Posted by: Simon & Becci | October 20, 2011

What would you do?

The car parked at the church. It may stay there for a while...

Living in a different culture has many new challenges so I thought I’d use this week’s blog entry to share a current one we are facing and ask you to comment. The debate relates to the 12 seat Hyundai van that belongs to Jubilee Family Church (although officially it is owned by me). Remember the number 12…..


In Cambodia laws are introduced but can take many years to come fully into force. For example, a law was passed a few years ago that all motorbike drivers must wear a helmet but many still do not follow this and the police do not always enforce it.

The same is true of car insurance and driving licences: it is now “officially” the law that a car needs at least third party insurance and that you need a valid driving licence. However, many Cambodians do not have either, even though the law is now being implemented more strictly. Becci and I both have Cambodian driving licences having applied for them back in April.

If the traffic police stop you and you do not have the relevant documents they will fine you between $1- $20 (even though they will initially ask for more as they get to keep part of the fine to supplement their meagre $30 per month salary!).

If you have an accident without insurance you have to negotiate a settlement with the other driver involved there and then. This can be problematic for foreigners since the Cambodian line seems to be that if you are a Westerner you are to blame whatever has happened – the logic being that if you were back in your own country the accident would not have happened! Flawless.

Our situation

I decided that due to the increased number of expensive 4x4s driven by rich Cambodians , I wanted to investigate getting insurance in case I hit one or they hit me! As the old saying goes, sometimes ignorance is bliss….

Unrelated but beautiful - sunset over Phnom Penh

In the process I discovered a problem. The driving licence I have been issued allows me to drive a car with a maximum of 9 seats. Annoying. No problem I thought, I’ll get my licence changed. Impossible. Despite having a UK licence allowing me to drive a minibus and (oddly) a tractor, no foreigner in Cambodia can have a licence to drive a van with more than 9 seats. Cambodians can get this extended licence by taking an additional (and very expensive) driving test.

Genius then seemed to strike me – what if I simply removed 3 seats leaving 9 in total? Inspired? No – sadly that doesn’t work either. So we appealed to someone at the ministry of transport. To our amazement their advice was “drive the car anyway and if you are stopped by the police then pay the fine”. Welcome to life in a different culture….

So, legally I don’t have the right licence to drive the van and without the right licence cannot get insurance. Many foreigners are in this position but drive their vans anyway.

We think we therefore have three options. So, over to you….



  1. Before I vote… how often is the van used? I remember when we were there it was filled to capacity half the time, but day to day is it still worth having or can a 9 seater get the job done?
    If it’s just thee occasional trip that its used for then I vote sell it and get a 9 seater.
    If it’s used regularly then get at least one of the team trained up, after all isn’t that part of your ‘commission’ 😉 ?
    Alternatively get an ox and cart big enough to seat 12…cheap fuel, eco-friendly and no license required 🙂 (

  2. Its great reading your blog and hearing the stories of life in a different culture.

  3. I like Garry’s comment about the ox and cart 🙂

    I’d have voted for both 2 and 3 if but it really does depend on the other factors – like what Garry said.

  4. Maybe I’ve just lived in Asia too long, but there are some situations where it is just impossible to follow the rules. In order to get my drivers license here (Philippines) I had to pay a ‘fee’ to the instructor so that he would pass my practical test. I wanted to do the actual test but they didn’t have any money for petrol for the official test car and wouldn’t let us use our own! And no I couldn’t pay for the petrol. So… I think there are just some times when in order to get anything done you have to do what everyone else does!
    But I would love to see you driving an ox, I think you should add that option to the poll! 🙂

  5. If it was me I would have gone with 1 and not told anyone else so that it would be solely me to blame. But your other two options seem like pretty good ideas too. So I would probably get the local guys ready with the right license asap and drive it myself, conscience permitting, until then.

    However as you’ve asked the question I can’t bring myself to tell someone else to do something illegal so you should go with number 2 or 3, whichever is practically most sensible.

  6. Here’s a reply from George and Gill Tee that they e:mailed to us – excellent advice as always!

    You ask for opinions this time! Here are ours:

    Option 1 – take three seats out of the van and go back to the authorities and argue with them
    Option 2 – take (and pass!) the driving test for the 12 seater van (despite the fact that it is expensive), but as you say in your blog this will be difficult if it really is the case that foreigners can’t drive 12 seaters! What happens then with large lorries being driven by foreigners through the country?
    Option 3 – sell the 12 seater van and buy a 9 seater
    Option 4 – get someone else in the church who has the appropriate licence and insurance to drive it
    Option 5 – go back to the Ministry of Transport and ask for permission in writing (that is not likely to happen)

    We think it is important to endeavour to keep the law despite differences in culture on the basis that kingdom culture (keeping and obeying just laws) is more important than blending in with local culture (anything goes). As you do this, you will be setting a new and godly standard in the church. Many will no doubt think you are crazy, but God will be proud of you!

  7. Entering the fray, maybe a bit late in the day! (That’s the start and end of me rapping!). If the Ox cart proves difficult – you do have to feed them but they are very useful for catering for large numbers of people! Then Option 2 is I believe the best option – conscience clear and no fines!!

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