In Cambodia, Foreigners Cannot Own Land. Or Can They?

There are signs of growing tensions between the country’s private sector and its rentier political elite.

It’s unclear what reform Prime Minister Hun Manet announced – or whether there was an announcement at all. He’s adamant on what hasn’t happened: his government isn’t about to start selling land to foreigners. But it sounds a lot like that’s exactly what is happening.

As things stand, the Constitution doesn’t allow non-Cambodian nationals to own land or ground-floor property. Foreigners can buy condominium apartments as long as less than 70 percent of the units aren’t foreign-owned, and many do actually “own” land by putting it in the name of a trusted Cambodian but then signing a side contract that guarantees them rights to re-sale and possession. There are Cambodians who own dozens of properties on behalf of foreigners. It pays to be trustworthy. Or foreigners can purchase land or property through a trust, again using a Cambodian as a frontman and, while the trust formally owns the property, it cannot be sold without the permission of the foreign investor.

But speaking after the Government-Private Sector Forum earlier this month, Hun Manet noted that foreigners can also lease land or ground-floor villas and houses for up to 50 years. “This long-term leasing mechanism is a strategic move by the government, designed for stability and growth, eliminating the need for constitutional amendments,” Hun Manet reportedly said, insinuating that it’s a new policy.

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