Its been long since we started reading and hearing about visa or immigration scams in Cambodia. These scams were run by Cambodian government officials with or without the help of some private parties like road transport operators (including Mekong Express) or others whereby tourists entering or leaving Cambodia through land borders were conned in to or even forced to shell out extra sums of money for a visa or even an immigration stamp. Not much seems to have changed since then because I personally experienced something similar in the year 2014 when I went to Cambodia. A friend of mine from India who visited Cambodia in 2015 too has reported some bad experiences due to the misconduct of Cambodian visa/immigration officials. I am writing this post because I feel that my fellow tourists visiting Cambodia need to be prepared for this kind of things even though it is obvious that any real change in the situation on the ground there will come only when the Cambodian officials themselves have a change of heart.
Departure Immigration Scam at Poipet Border Post Cambodia
As I have already reported in my article on my road trip from Siem Reap to Bangkok, at the departure immigration office in Poipet Cambodia (October 2014), the immigration guy asked me about my Thailand visa. I told him that I would be taking visa on arrival after crossing onto the Thai side of the border. But to my surprise, that guy told me to cross over into Thailand first, get a Thai Visa on Arrival and then come back for the Cambodia Departure Immigration stamp. That was utter nonsense. At that time I first thought that the immigration guy was just dumb but then could he have been that dumb. Now after reading the email my friend sent me after his road trip to Cambodia, I know that the immigration guy in Poipet was not dumb but, in fact, harassing me on purpose. Good thing I was able to talk him out of his wrongful pursuit but not all tourists succeed at that. This particular scam appears to be common as reported by my friend too. You will read about this below.
Cambodia Visa / Immigration Scams in the year 2015
Here’s the email that I got:
Moc Bai – Bavet Border crossing
We were travelling by Mekong Express Bus service from HCMC to Phnom Penh. The lady bus attendant demanded $35 for getting our visas processed (VoA costs only $30) but we politely refused as we wanted to do it ourselves. She not only threatened to leave us at the border but grimaced, scowled and was unnecessarily rude for the remainder of the journey. Such behaviour emboldened us to do it ourselves as now it was not a matter of $5 but of pride. Everyone else on the bus that required visas gave the $35.
Result: Did not fall for the scam
At the visa obtaining counter in Moc Bai: We gave the officials our passports and were made to wait. After 15 mins the lady bus attendant waltzed in, spoke some Khmer and her bunch of passports started getting processed. Within minutes she got all her passports back, when we enquired about the status of our passports all 4 immigration officials told us that we have to wait for an hour as there was a huge “RUSH” (not a single soul around) lest we pay $2 more as express fee.
Result: We capitulated and paid the $2 bribe
At the stamping counters, the 4 of us were standing in separate queues and when our turn came we were made to wait, our passports were collected and were taken outside the building and a new official was brought from inside and we were all sent to him. By this time the lady attendant came and some Khmer ware spoken amongst them. Our passports came back and our interrogation began, multiple questions were asked as to why, where and what were we going to do in Cambodia. Finally the official stopped and started asking for $5 more for stamping. We flatly refused as no other person ahead of us had paid the same fee. Meanwhile the lady bus attendant started threatening to leave us again, but we told her to better wait. The conversation became like a never ending loop, Official, “$5 stamping fee”. Us, “Nobody else gave it. Why should we?”. After half an hour and much glaring the immigration official gave us a 6 day entry into Cambodia whereas we were entitled to a full 30 day visa. We didn’t care as we were leaving in that time in any case.
Result: Did not fall for the scam
Poipet – Aranyaprathet Border
While exiting Cambodia at Poipet we were again in different queues. 2 of us successfully stamped out but the others were again interrogated by immigration, finally culminating with a demand for THB 100. We flatly refused as no one else seemed to be paying it (including 2 of us). That particular immigration official finally relented when he realized that 2 of us were stamped out from another queue. Suddenly he started speaking a lot of Khmer to us which I’m guessing would be swear words.
Also, there were 2 more Indian tourists in other queues. One was made to show all documents and interrogated and the other was made to go all the way to Aranyaprathet (Thai) immigration without stamping out of Cambodia. The logic being that first one has to get a visa to Thailand in order to exit Cambodia. How absurd? That person was sent back by the Thai immigration and made to stamp out at Poipet.
Result: Did not fall for the scam.
How to Deal With Such Situations
I think my friend in his email reproduced above has already answered this question. As a tourist, you need to remember that you are in a different country. Be as practical as possible. Resist the illegal / illogical demands at first but do not stretch things beyond a limit. Though at Poipet or any other Cambodian border post, do not cross into Thailand without getting a departure immigration stamp from Cambodia. If a Cambodian official makes such a demand, try to seek help from other tourists around you. Speak loudly so that everyone there can hear you and do not budge. Such a ridiculous demand, actually worse than a demand for a bribe, cannot and should not be acceded to.
Queue Moving Too Slow?
Another thing I noticed that out of the three queues at the Cambodian Immigration Counters, only one queue moves slow while the other two move faster. Most probably the slow moving queue is where an official will be wasting time asking people to leave Cambodia without a departure immigration stamp. So, if by chance you happen to be in a slow moving queue, go to another one without worrying the time you already lost. It will probably be a good move.
Taking an e-Visa for Cambodia before you travel will cost 5 USD more but will save you from at least a part of the trouble. e-Visa is useful if you wish to enter Cambodia through an overland crossing.
Decide if you really want to visit Cambodia
If you think you are not ready to deal with such scams, do not travel to Cambodia. There are other options around.