Reasons abound why foreign property buyers would want to be bullish on Khmer property soon. Land of Smiles Cambodia had one of the fastest-growing economies in the world in 2016, with GDP growth prospects of 6.9% until 2018, according to the World Bank. The country has also been tapped to be a major beneficiary of China’s “One Belt, One Road” spending programme, with billions in the offing for the country’s infrastructure.

The country has certainly become fertile ground for a diversity of real estate investments in recent years. While the Phnom Penh market is feeling the pinch of an oversupply, other areas in the country are slowly turning into investment hotspots, notably the beaches of Sihanoukville and other parts on the southern coast with a comprehensive range of real estate ranging from retirement to investment, awaiting home buyers of all budgets and purchasing sensibilities. The US dollar is also widely circulated, setting up a nice pipeline to wanderlust Stateside investors.

In addition to sound macroeconomic fundamentals, the country has enjoyed unrivalled freehold foreign ownership laws since 2010. It has also taken advantage of its least-developed country (LDC) status to get zero-tariff access to Europe and other highly developed markets. The caveat in relation to foreign homeownership (similar to Thailand's template) however is land. Under Article 44 of the Cambodian constitution, non-citizens are forbidden from owning the freehold on real property.

The oft-touted way for non-citizens to gain control over land is to set up a landholding company. The majority or 51% of equity must be apportioned to a Cambodian citizen though, and the shares of the alien cannot exceed 49%.

Local and foreign shareholders also don’t have the same rights of control over a landholding company, so it’s important to be prudent in your choice of a partner. A foreigner can nevertheless do various things to acquire more 'power' in the company, so that the end effect is pretty strong. One way is to have the company register a mortgage on the land plot. As a result, the land cannot be transferred without the consent of the foreign stakeholder.

Seeking a lawyer well-versed in Cambodia’s property laws is a no-brainer essential given the country’s convoluted, oft-opaque land ownership schemes. The obliteration of government records under the Khmer Rouge has had a lasting effect on the way land titles are transacted in the country.

Many long-term foreign residents in Thailand and beyond believe that Cambodia is like Thailand 20-30 years ago with unbelievable potential to shine. For those smitten by the beauty and culture of the destination -  it certainly offers an exemplary quality of life with promising yields to boot. In 2003, two years before Angelina Jolie became a citizen, she founded the Maddox Jolie Pitt Foundation, which bought 60,000 hectares of land that was later made into a wildlife reserve. She has also bought a traditional home on a 39-hectare lost in the province of Battambang.

With good advice, you too could perhaps avoid a “Maleficent” time and find the perfect property.

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