I live as an ex-pat in Vietnam and travel quite a bit to Cambodia. In both countries, I deal with understanding what currency is the best to use in these locations.
The best currency to use in Vietnam is the Vietnamese dong, especially for taxis, restaurants, and small shops. Many taxis, shops, and restaurants will gladly quote and sell to you in United States dollars in Cambodia. Both Vietnam and Cambodia have a lot of ATMs for you to withdraw cash.
We recommend that most people traveling to Vietnam and Cambodia bring some US dollar cash, but then bring a credit or debit card so you can withdraw cash as you need it. I have used US-based credit and debit cards in both places without much problem though I have found shops in Vietnam now accept more credit cards than in Cambodia; both places prefer cash.
Best Currency to Use for Vietnam
When I came to Vietnam in the early 2000s, it was quite common for restaurants and taxies to take and even want to be paid in United States dollars. Many places would tell you the price in US dollars and the local Vietnamese dong currency.
This practice is now becoming less and less common. Some tourist shops, who may also be acting as “money changers,” may be willing to take your US dollar cash, but I find this a less common practice throughout Vietnam.
Most of the places you buy from will quote you and ask you to pay in the local Vietnamese currency, which is known as the “dong.” Many will accept your credit cards, but some may ask you to pay extra to cover some credit card fees.
If you go to an ATM and want to get out money, you can not get the money out in US dollars; in Vietnam, you can only take money out in Vietnamese Dong.
The airport taxis now usually want to have the Vietnamese dong and do not want it paid in United States dollars. The reason is they maybe do not want to go through the hassle to try to exchange the United States dollars you are giving them.
Some shops that cater to tourists in downtown Hanoi are happy to take your US dollar cash. These shops will be sure to cover themselves for any exchange rate differences; you may end up paying slightly more by paying in United States dollars than if you paid in Vietnamese dong.
ATMs in Vietnam
We do not recommend that travelers to Vietnam carry a lot of United States dollar cash; there is always a risk you can be robbed and pickpocketed. We suggest you have some cash for your arrival and miscellaneous expenses.
If you get your Vietnamese visa at the airport upon arrival, they prefer United States dollars. Try to have the exact amount you need, as it will make the process faster for your visa. Also, have some United States dollars to exchange at the airport for some local currency to take a taxi or any other miscellaneous expenses,
Most airports in Vietnam have ATMs. I have not found those machines to be the best machines to use with my USA-based Citicard, but it depends greatly on what ATM they have and if it works with your card.
If you only have US dollar cash and are taking a taxi, I would let the taxi driver know before you get in to make sure they will take the US dollar cash. Just be aware they may charge you slightly extra for their having to take the US dollar cash.
Once you get to your hotel, most front desks are happy to exchange US dollars cash into Vietnamese dong, and many hotels have ATMs in the hotel or around the hotel.
In Vietnam’s major cities and tourist areas, you can usually find ATMs around the major hotels. If you are traveling outside these areas, it would be best to prepare yourself with Vietnamese dong as that is what most people there will want for food and other services.
Also, all major hotels, shops, and restaurants usually accept credit cards. Some places that accept credit cards may charge you an extra credit card service fee.
Vietnam does have many western banks like ANZ, HSBC, and Citibank, to name a few.
Best Currency To Use for Cambodia
Cambodia is completely different than Vietnam. The Cambodian currency is the Riel, which is being used more, but Cambodia uses and accepts many United States dollars. In fact, as a foreigner, I am usually expected to pay in US dollars in Cambodia and not the local currency.
Like when traveling to Vietnam, we do not recommend that you bring a lot of cash to Cambodia but use a credit or debit card instead to withdraw cash as you need it. We realize this is more expensive as far as bank fees are concerned but is still much cheaper than if you get robbed of all your cash. I have known people traveling to Cambodia who has gotten robbed right at the airport while getting into a taxi or car,
If you are getting a Cambodian visa at the border, they will want you to pay in US dollars cash, so you must prepare that cash before arriving in Cambodia.
Most shops, restaurants, and hotels will quote you in US dollars and Cambodian Riel prices, but they all happily accept and expect United States dollars for payment. If change is required, usually for small amounts, they will give you the change in Cambodian Riel, even if you gave them dollars for the payment.
Taxis and Tuktuks from the airport are always happy to take US dollars, and in fact, most of them will quote you a price in dollars. Hotel staff and others are happy to get their tip in United States dollars; local markets will be happy to take any of your United States dollar cash.
If you are traveling overland to Cambodia and getting a taxi at the border to take you into Phnom Penh, make sure you have United States dollar cash for the border and the taxi. We recommend having one, five, ten, and twenty dollars in change.
Also, make sure your United States dollars look crisp and new and are not torn, taped, marked up, or in bad condition. I have had currency refused here if they feel like it does not look new and crisp. I have not found anyone who wants to accept United States coins.
I have found some shops in Cambodia that will not accept a credit card for payment; they do not even have a credit card machine in their shops and only want US dollar cash. Just be aware that you may need to go to the ATM to withdraw US dollar cash to buy some things you want. Also, some places will accept your credit card but ask you to pay the extra credit card service fee.
ATMs In Cambodia
Like Vietnam, there are ATMs all over Cambodia that will accept foreign credit or debit cards. You can find these ATMs on the street, in hotels, and even in some shops.
The major airports, especially in Phnom Penh, have ATMs at the airport. If you come by bus from Ho Chi Minh, this will be harder to find at the border.
Until Vietnam, these Cambodian ATMs will give you US dollar cash. Just by the nature of the way the ATMs readily give United States dollars, you can see how different the usage of US dollars is accepted in Cambodia vs. Vietnam.
Because of this, I call the United States dollar the “official – unofficial” currency of Cambodia. It can be used almost everywhere, especially in the tourism areas of the country.
When traveling to both Vietnam and Cambodia, it is important that you fully understand which currency will be accepted in what location. If you travel with a currency other than US dollars, you will probably need to go to a bank or money changer to change that currency into the currency you need.
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