Work formalities and conditions in Cambodia
Updated 2018-07-24 08:50

Before you start work in Cambodia, it's a good idea to learn about Khmer culture to help you to adapt to a different business environment. Working in Cambodia may involve learning certain rules of etiquette, from understanding the concept of face to learning how to do the sampeah to greet people and show your respect.

One perk of working in Cambodia is the number of public holidays that you will enjoy ' in 2018, there is a grand total of 28 days. As an expat, you are also likely to have paid holiday leave included in your package, which will give you ample time to explore the country and soak up the culture. Cambodian people are also renowned for their friendliness, and you're likely to find that many of your colleagues speak coherent English, which helps to break down communication barriers in day-to-day life. However, there are some things that are not easily translatable or understood, and certain aspects of working life in Cambodia may be difficult to get used to.

Although it's true that foreigners aren't always expected to behave in the same way as the locals, it's helpful to understand how Cambodian culture plays out in the workplace so that you can mitigate any issues.

Khmer culture

The business culture in Cambodia may surprise you at first. Cambodian society is very hierarchical, which means that you may notice that members of staff at your office are likely to be deferent to anyone in a higher position and agree with whatever the boss suggests, rather than express their own ideas.

As a foreigner, you may be excused for not complying with these codes of conduct, but it's still important to try to be diplomatic in your dealings and as sensitive to the hierarchies as possible.

The concept of 'saving face' plays a big role in working life, and is a question of protecting one's dignity, reputation, and social standing. An employee will lose face if reprimanded or criticised in front of other colleagues, so it is important to deliver any negative feedback one-on-one in private. Suggestions for improvement will also be taken a lot better than direct criticism, so be careful how you word your comments.

This element of 'saving face' can be frustrating in a working environment, as your colleagues may say that they understand something, when they actually don't. Cambodians don't tend to easily admit to mistakes (yours or theirs) and aren't likely to voice their true feelings. Many employees will go to great lengths to avoid confrontation or loss of face, and actions can seem defiant, inefficient or rather absurd, if you don't understand the culture.

Displaying emotions in public is somewhat frowned upon, so if you lose your temper, it can be interpreted as a loss of face for both you and those who witness your wrath. So it's important to stay calm at all times and be respectful of the culture if you want to get your points across.

Labour laws

A full-time employee is expected to work eight hours a day, up to six days a week. Overtime is an option if there is urgent work that needs to be done, provided that an employee's total working hours do not exceed 10 hours per day.

Sunday is the main day off in Phnom Penh, although exceptions apply for those working in the hospitality or healthcare sector, or on shiftwork.

Under the labour law, everyone is entitled to at least one full day off work per week, and you are entitled to annual leave after completing one year of service at a company. Those working 48-hour weeks are then entitled to 18 days of leave every year. Anyone working less than that should have their holiday leave calculated on a pro-rata basis.


Pay in Cambodia ranges from extremes for expats and Cambodians. Those on an expat package can enjoy high wages, as well as benefits that include accommodation, international schooling for their children, comprehensive insurance, and return flights to their home country.

On the other end of the spectrum, foreigners who work as bartenders might just earn a few dollars per night and free drinks. And many young people choose to forfeit a proper salary in exchange for international development experience when they come to Cambodia to intern. NGO work can generally range quite greatly in salary, from the volunteers who work for a basic stipend to the ridiculously well-remunerated country managers who drive home in expensive cars.

Although it's quite easy to find a job teaching English as a foreign language in Cambodia, most jobs tend to pay an hourly wage that isn't huge ' although you can still live a perfectly comfortable lifestyle on an English teacher's salary if you work enough hours at a relatively reputable language school. Those who teach curriculum subjects in an international school are likely to earn far more, and can also enjoy benefits, such as paid school holidays and health insurance.

Do note, however, that almost all foreigners earn considerably more than the average Cambodian ' especially those living in the countryside. Although there is a growing middle class, and there are some extremely affluent Cambodians, poverty is still a massive issue for most of the country. To give an idea, the average monthly wage for a textile worker is still only US$170 per month after a recent 11% increase!

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