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Expats in Cambodia still prefer the US dollar over local currency

Anith Adilah Othman / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
A tourist uses riel to buy locally produced sugarcane juice in Cambodia. KT/Pann Rachana

The Kingdom of Cambodia is known as a friendly Southeast Asian nation which never fails to extend its hospitality to foreign friends. In fact, the expatriate demographic here is huge – the current number stands between 100,000 to 200,000 people, according to

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Many expats on online forums have cited the low cost of living, business opportunities, friendly faces, rich culture and beautiful landscapes as the main reasons they prefer Cambodia above other countries in the region.

This section of the country’s population also make a key contribution to the local economy. Khmer Times spoke to several members of the expat community to gauge their perspectives on the use of Cambodian riel against US dollar and their preferred currency when dealing with daily transactions. Almost all agreed that the look and feel of the current Cambodian riel notes need further improvement for the sole reason that they are easily mangled.

Spanish social media coordinator, Raphael Sanchez, who has been living in the Kingdom for three years, said he prefers the colourful design of the riel notes because it makes it easier to differentiate between denominations.

But he said he wished that the bank would improve the material of the notes so they would have a longer lifespan.

“The riel has a better design in comparison to dollars, however, a better material, such as polymer that is used in Australia and Malaysia, would be good. A smaller-sized banknote would also come in handy,” he said.

“The riel is widely circulated and it changes hands very fast, therefore we are always using notes that are already wrinkled and torn. Sometimes you can’t even see the value of the notes any more and they are not always accepted by merchants,” he added.

Meanwhile, some others cited the familiarity of using the US dollar and the varied conversion rate of riel as the reasons they prefer to use the US dollar. Search engine optimisation editor Ethan Scully said, “When it comes to dual currencies, it can be a little confusing for foreigners initially. To me, the US dollar is still preferred because paying with riel would sometimes mean having to pay extra. Some shops would convert 4,100 or even 4,200 riels for $1. I’d prefer having the conversion rate follow the market rate or have it set at a uniform price. Since it is not standardised, merchants can take advantage of this. It may seem like a small figure but it is still troublesome,” the US citizen said.

Despite this, there are also a handful of expats who prefer the local currency, such as French non-profit group worker Jackie Durand. She said using the riel has proven to be highly useful and convenient for her, especially when dealing with locals in the provinces.

“Tuktuk drivers, for instance, often have difficulty finding the right change when the fee is paid in US dollars. This can also be observed when expats travel to other provinces such as Battambang and Kep, where restaurants and business owners prefer to deal with transactions in riel. This is why the local currency is the best,” she said.

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