Will American expats in Cambodia get a US stimulus payment?

May 21 update from the US Embassy: The Embassy recently received 187 U.S. Treasury checks (economic impact payments) for U.S. citizens and is in the process of notifying recipients in Cambodia of their arrival.  Recipients must be registered in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) in order for us to have contact information and to make notifications when we receive such checks.

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief & Economic Safety (CARES) Act, every American citizen who qualifies will be receiving a $1,200 payment from the US government. People started seeing deposits in their accounts a few weeks ago, but Americans abroad have wondered if they are eligible.

American flag in Cambodia

Since I don’t have a check yet to take a picture of, here’s a photo of an American flag on the Mekong in Phnom Penh.

Although the CARES Act seemed to include all American citizens, the IRS page initially said that “U.S. residents will receive the Economic Impact Payment of $1,200 for individual or head of household filers…” suggesting that non-residents were not eligible.

However, over the weekend the IRS has posted clarification on their site that reads: Continue reading

Cambodia coronavirus visa update

Update May 20: United States, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, and Spain passport holders are again allowed to enter Cambodia if they are already in possession of a multi-entry Cambodia visa. Those not in possession of a long-stay visa already will need to apply for a visa in advance from a Cambodian embassy or consulate. There are currently no visa exempt entries, visa on arrival, or electronic visas being issued. Those entering the country will need to have a medical test with negative COVID-19 results within 72 hours of flying and a health insurance policy with $50,000 of coverage. While not all incoming passengers are subjected to quarantine, some have reported being quarantined overnight on arrival.

Cambodia COVID-19 update: what’s happening with visas?

Update April 16: Those from the United States, France, Germany, Iran, Italy, and Spain are now banned from entering Cambodia until further notice.

Update March 30: With new travel restrictions coming every few days, it can be difficult to keep track of Cambodia’s visa situation due to coronavirus. From March 17th those from the United States, France, Italy, Germany, and Spain were banned from entering the country for 30 days, apparently due to climbing rates of COVID-19 infections in these countries. Chinese visitors, however, were allowed to travel freely into the Kingdom. On March 28th it was announced that e-visas and visas-on-arrival will no longer be issued to any nationality from March 31st for a period of one month.

During this period all foreigners will be required to obtain a visa at their local Cambodian embassy or consulate, and be able to provide a medical certificate certify a negative COVID-19 test result issued no more than 72 hours before the date of travel, as well as provide proof of insurance with a minimum of $50,000 of medical coverage. Due to the lack of availability of tests in most countries, this restriction makes it all but impossible for most people to travel to Cambodia in April. Continue reading

Expat Q&A: Care about the people not the money

It’s been quite a while since we did an Expat Q&As, and even longer since we did an “old timer” Q&A, where we talk to expats that have been living in Cambodia for years and years. We love talking to long-term expats about what it was like living in Cambodia in decades past, because they have the best stories to tell and the best advice to give. This time we talk to Andy Ahmed, a former teacher from the UK, who has lived in Cambodia for 15 years.

Andy and his wife

Andy and his wife Nou Chakriya in Cambodia, around 2007 when they got married.

What was Cambodia like when you first arrived and how has it changed?

“I came in 2005. It was a mess, but that’s why I’d come. I’d previously been in Kathmandu from 2002 to 2004 establishing a school for street kids in the midst of a civil war, and I was looking for the next most screwed-up Asian nation. The education system was in a particularly dire situation and I thought I might bring my teaching skills and experience ‘to make a difference’. I didn’t.” Continue reading

Staying in Siem Reap during the coronavirus pandemic

While other countries were closing borders and imposing lockdowns, life in Cambodia has largely continued as normal. Over the past few weeks, however, the effects of the global coronavirus pandemic have started to reach the Kingdom. Like many other expats, my family has decided to stay in Siem Reap for the duration.

Old Market Siem Reap closed for coronavirus

Old Market in Siem Reap, almost completely closed in the wake of coronavirus.

Probably the biggest impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Cambodia is with regards to tourism; since last month the tourist numbers have dropped precipitously. Siem Reap, which relies very heavily on tourism, is feeling the brunt of the tourist exodus. Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction, the ancient temples of Angkor, lure millions of visitors every year. Today they sit eerily empty. The tourists and their life-giving dollar have deserted Cambodia.

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Angkor in the Age of Corona

More than a dozen years ago I visited Ta Prohm, the famous Tomb Raider temple, with my girlfriend. As we walked along the dirt path that led from the east gate to the temple itself, I became distracted by everything around me: branches hanging from trees that didn’t exist in the United States, tourists from all over the world, bugs that wouldn’t quit flying into my ear. Suddenly my girlfriend grabbed me and used her full 42 kilograms to pull me aside, breaking my stride and making me stumble. I quickly realized why: I had almost stepped on a massive black scorpion. We hurried down the path away from the alien creature that had attempted to murder me and away from the crowds of tourists laughing at my terror.

Ta Prohm Cambodia

The scorpion is still there….somewhere.

After a long break, I finally returned to Ta Prohm this week, during the Age of Corona, and a lot has changed. The girlfriend was no longer there. Though I had pledged my everlasting gratitude to her at the time for saving my life, our relationship lasted only a couple of months more (probably because of my terrified whimpering). More interesting was that the crowds weren’t there, either. I was totally alone except for the scorpion, which was presumably still hiding somewhere along the path, plotting my destruction.

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Cambodia’s coronavirus scarecrows

In Cambodia it’s not uncommon to see scarecrows, called ting mong in Khmer, propped up outside people’s houses or gardens. Ting Mong aren’t there to protect the crops from birds, rather, they are there to frighten away ghosts and evil spirits. You often won’t see any ting mong for months at a time in Cambodia, but in times of difficulty they start to multiply. Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, ting mong are everywhere.

Ting mong guarding a house in Chreav village, outside of a Siem Reap.

These photos were taken by Christopher Schoenbohm of Kulen Outreach, an NGO that provides education to children from the rural Phnom Kulen region Cambodia. The photos were taken in Chreav village, just south of Siem Reap. “Illness effigies are popping up everywhere in the Cambodian countryside,” Schoenbohm wrote. “They’re meant to fool the spirits into making the effigy sick instead of the household.”

Although Cambodia is a Buddhist country, ting mong are part of a pre-Angkorian animist belief structure. It is believed that these figures, dressed up to look like humans, will scare off ghosts and evil spirits from entering the home. They often hold guns or weapons and traditionally have scary features that are known for making children cry. Last year, villagers in Kratie erected ting mong when several people fell ill in the village during what was believed to be a cholera outbreak.  So it’s not surprising, then, that the spread of COVID-19 in Cambodia has seen the arrival of a new wave of ting mong. Continue reading

Review: Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, Siem Reap

Baby Elephant has been around for a few years and during that time it has built up an excellent reputation for sustainability, environmentalism, and community involvement. We’ve heard the positive reports for years, but only recently had the chance to see for ourselves why people like them so much.

Baby Elephant Siem Reap pool

The pool at Baby Elephant and BE Happy is the perfect place to enjoy a cocktail.

Located in the Svay Dangkum area of Siem Reap, Baby Elephant offered a soothing respite for your weary travel writer during a recent stay. Run by an Australian couple and an outgoing South African manager, Baby Elephant has a staff dedicated to making every guest feel welcome. A saltwater pool and ample seating in the leafy garden courtyard make it hard not to stop for a chat or a cocktail whenever you go in or out of the premises. Continue reading

Living in Cambodia during COVID-19

In January of 2020, when COVID-19 became known to the world, Cambodia tried to remain open for trade and tourism. While neighboring countries, and then South Korea, banned flights to and from mainland China and closed tourist attractions, Cambodia resolutely did, well, none of these things. After an initial spike in panic and face-mask-wearing when the first case was announced, the mood across the country was one of relative calm and caution throughout February — more handwashing, less travel, but not many other changes in daily life.

Russian Market Phnom Penh coronavirus

Not a lot of social distancing at Russian Market on March 16th.

As of this week, however, the mood has changed. It’s now pretty hard to enter or leave Cambodia by land or air. A country reliant on border traffic for trade and tourism, the Kingdom is now entering a period of coronavirus-related isolation from the world, largely because of the actions of other countries. Within Cambodia all schools have been closed, along with museums, concert halls, and bars, and large religious gatherings have been banned. The streets seem quieter (but the markets are still busy).

Volunteers from Australia and the USA have been recalled home, and a small but growing percentage of expats have decided to return home, before flights become impossible. Many more, however, have chosen to stay in Cambodia, including me. For people wondering what it’s like in Cambodia right now, here goes. Continue reading