Going to the bank to set up a foreign card, or to exchange some good ol’ United State Dollars for foreign currency is as much a part of international travel as packing your bag. The difference between traveling to Cambodia though is that you don’t have to do this step at all. The official Cambodian currency is Riel, and it’s useful to have, but the truth is the most common currency in Cambodia is USD.
Official Cambodian Currency
The Cambodian Riel exchanges for about 4,000 Riel to 1 United State Dollar. This rate of exchange isn’t uncommon throughout much of the world, but that doesn’t mean you’ve hit the jackpot and will be living like a King when you get to Cambodia. In fact, the US dollar an unofficial second currency in the country. If you’re going to spend time in Siem Reap, or Phnom Penh, you will need more USD than Riel.
The Riel is so retired that you can’t even pay for your visa if you’ve waited until you’ve arrived to get one, at the airport in Riel. Arrival visas must be paid for in United States Dollars.
What’s the Exchange?
The exchange is about 4,000 Riel to $1.00, but it’s unlikely that you’ll actually get that at any business or bank. In fact, the best place to change dollars to Riel or vice versa is in open markets or at small restaurants. You’re also not likely to find notes for 4,000 Riel.
The most common Riel notes are in denominations of 10,000 and 20,000 which means that you could end up carrying around a lot of Riel notes, making it look like you have a ton of paper money when you actually don’t.
U.S.D. or the United State Dollar is the unofficial currency of Cambodia and the easiest currency to use in major cities. Anywhere where there are tourists, you’ll likely find all prices at restaurants, hotels, and even fare in cabs or Motos in USD.
The areas of the country that offer any tourism including all UNESCO sites and major cities will operate almost exclusively in USD. Most open markets will easily accept USD. It is important that when you’re using USD not to get scammed into paying more than you should, and this isn’t just advice for traveling to Cambodia, but any country.
If you walk into a restaurant and the prices are in Riel, bust out your phone and use an app to calculate the USD value of the meal you just ordered.
Get Small Bills
The best advice for using any currency in Cambodia is to get small bills. Small USD bills such as single dollars and fives are perfect for tipping, short rides in Tuk Tuks and anything in the open market. Many vendors whether its food or gift items will not be able to accept bills over $10. Additionally, they may serve you first and refuse to give you change, which is terrible. But they’re not refusing you change to scam you.
Vendors will often refuse you change for a $20 or a $50 because it likely means that they won’t be able to make change for any other customers for the rest of the day. Small bills may be a pain to carry around and make you nervous that it makes you look like you have more money than you actually do it will make your trip easier and in the long run, cheaper too.
How to Use Riel Change
On a regular basis you’ll get Riel to change instead of US change because while they use US paper money, you’ll find it hard to come by quarters, dimes or nickels. The trick is to use this money as tips for restaurants and bars or in Tuk Tuk rides. Be sure that you’re tipping appropriately though!
Exploring the Countryside
If you are out in the countryside, you will need some Riel, but we mean very little. The cost of visiting these areas is very low. Anticipate needing less than $100 changed over to Riel and hold on to any Riel change you got in the city for trips to small villages.