It’s a bad idea to operate an NGO, or even engage in activities normally performed by an NGO, without properly registering the legal entity. Fines, harassment, legal liability, and ultimately closure of the project are all possibilities for those who ignore the law. Needless to say, registering with the authorities must be at the top of the to-do-list for anyone looking to start an NGO in Cambodia.

A draft Law on NGOs and Associations has been in the works for some time now, and is rumored to be enacted by the end of this year. In the meantime, the status and procedures for registration of NGOs are governed by a handful of different laws and regulations.

The registration process differs for International NGOs and Local NGOs. An International NGO is essentially the local branch of a foreign organization – owned and directed by headquarters back in the home country. A Local NGO, on the other hand, is run predominantly by Cambodian citizens. While foreigners can be involved in the management and functioning of a Local NGO, the key figures – including the chairman, administrative officer and treasurer – must be Cambodian citizens.

International NGOs are registered through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation (MFAIC), in conjunction with the ministries relevant to the NGO’s sector (Health, Environment, Social Affairs, etc.).

The MFAIC will require the following documents:

  • Cover letter addressed to the MFAIC;
  • Documents of registration for the NGO’s parent organization in the foreign country.
  • Project plan and budget approved by the NGO’s board;
  • A proxy letter from the Chairman of the Board appointing a local representative and giving them authority to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with the Cambodian government.
  • A list of the foreign and local staff, stating their nationality, passport number, title, address in Cambodia, and their employment contracts;
  • Office address in Cambodia, attached with a lease agreement for the office;
  • A promise to provide a bank statement to MFAIC after signing of the Memorandum of Understanding.
  • Passport and photos of the representative of the NGO
  • Supporting letter from the relevant Ministry.

A Local NGO is registered through the Ministry of Interior (MOI), and unlike an International NGO, does not require additional approval from another Ministry. The MOI will require:

  • Application form;
  • NGO’s Memorandum and Article of Association (MAA), issued by MoI;
  • Plan of NGO’s structure, signed by director, issued by MoI;
  • Map of the NGO’s address, certified by the local Sangkat;
  • Photos of office’s facade.
  • Copies of the office’s lease agreement;
  • Biographies of Cambodian director, administrator and financial officer with photos and copied ID cards;
  • Approval letter issued by the local municipality.

Once all the documents are submitted, and unless the application presents unusual difficulties, it typically takes a few months to fully register. So long as they fully understand the correct procedures and official fees from the outset, there’s no reason an NGO couldn’t complete these steps themselves. However, experienced and trustworthy legal advisors can earn their fees by knowing exactly what steps to take, and which are unnecessary red-tape.