Last updated on November 1st, 2017
When to use dollars and when to use riels
The national currency of Cambodia is the Khmer Riel (KHR symbol, pronounced as “real” with a rrrrolling r).
There is no foreign currency control and the exchange rate has been relatively stable at about 4000 riels to the US dollar for the better part of a couple of decades.
Cambodia has a dollarised economy. US dollars are freely exchanged and used in everyday transactions from buying groceries to paying salaries. There is absolutely no need for you to change currencies into riels before travelling to Cambodia. However, you ought to have a small stash of US dollars, including smaller denominations.
Of course, government financial transactions are usually conducted in riels, e.g. civil servants are paid in national bills which they change for dollars. On a day to day basis, riels are used instead of US coins and to settle small amounts (buying fruits and vegetables, a bowl of noodles, a can of beer, a moto dup ride etc), whereas dollar bills are used for larger amounts (buying a pair of trousers, a telephone, tires for your car etc).
In theory, you could pay for your airplane ticket with a bag of riels, but people might think you are a bit strange…
Clean and crisp bills are preferred
For anything bigger than a dollar bill, people will usually not accept a tear. The newer and crispier looking the bills, the better. But don’t worry: money changers will accept torn notes for a small discount. Bills that are slightly dirty are also accepted (neighbouring countries are sometimes stricter than Cambodia).
So don’t accept torn bills either ($5, $10, $20, $50 or $100). For one dollar bills, it doesn’t really matter: dirty and torn, but still traded. Any note bigger than $20 can be a bit tricky to break so it’s better to have plenty of 10s and 20s.
Using Euros, Thai Baht, Singapore Dollars and other currencies in Cambodia
In Phnom Penh and in Siem Reap, the Euro is also accepted, although people may not be familiar with the latest exchange rate. It’s not uncommon for a hotel or a shop to take other currencies such as Thai bahts, Singapore dollars, British Pounds etc.
Usually, if people accept your foreign currencies, they probably have a good idea of the exchange rate. We’ve even been able to pay moto-dup rides (local motorbike taxis) with foreign change left from previous trips abroad!
If you have foreign currencies other than US dollars, it may be more advantageous to change your bills at a local money changer.
Plastic money is “no good” in Cambodia
You’re probably better off bringing your gold bars than your credit cards to Cambodia. Cambodians who have credit and debit cards use them when travelling outside of the country.
You can still use your international Visa and Mastercard cards to withdraw cash (mainly US dollars) from local ATMs. Local banks will usually charge a small transaction fee of $3 to $5 per withdrawal.
Cash is the way to pay for your bills. There are a few exceptions such as mid and high end hotels, airline companies, shops that cater to tourists and some private hospitals.
Few establishments will take your cards. This is rather inconvenient, as it will force you to lug around large quantities of cash, and soon you will run out of pockets, secret pockets, socks or money belts. Imagine paying for a car in cash!