Dealing with U.S. Dollars & Riels

Riels and U.S. Dollars are both used in Cambodia.

Prices are both in United States Dollars and Riels. You can pay either in U.S. Dollars or Riels or a mix of U.S. Dollars and Riels.

If you pay in U.S. dollars you may be given change back in either U.S. Dollars (for the part greater than $1) and Riels (for the part less than $1). E.g. If you give a $5 bill to buy an item that cost $1.5 you will be given back $3 and the remaining in Riels.

Most small businesses, tuk tuk drivers and hotels currently use an exchange rate of 4000 riel to the dollar

n some shops, notably minimarts and supermarkets  2 exchange rates are used within a same transaction:

- 1 USD = 4200 Riels

- 1 USD = 4000 Riels

  • The rate applied is always to the benefit of the seller (as a tourist you are often the buyer).
  • An item costs $1. You can pay it in dollars or  with 4200 riels (1 USD = 4200 Riels).
  • An item costs $1.5. You give $2, the seller will give you back 2000 riels (1 USD = 4000 Riels).
  • An item costs 5000 Riels. If you pay in USD you will pay $1 + 1000 Riels (1 USD = 4000 Riels) 

Inflation has been quite steep in Cambodia, so check out the Riel/Dollar exchange rate before you go.

Hotels, apartments and restaurant food have all gone up in price significantly in the last year, but street food, alcohol and cigarettes have barely changed in price.

It is recommended to make small buys in Riels, for example going to markets to buy fruits. Paying in USD means you will lost a lot of cents.  

While traveler's checks have become somewhat obsolete in many places due to the advent of ATM's, in Cambodia they are quite useful.  You can cash U.S. dollar checks at most banks and money exchange places for a 2% charge,  and get your money in U.S. dollars.  This is no more expensive than using an ATM, once you figure in bank fees.  Note that this is most useful if you can buy your checks without a commission, which some banks and other organizations (the AAA in the U.S., for example anMarks and Spencers in the UK) offer their customers.

In some areas (such as Sihanoukville) you may find Western Union Offices have a daily limit of $300 per customer, so make sure you take some smaller denomination travellers cheques. Banks normally will change whatever amount you like.

Beware of ATM fees. Current charges are about $3 for using a foreign ATM card in a Cambodian bank plus whatever your bank charges for foreign use.. However, if you have a visa debit card, you should be able to use Canadia Bank ATMs for free. Branches in Sorya Mall and check their website for others. Some visa debit cards may still be charged, depending on your bank but you will be warned before the transaction is complete.

You can also use a Visa debit card in some banks over the counter to withdraw as much as you like, subject to available funds. In this case their is normally  a fee of 1% or $5, whichever is the greater. The exchange rate used will be set by your bank, normally thevisa rate which you can check online on the visa website.

Banks here are good. If for any reason you wish to set up a bank account in Cambodia, ACLEDA Bank is well recommended. Dutch owned, and plugged into the global banking system (great if you are sending money transfers to Cambodia) the bank has an ethos of supporting small business and the community. It is widely regarded amongst the Asian banking community is a good high service, ethical establishment. However it may pay to shop around. The ANZ offers good service though slightly steeper requirements in terms of setting up a local account - and these are not the only two Western banks by any means. Do ask about their fee structures because they appear to be somewhat different from those in the West; for example charging a fee for money that arrives in these accounts. Their fee structure may reflect the fact that they cannot earn much money from relatively small transaction by locals. Canadia bank seems to be growing very fast and there are now branches almost everywhere.

For wiring money, there's are Western Union offices everywhere (they cash Travellers Cheques also) but in general terms WU is a very expensive way to send money. They take a big margin compared to the banks, and their exchange rates are also less favourable. Still, if you're stuck in Siem Reap and need your family as a lifeline - this might be the quickest way to go. Western Union transfers are instant while international bank transfers take 2-4 working days. If you need money sent to you then it is far cheaper to get the sender to do the transaction online at the Western Union website. The fees are much less than those charged by Western Union Agents. MoneyGram is also widely available but it is more expensive.