Money and Currency in Cuba

Blog update: 25/Nov/2019

If you are planning your trip to Cuba and don't know much about the money and currency there, or you have received some conflicting information about it, RELAX! I've got the latest information from recent visitors to help you to clarify the most important points.

A bicitaxi carries passengers in Old Havana, Cuba

How much money should I take to Cuba? What is the best foreign currency? Can I use my credit card? Are there ATMs in Cuba? 2 currencies - how does this work?! How much is a safe amount to carry when I'm exploring?...

Let's start!

Two currencies, how does this work?

Cuba has 2 currencies - the Cuban Pesos (CUP), also known as Moneda Nacional (M.N), and the Pesos Convertibles (CUC). The exchange rate between them is 1CUC = 24CUP. The CUP is a currency used by the Cuban government to pay their employees, and Cubans normally use it at places with subsidised good, such as the ration stores. Travellers' use of this currency is very limited.

CUP currency in Cuba
Cuba's CUP currency is also known as M.N. (Moneda Nacional)

What are Pesos Convertibles (CUC) currency?

The CUC value is fixed at a rate of 1CUC = US$1. In practice it is more like US$1.03 because Cuban banks take a 3% commission. The CUC is used by the Cuban government to replace the USD, which was in use in Cuba up until a few years ago. The CUC is the currency used by tourists and also by most Cubans.

Most places in Cuba (like restaurants, supermarkets, bars, and taxis are priced in CUC). If in any doubt you can just ask if the price is in CUC or Moneda Nacional. Seemingly, with the aim of confusing us further, Cubans call both currencies "pesos".

CUC currency in Cuba
The Cuban Peso Convertible (CUC) are also called "cooks" by foreigners and Cubans alike.

What is the best foreign currency to exchange in Cuba?

Cuban banks accept a few foreign currencies in exchange for CUC.
Here are the most common ones you can get a good exchange rate for:
Euro = EUR    /  British Pound = GBP  / Canadian Dollar = CAD

The banks in Cuba take a commission of around 3%.

Note: If you buy CUC with USD cash, there is additional 10% fee making for a total of 13% for USD cash. For other transactions only the 3% commission applies.

What is CADECA?

CADECAs are the official government money exchange houses. At the CADECAs you can exchange foreign cash, make cash advances on credit cards and exchange traveller cheques. As soon as you arrive in Cuba you will see one at the airport with a long queue. These places are very safe to use and the exchange fee is also 3%. It is the same fixed rate all over island including at the airports. For me the only problem at the airport is the long queue and if you arrive to the main international Terminal 3 in Havana, the heat (since the CADECA's here are outside the building). There is also a Cadeca upstairs and on the Terminal 2.

There are CADECAs in every city in Cuba of significance size and importance, and there are several in Havana. You can also exchange money at the big hotels. If it is very hot and you find a huge queue at the airport when you arrive to Cuba, one option is to ask the taxi driver to take you to a hotel or CADECA with less people and air-conditioning, such as the CADECA inside the Melia Cohiba hotel in Vedado.

Note: To do pretty much any transaction at a CADECA, you will need your passport and the address of where you are staying on that day in Cuba. I also recommend to count the money you receive in front at the CADECA employee, in case there are some missing coins or even notes.

The CADECA queue at Terminal 3 Airport in Havana
The long CADECA queue at the main Terminal 3 airport in Havana

The news is theses 4 ATM currency exchange at the airport Terminal 3 in Havana. The ATMs allows you to exchange the follow currencies: US, CA, EUR.

Steps to make the currency exchange:
1-Select the option currency
2-Insert your passport in the slot located
3-Select the type of currency you are going to exchange
4- Verify  that the bank bills you are going to exchange are the some type of currency
5- Place the bills smoothed and uniform vertically in the box
6- confirm the operation and withdraw your bills
7- Pic up the receipt
8- Pic up the passport

ATM exchange money at Terminal 3 airport in Havana 

Can I use my credit card in Cuba, will it work at all?

Most Visa and Mastercards work well in Cuba.
*The majority cards from US banks are also useless in Cuba. They won't work at all. It's advisable to advise your bank about your travel itinerary. Why? Even if your bank is not from the US, it may have a link with a US bank, and your credit card will not work in Cuba because of that.

Here are some Visa credit cards that at present are not working in Cuba:
Citibank / Westpac (Australia) / St George (Australia) / Travelex / 28Degrees

Here are some Visa credit cards that at present are working in Cuba:
ING/ NAB/ HSBC / Bank First / Bank Australia / Victoria Teacher Mutual Bank / UBank / Encompass Credit Union / Heritage / Credite Union SA / CUA / My Credite Union / Bankwest / ANZ / Commonwealth Bank / Macquarie Bank debit card.

* A good option for American is to get a credit card from Stonegate Bank. There is no annual fee. You can use it to get cash advance from any ATM in Cuba and pay only 3% of Cuban surcharge for credite card purchases wherever car accepted.

Note: For the moment, credit cards are not accepted in restaurants, stores, taxi, etc... They are only able to be used to withdraw cash.

Are there any ATMs in Cuba?

Yes, there are many ATMs in Cuba! Here are some of the cities you can find them: Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Trinidad, Cienfuegos and Camaguey. Most Visa and Mastercards work at ATMs in Cuba. Sometimes your card will not work and you may think there is a problem with your card, however often the problem is with the ATM, so just keep trying until you find one that works. There is an ATM also upstairs on the Terminal 3 at the International airport.

Another option is to go inside the bank and get some cash using your credit card. In this case you'll  need to show your passport and provide the address of where you are staying in Cuba.

Cuban hats for sale in the Bay of Pigs, Cuba

How much money should I take on my trip to Cuba?

The most practical way is to pay as many basic expenses before arriving in Cuba, such as: accommodation and transport. Other option would be to buy a tour with all basics included. I highly recommend Cuban Adventures and Cuban Adventures USA . This agency has an excellent local operation in Cuba and the tours are excellent value for money compared to most other agencies.

If you take the most popular 8 day tour, which has a guide, all breakfasts and accommodation, and transport for the itinerary included, I estimate you will need about US$480 = $480CUC per person for the whole tour. This is about $60CUC per day and should be enough to cover a few drinks, lunch and dinner, and any excursions and optional activities you do each day. It does not include the cost of souvenirs.

Each meal will cost you around $10 to $15CUC, although some restaurants in Havana are quite a bit more expensive than this. Drinks in most places cost $3, but in places like Hotel Nacional or La Bodeguita del Medio they cost about $5CUC.

Private taxis in Havana to the beach or Hemingway's house are around $20 -$30CUC return, you can also can get the Tourist Bus day pass $10CUC.

It will depend on how much extra stuff you want to buy besides meals and drinks. As always it's always best to bring more than you need, rather than less, but I recommend you don't convert it all to CUCs at once! Maybe change $300 on your arrival and do smaller increments as you need. This is because you cannot exchange it back very easily or you lose a lot, due to exchange rates, in doing so. If you are on a tour you can communicate to your guide 1 or 2 days ahead and s/he should be able to help you out.

You also can trade some money with other members of your group who had exchanged too much at the beginning of the trip which, although technically illegal in Cuba, is mutually beneficial.
There are CADECAs in almost every town and open most days, some are closed on Sundays.

Also don't forget to tip some service providers such as musicians, waiters, local guides, bus drivers... most of those people gets only about $20CUC salary per month.

A barman preparing mojitos in the Bodeguita del Medio in Old Havana, Cuba
Mojitos in Cuba cost between 2 and 6CUC, the famous ones at the Bodeguita del Medio cost 5CUC

Is Cuba safe, how much money should I carry around?

The island is considered one of the region's safest tourist destinations. Statistically, crimes against tourists are very rare! Cuba doesn't have guns and lots of drugs like other countries in the rest of Central and South America, and the US. The government puts a lot of resources into protecting the tourist, and punishments for crimes against tourist are very severe, so Cubans don't want to take the risk. The worst that can happen to you in a crowded street party would be that you get pick pocketed.

I recommend getting some small change so that you can more easily buy a bottle of water ($2CUC), an internet card ($1.50CUC p/ 1h), and to pay a tip to use public toilets ($0,25c).

On the Cuban Adventures Tours, they supply water on the bus so, you can bring to Cuba your metal water bottle and fill it up on the bus. This is good for the tourist and also helps the environment because it reduces the amount of plastic waste.
When you go to exchange money, ask the Cadeca employee to give you some $5, $10, $20CUC notes, it is make easier for you to pay for your expenses while travelling around.

Most of the "Casas Particulares" (guesthouses) in the bigger towns, have a security box, like these ones in La Gargola, where you can leave your documents, extra money, etc...

Some casas particulares in Cuba have security boxes where you can store valuable items
Private guesthouses like La Gargola in Old Havana have Security Boxes that can be use to safely store valuable items.

If I still have some CUC left, what can I do, can I exchange it back?

Unfortunately CUCs cannot be officially change to another currency outside Cuba and sine November 15th passenger are prohibit to take any CUC out of Cuba. There is a Cadeca to change these in the departure area of the airport before you pass through migration in the main Terminal 3 in Havana.

Now you don't have the option to spend your remaining CUCs in the shop in the departure lounge where you could buy rum, cigars, coffee, water, etc. The shop NOT accept CUC anymore, but  accept many other currencies CAD, USD, EUR, CUP.

You can buy 3 bottles of rum for $22USD but the price of individual bottles ranges from $4.50USD to several hundred USD depending on the type. Most bottles are under $20USD.
Also, there is a small cafeteria that offers hot drinks, water and a poor selection of snacks.

Note: save some CUC to pay your taxi to the airport, it will cost around $20 to $25CUC.

Classic convertible American cars in Old Havana
Classic convertible cars in Old Havana. These are the ones used for day tours around the city costing around 35CUC / hr

Cuba is definitely a controversial country, with a strange and unique set of circumstances like the dual economy. This island is a rare combination of communism, socialism, and capitalism with the US embargo against it still standing. These are only some of the reasons why I find this country absolutely fascinating!

Don't miss out the opportunity to visit this incredible country.   


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