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Cambodia will be an interesting country the coming decade.
With an economy that grows with a rapid pace, but with a somewhat politically unstable climate, early investors with some risk appetite, can gain great yields.
As one of the last frontier countries in Southeast Asia, that welcomes foreign investors with open arms, Cambodia will be a playground for real estate investors.
If you look for cheaper alternatives, with high yields and a way to store some cash assets, you shouldn’t neglect this country.
In this article, I explain the crucial information you need to know when buying Cambodia property.
Can foreigners buy property in Cambodia?
Cambodia has similarities with regulations on foreign ownership in Thailand and many other Southeast Asian countries.
The same regulation applies in the Philippines , Vietnam and Thailand.
As read in Article 16, “Amended Law on Investment”: Persons with a Cambodian citizenship or Cambodian entities have legal rights to own land.
But there are ways for foreigners to buy and at least control land.
Buying land in Cambodia
You can buy land in four different ways in Cambodia. The process is not risk free nor easy if you’ve never engaged in the Cambodian property market before.
Therefore, I highly recommend you to hire a reputable Solicitor and Real estate agent earliest possible, before starting any procurement process.
Let’s have a look at the four different ways how you can buy land as a foreigner.
Buying land through a Cambodian company
This is probably the safest option to buy land in Cambodia. Bear in mind though that the process to set up a company does require a bit of capital and time.
The same as it goes in Thailand:
A Cambodian person needs to own 51% of the company shares, so if you decide to go this way, be sure that you set up the company with a person that you have a good relationship with and can trust in.
Even if you can only own 49% of the shares, you will be able to control the ownership of the property through, in some people’s eyes, a somewhat complex contractual setup with the other Cambodian shareholder.
Be sure to do due diligence and study the local regulations thoroughly.
Setting up a leasehold agreement
Foreign investors are permitted to use land with a lease period between 15-50 years, with a possibility to extend the period for up to 50 years. If the state owns the land, the maximum lease period is 40 years.
One of the most important things to do before entering any leasehold agreement with a landowner is to check the title.
Before I continue, for persons who does not know what a title is, in short words, it’s a document that confirms the ownership and shows all the rights that a property owner has.
That could be:
- Your rights to control the property
- Your rights to sell or rent out the property
- If there are any encumbrances or mortgages since previous ownership
Don’t forget to do a title search
It’s important that you do a title search in order to see who owns the title and if there are any encumbrances registered in the property, for maximum transparency.
And don’t forget:
Before you sign a lease contract, be sure to do thorough research and background check about the owner, to make sure you lease land from the right person.
A way to protect yourself could be, for example, to add a paragraph in your leasehold contract saying that you, as a lessee, must agree to any sale of the property.
On top of that, you can register a “block sale notice” at the Land office, they in turn can block any sale of the land unless you have granted the sale.
Buying land by obtaining Cambodian citizenship
This option is one of the least attractive as it’s not an easy way to go.
If you want to qualify for a Cambodian citizenship, you have two options. The first is to reside in Cambodia for at least 7 years and show full proficiency in Khmer.
The second option is to make a big donation or investment. But it doesn’t stop there, the President need to approve any application for citizenship, which speaks for itself…
Buying land through a Cambodian nominee
Buying land with the help of a local nominee is the most common, easiest and least expensive way.
Simply put, buying through a Cambodian nominee means that you sign a trust-agreement with the landowner, where he or she gives you the rights to control the land.
Usually, the landowner mortgage the land and lease it to you as an investor, a number of other documents should be included, often referred to as “Nominee security agreements”. The documents will show the rights you have to control the land, and minimizing the risks that the nominee sell, transfer or lease the land to another person.
So is this safe? It’s not, due to a number of reasons:
First of all, this method of buying land has been ruled out by the government, hence you’ll face risks that the land gets confiscated, or you might be forced to sell it. Sure, the government might look between its fingers now, but you don’t know what will happen in 10 years.
Secondly, you face a risk that the nominee “runs” away with the land. Bypassing laws through local contractual setups is not always waterproof, there’s no guarantee you’ll have much to say if you decide to go to a local court.
Buying a condo in Cambodia
Experienced investors have taken the path to control land through a Cambodian citizen. However, as I explained above, this requires more experience and that you have a robust relationship with a Cambodian.
To reduce the hurdles, the easiest way to purchase a property is to buy a unit in condo (co-owned building).
A condo refers to a co-owned building where several owners have separate units. The building also has common areas, that can be used by the unit owners in the building.
In that sense, you probably understand that a good option is to purchase a condo in Cambodia which falls perfectly under this definition.
What are the benefits of buying a condo?
The benefits of buying a unit in a condo is that these are easily maintained (can be done by persons working in the condo). Condos are also fairly easy to resell and rent out, and offer higher security.
Another benefit is that many Chinese buyers (and other Asians) look for a place to store their cash assets. Many of them have realized that Cambodia is a good place to invest, their first choice are often condos.
The Chinese know that there are other ways than just buying Bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies to store cash.
In recent years, investments have poured in from foreign companies that want to reap the benefits from the Cambodian market and its prosperous future. The market is in a bubbly phase and no one knows what will happen the coming years.
How do I obtain Cambodian land title?
Before you invest in Cambodia, you need to study the different land titles thoroughly. There are currently four types of titles available in Cambodia:
- Soft Titles
- Hard Titles
- Strata titles
One point I want to make before continuing is that foreigners can’t legally buy landed properties with soft titles in their own name, unless the property is held under a strata title.
What is a strata title?
As explained in my guide about Thailand, Strata titles are used for apartment buildings with multiple number of units, that has common areas like gyms and pools.
Therefore, you can buy a unit in a condo that holds soft title and that is registered in a building with strata title.
What are the differences between Soft Titles and Hard Titles?
The major difference between the two is that soft titles are recognized and recorded at a local level, while the hard title is recorded at a national level (which is better).
Soft title has been widely preferred and most commonly used, at the moment, around 70% of the properties in the cities and a little more than 80% in rural areas hold soft titles.
Benefits with soft titles
If you manage to buy a property with soft title, you’ll have the advantage to experience a quicker and easier transfer process. In addition, no transfer tax of 4% will be needed, that is needed for hard titles.
Drawbacks with soft title
There are some few drawbacks if you decide to buy a property with soft title, the most common ones are that you cannot obtain any mortgage and there will be less information about the property and its previous ownership.
Benefits with hard titles
Hard titles are becoming increasingly available for foreigners and have many benefits.
For example, the ownership is more transparent and you will have all information available about the previous ownerships.
What is LMAP?
LMAP stands for Land Management and Administration Projects and is the safest, and most transparent way to own a property.
The World Bank started the LMAP project in 2002 with a main purpose to start using an efficient system to register properties and to protect mainly local property owners.
By using an efficient system to register the land, the country can overcome issues with involuntary eviction and land-grabbing that occurred frequently in the past.
Getting a mortgage in Cambodia
Even if overseas banks rarely grant loans to foreigners who want to invest in Cambodia, it’s not easy to get one locally. That’s why I won’t cover the topic in detail in this article.
As the property prices are still relatively cheap in Cambodia and many investors are cash buyers, I will focus more on how you can buy a property with cash assets.
Buying property with cash assets
In this section, I explain the buying process when you buy a property with hard title.
1. Make a title search
When you have found a property (normally through an agent) you should make a title search as explained above.
2. Contact the local Communce council
In addition to checking the title, contact the local Commune council and request more information about the property.
The first commune council was elected in 2002. Shortly explained, it consists of 5-11 persons and responsible to work with the development, health services and to protect the environment for example.
Be sure to get an ID copy from the person that acts on behalf of the company selling the property, in case you buy the property from a company (and not a private person).
This person will also need to be certified to present the selling company at the Land office. Request documents that prove this.
The Ministry of commerce should have issued a certificate previously, be sure to receive a bona fide copy of that certificate.
Paying the deposit
When you have found a property that suits your needs, you’ll need to prepare a deposit equal to 10% of the property value.
You’ve already done a decent share of the process at this stage, the next step is that you and the seller visit the Cadastral Office and receive the documentation needed.
Before the Khan will be able to transfer your name to the title, the seller need to show the original title document, called deed.
In general, the Castral Office will need up to a month to prepare the documents, signed and ready for submission.
Payment of the transfer tax
When you have received the documents from the Cadastral Office, you need to visit the General Department of Taxation, that will handle your payment of the transfer tax.
If you’ve made it this far, the seller will join you for a new visit to the Castral Office, to sign the buying agreement. Be sure to bring your receipt received when you paid the transfer tax, as this is needed.
After around 5 working days, the Cadastral Office will send the final documents to the Municipal Land Office, this authority will in turn issue a certificate of title in your name.
You might need to wait up to 3 weeks before you can receive these final documents.
What taxes do I need to pay when buying property as a non-resident foreigner in Cambodia?
Below I’ve summarized the taxes and fees that need to be paid, as of the moment I’m writing this article:
The transfer tax is 4% and paid when you buy the property.
The Property tax is 0.1% and paid on an annual basis.
Rental income tax
The Rental income tax is 14% paid annually.
Capital gains tax
The Capital gains tax is 20% and paid when you sell the property.
Renting out property in Cambodia
Yes, you can rent out your property. But just as with any other country (especially in a frontier country) you need to plan well in advance.
Be sure to find a serious local agency that can find tenants for you. A common way to find agencies is via internet, another way could be to ask friends or persons, if they have any recommendations of local agencies that can help you.
As foreign companies are pouring investments into Cambodia, there’s been an increased demand for especially units in condos, to host their expats.
Companies have a high cap on rents and it’s not uncommon that property owners can yield as much as 1200 – 1500 USD in monthly rental income.
With property prices comparatively low to other countries in the region you can create a decent cash flow in comparison with your property investment.
Where should I invest in Cambodia?
Phnom Penh is the capital and where most business happens. However, there are other cities that should also be of interest.
Let’s have a look at some of the hot spots in Cambodia.
This choice doesn’t seem surprising. Even if Phnom Penh has seen a rapid increase in house prices compared to other Cambodian cities, I need to put this city at the top of the list.
Phnom Penh is the business hub in Cambodia and caters the highest number of expats and foreigners.
The Cambodian economy is growing fast and this is the place where all the skyscrapers are built, where you can find high-end restaurants, casinos and luxury shopping.
Sihanoukville has received a somewhat bad reputation the past years, mainly due to its big influx of foreigners who want to party.
It’s not well deserved and this place has amazingly beautiful white beaches, with land and property prices that are eye watering.
If you have the capabilities and risk appetite of buying and controlling land through a Cambodian citizen, Sihanoukville should be on your picklist.
Siem reap receives a huge amount of tourists every year and it’s increasing steadily.
As Siem reap is one of the major tourist magnets in Cambodia, the creation of more jobs and opportunities will follow.
To purchase a property in one of the most cultural areas in Cambodia might well be a great bet.
Cambodia is growing fast economically but is still somewhat risky to the unexperienced investor.
The political climate is still turbulent and one need to be cautious when engaging in the Cambodian property market.
Meeting a reputable and credible real estate agent and solicitor, with proven track records, is a must.
You’ll be able to earn great yields if you do your homework and manage to find the right deals though. In fact, rental yields are great, in comparison to what you pay for property.
I hope you found this article interesting and wish you good luck with your property purchase in Cambodia. If you want to buy off-plan property, I also recommend you to read my separate article that lists the the biggest property developers in Cambodia.
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