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Clearance procedures for Cambodia - Our Experience

By SV Brick House — last modified Jan 19, 2017 03:15 PM

Published: 2017-01-12 00:00:00
Countries: Cambodia

From what we had been told, to clear into Cambodia, a cruiser had to use Song Y, the reported KAMSAB (Goverment Shipping Agency) agent in the city of Koh Kong, a small river city in the north, on the border with Thailand.

This had changed less than a month previous, when you had to report to Sihanoukville, the big city in the south. We contacted Sony Y 3-4 weeks prior to our expected arrival in Cambodia, by email.

Pre-Arrival Negotiations

Via e-mail, the agent requested a $350 USD clearance fee and this would allow one week in Cambodia and we could only be in that port. He must have thought we were a “turnaround” yacht trying to keep a legal status for living in Thailand. I explained we wished to see more of the country than Koh Kong and that a week was not nearly long enough...that 2 months would be good. Many emails went back and forth, and finally we were approved for 1 month, visiting whichever ports we wished, but returning to Koh Kong for clearance out. I was also able to negotiate the fee to $200 for everything...in, out, and port fees and agent fees. Just prior to sailing into Koh Kong, I was further able to negotiate half payment now, half when we clear out.

Clearance procedures on arrival in Koh Kong

When we arrived in Koh Kong, the agent's representative looked for a long time at our clearance from Thailand, and then handed it back to me. He had electronic copies of my passport and boat documentation from when I originally contacted his boss by email, but this representative never took our clearance papers from our last port! I got the distinct feeling that when they saw my port clearance to Malaysia...instead of to Cambodia...and when they realised that they would be supplying me with port clearance to Malaysia, not Thailand, their confidence in their ability to provide a proper clearance paper to Malaysia had declined.

Few cruising boats come to Cambodia to cruise their coast then keep going to Malaysia or countries other than Thailand.

In the end we were given verbal clearance into the country (i.e. no paperwork), but now the representative wanted $40 to go the short distance to the border and have our passports stamped. When you consider a person in Cambodia, who is fortunate enough to find work, might make $100 in a month, then $40 for 45 minutes of effort was exorbitant. Luckily I knew it was an optional service, so we declined his offer and his offer to find us a $20 taxi ride there and back. For $8 we found our own round trip ride to the border immigration.

When we arrived at Immigration, all was well until they noticed on our application 'KAMSAB' (the agent we were using). A long conversation between all officers began, and now they suddenly wanted $40 to process our two passports...which we politely questioned. They handed our applications and passports back to us un-stamped with a smile. I took them back, smiled wider, and watched other applicants get processed with no fees.  I returned and asked what the fee was, why we were the only ones paying it and that on their government site they detailed no fees should be paid at this border if I had my e-visa already. The guy shrugged his shoulders, took my passport, and said 'never mind' He stamped us in and we were on our way back to the boat. Our cab driver was dutifully waiting for us.

When we returned from Immigration the representative was nowhere to be found. I emailed and called him, asking if he needed anything else from us, but he said we were all set. I emailed and called him again the next day, informing him we were going to depart southward, did he need anything else from us, he said no...that everything was all set. He never remembered to collect the money despite several gentle reminders! I asked if I should have copies of the clearance in case anyone needed proof that we and the boat were here legally and he said to “just show our passports...that's all that's needed...but if they had any other questions, have them call me”. I had that in an email too, so felt OK about leaving.

Departing Cambodia

One month went by, and we found we had adverse weather to return to Koh Kong, and really felt that this whole thing was a big scam...that we were not really cleared in to the country at all. Since the agent had not collected our port clearance from Thailand, we had what we needed to go to Malaysia and so we left, without clearing out with immigration or the agent.

To this day, 3 months and 2 countries away, he has never emailed or called to ask when we would be returning to clear out. Perhaps the agent was relieved about not making a clearance certificate for Malaysia? Forgetful or poorly organised? Does he know we know what a scam the whole thing was? Not sure...but not feeling bad that in some regards, we scammed the scammers.

Other Cruisers' experiences

We have accounts of 2 other cruising yachts who visited right before...and right after us.

One unquestioningly paid the $350, and got heaps of paperwork both on entrance and exit to Cambodia to Thailand. This may have been a basically legitimate transaction. They cleared out to Thailand, something this agent has apparently done a lot.

The other one however, paid $350 upon arrival, got heaps of paperwork, and then went to Sihanoukville and was met on the beach by police that combed through his stack of paperwork. Luckily he had everything in order. Then, when he returned to Koh Kong to check out, he was asked for another $350 for clearance out!!! He refused to pay it and left with just a domestic clearance to Sihanoukville, not an international clearance to Thailand.  He had been to Cambodia a number of times and has never had this happen before.  He prays that Thailand will accept it and his story of the Cambodian corruption, or he may be forced to sail to another country.

Conclusion

It seems that the people of Cambodia accept corruption in their daily lives, as early as grade school. They do not seem to easily be able to rise above this to encourage the tourism from sailing yachts. Corruption here, from persons in power, is more normal than not here, and it trickles down to the poorest in their society, as well as to visitors like us. It's a shame, because the people of Cambodia, those not in a position of power, are wonderful. Cambodia offers some nice cruising grounds, although not much different than Thailand's gulf islands in our opinion.

The Cambodian coast is not an area we can encourage cruisers to visit by boat. Best to fly/bus to Siem Reap / Angkor Wat, from Thailand or elsewhere. It may not be worth the uncertainty of what YOUR admission price will be!

With that said, if you are in the Gulf and something between $350 and $700 (and likely increasing as more people pay it) is more attractive than sailing to Malaysia to renew your Thailand Customs paperwork, then Cambodia can be a nice option.

You must go there however expecting a different process and price with every arrival. Don't bother asking for receipts, official or otherwise...you will not get any. Few, if any, of the fees are legitimate...its all "tea money" for various officials and the agent, and seems to be based on what the market can bear that week.

To make matters worse for cruising this area, slightly after we departed Cambodian waters, 104 miles off the coast of Western Vietnam, we were "approached" by 'would-be' pirates. Really, it was just a group of opportunist fisherman who didn't pull it off thanks to our quick manoeuvres coupled with their lack of planning.

Rebecca Childress
SV Brick House

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