Expats Not Welcome Anymore?

A couple of weeks ago, I met a guy out on the new pier at Serendipity Road. He had been living in Kerala for fifteen years, but was now relocating to Sihanoukville because the Indian government has changed its visa laws. He used to come to Sihanoukville in the monsoon season to escape the heavier rains in Kerala and to renew his visa, but now he has to go all the way back to the UK to renew his visa. I forget exactly what the restrictions are, but basically they are intended to dissuade foreigners from staying in the country.

The other night I met a British couple who had been living in Goa for ten years, but had now relocated to Sihanoukville for a similar reason. They told me they knew of six other couples who were doing the same thing. They also mentioned that the Indian government has openly said, “Let them come and spend their money and then make them go home.”

Last week, a friend of mine took a group of 12 expats apartment hunting. All of them had been living in Thailand for years. They were all relocating to Sihanoukville because Thailand was making it harder and harder for them to stay.

Awhile back I overheard a conversation between expats. One of them, an American, was moving to Phnom Penh with his Vietnamese wife and child because, in his words, the Vietnamese were “fuckin’ Commie bureaucrats” and made it too hard for him to renew his visa. His bizarre attitude struck me the hardest, but that’s food for another blog.

Last week my wife heard a story about a 76 year old Australian who was being deported because he had no means to support himself. He had been in this position for 12 years, but only now were the authorities taking action. This was because his Cambodian wife, tired of having him sponge off her family, finally filed for divorce.

Yesterday I breathed a sigh of relief when I renewed my business visa for another year without a hitch, but I’m still wondering how much longer I will be able to do this. I’ve heard that Hun Sen is taking steps to find ways to make older expats leave Cambodia when they start to become a burden on the economy and it is now illegal (or so I’ve been told by some reasonably reliable sources) for foreigners whose income is less than $2500 per month to marry Cambodian women.

I have mixed feelings about all this. Obviously, I have a stake in wanting to remain welcome in Cambodia for as long as I like and I like to believe that since I support a family of 10, most of whom live in my house, that I’m making a contribution to Cambodian society. On the other hand, I’ve seen expats do some atrocious things in this country and many others just huddle together in foreigner run establishments and do little if anything to contribute to the Cambodian economy. When a police officer came to take a photocopy of my visa for his records recently, he was actually surprised that I had one. Most of the foreigners’ visas he looked at had expired ages ago and some didn’t even have passports.

While I’d love to take the moral high ground and say, “Kick the freeloaders out, but let me stay!”,  I have to admit that I often have second thoughts about my own right to live in Cambodia indefinitely. While I do spend all of my earnings here, I do not employ Cambodians to any significant degree and arguably have a negative effect on the country’s social cohesion. I’m also aware that many expats contribute far more to their adopted countries than I do and that many others do the best they can and carry their own weight.

Anyway, my opinion matters little. What’s important is the fact that throughout Asia, we westerners are becoming less and less welcome. We have largely brought it upon ourselves and now that our western economies are disintegrating, there is even less reason for them to tolerate us. Interesting, isn’t it? We who come from countries that have problems with migrants from 3rd world countries (talk about “fuckin’ bureaucrats”!) are now starting to be treated like unwelcome refugees in emerging and 3rd world societies. The shoe’s on the other foot and the laces are being tied.


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About Rob Schneider

Rob Schneider is a writer based in Sihanoukville, Cambodia, where he has lived since 2006.

13 Responses to Expats Not Welcome Anymore?

  1. elena says:

    Why is it that the successful launching of a heavenly tourism destination turns wherever it is in Asia to a sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll hub?

    Media reports focus on Western tourists and long-term Western residents and blame them for the destruction of local cultures but, to me, that’s far less than half the story.

    I live at present in Chiang Mai, Thailand,. which has its own problems but they’re nothing to those in Pattaya, Phuket, etc. However, prostitution aimed at local Thais existed here long before the first backpacker or US Marine arrived, and the concept of the Mia Noi (mistress) only served to increase the social and financial standing of the guy involved. It’s the same the world over, and has been for millennia.

    Men’s egos and appetites are the cause, and greed on the part of the local providers of sex and drugs makes sure that women rarely get a chance as regards respect and a happy life.

    Instead of blaming the syndrome entirely on expats and disrespecting us all as human beings as a result , why don’t we look at the big picture and eradicate the chronic lack of respect for women which is common in Asian countries as well as in Africa, South America, etc, etc?

    Most expats learn to love the true culture of their new country, and resent being judged according to the lack of ethics and morals of the few. As far as I can see, the disease in Asian society is caused by greed and a lack of humanity towards the less financially fortunate, just as it is in the West. This isn’t confined to expats – rather the opposite – as in Asia it involves long-held medieval attitudes by the wealthy towards the less fortunate which are abhorrent to the majority of expats.

    • I agree with you — to a degree. When I first came here, I was appalled by the attitude of many Western expats. They came here to exploit the country and didn’t have a good thing to say about it. They carried on about corruption as if their own governments weren’t corrupt and called Cambodians lazy while they spent their days and nights drinking and getting stoned at the beach. Backpackers seemed to come here to party and get stoned. I’d go to the beach and see Cambodian families enjoying themselves while the Western visitors nursed hangovers until late in the afternoon. I read blogs and comments on blogs that said all Cambodian girls were drug addicted prostitutes and all Cambodian men pimps, thieves and misogynists.

      At the same time, I lived in an all Cambodian neighbourhood. I saw ordinary Cambodians working every day, raising families and in general taking care of one another admirably. I decided to start this website because I wanted to show the other side of the story. I chose to focus on our Western misbehaviour for a couple of reasons. First, I’m a guest in this country, not a morally superior colonist. Secondly, I had seen too much emphasis on the bad elements of Cambodia and wanted to balance the dialogue as much as I could.

      That said, greed, racism, misogyny, etc. are, as you say, global issues. In retrospect, I think I have focused too much on criticising backpackers and expats. That’s unfair to the many Westerners who come here and make positive contributions to the country or simply live peacefully with Cambodians.

      Anyway, thanks for you comment. Your points are well taken.

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  3. WLIL says:

    I don’t understand why expats from western countries would want to come to asia, when most asian governments are so unappreciative of western inputs. the fact that the richer the asians are, the more selfish and more unwelcome they are towards westerners. It is pointless for westerners to be in asia. It is best for westerners to go back to their countries and defend/ prevent their countries from being swamped by undesirable asian migrants . the fact is most asians are inhumane and their asian governments are also mostly inhumane. There is no point staying on in asia, or contributing in any way to asians who had depended on westerners to improve their life and failed to give someting good or something back to westernern countries or westerners. Those asians never give something good in return. those Westerners are also burderning the West with their asian children. Those westerners gives those selfish ungrateful asians a good life and that is not appreciated in return by asians. Let those arrogant asians sink in their squalor that they caused it themsleves.

    • Rob says:

      Congratulations, yours is the most bigoted comment I’ve ever received. Let’s see, what do Asians have to thank us for? Is it the invasion of Vietnam or the extensive bombing of Cambodia and Laos during the Vietnam War? Maybe it’s the French colonists Asians should be grateful for, or is it perhaps the tens of thousands of Westerners who come to Asia to take advantage of cheap drugs and sex?

      I’m so glad you filled me in on the “facts” about Asia. I thought about the “the fact is most asians are inhumane” just this evening when an inhumane Cambodian man invited my inhumane Cambodian wife and I out to dinner with his family. I also thought about it while observing how loving my family is towards the children in the household. Had you not filled me in on the “facts,” I would have foolishly believed that Asians are very humane and kind. Now I know it’s just pure luck or the Grace of God that’s made it possible for me to stay here for six years and live to tell the tale. I can’t wait to go back to America and buy an assault rifle to protect myself from the Asians who make life in the US so difficult. Or maybe I’ll move to Europe and join a neo-Nazi group.

      • WLIL says:

        Of course Asians are generally inhumane towards poor people. It is a fact. Whether those asians are Buddhist or Moslems or of other faith, they do practiced inhumanity, whetehr one wish to ignore it or not. Perhaps you are rich. that is why you are immune towards all the horrible and unplesant aspect of asians. for me, I am asian and I am not happy to have been treated badly all those inhumane asians in asia, though I have to tolerate their inhumanity out of no choice.I know some people are not born to be inhumane or genetically inhumane. Circumstances and the greed of asia caused many toparticipate in thier inhumanity.

        • Rob says:

          Okay, I’ll give this one last shot. I tend to think of Americans as being the most inhumane people on earth, but I know it’s not a “fact.” In my opinion, Americans are inhumane because they sweep their inhuman deeds under the carpet or cloak them in lies like “humanitarian intervention”. I read a story just the other day by a drone pilot who finally quit after he realised he had actually been killing innocent people, including small children. That was his switch from inhumanity to humanity.

          I think the “fact” is that humanity and “inhumanity” are part of the human condition and our job as individuals is to choose which direction we want to go in. It’s not our job to point the finger at other cultures. That’s narrow minded and inhumane.

  4. Ray Niccols says:

    We are looking to promote the work of an up and coming new author, William MacDonald. William has written a novel set in Cambodia, a country he knows well. The book is an intelligent political thriller, which draws on the horrors and complexity of Cambodia’s recent past and the troubles that afflict its present. We thought it possible that your readers would be interested in this work.

    A brief synopsis of the book is set out below. The book is available direct on Amazon Kindle, at a nominal initial price. For Amazon.com the address is http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0088NT8E0 for Amazon.co.uk the address is http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B0088NT8E0

    Yours Sincerely

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    MAL Publishing
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    London, WC1R 4QG


    Cambodia was broken open by the Cold War, a passive victim of domino theories, the Vietnam conflict and the casual brutality of global strategies. In the wake of the devastation had moved Pol Pot. Calling his work genocide missed the point, it was suicide, the Khmer Rouge had killed their own. Nearly two million dead, a fifth of the population in less than four years, amidst a senseless spiral of utopian ideology, peasant savagery and mind-numbing incompetence. After Pol Pot had been driven away, Cambodia was consumed by a fifteen year civil war funded by American and Russian rivalry. The ending of the Cold War had found Cambodia a shattered brutalised victim of a country, awash with murderers, survivors and refugees; a victim surrounded by a guilt-ridden guilty world.

    The book is a political novel set in modern Cambodia drawing on its recent history, the legacies of its violent past, and the guilt that threatens to drown its future.

    Emily is a shy, socially clumsy English lawyer with a resentful streak, a taste for alcohol and a driving need to find some kind of direction in her life. In Cambodia where an autocratic and brutal government creates a need for human rights lawyers, she hopes to find that direction. She sees a poisoned society awash with corruption, violence and development aid. Corrupt bureaucrats, ex-murderers, traumatised genocide survivors and westernised idealists mix with a stratified western community of aid workers, missionaries and sex-tourists.

    An observer to the brutal suppression of a political protest, Emily becomes caught up in its aftermath as western governments combine in an effort to force democracy and a respect for human rights on to a reluctant weakening government. As someone she meets is promptly killed, and people she trusts start lying, Emily finds herself trapped. Part observer, part pawn, part angry instigator in the chain of events that follows, Emily struggles to understand what is actually going on.

    The political protest was organised by Vanta, a journalist from a wealthy, corrupt Cambodian family. With his western education and bruised patriotism, his fury at the diseased state of Cambodian society had finally boiled over. Surviving the massacre he becomes part of the campaign for democracy, intent on using the west to cure his country.

    In Pol Pot’s killing fields Vanta’s father, Tan, survived by learning to coldly understand the world around him without anger and to brutally follow its rules. Thirty years later, devoid of morality, idealism and belief in people, caring only for his family and stability, he stares in panic at the western-driven democratic campaign.

    Rolf is a Cold War veteran and victim. He is an ambitious, charismatic man, with a wife to match and magnify his aspirations. He had first come to Cambodia in the eighties as a CIA agent funnelling support to the Khmer Rouge in their struggle with the Russian-backed Vietnamese communists. Returning to Cambodia with the CIA in the post-Cold War world, he struggles desperately to adapt to the new international priorities while nursing a bitterness for the way that his previous work has stained his struggling career.

  5. Naval Rungta says:

    I have read the article and feel it is misconceived and may be a rare incident which can not be generalized. India is a most receptive country and so chosen by many expats for their permanent abode. What is desired is that you not a nuisance to Indian culture add value to Indian economy. Pl. correct me if I am wrong.

    • Rob says:

      Please reread my article, because I believe your response is “misconceived.” You will see that I said “we have brought it on ourselves” and I mentioned Thailand and Vietnam as well as India.

      • Naval Rungta says:

        Hi, I do appreciate your point and thought what you have written was about some rare incidences in India. If you talk of Goa it is for every body to see how it has been converted in to one of the most sought out place for sex tourism by expats and the rogue Indians for greed of money. It is destroying our culture and may be reflects in our attitude while dealing with expats. Still it is not so bad and we shall be willing to help expats genuinely interested in staying in India and willing to add value to economy by providing employment opportunity to large nos. of unemployed population living interiors of India not having job opportunities. Thanks to rampant corruption where almost 40-50 % money is eaten up by corrupt and thug politicians & govt. servants.

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