When traveling to Cuba, some of the most frequently asked questions are about money. To put you at ease, we've laid out everything you need to know about Cuba currency and, as a traveler, what you need to be aware of when dealing with money in Cuba.
Dual Currency System
As Cuba operates on a dual currency system, there are two possible legal tenders for tourists to use for transactions.
- Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
- Cuban Non-Convertible Peso (CUP) or Meneda Nacional (MN)
Using the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
For the majority of the time, tourists will use the Cuban Convertible Peso for paying for goods and services while in Cuba. In fact, most all tourists in Cuba can get away with only using CUC during their visit. These services include travel expenses such as flights, buses, and hotels as well as recreational shops, bars, and restaurants. In Cuba, most stores and restaurants price their goods in CUCs with no other payment options for either locals or tourists.
Tourists will need to exchange money at the airport upon arrival in Cuba as people cannot buy Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) outside of Cuba. Similarly, tourists should exchange, spend, or donate any remaining CUCs before leaving Cuba as CUCs cannot use of exchange the currency outside of Cuba.
Tourists can exchange currencies at the airport or a government exchange facility called a Cadeca.
Using the Cuban Non-Convertible Peso (CUP) or Meneda Nacional (MN)
The Cuban Non-Convertible Peso (CUPs) is Cuba’s national currency and mainly used by locals for purchasing basic necessities and living expenses.
Tourists can legally have CUPs, and so both Cuban currencies can be exchanged at a Cadeca or bank if chosen. A CUC can exchange a CUP at a rate of 1:24.
While CUCs are more common, CUPs are becoming more common for local street vendors. While CUCs would still be accepted, CUPs might be given in change that can sometimes be confusing for tourists. For the most part, tourists will only use MN with street vendors, in agricultural markets, taking collective transportation, and going to the movies.
Exchanging Money in Cuba
It’s important to remember that you cannot buy or exchange Cuban CUCs outside of the country. Therefore, tourists must exchange at least some money at the airport upon arrival. Likewise, it’s wise to exchange remaining Cuban currency at the airport when leaving Cuba.
Once in Cuba, currency can be exchanged at banks, hotels, or Casa de Cambios—or Cadecas—which serve as a House of Exchange. These government exchange facilities are located in airports, resorts, and hotels throughout the island. The exchange rates at Cadecas, airports, and banks will be the same. Keep in mind, however, that worse rates can potentially be given at hotels or resorts because the rates are not governmentally regulated. Similarly, exchanging money on the street is not a prudent financial move for the best exchange rate.
When you exchange money, it is helpful to exchange a larger portion of money at one time to avoid the potential long lines. Similarly, it will be helpful to ask for smaller notes. Lastly, make sure to bring your passport when visiting an exchange station.
What Currency Can You Use to Exchange
You can use US$ to buy Cuban currency but there is a minimum 10% penalty for exchanging the US$. It's better to have other currencies - Euros, CAD or British Pounds - as these do not have a exchange penalty.
Carrying Cash in Cuba
U.S. dollars are NOT accepted as currency in Cuba. However, Euros or Canadian currency are accepted. Furthermore, if you are carrying torn bank notes from other currencies, Cadecas may not accept them. If you choose to carry other currencies, carry smaller denominations so that you avoid unnecessary exchanging.
Credit Cards in Cuba
Provided that tourists are not using a U.S. affiliated Bank, cash advances can be received through debit/credit card transactions from banks and Cadecas. The foreign transaction fee can be incredibly high, however.
Visa and Mastercard are always accepted credit cards, although Visa is the most established. However, authorization can occasionally be denied due to technical issues such as poor computer connection. Once your transaction goes through, the amount charged will be recorded in U.S. dollars.
Receiving cash advances can be a long process, and banks do require seeing tourists’ passports before the transaction takes place, so that is something to consider when planning your Cuban trip.
To reiterate: Cards affiliated with American banks are NOT accepted in Cuba.
ATMs in Cuba
ATMs can be unpredictable, so it is always helpful for tourists to carry cash. If you are from the United States, the cards must be non-U.S. affiliated. Visa and Mastercards are accepted, though only Visas are accepted in ATMs. To clarify: ATMs can be inefficient and occasionally erratic, so tourists want to have a backup plan in case a card is lost, eaten by the machine, or stolen.
Travelers Cheques in Cuba
Travelers Cheques are often considered a hassle rather than an efficient, popular choice. They can be difficult to exchange and a commission is required to cash them. Furthermore, if the travelers cheques are lost or stolen, they cannot be replaced while in Cuba. As such, while they can be a useful additional resource, they should not be relied upon as a primary option.
Similar to credit cards, travelers cheques associated with U.S. Banks are not accepted in Cuba. However, Euros or Canadian Dollars will be acceptable. American travelers could consider exchanging their USD to CAD before exchanging their money to CUC as this can occasionally help lesson the 10% surcharge for USD to CUC exchanges.