Immigration and Visa on Arrival Process in Siem Reap, Cambodia

There are way too many confusing records all across the internet regarding the immigration and the visa on arrival process in Cambodia. I have done my thorough research on the subject and quite frankly, I didn’t know what the truth exactly is. Now that I have gone through Cambodian immigration and have applied and received visa on arrival, I know exactly how it works. At least how it work in Siem Reap as that’s the only point of entry in Cambodia I have used so far.

To sum it up in a few word – the entire immigration process and visa on arrival situation in Siem Reap is well streamlined, painless, fast and with no bribery involved or needed. There are people who claim that immigration officials ask for more than normal $20 for tourist or $25 for business visa and unless you pay up, you’re gonna get held up. Even more often than that you would find claims that applying for visa on arrival is a major pain and one should apply for e-visa instead. This must have been a long time ago, or those people simply exaggerate big time. This is what it looks like at Siem Reap International Airport as of August 2009:

The plane from abroad lands in Cambodia, people disembark and enter main airport hall where there is a long counter that goes around entire one side of the wall behind which several Cambodian immigration officers are seated. There’s about a dozen of them. You get sent to the one on far left who asks what kind of visa you would like. If you want tourist visa, you get asked to pay $20. If you’d like business visa, it’s $25. You hand the guy your passport with one 4 x 6 cm photograph of yourself and that basically concludes the process of applying for visa on arrival in Cambodia. You will get your passport back with visa in it within a couple of minutes.

Difference Between Tourist or Business Visa to Cambodia

I have asked for business visa because you can renew those indefinitely. Tourist visa can only be renewed once. Both are only valid for 30 days, but if you happen to fall in love with Cambodia and you have applied for tourist visa on arrival, then after 30 you will have to extend the validity of your visa which can only be done once for additional 30 days. After that you’d have to physically leave Cambodia and go through entire process of applying for visa on arrival again. Business visa on the other hand can be extended over and over and over and then some. Costs $5 more, but well worth it. BTW – no questions asked about why business visa. I was just told it’s $25 for business visa and that was it.

Once you have paid for your visa, you get moved up to the last guy behind the counter (on the far right) where you wait for your passport to come back to you with visa of your choice affixed within. The whole process only takes a few minutes. That first immigration officer takes your passport, passport photo, cash and filled up immigration forms you will be handed on an airplane and passes it on to the guy next to him. Each of them does their part and the last one gets your passport with valid visa in it, calls your name so you can get your passport and this is it. You are free to enter Cambodia. You have just been given visa on arrival and it didn’t involve bribery, it didn’t involve slow processing, it didn’t involve anything otherwise fishy. It’s a smooth, well streamlined process that makes your start in the country hassle free.

It is worth a mention that the plane from Seoul, South Korea in which I have arrived landed in Siem Reap at 10.30pm. It was a night hour and it was pouring outside. You’d think that given late hour and miserable weather no one would want to run the immigration shift at the airport, but based on my experience, immigration and visa on arrival processing is taken seriously by authorities in Siem Reap to benefit the tourist to the maximum possible extent. If other points of entry are any different, I’m sure they will soon follow suit. Tourism is becoming one of major sources of revenue for Cambodia and efforts to make the stay for every tourist as enjoyable as possible from the very first minute are becoming obvious on every step.