Cuban currency and Cuban money are unique. Plus, in Cuba you've got to use cash so it's best to understand the money you're using. There are two currencies: the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about Cuban money 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 currency, used primarily by locals in Cuba. The exchange rate fluctuates, but is typically around 25 CUP / 1 USD. Although foreigners aren't supposed to use it, this is not illegal. As a traveler you might use this for street food, food or 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. There are other coins of 1 and 3 pesos.
CUC - Cuban Convertible Peso
The Cuban Convertible Peso is the currency used in the tourism industry and the currency you'll use the most. The exchange rate for the CUC is pinned to the US Dollar, 1:1. Most restaurants, bars, museums, taxis, stores (including local department stores), souvenir markets, lodging, and tourist transportation only take the CUC. 90% of travelers only exchange for CUC. Everyone accepts CUC, you just may get change back in CUP. Many richer Cubans, usually those in the tourist industry, have access to CUC and use it frequently.
Notes can be of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 CUC.
Where to Exchange
Only exchange money at the following places:
- Airports - Lines at the Havana airport are often quite long.
- 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.
- Major hotels, like the Hotel Nacional or Hotel Saratoga.
Good Things to Know about Currency Exchange
- All currencies have a 3% exchange fee.
- You can often use debit cards to exchange money at Cadecas, as long as it is not a US debit card.
- US Dollars have an additional 10% tax on exchanging them. 100 USD will get you 87 CUC with the 10% tax and 3% fee.
- 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 to CUP.
- If you acquire CUP and have some leftover upon departure, you cannot exchange it back.
- 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.
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 or a hotel's website 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 $15 per meal at a fancy restaurant.
We'd recommend exchanging at most 5% of your money to CUP. CUPs 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 in Cuba
No credit card associated with an American bank can be used while in Cuba. The one exception to this are Mastercard debit and credit cards issued by Stonegate Bank in Florida.
Note that Southgate debit cards were functional at Cuban ATMs, but are no longer allowed.
Also, note that some European banks have American parent holding companies so these cards won't work in Cuba. Contact your bank beforehand if you are not sure.
For 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 do work in Cuba. The most reliable ones arefrom 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 and they charge commissions of around 3% (4% on weekends) for cashing traveler's checks.