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Anywhere you find tourists you find scams. And there are plenty of scams in Cambodia!
After 4 months living here we’ve seen a lot of scams and a lot of people getting scammed. However, we’ve been proudly scam free ourselves.
By knowing what scams in Cambodia exist and the easiest ways to avoid them, you can stay scam free on your visit too.
Avoid these Cambodian Scams
1. Border/Visa Scams
Thats right, at many land border crossings, Cambodian officials are going to be expecting bribes in order to put your paperwork through and issue your visa on arrival.
Moreover, you may be approached by various “officials” before, and even after, you get to the visa issuing desk. They may tell you a variety of stories about needing medical checks, proof of vaccinations or other paperwork that you must pay them for or your visa will not get issued.
You may even be directed by these fake officials to get your visa elsewhere at a higher price.
As of March 2014 the tourist visa should cost $20US and the business/ordinary visa $25, for one month. You may need a letter of invitation or proof of business for the business visa. We got in without one.
Ways to avoid this scam:
- Don’t engage with anyone until the visa desk. Just say you have a visa and keep walking. If they aren’t physically restraining you or pointing a gun, they probably aren’t “official”.
- Have US dollars & a passport photo. If you are prepared then you should be able to insist on paying the standard fee. If you end up having to pay in a foreign currency they will charge way over the odds. Not having a photo you will be charged, around $3-$4 normally.
- Arrive by air. If this doesn’t fit in with your plans then it won’t help, but problems with bribes are unlikely at the airports in Siem Reap & Phnom Penh.
- Arrive early & sit it out. Insist on paying the correct amount. They may make you wait, but if you arrive early then you can still get onward transport. Arriving late will mean you have no choice but to pay the bribe – and they know it!
- Get your visa in advance. This is normally more expensive than the official on-arrival fee, depending on what country you apply in, but cheaper than the full bribe price. You may reduce the hassle and the wait but you will have to decide based on your circumstance if it is worth the effort of an embassy visit to save a few dollars.
2. Scams in Cambodia: Traffic Police Bribes
Do you want to pay police bribes?
I doubt you do. And why should you? The traffic police in Cambodia are corrupt. They will pull you over and continue to come up with reasons you should be “fined” until you give them money.
If you rent a vehicle in Cambodia the police will try to pull you over.
The cops wear light blue, so you can identify them easily. They normally walk into traffic, wave a baton and blow a whistle to get you to pull over. They mainly target tourists because locals know how much the “fines” are, tourists will pay way more.
Some of the fines may be for legitimate law breaking, but the money you pay will go into their pockets.
Be aware that there is a difference between the traffic cops in blue and the military police in army gear. If the military ask you to stop, do it. They have guns and they are serious. As for the Police scam…
Ways to avoid this scam:
- Don’t stop. Accelerate past, u-turn or turn down a side street. You’ve been pre-programmed to stop for police but fight the urge. Give them a wide berth as on very rare occasions we’ve heard reports of them trying to hit riders with their baton. They will not follow you because it costs them more to follow you than to just hail down the next foreigner.
- Know where they wait. Ask at your hotel or when you rent the motorbike to mark on a tourist map where the main spots are that the police stop people. Although they change positions occasionally, 9 times out of 10 they’ll keep using the prime spots. Figure out alternative routes.
- Don’t blatantly break the law. Wear a helmet. Don’t have you headlights on in the day (yes, thats a law!). The more laws you are breaking, the easier it is for them to make you pay. They are less likely to hail you if you are legal.
If you do get pulled over…
- Tell them to take you to the police station. Ask them for their badge number too so you can report them to their superior. If they take you to the station they lose their bribe, so they will normally just let you go as its easier than taking you to the station – though they will probably argue for some time.
- It’s $2. They will come up with multiple “laws” you have broken. They will also start high with the “fine” price, maybe $10-$15. Tell them you live in Cambodia and the price is $2. Hand them $2. Drive off. (An aside, our friend offered them the $2, they said it wasn’t enough, so he took it back and drove off! End of story = $0 and no repercussions)
3. Motorbike Theft Scams in Cambodia
Tourist need to get around. Renting a motorbike is normally the most convenient and cost effective way to do so.
Once you rent the bike, someone follows you around for a few days and steals the bike when you leave it unattended. Although a bike lock will be provided when you rent, guess who has a copy of the keys for that and the bike? The rental agency.
Their guy simply walks up to the bike, unlocks it and drives away. No reason for bystanders to suspect criminal activity. Because you are short on time and the rental agency has your passport, the police don’t find the bike and you end up paying $1,200 to get your passport back.
Ways to avoid this Cambodia scam:
- Rent from a reputable source. It will probably cost you fractionally more, but a lot less than paying $1,200 if the bike is stolen. Established hotels with foreign owners have a reputation to maintain so are unlikely to be running this scam. Many will accept a photocopy of your passport as adequate. The bike should have a number plate and, preferably, theft insurance.
- Get your own Padlock. The thief turns up and his key doesn’t work. Buh-bow.
- Use secure parking. This is not always possible, but if attended parking is available it’s a good idea and normally only about 25 cents.
- Lie about when you are leaving. Not a surefire method but an extra precaution. When you take the bike tell the agent that you’ll “trial” it for a few days and if you like it you will rent for an additional month. Firstly, they’ll think they can get an extra $100 out of you before they steal it. Secondly, if you are not leaving in a hurry then you don’t need your passport back quickly and may get the police involved – higher risk for them.
4. Just Met a Girl Scams in Cambodia
It’s a simple scam that effects men. Although there are plenty of prostitutes around, and they may also pull this scam, this one is mainly for women pretending to take a genuine interest in you.
You meet a local girl at a bar. She is not a prostitute. You think, “maybe she likes me for me, not for money”. She goes back to your apartment, drugs you and then robs you blind. She did like you for money… and wasn’t willing to have sex with you to get it.
Ways to avoid this Cambodian Scam:
- Don’t take local girls home. Obvious answer number one, is the boring one. Keep it in your pants or try and hook up with a tourist instead.
- Find out who she is. If you absolutely must get your rocks off, ask the bar staff if they know the girl. Although they may be in cahoots, if she works the same bars every night, she’ll get caught. If they know her you at least have a lead to track her down if you get done over.
- Get a photo together and upload it/email it for evidence. Clearly if you take a pic and then have your phone stolen, you’ve lost the photo. So put it online. Make sure your phone has a passcode on it too. If she turns out to be legit then you have a nice photo. Win win.
5. Goodbye Belongings Scams in Cambodia – Beach Theft
Well, this is not a scam as such, but it certainly screws over tourists on a daily basis and is easily avoided.
The two main ways to get your stuff stolen are:
- Pulled from you whilst you are in a tuk-tuk or riding a motorbike. Speeding bikes shoot past and grab bags. Or, you drop something and a local picks it up and either runs off or extorts you to give it back.
- From the beach. You go swimming and when you get back your camera and wallet are gone.
Ways to avoid this scam:
- Keep your stuff by your feet or in the middle of the tuk-tuk. Anything hanging over the side that could be easily snatched is target. Don’t operate your phone/camera near the side in a way that it could be snatched or dropped.
- Don’t wear a shoulder/hand bag on a motorbike. This makes you a target. Put valuables in the compartment under the seat or in pockets.
- Don’t take valuables to the beach. I wouldn’t do this in a 1st world country, let alone a developing country. If you HAVE to take valuables to the beach:
a) Leave them locked inside your bike, if you have one.
b) Have someone you trust watch them at all times – even the bar staff cannot always be trusted in Cambodia though.
c) Take the bare minimum you’ll need for the day.
d) Hide stuff well at your hostel/hotel, or leave it behind reception and get a receipt. If there are lockers, lock your stuff up with your own padlock.
The alternative solution to scams
These are only a few of the scams in Cambodia. New ones appear all the time. Then there is straight forward crime too. On occasion foreigners would be knocked off there motorbikes, badly injured, lying at the side of the road, and the person who knocked them off would then steal the bike!
Suffice to say, a lot of expats and tourists come to Cambodia with insufficient insurance. They may get their medical bills paid for, if they’re lucky, but the price of the stolen bike, normally a rental, often isn’t covered. We suggest getting insurance that is specifically for travellers, not just the regular policies that tourists going on a package holiday get.
So, although this is not a solutions, it will mean you are covered if you get robbed or ripped off.
BONUS: Orphanages Scam
In summary, “orphanage tourism” is often corrupt. Many kids aren’t really orphans in Cambodia.
We’ve already done a whole article on this one and how to avoid it and alternative, non-corrupt options for helping kids and Cambodia develop.
No matter where you are in the world we recommend you have travel insurance. We personally use World Nomads as they’ve always had our back.
Are there any more Cambodia scams you’ve encountered?
Have you been victim to any of these Cambodian scams elsewhere?
Leave us a comment and help other travellers.
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