Business etiquette, language & culture


Khmer is the official language of Cambodia and is used by roughly 90% of the population. Due to the past colonial rule by France, a number of French words exist in the language. However, English is not widely understood, particularly amongst the older generation and in rural areas. Business cards should be translated into Cambodian and printed in English on one side and Cambodian on the other. Use the services of a professional translator (rather than translating online) – a list of translators and interpreters has been prepared by the British Embassy Phnom Penh for the convenience of British Nationals who may require these services and assistance in Cambodia, at:

As in China, business cards should be given and received with both hands and studied carefully. This is particularly important when dealing with Cambodia’s ethnic Chinese minority, many of whom hold influential positions in the country’s business community. 

The Cambodian culture is conservative and hierarchical, and Theravada Buddhism is practiced by 95% of the population. Followers adhere to the concept of collectivism – the idea that the family, neighbourhood and society is more important than the wishes of the individual – and as in many Asian cultures the sense of ‘face’ is also considered paramount. Consequently you should avoid causing public embarrassment, not lose your temper in public and strive to maintain a sense of harmony.

As a sign of respect for western customs, handshakes are the norm between men, but it is not uncommon to greet women with the “Sampeah” – the placing of palms together in a prayer-like position at chest level, with a slight bow of the head. The higher the hands and the lower the bow, the more respect is shown. The Sampeah is also commonly used as a way to apologise or say thank you.

The head is considered the highest and most spiritual part of a person's body. Never touch a Cambodian person on the head, not even children, and women should never touch a Buddhist monk. Do not raise your feet above someone’s head (best to tuck them beneath you when seated on the ground), and always eat with your right hand rather than left. Clothing should be modest, particularly for women, and always dress conservatively when visiting temples, homes, or public offices. In business, smart business attire is not unusual for first meetings, but given the tropical climate more relaxed attire without a jacket and tie can often be worn once initial meetings are over.

It is recommended that approaches to potential business contacts be made with a prior introduction or personal reference such as a letter from a known government official or business contact – or better still, have a senior Cambodian official with you.

Elders are given the highest level of respect, so you should address discussions with the most senior or elderly official present. Wait to be introduced, and then greet the senior official first.

Simple gifts are sometimes exchanged after a first meeting, and should be given by the right or both hands, but are not opened when received. They need not be too expensive or elaborate, but can be attractively packaged, (although do not use white wrapping paper). Popular gifts can be fruit, sweets, pastries or something from the UK.

Successful business is about personal relationships and getting to know one another first. This can take many years, so you should show that you expect to be involved with Cambodia for the long-term and not just as a short business trip. You will probably need to visit often and show long-term commitment to Cambodia and your Cambodian contacts – keep in touch between contracts.

Cambodian public holidays 2018



Wednesday 31stJanuary

Meak Bochea Day

Thursday 8th March

International Women's Day

Saturday 14th April – Tuesday 17th April

Khmer New Year

Tuesday 1st May

International Labour Day

Thursday 3rd May

Royal Ploughing Ceremony

Sunday 13th May – Wednesday 16th May

King Norodom Sihamoni's Birthday

Tuesday 29th May

Visak Bochea Day (Birth of Buddha)

Friday 1st June

Children's Day

Monday 18th June

Queen Mother's Birthday

Monday 24th September

Constitution Day

Monday 8th October – Wednesday 10th October

Pchum Ben (Ancestors Day)

Monday 15th October

Commemoration of Late King Father

Tuesday 23rd October

Paris Peace Agreements Day

Monday 29th October

King Norodom Sihamoni's Coronation Day

Friday 9th November

Independence Day

Thursday 22nd November – Saturday 24th November

Bon Om Touk (Water Festival Ceremony)

Monday 10th December

International Human Rights Day


comments powered by Disqus

Contact Form