Doing Business in Cambodia
Doing business in Cambodia is based on hierarchy and respect. Cambodia is governed by principles of tradition and deference, which affect the way in which business is conducted.
Cambodia is a hierarchical culture, therefore most of the decisions are made from the top down, without consulting employees.
Business relationships are about mutual trust, which can require investing time in getting to know one’s counterparts. The concept of saving face is very important, especially in the business world. Although it be frustrating for expats, they should respect that Cambodians prefer subtleness and indirect communication in order to solve a problem.
Business hours are usually from 8am to 5pm, with a lunch break in between. It is not uncommon to work Saturdays as well.
Khmer is the language of business. In the capital, English is sometimes used.
The dress code is formal. Men wear suits, and women should cover their shoulders and knees.
If invited to someone’s home, a gift of fruit, sweets or flowers is appreciated. Gifts should be given with both hands and are not opened when received. Avoid white wrapping paper, as it is associated with mourning.
Women can be found in the working world, however senior positions are reserved for men. When dealing with women counterparts, eye contact should be kept to a minimum.
Business culture in Cambodia
The business culture in Cambodia tends to be conservative. Business people are expected to dress in formal suits and their conduct is expected to be professional at all times. Punctuality, mutual respect and deference to seniority are all valued principles and are widely practised.
Expats should be careful not to criticise, embarrass or insult a Cambodian counterpart, as this can cause them to lose face. Pushy behaviour is not tolerated, and therefore if there is disagreement over an idea, Cambodians will remain silent. Expats should be aware of the importance of face, in order to avoid conflict in the workplace.
Handshakes are commonplace. With a Cambodian woman, it is best to see if she extends her hand first. Cambodians address people with the honorific title Lok for a man and Lok Srey for a woman with the first name alone or both the first and surname.
Prior to the decision of work-related matter, small talk is always employed. Expats will find that meetings do not stick to any schedule or agenda, however tardiness is always a no. Meetings tend to continue until the attendees feel that everything has been addressed.
Starting a business in Cambodia
In the World Bank's Doing Business survey for 2016, Cambodia is ranked at 127th out of 189 countries. Although the country has moved up a number of places since its 2015 ranking, it is still very low on the list. Cambodia scored quite highly for getting credit (15th) but fell short in almost every other area, especially with starting a business (180th) and dealing with construction permits (181st).
Dos and don’ts of business in Cambodia
Do be on time. Arriving late shows a lack of respect.
Do be aware of one’s non-verbal behaviour.
Don’t show emotions like anger or impatience as this can lead to a loss of face.
Do be modest when receiving praise.
Don’t maintain prolonged eye contact.
Do speak clearly and avoid slang.
Do have a business card translated into Khmer.