cambodia: cheaper & not

A lot of people have asked us about the cost of living here in the Kingdom of Wonder. I don’t exactly know what to say. It’s complicated. And we’re still figuring it out. Based on our 7 weeks of being Cambodian residents, here’s what I can tell you:

What’s Cheaper Here:

  • Our apartment. We actually don’t know what to call it. House? Apartment? We rent the top floor of a 3-story building. Our landlord/landlady and their two nieces live on the first floor. Their son & his wife live on the second. We have about 1100 sq. ft. of space (compared to 800 at Abbey Lane) and pay $125/month less than we did at AL.
  • Transportation. (I think.) Our van was paid off back in the States, but gas added up quick. We don’t have a vehicle here, so we walk everywhere and take a tuk-tuk when it’s too far to walk. (Gabe catches a ride on the back of a moto when he’s by himself–typically a little cheaper than a tuk-tuk.) We pay $2 for a ride to school and $2 home. $2 to church, $2 home. Most drivers are cool with that, some ask for $3. We hold out for $2. Far places cost more. And so do nighttime rides. We’d pay $10 to get home from the airport, $15 to get out to Prek Eng (to visit our Asia’s Hope friends) and back (the tuk-tuk driver stays for the length of our visit). We’ve paid $123.50 in tuk-tuk/moto rides in the first 23 days of February. Gabe is looking into getting a bicycle this week or next and then upgrading to a moto when we have the money.
  • Health care. Well, we’ve only made one visit to the doctor, and it was $35. We buy gauze for Ava’s toe at the street pharmacy on the corner (4 rolls for $1). And we’ve bought triple-antibiotic ointment at Super-Duper for cheap too. We don’t have health insurance (we’re looking into it but can’t afford it at the moment).
  • Fresh fruits & veggies. The open-air Russian Market (Psar Toul Tom Poung) is our best bet for fresh, cheap produce. A delicious, smallish watermelon costs us 5000 Riel ($1.25). We get mangos for 5000 Riel/kilo (but they’ll be cheaper when they’re in season). We get potatoes & onions for cheap, a bunch of cilantro for 1000 Riel (25 cents). Tomatoes (cheap, but so far, not very tasty). Little bananas. Etc. We may or may not be getting screwed because we’re foreigners. When we start speaking Khmer, we’ll see if we can pay lower prices.
  • Eating Out. We can eat delicious, fresh food (not fast food) for $2.50/person (sometimes more, sometimes less). There are several restaurants within walking distance of us, and many times we would much rather go spend $12.50 on a delicious dinner we don’t have to prepare or clean up than spend 90 minutes making & cleaning it up ourselves. There is also a delicious pizza place (Brooklyn Pizza) that delivers. Their X-Large cheese pizza is $11.90 with free delivery. We get 2. It’s absolutely not vegan, and I absolutely do not care. I can do a whole post on our food options sometime, if you’d like.
  • Internet. I think we pay $18/month compared to $39.99 in the States.
  • Cell phones. We bought phones in the States for $179, and we buy a cell card thingy here each month (with lots of phone/data time on it). I think it costs us $5/month. We paid a whopping $170/month in America.

What’s Not Cheaper Here:

  • School. Unschooling was free. Language school will cost us $1500 every 5 weeks for 40 weeks. Six days in, and it’s been worth every penny. If you’d like to contribute to our School Fund, let us know!
  • Visas. America let us live there for free (well, relatively speaking). In Cambodia, we have to have visas. We got 30-day visas upon arrival. $35/person (Nina was just $10). Then we had to renew them and get 1-year visas ($290/person, Nina was $25). Nina will be that cheap until she turns 12 and becomes another expensive adult. This averages out to about $100/month just for the privilege of living here.
  • Normal-to-us food. Food that is plentiful and cheap in grocery stores in the U.S. will cost you an arm and a leg here because it’s imported. So we buy it sparingly. A box of cereal could run you $7. A can of black beans: $3. A small thing of hummus (which I’ve only seen once): $5. Cream cheese: $7. Goldfish: $3. Small bag of M-n-Ms: $1.25. Any kind of shampoo/soap/paper towels with an American name: a lot of money. I try very hard not to dream of all the things I want people to bring me when they come to visit.
  • Electricity: We pay for our electricity/water two months at a time (and haven’t paid yet). We also haven’t turned our A/C on yet (we have a wall unit in each bedroom, but not in the rest of the house) even though it’s already in the 90’s here each day. A/C is wildly expensive (I think maybe $1/hour for each unit), so we’ll see how that goes.
  • Appliances. Well, they might not be more expensive here, but I don’t really know. I already owned them in the U.S. so I didn’t have to buy them. And if something of mine broke, I’d go to the thrift store to replace it. No can do here.
  • Clothing. This is not exactly true. You can buy a t-shirt in the Russian Market for $2. But, back in the States, we bought nearly 100% of our clothes at the thrift store and can’t do that here. (The thrift store is the one place I miss most of all.) (I’m thinking of having someone go shopping for me there and send the clothes with the next person who comes. Like my own personal shopper.)
  • ATM/bank fees. We pay a $5 fee every time we use the ATM (so we only use it to get the daily max out–$400). Plus an exorbitant fee from the bank. We have a PayPal card that takes out a 1% fee when we use the card (which we can’t use in many places) and a 2% fee for withdrawals. Our bank charges us $11.75 when we withdrawal $400. Lovely. We’re looking into a Cambodian bank account, but then our missions agency will have to pay a fee every time they deposit $ into our account. Gabe’s mom is coming this summer, so I’m going to have my dad write a check to himself (we left him some blank, signed checks) from our checking account and give the $ to Gabe’s mom to bring us. Complicated. Boo.

That’s all I can think of at the moment. What did I leave out? 

7 thoughts on “cambodia: cheaper & not

  1. Teresa

    You can open an account at ABA and wire money to and from the USA from the comfort of your own home. It is relatively cheap as well…and comes with a visa debit card that you can use all over the world with no foreign transaction fee and can pull $1000/day out of the ATM. The BKK market is definitely cheaper than the Russian Market, but I don’t know where you are living. You can meet the vendors and they will become familiar with you and you can practice your Khmer on them and if you become a “regular”, you will get better deals! You can also hire a tuk tuk for a monthly fee with so many trips per day. Usually the ones who don’t speak so much English don’t charge so much. It’s beneficial for both of you because you both learn each other’s language! Clothing is definitely cheaper at most any other market than the Russian market. Keep in mind…you can also go to O’Russey market, buy your fabric and take your very very favorite thing to a seamstress in the market and they will copy it for you to a T and charge you $2 to $15 depending on what it is. Another Russian Market secret is to speak only Khmer to them. Learn your numbers and be friendly and walk away if the price isn’t right. They love to bargain too! Also, if you are really craving things from home…head to USA Donut in BKK1…he has tons of things from Costco there…it’s definitely a montage of things, but he gets them and keeps Reese’s in the fridge for extra yumminess!!! I lived there for 3 years and am now back in the states; but did my fare share of navigating life there! Have fun and make friends!

    1. Marla Taviano Post author

      Thanks so much, Teresa! We live just 3 blocks north of Psar Toul Tom Poung, so it’s definitely the easiest place for us to walk to & shop. We’re learning what’s a good deal, and we have our numbers pretty much down. Yay us! We have a fave tuk-tuk driver who takes us to school & picks us up each day. And we’ll have to check out USA Donut! Thanks for the tips!!

  2. Pingback: cambodia: easier & not | Marla Taviano

  3. sarah

    Hi there Marla!
    Found your blog through a mutual friend! 🙂
    If you live on the east side of Toul Tom Poung, perhaps trying Psar Boeung Trabek just over the the stinky river for even cheaper veggies and fruit. Russian Market is more expensive compared to other local markets due to the high number of foreigners who frequent the market, so the sellers are not great to bargain with.
    Ie. mangos can be 2000-3500R/kilo at other local markets, no bargaining needed.
    I find that I am always asking my local friends/language teachers how much things are to gauge how much is reasonable to pay.
    I do agree though, some things are cheaper (ie rent, eating out at local places) but other things are not (banking fees, transportation and home comfort food).
    Hoping you’ll continue to adjust, in time.

  4. Sarah Farish

    So. Many. Details in the land of WONDER – shew! I think these are the things people don’t understand – or perhaps forget – about missionaries. It’s not just dollars and cents or Riel; it’s so much more. The logistics plus the call plus your heart…yeah, just hard. Friend, know I pray for each of you every single day. And love each of you so so much! I can’t wait to be the one delivering a bunch of goodies to your doorstep.

  5. Daniel Berman

    It doesn’t save you the ATM fee, but Capital One 360 does not charge you foreign transaction fees on withdrawals. – We normally bank with a local credit union, and I don’t believe their is any foreign transaction fees on that Visa card as well. Might be something that your parents could look into on your behalf.

  6. Krysten

    You left out the other high costs of living there: being away from everything familiar and lots of people you love, just about any convenience whatsoever, having to balance daily life with learning a new culture, language, routine. Living in a place where you see and hear and experience things on a daily basis that others only read about in books, but are utterly real. Y’know…. Small stuff like that! 🙂 But maybe you didn’t think to mention those things because they are canceled out by the fact that you are living the life that God dreamed for you and loving His people in every way He said you would. Just a thought. I love you, friend!!

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