The Cambodian Riel is the local currency of Cambodia. However the US dollar is also an important currency in Cambodia. With the exception of some rural areas (where tourists normally won’t go) you can choose if you want to pay with the Cambodia riel or the US dollar. There are a number of things you have to keep in mind when you want to pay with the US dollar.
One US dollar is 4000 Cambodian riel
Supermarkets or high-end restaurants may charge more, but the regular exchange rate is 1 US dollar for 4.000 Cambodian riel. If you purchase a product for 8.500 Cambodian riel, you can pay with one US dollar and add 3.500 Cambodian riel. You may also give 2 US dollar and receive 500 Cambodian riel back. Final bills are rounded at 100, so if your final bill is 8.575 riel, you are required to pay 8.600 riel. Pay with 2 dollar and get 400 Cambodian Riel back.
ATM’s disperse local currency and US dollar
The’re like a thousand ATM’s in Siem Reap and you won’t have any problem finding one nearby your accommodation. They probably work in the same way as ATM’s in your home country, but with one exception: you can redraw the local currency and you can redraw US dollars.
We like to use the ATM’s of ABA Bank and Canadian Bank, since they accept credit cards, debit cards and you can also redraw money with any bank card with a Maestro logo. ATM fees start at $4 per redraw and the higher the amount you redraw, the higher the fee.
Your US dollar may be rejected
Being able to pay with the US dollar is a huge advantage. However, many visitors do experience that US dollars are sometimes rejected by local businesses. Not because these businesses don’t accept the US dollar, but because there’s something wrong with your bill. When visiting Siem Reap, or any other part of Cambodia, it’s essential that you always check your US dollar bills for irregularities.
You will experience your bills being inspected and this may create an uncomfortable feeling. Keep in mind that it’s not personal, but part of the process when paying with US dollars.
There are a number of reasons why your bill can or definitely WILL be rejected.
1a. Your bill is fake, even if it’s not
Although there are in fact not an explosive number of counterfeit US dollars circulating in Cambodia, locals may have the idea that foreigners may bring fake us dollars from their home country. Don’t be surprised when someone tells you they won’t accept your US dollar bill because they THINK it’s fake. Even the thought of a counterfeit bill is a legitimate reason for refusal.
1b. Your bill is fake… YES, it really is!
During traditional celebrations spiritual US dollar bills are used to burn as offerings. These bills are normally smaller than the real US dollar bills and feel like normal paper. Other than the size and material, the writing on the bills is altered and the word COPY is on the bill.
Creating such a bill or carrying them with you is not illegal. Obliviously trying to pay with these kinds of bills definitely is illegal.
2. Your US Dollar bill is old or denominated
Old US dollar bills are not accepted in Cambodia. You can recognize denominated US dollar bills by the small size of the presidential portraits on the bills.
Although the 2 dollar bill is considered a lucky bill in Cambodia, it’s also no longer accepted.
3. Your US dollar is not a bill
Although US dollar coins are accepted all over the world, they are not accepted in Cambodia.
Cambodian riel coins have been used in the mid-19th century, but at the moment coins, riel or dollar, are not part of the monetary system in Cambodia and will not be accepted.
4. Your US dollar bill is damaged
And when we write ‘damaged‘ we mean, in the smallest , even microscopic way!
Even a small tear in the bill is reason enough to reject your bill. A spot of ink, writing or any other form of damages to the bill, will be reason enough not to accept your dollars.
If you’re a big fan of carrying 100 dollar bills on you, note that there is a purple ink line on these bills and folding them may damage the ink layer, which will definitely get your beautiful 100 dollar bill rejected.
Why are damaged bills not accepted?
In most countries of the world, a damaged bill is worth just as much as a new bill. Cambodia is no exception: Cambodian riel bills can be exchanged even when they are dirty, damaged or old.
Although the US dollar is accepted almost anywhere in Cambodia and an important element in Cambodia’s monetary system, it’s not the official currency of Cambodia. Banks and money changers only accept damaged US dollars after charging 5 or 10 percent of the bills’ value. Depositing or changing a damaged 100 dollar bill may cost a shopkeeper as much as $10.
Businesses have to pay for exchanging old or damaged US dollar bills and that’s why they are very keen on accepting only clean, new and undamaged US dollar bills.
What to do when your bill is being rejected?
The first thing you have to ask yourself is: ‘Who is rejecting my bill?‘ If it’s the owner or manager of the place, you may want to try and find a creative solution. If it’s an employee, negotiating will get you nowhere.
Employees are under strict guidelines not to accept bills that are old, fake, damaged or devaluated. In some cases they may see their salary cut when they do accept damaged bills. If an employee tells you he or she can’t accept your bill, don’t give them a hard time, but request if it’s possible to speak to the manager or owner. If he or she is not present, it’s up to you to come up with a solution.
If it’s the manager or owner of the shop who rejects your bill, you may want to offer the 5 or 10 percent he has to pay to the bank. In our experience not many will accept it, but some will.
How to prevent your bills being rejected?
When you pay in local stores, restaurants or your accommodation, always check the bills you receive back from the cashier. The higher the value, the longer your inspection should take.
Check both sides of the bills to see if they are clean, check the corners and look for any tears. Don’t move away from the counter until you’re finished. Keep in mind that checking US dollar bills is common in Cambodia and part of the payment process. If you have any doubt about a bill, request the cashier to change it for another bill.
What to do with your fake or damaged bill?
Fake bills: Your loss. If the bill is really fake, you should’ve checked the bill when you received it. If you’re wondering if a bill is fake or not, you may walk into a bank and request them to check the bill. Keep in mind that banks are not allowed to confiscate fake US dollar bills.You will alwyas get your bill back, no matter if it’s real or fake.Only the National Bank of Cambodia and the police are allowed to confiscated fake US dollars.
Damaged bills: If your bill is rejected because it is damaged, you can bring it to a money changer. They will change your bill and charge you up to 10% of the bills’ value. If you are living in Cambodia and have an ABA bank account, you can also deposit the money via the deposit ATM at their main office.