given six months from April 4, meaning an expiration of October 4 and not September 15 as some countries would do.

There are also two kinds of work visas - an NGO or "B" visa and the standard business visa or "E" visa. Some travel agencies have been giving people "B" visa extensions when in fact they entered on an "E" visa. This is basically a scam as "B" visas are much cheaper to obtain and only valid for bona fide NGO workers. An "E" visa extension is issued by the Ministry of Interior, carries the prefix "I" before the number and will be signed by the head of the National Police force (this was until a few months ago, Hok Lundy, but he was recently killed in a helicopter crash). A "B" visa extension is issued by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, carries the prefix "F" before the number and will be signed by someone from that office. If you are quoted what seems like an unusually low fee for a business visa extension you're probably going to be issued an NGO visa, and if you're not in the employ of an agency, then you shouldn't have this visa. Some people, not qualified to have such a visa, have successfully used these, others have had problems entering and exiting the country. If you have a "B" visa, you'll probably be alright at the land crossings, but you may be refused entry at the international airports, especially Phnom Penh. A reputable agency should confirm which kind of visa you qualify for and get you the correct extension. The scam is when they charge you for an "E" visa and get you a "B". While the lower cost of a "B" visa may seem attractive, I personally advise against it unless you have documentation that you qualify for the visa. When you get an extension just confirm with the agency that it will come back with a signature from the Interior ministry and try not to pay for it until it's returned.

Q: What if I overstay my visa?

A: Easy question. You pay money - $5 for each day. It's a very simple procedure and nobody gets upset with you or threatens jail time or anything unpleasant so long as you can pay the money. If you have the funds, they will probably smile and say 'thank you' as they count up all the money you're giving them. Don't sweat it. Just pay. And smile back.

Q: Okay, I have my visa, what about immigration procedures?

A: Much the same as with the visa procedure. For most anyone arriving by air and westerners arriving by any means it's usually a matter of filling out a simple form and handing the unsmiling official your passport, waiting a minute or two, and getting it back with the stamp. With the rare exception, it's no money and no problem. The procedure used to be faster but they've computerized the system as well as begun taking the photo of every person entering and leaving (you'll see the little computer cameras on the counters) and hence this exercise has slowed down a little.

On overland arrivals westerners will usually encounter no difficulties with the following exceptions: If coming or going through the Laos border north of Stung Treng there will certainly be a "stamp fee" of a few dollars. The immigration officials at some of the more remote border crossings have also been known to request "stamp fees" of no more than 100 baht from anyone they think they can get it from.

Khmers arriving or departing at any land crossing are usually required to pay a 100 baht or several dollars "stamp fee" as are some other Asians. At the Thai border crossing Thais are sometimes hit up for the 100 baht "fee" and I would imagine Vietnamese receive the same treatment at the Vietnam crossings.

Citizens of South Asian, African, and Middle Eastern countries are the most likely to encounter hassles at overland crossings and as with the visa procurement process, it's really about money. Fair? No, it's blatantly racist and I've witnessed it firsthand with three West African men trying to enter at Poipet with legitimate tourist visas issued from the embassy in Bangkok.

If you're on a visa run from Thailand, and using the Poipet border you will almost certainly be asked to pay a "stamp fee" of as much as 400 baht when you receive your exit stamp. They claim this fee is for "using" their border to pull a visa run from Thailand, never mind you just purchased a 1000 baht visa that you really aren't using. Sometimes when you arrive at the immigration counter to get stamped in they'll ask you how long are you staying. Lie. Tell them you're going to Siem Reap for a week. When you are in the departure building you can also tell them you already paid however many baht it is they want when you got your entry stamp and they might believe you. Do try. If you're using the Koh Kong border for a visa run you'll be looking at a hefty fee for making a visa run and I imagine the other four crossings will do the same. There's not a whole lot you can do about it at these less common border posts as arrivals and departures are at the same window.

Q: Can I rely on the police to help me out if I have a legitimate problem?

A: The police are most certainly the best that money can buy. Surprisingly perhaps, I've had reasonable success with the police here and other expats have also reported sometimes acceptable results in getting the necessary justice felt to be their due. The police often will do their job and try to do it correctly so long as you pay them. $20-30 plus expenses seems to be the going rate for most minor issues. If they recover money for you the fee will be higher. It also helps to be friendly with a few officers. Regrettably, what this means is that justice is often available only to those who can afford it. The poor villager with a legitimate beef may be out of luck if unable to come up with the required tea money to get their case investigated.

And before getting all indignant about having to pay for police services, do consider that there isn't a whole lot of money collected in taxes here and if the police didn't charge for services, then nothing would get done. In the west you pay for police services same as you do here. The only difference is that in the west you send large amounts of cash to the local treasury in the form of property tax, sales tax, income tax, etc. Here, you pay only when you need them. Yes, there are flaws with this arrangement, but it's not as corrupt as it seems.

I've had several instances where I needed to enlist police services and in all three cases I paid money. The service I received was largely professional, fair, prompt, and courteous.

Q: Is this one of those countries where the local is always right and the foreigner is always wrong?

A: Generally speaking, no. In Phnom Penh and Siem Reap if you're having a legitimate problem with a local, the police will usually side with whoever they believe is right. Of course, problems with friends of the police, influential people, etc may create difficulties. For example, a friend of mine was involved in a motorcycle accident with a local who was the son of a high-ranking paramilitary officer. The local police determined that my friend was not at fault, but because the other person had a powerful daddy my friend was unable to collect for his damages. However, I also know there have been instances where the local was at fault and did have to pay damages to a foreigner. So, while being a foreigner does not necessarily work against you, you can not assume you will automatically be able to receive the compensation you deserve.

In 2008 I had a legal encounter over a misunderstanding of language with a very well connected individual in Phnom Penh. I proved the misunderstanding and thus my innocence and the charges were dropped. No corruption, bribes, or anything was involved. The law was followed.

Q: Okay, the police are corrupt, can they help me scam my enemies?

A: The majority of police officers will not run scams for you for any amount of money. If you have a personal problem with somebody and you think you can file a bogus report with the police, pay them off, and have your nemesis hauled in, found guilty of some imaginary crime, you may be in for a rude and expensive surprise. The police will accept your report, take your money, investigate your complaint possibly at great inconvenience to the other party, and ultimately realize that your complaint is bogus. The only thing you'll get, other than an emptier wallet, is hopefully you will become wiser as to the ways and limitations of corruption in Cambodia. There are of course exceptions, but they are just that, exceptions. And in the cases I know about, the situations were a lot more complicated than someone simply deciding one day to set up their neighbor. I also know of cases where people have gone to great extremes to use the police to settle a score and ultimately found that all they did was waste a lot of time and money.

Q: What if I'm riding a motorcycle (or driving a car) and the police stop me?

A: If you drive in Cambodia - car or motorcycle, sooner or later, probably sooner, you're going to be stopped by the police for some infraction which you may or may not have committed.

If you can avoid running over the police officer and there's no one sitting on a motorbike that's as big or bigger than yours and ready to give chase, then there's no reason to stop for the police. However, if you do have to stop, it works like this:

In Cambodia you do not hand over your license*, registration, and insurance proof because hardly anybody has all three let alone even one. But the very first thing you do is remove the keys from the ignition and put them in your pocket. If you don't, the police might do it themselves and you do not want to be in this situation. What you then find out is what your infraction is and then see what amount of money is requested. As a foreigner the initial request is usually somewhere between $5 and $20. $5 is silly, $20 is simply hilarious and if you are moronic enough to pay $20, well, you deserved it, then.

Traffic infractions in Cambodia cost from between 2000 and 5000 riels (that's 50 cents to a $1.25). There is absolutely no reason whatsoever you should ever pay more than this.

In most cases, you stand around with the police for a few minutes chatting and smoking cigarettes. In a majority of instances, the whole affair is very friendly and there is no reason for you to become indignant. This is a game not a duel.

In some cases the police already have preprinted receipts for the infractions and you can try asking for one by saying "sombot". This means receipt. Of course you can't read Khmer but you can read numbers, right? Look for something that looks like a number, 3,000 is a likely figure. No, not 3,000 dollars but 3,000 riels - about 75 cents US. And pay it.

But receipt or no receipt, the most important things to remember are:

1.) Immediately remove the keys from the ignition and put them in your pocket.
2.) Be friendly.
3.) Pay no more than 5000 riels.

If by any chance you are the passenger on a motorcycle taxi and the driver is pulled over, don't be the least bit surprised if they turn to you to pay the fine. You are under no legal obligation to pay your driver's fine and both the police and your driver know this. So don't pay it!

One strange law that gets foreigners nailed a lot is that in Cambodia it's illegal to have headlights on during the day. Click here to read my firsthand experience with a traffic stop in Phnom Penh in July 2003 over such an infraction.

*In Phnom Penh you better have proper license tags and a Cambodia driver's license and these things are checked. The need for a properly registered vehicle or motorbike will in 2009, become a necessity nationwide. Also, a nationwide helmet law went into effect on January 1, 2009.

Q: What about more serious offenses (drugs, etc.)?

A: Ultimately, it's going to come down to money depending on the severity of the infraction. If you're hauled up on a minor drug charge you're looking at a few hundred bucks. A larger possession or distribution charge and maybe a few thousand bucks, maybe some jail time, and deportation. Smuggle heroin and you can certainly anticipate a significant amount of jail time.

Though nowhere near as open as it used to be, drugs are still more casual here than in neighboring countries. Having a small stash of weed is not likely to cause you a problem unless you pissed someone off. On the other hand, get caught with a big bag of heroin or a few thousand ya baa (speed) pills and it's going to cost you a big pile of money and some jail time. For more information see the Miscellaneous section.

If you're caught having sex with a kid, it will cost you tens upon tens of thousands of dollars and lengthy prison time will certainly come into the picture. Cambodia has received a lot of publicity on this problem and it appears the days of buying yourself out of jail are over. There are too many people paying attention now.

Q: Do I need to be concerned with customs procedures?

A: More so than before, but if you're just a tourist, than no, don't worry about anything. If you're bringing in a shipment of goods to sell there will no doubt be forms to fill out and money to be paid, but for your average tourist, customs procedures are not an issue.

Coming by land there is no form to fill out and I have never so much had a single bag checked in the countless entries I've made and I don't know anybody that ever has.

If flying in there's a simple form to fill out that says you should declare all manner of electronic goods and anything else they think is valuable and they threaten all sorts of fines if you don't comply. In reality, when entering at one of the airports you may have a tough time finding someone to give the form to, let alone worry about having your bags checked and your dutiable possessions itemized.

Also, I always carry in a laptop computer and have never been given a problem for having it. But, if there's anything consistent with Cambodia officialdom it's that nothing is consistent. That said, my advice is if flying to Cambodia, declare nothing and in the unlikely event you're questioned, it's been my experience you can talk yourself out of anything if your intentions are innocent.


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