Money in Cambodia - The Riel and Dollar
The Cambodian Riel is unique in the fact that there is no coinage at all — all denominations are in paper notes. Although the official exchange rate fluctuates daily, the street value for the Riel (for hotels, restaurants, bars and shops) stays at a constant 4,000 Riel to a Dollar. Since there are no American coins in circulation in Cambodia, values less than one Dollar will be given to you as Riel. American coins (quarters, dimes, nickels an pennies) are not accepted.
Keeping it RielRiel notes increase in size with value, and come in denominations of 50 (quite rare), 100, 500, 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000, 20,000, 50,000 and 100,000. The 1,000 and 2,000 Riel notes will be the most common notes that will end up in your wallet, since 2,000 Riel is equivalent to 50 cents. Most businesses in town will fix their prices to the nearest 1,000 Riel (25 cents), although supermarkets and exchange booths will use a more exact pricing structure which will net you some 100 and 500 Riel notes in your change. For example, a hypothetical box off cookies that costs $1.30 will actually be one Dollar plus 1,200 Riel — Change from $2 would be 2,800 Riel (using the 4,000:1 street rate). Supermarkets such as Samudera Supermarket and Orange Supermarket will use the official exchange rate, which may be between 4,100 and 4,200.
Inspect your DollarsCambodians are pickier about the quality of Dollars than they are of Riel. Dollar notes that are torn, have markings or stains may not be accepted — so be sure that any US currency you accept is in pristine condition. ATM’s will usually always dispense quality notes (and then only in denominations of $10, $20, $50 and even $100), as will a bank. However, when accepting Dollars from anywhere else, be sure that your notes are all in good condition before walking away. On the flip side, you will notice that some Riel notes (mostly the 500, 1,000 and 2,000 notes) may be quite old, dirty and tattered. Riel notes of any condition will always be accepted, so do not worry if you receive less-than-pristine Riel notes.
Riel-a-phobia, and why it's not necessaryAlthough tourist areas such as Sihanoukville are flush with Dollars — and most places will give you your change in Dollars with Riel as your “small change”, do not be surprised or appalled if you get more Riel than Dollars. If your expected change is $2.50 and you receive a 10,000 Riel note in change, accept it as $2.50. Remember that the official currency is the Riel, and the Dollar is used for convenience… most Khmer people and some western expats use only Riel for their daily purchases. Some tourists do not like accepting more than $1 worth of Riel as change, believing that it’s worthless (it’s not), or that they cannot figure out the rate (we empathize). However, by doing some simple math, you can easily figure out the Dollar amounts of Riel notes, and we’ve included a chart for your reference below.
Exchange those large bills...ATM's around town are notorious for dispensing large bills. It's quite common for a withdrawal of $100 to yield you a $100 note. This is done to ensure the ATM does not have to be re-stocked as often. To combat this, try taking out $90 instead of $100, as the ATM will have no choice but to give you some twenties and tens.
Remember that things are cheap in Cambodia, and many businesses may not have large amounts of change on hand. Trying to change a $50 for a $2 purchase early in the morning from anywhere but a supermarket may present a problem. If you have a bunch of large US notes, try and change them down to nothing larger than a $5 if you are planning on spending the day at the beach, as many establishments on the beach struggle keeping sufficient change in their tills. It also doesn’t hurt to get some 1,000 and 2,000 notes as well.
If you find yourself with a $50 or $100 note, try changing it at the nearest supermarket while buying some cheap incidental, such as a Coke, some gum or a pack of cigarettes. Be sure not to let on to the clerk that you have smaller change, or they will insist you pay with that. Simply tell them it's all you have because thatis what the ATM dispensed.
Money changers in and around the central market are always reluctant to exchange large US bills for smaller ones, but they will always be willing to exchange them for Riel. Exchange your $100 for twenty R20,000 notes, and your change issues will be over. Depending on the exhange rate, you may also get as much as 4000 Riel extra from a $100 exchange... that's a free beer as a reward for embracing the local currency!