Best ways to spend travel money in Cambodia: Debit and prepaid cards

Learn more about the best card to use, whether you should use a UK debit card and other ways to take spending money to Cambodia.

The official currency of Cambodia is the riel (KHR). The unofficial currency is the United States dollar (USD). You can pay for goods and services in Cambodia using KHR, USD or a combination. Like most countries in the region, cash speaks loudest.

A dual-currency system gives you more travel money options than other countries in Southeast Asia. The best travel money strategy for Cambodia will give you a convenient way to get cash at a good price. Here we look at the different travel money options for Cambodia and the best ways to spend and save.

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Using a credit card

Visa, Mastercard and American Express credit cards are accepted in a few places in Cambodia such as large restaurants and hotels. You usually need identification to use a credit card in Cambodia, so make sure to have your passport or licence handy.

Consider some of the following factors when deciding whether you should use a credit card in Cambodia:

  • Line of credit. As a credit card offers a line of credit, it can be a good option for large and emergency purchases when you’re overseas. If you’re prone to overspending though, you’ll need to rein in your purchases and remember that everything that you charge must be repaid.
  • Currency conversion. If your card isn’t designed for overseas purchases, you’ll incur a currency conversion fee when spending in Cambodia. Compare credit cards with no foreign currency conversion fees to keep these costs low. A decent long-term option for fee-free spending and ATM withdrawals abroad is the Halifax Clarity card.
  • ATM withdrawals. A credit card can come in handy, but you’ll also need cash on your trip. Unfortunately, ATM withdrawals are considered cash advances and immediately incur a high cash advance rate. If you’re planning on frequently getting cash out on your trip, you might want to save your credit card for over-the-counter purchases and use a prepaid or debit card for withdrawals. Be warned that even if your card provider doesn’t charge a withdrawal fee, you may still be subject to local ATM fees.
  • Extra features. Credit cards often come with beneficial features such as complimentary overseas travel insurance, airport access and a rewards programme. However, these cards usually come with high fees. Consider the cost of the card and the value of the benefits to determine whether the extras are worth the fees.
  • Interest-free purchases. Look for a card with 0% on purchases for a promotional period or with interest-free days (when you pay your balance in full before the due date). This will help keep your interest costs under control and will reduce how much you have to repay.

Can I use my debit card in Cambodia?

Generally speaking, yes, debit cards are another way you can take your cash overseas. Not all British debit cards are suitable for overseas use though, so you’ll want to compare your options to find one that offers you the most convenience on your holiday.

  • Using your everyday debit card. We all have a current account that more or less works the same in Britain as it does overseas. The big difference is the fee schedule. Using your everyday debit card overseas has the potential to smash your bank balance each time you make an ATM withdrawal.
  • Currency conversion fees. Most British debit cards will charge a currency conversion fee when you use your card overseas, so you might want to look for a travel debit card that doesn’t charge this fee.
  • ATM withdrawals. Debit cards are an easy way to access cash overseas, but you’ll usually be charged an international and ATM operator fee when you make a withdrawal. If you use your British debit card to make frequent cash withdrawals in Cambodia, don’t be surprised if you end up paying as much as £50 – £100 a month in ATM fees. Look for a travel debit card that belongs to an ATM alliance (an international group of banks that lets customers use each others’ ATMs for free) to avoid paying some of these withdrawal fees.
  • Access your own money. If you open a debit account to take overseas, you’ll have the benefit of accessing your own savings without the inconvenience of having to top up your card as you run out of money. Plus, accessing your own funds might help keep your travel budget in check more than if you had access to a large line of credit.

Using a travel money card

Load your holiday savings onto a prepaid travel card and spend in multiple currencies with a prepaid travel card. These cards have many benefits, but there are also some limitations you’ll need to keep an eye out for. Consider the following:

  • Multiple currencies. The currencies you can spend in without incurring currency conversion fees will vary from card to card. Unfortunately, no prepaid travel cards from the UK currently support KHR, but all of them support USD. This means that if the merchant accepts USD, you won’t be hit with the standard currency conversion fee when you make a purchase.
  • ATM withdrawals. Like a debit card, you can use your prepaid travel card for ATM withdrawals. Depending on the card you’re using, you might be charged an ATM withdrawal fee, so that’s something you’ll want to confirm before applying.
  • Load and reload fees. Depending on the card, you might be charged a fee when you first load funds onto your card or when you continue to top up the card with money. If you’re thinking you’ll need to top up your card with pounds to transfer (to a foreign currency) several times throughout your trip, you’ll want to look for a card that doesn’t charge high reload fees.
  • Exchange rates. When you load your funds onto your card, they’ll be locked into the exchange rate that’s in place at the time. Travel card foreign exchange rates are higher than Mastercard and Visa debit and credit card forex rates. Prepaid travel cards use the bank’s “cash” foreign exchange rate, which is usually quite high.

Using traveller’s cheques

For a small fee, you can cash traveller’s cheques at Cambodian banks and exchange offices. This can be a cheap way to get US dollars. A 2% charge for cashing traveller’s cheques can be cheaper than the flat fee for using an ATM.

How much Cambodian riel (KHR) will I need for my trip?

£1 is equivalent to roughly 5,500 Cambodian riels.

Phnom PenhBudgetMid-rangeExpensive
to-sleepCheap guesthouse room
£3–£7
Aircon hotel room
£10–£35
Boutique hotel or resort
£35–£350
to-eatLocal meals and street eats
£1–£3
Decent local restaurant meal
£4–£8
Gastronomic meal with drinks
£18–£35
busLocal buses
£2–£3 per 100km
Local tour guide per day
£35
4×4 rental per day
£45–£90

*Prices are approximate and are subject to change.

Travel card, credit card or debit card?

Use a combination of travel money options for your trip to Cambodia. Credit cards make the perfect travel companion. You can make interest-free purchases and there are a number of conveniences, such as emergency card replacement, access to emergency cash and complimentary insurance, to protect you, your family and the things you buy.

You can take a travel card preloaded with US dollars and withdraw USD from an ATM in Cambodia. USD can be used almost everywhere. Travel card ATM fees can be lower than debit card ATM withdrawal fees, Cambodia is one country where a travel card can work in your favour.

The other choice is to use a debit card to get cash. There are a few travel-friendly debit accounts for you to compare. Some debit cards waive international transaction fees such as ATM fees and currency conversion fees. Transaction accounts are free to open and won’t cost you anything unless you use the card. Read on to compare your different travel money options and to determine which one is best for your trip.

Travel money options for Cambodia at a glance

Travel money optionProsCons
Debit cards for travel
  • Emergency cash facilities
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
  • Unlimited free withdrawals at selected banks
  • Save on overseas ATM fees when you withdraw
  • Currency conversion and international ATM fees
  • Can’t be used over the counter
  • No emergency cash
  • No back-up cards
Prepaid travel money cards
  • Can preload USD, which is one of the currencies widely accepted in Cambodia
  • Protected by a PIN and a chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • Emergency card replacement and back-up cards
  • Ideal for managing your travel budget
  • No prepaid cards support the KHR
  • Local ATM fee
  • Reloading time
Credit cards for travel
  • High availability of ATMs in Cambodia for cash withdrawals
  • Protected by a PIN and a chip
  • Accepted worldwide
  • No currency conversion/transaction fees
  • Benefits include rewards points on spending, 0% purchases and frequent flyer perks
  • Emergency card replacement
  • Can charge high withdrawal and cash advance fees
  • Higher spending limit (depends on your approved credit limit)
Traveller’s cheques
  • Charge for cashing traveller’s cheques can be cheaper than the flat fee for using an ATM
  • Secure and can be easily replaced if lost or stolen
  • Photo ID needed to cash cheques
  • Can be costly with initial purchase charges
  • Not all merchants accept traveller’s cheques
Cash
  • Both USD and KHR currencies are used in Cambodia
  • Payment flexibility
  • Convenience
  • More difficult to manage expenses
  • Higher risk of theft

This table is a general summary of the travel money products in the market. Features and benefits can vary between cards.

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A quick guide to Cambodian riel

2 currencies, 1 country: USD and KHR

USD and KHR are both used in Cambodia. Buying an item worth $2.50 and paying with a $5 note gives you $2 in change and the rest in Cambodian riels. There are different exchange rates between riels and dollars used in Cambodia, too. $1 works out to be roughly 4,000–4,100 Cambodian riels.

For example:

If an item costs $1, you can pay $1 or 4,100 riels.

If an item costs 5,000 riels, you can pay $1 and 1,000 riels.

The value of a US dollar changes between 4,000 and 4,100 riels depending on how you pay. Use riels to make smaller purchases to get the best price.

  • Tip. Make sure all the money you get back as change and money you get from the ATM is clean, crisp and untorn. Many Cambodians will not accept dirty or weathered bank notes.

Did you know?

The riel has been issued twice in Cambodia’s history. During the Pol Pot period, the country did not have a currency.

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How do I access money in Cambodia?

ATMs are widespread throughout Cambodia. You shouldn’t have any issues finding an ATM in the large cities that accept Mastercard and Visa credit, debit and travel cards. Note there are some Visa-only ATMs. Be sure to look for the Visa and Mastercard logos displayed on the front of the ATM if you’re unsure which cards the ATM takes.

The standard charge is approximately $5 per withdrawal. ANZ Royal charges the most and Canadia Bank ATMs are the cheapest. All ATMs dispense US dollars, while some dispense riels.

ATMs will dispense large denominations, which can be hard to change. Request an ATM withdrawal that includes multiples of $20. For example, instead of withdrawing $300, you can ask for $280. This way you get some smaller notes as well as larger notes.

  • Tip: Be sure to spend all your riels before you leave, as the currency has no value outside Cambodia.

Common ATMs where you can withdraw cash in Cambodia

  • Agribank
  • ANZ Royal Bank
  • ACLEDA
  • Canadia Bank
  • Maybank Cambodia
  • Sacombank
  • Western Union

Bottom line

Each of the travel money options discussed has its own benefits and drawbacks, so using a combination of options can help balance it out. For example, you could use your prepaid travel money card and debit card for everyday purchases and cash withdrawals and save your credit card for large or emergency purchases. Not only can you avoid some fees, but having more than one travel money option means you have a backup in case one card is lost, stolen or damaged.

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