Show me the money! Cambodia has two currencies: US Dollars for large transactions in established outlets, and Khmer Riel for small items like groceries at traditional markets. In rural areas, the Riel remains the dominant currency. There is a relatively stable exchange rate of 4,000 riels to the dollar, with petty change usually given in riel.
It is worth remembering that in some rural areas they prefer to use Riel for all transactions. While de-dollarisation is still likely 20 years away, there is a determined push by the NBC to increase the amount of riel in the economy, with new injections of Riel every year. Dollar use sat at over 90% a few years ago but is now down to around 80% and dropping.
Just visiting? Then relying on your home bank account is a good option. You’re never far from an ATM in any major city, and those that accept foreign cards dispense US dollars. Cambodia is still a cash-based economy, although major businesses now accept card payments.
Standard ATM charges are around $5 per withdrawal (your bank may also levy a fee) so withdrawing large amounts makes sense. ATMs often dispense $50 or $100 notes, for which many local businesses may not have change, so try withdrawing amounts that aren’t multiples of $50, like $380, giving you four $20s and three $100s rather than four pesky $100s. All ATMs offer a choice of dollars or Riel, and depending on your plans, it is worth making a withdrawal of each currency.
Setting up a Cambodian bank account is your best bet if you’re staying more than a few months. Some banks, such as ABA, make it really simple: a mere flash of your passport and a nominal deposit. Others require proof of address (a signed lease contract will usually suffice) and also proof of employment in the Kingdom.
Personal banking services include checking and savings accounts, and foreign exchange services, with some banks offering credit cards, overdraft facilities and personal loans, although loans usually need to be secured against a property title. Online banking is also available, including overseas and domestic money transfers.
With such a range of banks to choose from, where should you put your money?
ANZ Royal Bank, a joint venture between Japan-based JTrust Bank and Cambodia’s Royal Group, is popular with expats, and with 17 city branches and 127 ATMs across Cambodia, it’s a safe choice. The minimum opening deposit is $500 for a Convenience Plus account, with a $1 monthly charge if you maintain a balance of $500 or $3 if you don’t.
Another major player, ABA Bank, has more than 30 branches and over 150 ATMs. With competitive rates (especially savings accounts), a native mobile banking app, online banking tools including web-chat, and great customer service, ABA seems committed to providing excellence in service and innovation in the banking sector.
One of Cambodia’s largest banks and a good choice if you expect to be on the move outside major cities, ACLEDA has the most branches of any bank in the country (more than 230) and the largest number of ATMs, offering the only banking services in some outlying towns. Online bill payments to utility companies and mobile phone carriers are another service available.
Canadia Bank is a joint venture between Cambodian-Canadian investors and the National Bank of Cambodia (so you know this is a safe bet). They offer current accounts in KHR, US Dollars, and Thai Baht, which can be handy if you do business or travel across the region regularly. Canadia also offer a good fixed deposit savings account (in KHR) with an 8% interest rate over 24 months.
PPCBank are a good choice if you are looking for good short term interest rates. On a 6 month fixed deposit account, they offer 4% p.a on USD, and 4.25% on KHR. Foreigners can open an account with passport, work permit/contract, and proof of address.
Bred Bank is a subsidiary of the 2nd largest bank in France, BRED Banque Populaire, and is growing rapidly here in Cambodia. Bred offers its customers a range of current accounts at both local and global levels, something very useful if you only spend part of the year in Cambodia. Bred also has a number of long term deposit accounts which may appeal to people planning on long stays here.
Cambodia is moving towards a cashless society faster than many western countries and mobile payment services are now very widespread in Cambodia, so if you find yourself needing to transfer money, whether within the city or to a distant province, Wing is a great option. You can transfer up to $1,000 in one transaction with fees between $1.00 and $2.50. With a recent move into Fintech, Wing now also offers a virtual debit card and a payment app. Pipay offers mobile payments at a wide range of retailers in the capital, in some cases with discounts of 10% or more. Smart offers SmartLuy, which allows users to buy music or apps, and also to transfer money to family and friends. ABA has their E-Cash app which allows you to make online or store purchases or to pay utility bills. And True money offer similar services as Wing, as well as payroll and phone top-up services. With more and more businesses accepting these types of payment, it is now very easy to buy goods from another city, pay electronically, and have your goods delivered by one of the many bus services here.
If you have money to save, Cambodia offers attractive interest rates especially on Khmer Riel. The larger micro-finance institutions (MFIs), such as Amret or Prasac, offer rates rising as high as 8.25% 9.5% for long term fixed deposits. Many people worry that savings in an MFI may not be safe long term. The reality is that as the microfinance sector has grown, many of these MFIs have been taken over by international institutions, including banks from Japan, Korea, and Thailand, so the sector is extremely stable and safe. A new prakas, issued in 2016, raised the capital requirements for MFIs, leading to takeovers and some consolidation, but more importantly ensuring security and customer confidence.