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 travelers 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, travelers will use the Cuban Convertible Peso for paying for goods and services while in Cuba. In fact, most all travelers in Cuba can get away with only using CUC during their visit. These services include travel expenses such as flights, buses, and accommodations, as well as shops, bars, and restaurants. In Cuba, many stores and restaurants price their goods in CUCs with no other payment options for either locals or travelers.
Travelers will need to exchange money at the airport upon arrival in Cuba as people cannot buy Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUCs) outside of Cuba. Similarly, travelers should exchange, spend, or donate any remaining CUCs before leaving Cuba as CUCs cannot be taken out of Cuba, nor be exchanged outside of Cuba.
Travelers can exchange currencies at the airport government exchange facility called Cadeca, a Cadeca located in a town or city, or at some banks. Rates are fairly consistent no matter where you do the exchange.
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.
Travelers 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. So for every 1 CUC you get 24 CUPs.
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 travelers. For the most part, travelers 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, travelers 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 towns 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.
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$. It's better to have other currencies - Euros, CAD or British Pounds - as these do not have a exchange penalty. However, by the time you change US$ to another currency and pay the cost for doing that, there is not a huge savings unless you plan to change a lot of money. Be aware that torn bank notes will not be accepted for exchange.
Carrying Cash in Cuba
Some vendors, such as taxis and restaurants in larger cities will accept foreign currency including the U.S. dollar, Euros and Canadian dollars.
Credit Cards in Cuba
The only U.S.-issued credit card that can be used in Cuba is issued by Banco Popular based in Puerto Rico. Stonegate/Centennial Bank no longer issues a credit card for use in Cuba. However, if you have a credit card from another country, it will be accepted by the very few places that accept credit cards.
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.
Receiving cash advances can be a long process, and banks do require seeing travelers’ 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 travelers to carry cash.In terms of U.S. bank issued Debit Cards that can be used in Cuba, both Centennial Bank (Florida) and Banco Popular (Puerto Rico) issue these if you have a checking account with them. Non-U.S. debit cards will generally work at ATMs.
Travelers Cheques in Cuba
Travelers Cheques are not a good option in Cuba.