How to Be Smart with Your Money While Traveling in Cuba

ViaHero · March 22, 2018

In Cuba, cash is king. Your American credit and debit cards simply won't work. And, there are two currencies with distinctly different uses. Before you leave for Cuba, it's essential that you learn the basics of Cuban currency. 

Once you give the article a read feel free to message us any questions you still have about spending money in Cuba.

Want to see Cuba differently? Connect with a local Hero today.

What is the Cuban currency?

There are two Cuban currencies: the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about money in Cuba and how to make sure you have enough money while traveling.  

CUP - Cuban Peso Nacional

The Cuban Peso Nacional (aka Moneda Nacional) 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 peso restaurants, ice cream stands, or giving tips.  

Notes can be of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pesos. Coins can be of 1, 5, and 20 centavos as well as 1 and 3 pesos. There are 100 centavos in 1 peso. 

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 transportation 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.

Notes can be of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 CUC. Coins come in 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos (cents) as well as 1 CUC.

 If you're still confused about the difference between CUC and CUP, send us a message or ask one of our Cuban travel experts

Exchanging Money

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 on exchanging them. $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. A good budget is essential.  Paying for lodging via Airbnb ahead of time is helpful as it lessens the amount of cash you need to carry. Food 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.

Our Cuban travel planners can help you put together your budget. 

cuba currency cuban peso

Credit Cards, Debit Cards and Traveler's Checks in Cuba

Credit Cards

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 make sure 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 Cards 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

Travelers 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, travelers checks can be very inconvenient. If you're careful with where you keep your cash, there's no need to bother with them.

Have more questions about money in Cuba? Here is a list of our local Cuban travel experts who can help, or simply send us a message. And before your trip, make sure to check out:

 

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