Currency in Cuba
Money is an important topic when planning travel to Cuba, so here is what you need to know. While it may seem complicated, we hope this information helps simplify things. It’s important to know that you can use USD and Euros fairly easily for many purchases as well as for tipping. Read on and you’ll learn what you need to know. This information is current as of May 2023.
What Kind of Money is Used in Cuba?
The Cuban currency is known as the CUP, or Cuban Peso. It is also referred to as "moneda nacional" - or "national money". The official exchange rate was pegged at 24 to $1 USD as of March, 2022. However, due to a growing informal or “black market” exchange that provided a much better rate, the Cuban government changed course August 4, 2022 and set the foreign currency exchange rate for USD at 120 CUP per dollar. Currently you can get this rate at banks and/or the Cadeca Exchange Bureaus. An 8% conversion fee for USD is applied, meaning that you’ll get about 110 CUP to the USD. Other currencies, such as the Euro or Mexican Peso, Canadian dollar, etc, have a 2% conversion fee.
Again, this is the amount you will get at the bank or any official exchange bureau and rates are consistent at all banks and exchange bureaus in Cuba.
Using CUP in Cuba
You will want to have at least a few CUPs for buying a drink at a bar, drinks that are not included in your tour, or for small purchases at local markets. Or if for some reason you were going to take a short taxi ride on your own, it would be good to have CUP, although the driver might be happy with USD or Euros as well. Also, in shops and most businesses, prices are posted in Cuban Pesos, so by using those you know you are paying the same price as locals. As well, this way you don't have to negotiate an exchange rate with a merchant when making small purchases. That said, it never hurts to ask “What is your exchange rate for USD?” and see what the merchant says.
Exchange Only A Little at a Time
For a typical one-week tour, we recommend that you exchange no more than $40-$50 USD into CUP at any time.
Can I use US dollars in Cuba
US dollars (USD) are very popular in Cuba and can be used for many small purchases and tipping. Euros are also widely accepted. So, you might pay for a drink at a bar in CUP, but then leave $1-3 USD or Euros as a tip. While Cuba Unbound includes most tips during the trip, here are a few places you would want to tip:
- When you are out on your own in the evening having an extra drink.
- Maid Service: Leave $2-$3 for maid service at your accommodations. This is up to you, but remember Cuba is a poor country and your money will go a long way in helping people
- Anytime you feel inspired to give someone a bit of appreciation. Bring $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills for this purpose.
- At the end of the trip, a gratuity for the tour guide(s) and driver is very appreciated. This is best given in foreign currency such as USD, CAD or Euros.
Shopping and Souvenirs
You will find that USD, CAD or Euros are all accepted at most places that sell souvenirs. However, it's a good idea to have some CUP with you in case a merchant only accepts that.
Where Can I Exchange Money?
There are several options. Banks and the official foreign currency exchange house called CADECA are the primary locations for exchanging foreign currency for CUP. Banks and CADECA pay the official rate. There is also an informal market where you can find a better rate. This, however, is strictly speaking, not legal. Thus, Cuban guides won’t want to help you exchange in this manner. However, owners of private businesses such as restaurants or B&B’s, often will. This informal rate is tracked by the website El Toque but know that this is only a guide and you may not be able to exchange for as much as is indicated on the website.
Carrying Cash in Cuba
Like anywhere in the world, be smart with your cash. Generally, Cuba is a very secure place. But it's smart to carry your wallet in your front pocket. Don't carry large amounts of cash outside of your accommodation. And when you leave your room, use the room safe, or hide your cash in your luggage.
Bring More Cash Than You Think You Need
Because your US bank credit card or ATM will not work in Cuba, be sure to bring more cash than you think you might need. This is super important. You can always bring it back home so don’t worry about having extra!
US Bank Credit Cards DO NOT WORK IN CUBA
Cards affiliated with American banks are NOT accepted in Cuba. If you have a credit card issued in another country, it might work, but even that is not assured. Plus, there are very, very few businesses that accept credit cards. It's simply best to bring cash with you and more than you think you need. Remember, you can always take it back home if you don't spend it.
MLC Card (For most travelers this information is not essential but if you’re the curious sort you may want to know about MLC cards.)
MLC (‘Moneda Libremente Convertible’) is Cuba’s official digital currency and it trades at 1:1 with the USD, and sometimes is even referred to as “dollars.” There are special government-run MLC shops that sell imported items that can only be purchased with prepaid MLC cards.
A few things to know about prepaid MLC cards:
- They are sold at some hotels and CADECA offices in denominations ranging from $50-$1000. You pay a $5 charge for the card which is deducted so when you pay $100 you get a card good for $95.
- You can only purchase these with Euros, CAD or other foreign currencies, but not USD.
- The card expires after two years and any remaining balance of your MLC card won’t be refunded
A Helpful Glossary of Money Terms in Cuba
- CUP- The Cuban Peso also known as M.N. or Moneda Nacional. This is the only official currency in Cuba and it has no value outside of Cuba.
- MLC- Moneda Libremente Convertible meaning “Freely Convertible Money”. This is Cuba’s dollar equivalent digital currency.
- MLC Card- This is a pre-paid card you can buy in Cuba that will work in government, restaurants, government hotels and the few government stores that exist. We don’t recommend use of this mainly due to the hassle of buying it and the limited places that accept it.
- Official Rate- The CUP exchange rate offered in CADECAs (exchange bureaus), ATMs, Banks, Hotels, and with state-run entities. This rate is static and set by the government, and as explained above, changed dramatically in August 2022.
- Unofficial Rate- The exchange rate found with individuals or private businesses, instead of state institutions. It’s also known as the black market or ‘por la izquierda’ (to the left) and the rate is determined by supply and demand. The rate fluctuates and you can find current rates on this page.