The riel is the official currency of Cambodia, but you don’t need to rush out and change money before you arrive. The US dollar is an unofficial second currency that is actually used more — there’s a 90% level of dollarization in the country. In fact, if you’re getting a visa on arrival, plan to pay in US currency.
Most prices in stores are quoted in dollars and it’s only at local markets and for small transactions that you’ll be asked for riel. Even so, you can pay with dollars — the “street” exchange rate that you’ll get from small shops, motodops and local cafes is 4,000 riel to the dollar. With the actual exchange rate today at 4,050, there’s no advantage to changing money into riel to make these purchases (the 50 riel difference is equal to $0.01).
They don’t have coins, though, and you’ll be getting the change for your purchases in riel notes. If you insist on getting yourself a stack of riel notes, the moneychangers around all of the larger markets in town give good rates and are generally reliable. Be warned that you’ll end up with a large pile rather quickly due to the small denominations.
There are many ATMs in town that accept foreign cards, although most will levy a hefty $4 surcharge. These ATMs all dispense dollars. Canadia Bank is the exception — they allow transaction-free withdrawals. There are also ATMs at the Phnom Penh airport dispensing US dollars.
By Lina Goldberg
Last updated on 8th January, 2011.
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