ViaHero · Updated August 10, 2018
In Cuba, cash is king. Your American credit and debit cards simply won't work. On top of that, Cuba has two currencies with very different uses. Use this guide to learn all about using cash, cards, and checks in Cuba—after, feel free to message us with any questions you still have!
There are 2 Cuban currencies: the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about them.
1. CUP - Cuban Peso Nacional
- The Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) is the national Cuban currency, used primarily by locals in Cuba.
- The exchange rate
fluctuates,but is typically around 25CUP per $1USD. It is helpful to exchange a little bit of your money into CUP.
- As a traveler, you might use this type of Cuban currency for street food, flea markets, colectivos, local neighborhood restaurants, ice cream stands, or giving tips.
- Bills are printed in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100-peso denominations. Coins are minted in 1, 5, and 20-centavo (cent), as well as 1 and 3 peso denominations.
2. CUC - Cuban Convertible Peso
- The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the currency used in the tourism industry and the currency travelers will need the most.
- Exchange most or all of your cash into CUC.
- The exchange rate for CUC is pinned to the US Dollar, which means 1CUC equals 1USD.
- Most restaurants, bars, museums, taxis, stores (including local department stores), souvenir markets, lodging, and tourist transportations only take CUC.
- Most travelers only exchange money into CUC. Everyone accepts CUC, you just may get change back in CUP.
- Many richer Cubans, usually those in the tourism industry, have access to CUC and use it frequently.
- Bills are printed in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100-CUC denominations. Coins are minted in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50-centavo (cent), as well as 1 CUC denominations.
Where to Exchange
To get the best exchange rate and avoid getting ripped off, be careful where you exchange money in Cuba. Cuban travel experts recommend that you only exchange money at the following places:
- Airports: Lines at the Havana airport are often quite long, so plan accordingly.
- Cadecas or exchange houses in the city: Ask your casa particular owner or hotel front desk for the closest option.
- BFI and Banco Metropolitano banks: most other banks only deal with CUP, so you wouldn't be able to get CUC outside of these banks.
- Major hotels like the Hotel Nacional or Hotel Saratoga.
Good Things to Know about Currency Exchange
- All currencies have a 3% exchange fee.
- US Dollars have an additional 10% tax upon exchange. That means $100USD will get you 87CUC in return because of the 10% tax and 3% fee.
- Always count the amount of Cuban currency you receive. It's common for tellers to intentionally miscount. Make sure the currency in your hand matches the number on your receipt when you travel to Cuba.
- As long as it is not a US debit card, you can often use debit cards to exchange money at Cadecas.
- You can exchange for CUP, but many airports won't allow it for foreigners. If they do, you'll need to exchange your currency into CUC first, then exchange some of that into CUP.
- If you acquire CUP and have some leftover upon departure, you cannot exchange it back to US dollars or CUC. (But a few CUP can make a nice souvenir or addition to presents for friends if you find yourself with a lot of CUP left at the end of your trip.)
How Much Money Do You Need to Bring?
- As an American, you need to bring enough money to last for your entire trip, so a good budget is essential.
- Deciding exactly how much money to bring down can be difficult, so ask one of our local Cuban travel planners to help you budget your trip.
- Paying for lodging via Airbnb is helpful, as it lessens the amount of cash you need to carry.
- Meals can range from $1 for street food to $25 per meal at a fancy restaurant.
- Change only 5% of your money to CUP at the most. A few CUP go a long way. Plus, you can only use it in some places and CUC is accepted everywhere.
Credit Cards, Debit Cards and Traveler's Checks
- No credit card associated with an American bank can be used while in Cuba.
- The one exception: Mastercard credit cards issued by Stonegate Bank in Florida. Cards from Stonegate Bank can be used if you have expressed your intent to travel to Cuba and signed their compliance form. Then, those cards may be used at stores, hotels, and restaurants, but not at ATMs.
- If you plan to get around this rule by bringing a credit card issued by a European bank, keep in mind that some European banks have American parent holding companies so these cards won't work in Cuba either. Contact your bank beforehand to ask if your card will work in Cuba.
- For those traveling with all other (non-US) credit cards, most hotels and high-end restaurants will accept credit cards. Otherwise, all other transactions will be in cash.
Debit and ATM Cards
- ATMs will not accept American debit cards. The same goes for all Mastercard debit cards, regardless of country of origin. Visa debit cards associated with a non-US bank are accepted at ATMs.
- You can use non-US debit cards to exchange money at Cadecas, plus all BFI and Banco Metropolitano branches. You will be charged a 3% processing fee whenever you take out money with a debit card or exchange cash directly.
- Traveler's checks do work in Cuba. The most reliable ones are from Thomas Cook and Visa, as long as they are associated with non-US banks. You can use them at most banks, CADECA offices, hotels, and tourist-related businesses. These places charge commissions of around 3% (4% on weekends) for cashing traveler's checks.
- All that said, traveler's checks can be very inconvenient. If you're careful with where you keep your cash, there's no need to bother with them.
- Connect With a Local to Plan Your Trip
- Cuba FAQ
- You Can Still Travel to Cuba: Update 2018
- Cuban Tourist Cards and Visas
- Cuba Info for Americans