Bribes and Scam on Cambodian Border Crossings

The very first local I encountered upon my arrival in Cambodia stole my pen because it had a laser pointer on it and he decided he liked it. It was the only pen I had readily available on me so when he said something was missing on my arrival card, I pulled it out of my camera bag and filled the missing information in. He then took the pen out of my hand and took the card along with my passport to add his notes, signature, a stamp or whatever it is they are supposed to do with those cards on it. He then went to get something else done by standing up from his desk and walking up to the opposite counter and when he came back, the pen was nowhere to be seen. I asked if I could have my pen back yet he insisted he gave it to me previously. Needless to say, this was the last time I have seen my pen.

I had only been in Cambodia for two minutes, and this was the very first Cambodian I had to deal with and I already got my pen stolen and was lied to straight into my face. He was the perfect reflection of what awaits a visitor inside the country. From the moment you’re in until the moment you’re out, there will always be a plentitude of locals looking for the ways to scam you out of your money or possessions.

Because the Cambodian government took measures to prevent scamming by anyone other than their befriended individuals, immigration people at certain points of entry (such as the Siem Reap or Phnom Penh airports) can no longer directly request bribes from foreigners who’d just arrived. That doesn’t however mean that they will miss out on other opportunities to enrich themselves at your expense.

Similarly, many overland points of entry are still major bribery hubs so if you fly in to Cambodia and continue on with your travels overland like I did, then you will be subjected to scam from the very first person you encounter to the very last (and virtually everyone in between). Similar open requests for bribes at overland border crossing will await you when entering and exiting Laos (on both Cambodian and Lao sides), but from my experience, this is not practised by Thai or Vietnamese immigration officials.

When I went I went to Thailand, scamming ended with the very last Cambodian I had to deal with. It goes without saying that he DID insist on a bribe but it was a breath of fresh air to come to the Thai side and be processed without any scam attempt. It works similarly when entering Cambodia from Thailand whereas Thai officials would process you without requests for bribes, but as soon as you come over to the Cambodian booth and start dealing with Cambodians, it gets to be a whole new story.

Vietnam doesn’t offer visa on arrival (or visa free entry) when entering overland from Cambodia (October 2009) so you have to apply for it in advance with the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh (at least if you’re a bearer of a Canadian passport) but as is the case with Thailand, open requests for bribes will end with the last Cambodian you end up having to deal with.

One thought on “Bribes and Scam on Cambodian Border Crossings”

  1. I didn’t run into any scams in Cambodia in over a month there, and the worst any expats I met had run into was a $3 bribe on a traffic stop.

    I’m not denying that there is the potential for this to happen, but I don’t think it should deter people from visiting. Heck, I don’t think it should deter them from investing.

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