Cuban Currency: The Ultimate Guide for Travelers (Updated 2019)

As a first-time traveler to Cuba, you probably have a lot of questions about the Cuban currency: What’s the deal with Cuba’s two currencies? Which Cuban money should you use? Can you pay with a credit card or debit card? Do they even have ATMs in Cuba?

In this article, we answer these questions and more. We will cover absolutely everything you need to know about using money in Cuba.

BY THE WAY: For practical advice on saving money in Cuba, read our the ultimate list of travel tips for Cuba. If you are a US citizen visiting Cuba, check out the complete guide on how to travel to Cuba from the US.

1. How Does the Cuban Currency Work?

The first thing you should know about the Cuban monetary system is that Cuba uses two official currencies: The CUP (Cuban Peso) and the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso). As a tourist, you’ll use the CUC a lot more frequently.

How to Travel to Cuba - Cuban Currency

The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)

The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is one of Cuba’s two official currencies and the one most frequently used by travelers. It’s also the more valuable of the two.

The value of the CUC is pinned to the U.S. dollar so that 1 CUC will always equal 1 U.S. dollar. However, there are some exchange and bank fees that you will have to cover. We will talk about fees later on in this article.

The CUC is available in bills of 1, 2, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100. You should always have the lower denomination bills to hand.

The Cuban Peso (CUP)

The CUP (also locally known as “moneda nacional“) is primarily used by residents of Cuba. As a tourist, you probably won’t use this one very often, but it may benefit you to carry a small amount of CUP for small expenses like street food, bus fare, flea market finds. For comparison, 1 CUP is only worth about 4 U.S. cents.

The CUP has the same bill denominations that the CUC has, but you can find larger bills of 250, 500 and 1000 pesos.

The tangible difference between the CUC and CUP

You’ve never been there. Never used Cuban money. So, how are you supposed to know the difference between the CUC and the CUP and avoid getting scammed?

Cuban currency - CUC and CUP

Here is the secret: the CUC bills don’t have faces. If you expect to receive CUC in a transaction and see a face on the bill, you will be getting CUP instead! Also, look for the words “pesos convertibles” right at the center of the CUC bill.

2. How to Exchange Cuban Currency?

You can’t get Cuban currency in advance. Cuban money is not available for exchange outside of Cuba, so you’ll have to stop by a currency exchange office once you arrive.

Travelers can exchange their currency at banks, hotels, and government currency exchange houses (CADECA). CADECA offices are located in airports, hotels, resorts, and shopping centers. CADECA offices are the safest and most reliable places to exchange currency.

CADECA

The Cuban currency exchange rate

The exchange rate for international currencies will vary depending on whether you use U.S. dollars or non-American currency.

For international exchange purposes, 1 CUC = 1 USD, but converting American money into Cuba money will incur a 10% fee. On top of that, you have to add another 3% of bank commissions. Yes, you will end up paying 1.13 USD for 1 CUC.

Other international currencies, like the Euro and Canadian dollar, are not subject to a “pinned” rate or an exchange fee. Instead, their value against the Cuban peso is determined by the international exchange rate.

Be aware of the currency scams

Aside from official currency exchanges, there are a few unofficial ways as well.

Most often, you can stumble upon these “opportunities” just outside of currency exchange offices and local shops. Often, people willing to make unofficial exchanges will pitch you on attractive offers: instead of the official rate of about 87 CUC for 100 USD, they’re willing to give you 90 or 96 CUC.

However, keep in mind that currency scams are common in Cuba, and tourists are typically the victims. The currency scam can go one of two ways: 1) you receive forged currency in exchange for your (legitimate) money; or 2) you get change in CUP instead of CUC.

You could lose a lot of money this way!

You should also be aware that pickpocketing is common in large cities like Havana. Thus, a travel money belt may be handy to protect your money and small valuables while walking the streets of Cuba (Learn more about safety tips for traveling to Cuba here.)

3. What is the Best Currency to Bring to Cuba?

It all boils down to bringing the foreign currency that has the highest possible conversion rate in Cuba. In terms of conversion value, the British Pound Sterling and the Euro are the best currencies to bring to Cuba.

American travelers (or any tourist carrying US money) should be aware that changing US cash into CUC incurs a 13% fee (including bank fees). You can avoid this by converting US money into a different high-value currency (like Euros or Pounds Sterling) before you touch down in Cuba.

Currency to bring to Cuba

You can also exchange the following foreign currencies in Cuba: US Dollar, Canadian Dollar, Euro, British Pound Sterling, Mexican Peso, Japanese Yen, Swiss Franc, Danish Krone, Swedish Krona, and Norwegian Krone.

4. Can You Use Credit Cards in Cuba?

In most cases, yes. Unless they were issued by a U.S. bank or a subsidiary of a U.S. bank.

So far, the first (and only) American bank to make official financial ties with Cuba is Stonegate Bank. In November 2015, they announced that their customers would be able to use their MasterCards in Cuba. While other major American financial companies like American Express and MasterCard have announced that they’re in the process of having their cards approved for use in Cuba, you can’t use them just yet.

Even with these relaxed restrictions, keep in mind that Cuba is primarily a cash country, so plan on paying for most of your expenses with hard currency.

ATMs-in-Cuba

A note on ATMs in Cuba

If you want to get cash, you can withdraw money from Cuban ATMs using either a debit card or a credit card.

You won’t be subject to the 10% fee, but you may be charged a bank commission fee that can cost anywhere between 3 to 12% per transaction.

ATMs in Cuba are not as common as they are in other parts of the world. Currently, Cuba has 780 cash machines with plans to install another 200 ATMs in the coming year. Most of Cuba’s ATMs are located in large cities and popular tourist destinations like Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Holguin, and Matanzas (Varadero).

5. What Cuban Currency to Use as a Tourist?

For most of your expenditures on the island, you can use CUC (the “tourist” currency). You should convert most of your foreign currency into CUC, but you should also have a small amount of CUP for situations we’ll discuss in the next section. Most resorts, hotels, restaurants, and tourist attractions will accept CUC. Also, always use the CUC for tipping in Cuba!

The CUP is the currency typically used by locals, but there are a few cases where you may wish to pay using it instead of CUC:

  • Street food
  • Bus fare
  • Flea market purchases
  • Purchases made at small local shops and convenience marts

A Final Note

You can’t export Cuban currency. At the end of your trip, remember to exchange any of your leftover Cuban pesos back into foreign currency before you leave. Once you arrive home, you won’t be able to exchange it so you’ll be stuck with unusable Cuban money!

As you can see, Cuba’s currency system is as unique as the island itself. While this can catch a visitor off guard if they don’t know what to expect, the currency system is much easier to navigate if you know a few key pieces of information like what kind of currency to use, how to exchange it, and how to use debit and credit cards during your stay.

Keep this guide handy during your stay in Cuba–together, we’ll make sure you have a great trip!

So, what do you think? Let us know in the comments!

Post Author
Tour Republic
Tour Republic is a travel marketplace where local entrepreneurs offer memorable experiences in Cuba. We also write about our passion for Cuba, from in-depth travel guides to myth-busting articles. Some articles may contain affiliates links at no cost to you.

Comments

31 Comments
  1. posted by
    Larry, Victoria BC Canada
    Sep 18, 2016 Reply

    “This cycle comes to an end in October 2004, when the government forbidden to make purchases with US dollars, and the CUC appeared.”

    Esto sería mejor redactada como tal…

    This cycle came to an end in October 2004 when the government forbid payment in US dollars, leaving only the CUC as the official currency of payment until the recent transition permitting payment in CUP at some businesses.

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Sep 21, 2016 Reply

      Hi, Larry! Thanks for you suggestion! I think you are right, let’s rewrite it similar as you suggest :), since the CUC and CUP both are Cuban official currencies since 2004.
      Either way, I hope you enjoyed the article!

      • posted by
        Pat O’D
        Aug 3, 2019 Reply

        I was told there is a better exchange rate if you bring Mexico Pesos. All the best hotels will exchange your dollars for CUPs. In late April 2019 we were part of Miami’s Pan American Art Tours. Since the embargo things have gotten worse for Cubans counting on American tourists. It is hoped that once Cuba stops supporting Maduro in Venezuela, the embargo will be lifted.

  2. posted by
    Lisa
    Feb 28, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for the tips, very helpful !

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Mar 11, 2019 Reply

      Thanks, Lisa! So glad it was helpful for you!

  3. posted by
    jopar00
    Mar 4, 2019 Reply

    if you do this tipping for everyone, then how is the average worker getting only 45 dollars per month on average. they should be getting 30 dollars a day based on your advice. also, if i am staying a an all inclusive resort, then why would i need to tip anyone. is it not the reason i am staying at a all inclusive resort operated by the government?

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Mar 11, 2019 Reply

      Hi jopar00,
      Tipping is entirely optional in Cuba, but recommended. Not all-inclusive hotels are directly managed by the government. Some resorts are managed by foreign hotel chains (such as Meliá) and the government just owns the property. Still, the government defines the wages of the Cuban employees at the resorts. Definitely, the tourism worker gets much more money than the average worker in Cuba. That’s why so many Cubans are eager to get into the tourism industry.

      • posted by
        Minerva Padilla
        Apr 4, 2019 Reply

        Tks, this info is very important & interesting, I will be visiting in June 2019 for 8 days.

        • posted by
          Digsan
          Apr 4, 2019 Reply

          Hope you have a wonderful experience in Cuba!

  4. posted by
    alberto
    Apr 7, 2019 Reply

    Hello,

    I understand the currency exchange in this article. I will be traveling to Cuba at the end of this month and my travel agent offers an exchange in advance… it seems like i am still dinged for the conversion, but a little better than what i would get if i do the exchanges myself in Cuba…. Just looking for your thoughts on the terms below

    Terms offered by the travel agent:
    Changing dollars into the local currency can save time at U.S. banks before departure and avoids sometimes long lines at hotels or government exchange offices at a minimal cost difference. Travelers will receive CUC’s at the rate of US $1 : CUC .83. The prevailing government rate can fluctuate and is currently US $1 : CUC .83 – .86).

    The service needs to be requested from us at least 10 calendar days prior to departure and in tranches of $500, e.g., $500, $1000, etc. Travelers intending to use this service will either pay by credit card and receive a rate of $1 to .81 CUC or mail a check in and receive a rate of $1 to .83 CUC.

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Apr 7, 2019 Reply

      Hi Alberto,

      The current USD to CUC exchange rate is USD $ 1 = CUC .87. Generally, the Cuban currency exchange rate is not likely to change often.

      That being said, it is true that there may be long lines at some of the official exchange offices (CADECA), which you can find at hotels, airports, some banks, and at the cruise terminal.

      I guess that in the end, you will have to consider whether it’s worth it to get less money and avoid the lines 🙂

      • posted by
        alberto
        Apr 7, 2019 Reply

        Thank you Digsan for the fast response… i guess I’m a little confused still (sorry for being so lame). Here is where i’m stuck….

        Exchange done in Cuba:
        1US = .87 CUC => minus 10% + 3% plus some other fees that are approx. 2% which equals an effective rate of .74 CUC / 1US

        – here are the two scenarios playing out in my mind 🙂

        Exchange with my travel agent:
        1US = .83 CUC => so my thinking i see that my agent is charging me .5 for every US dollar

        If I’m thinking correctly here (big if) then doing the exchange with my travel agent is still more cost affective? … not to mention that i don’t have to wait in any lines…

        Again sorry for my ignorance….

        • posted by
          Digsan
          Apr 7, 2019 Reply

          No worries, Alberto. Happy to help!
          The 0.87 CUC that you get for 1 USD is already discounting the 10% currency exchange fee + 3% bank fee. We haven’t heard of any other fee charged by the official currency exchange offices in Cuba. Does it help?

          • posted by
            alberto
            Apr 7, 2019

            Thank you Digsan! Now i understand 🙂

          • posted by
            Digsan
            Apr 7, 2019

            No problem. Enjoy your trip to Cuba, Alberto!

  5. posted by
    Marc
    Apr 11, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for these explications. I feel informed. This tips are very helpful.
    Greetings from Luxembourg/Europe

    my tips for people from the USA: change your dollars to euros

  6. posted by
    Annie
    Apr 27, 2019 Reply

    Hi
    I found this article very useful. May I please ask when I buy something in CUC will I get back pesos or in CUC? And what you recommend roughly how much pesos to exchange if staying in all inclusive for a week but for emails things like bus street food etc.

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Apr 29, 2019 Reply

      Hi Annie,
      When you pay in CUC you should get back CUC. However, at some places that “officially” sell in CUP (like small cafeterias for locals) the vendor may offer less value for the CUC and give you change in CUP. Typically, local vendors in CUP use an informal exchange rate of 1 CUC = 22-23 CUP (the official exchange rate is 1 CUC = 25 CUP). It is a small fee to pay if you will rarely use CUP. For example, if you pay in CUC for a hotdog that costs 10 CUP, you will get back about 12-13 CUP.
      It’s hard for me to say how much CUPs you should get, but it should be just a small amount, especially if you are staying in an all-inclusive hotel for a week. Also, as I mentioned above, keep in mind that you can pay in CUC and receive change in CUP in most places. I think that 100 CUP is more than enough for one person… but again, I just don’t know what is your schedule in Cuba 🙂

      • posted by
        KerrI
        May 7, 2019 Reply

        Hello, thank you for this very helpful travel advice!

        I am a little confused by this response:
        “Also, as I mentioned above, keep in mind that you can pay in CUC and receive change in CUP in most places.” 

        You mentioned in the article not to fall for the ‘scam’ of getting the change in CUP, instead of CUC – do you mean to say that I can expect to possibly get CUP as change “in most placeds”, HOWEVER, I would need to calculate the conversion rate of CUP to CUC to make sure the amount of CUP change is correct?

        • posted by
          Digsan
          May 7, 2019 Reply

          Hi Kerrl,
          The scam is more about receiving CUP instead of CUC when exchanging your foreign currency. That’s why I do not recommend to exchange money with street vendors, despite their better exchange rates. But if you do it, you should be able to differentiate between a CUP bill and a CUC bill 🙂

  7. posted by
    Stan
    Apr 29, 2019 Reply

    How do I get 1 cuc small notes for tipping, as it looks like a may be needing quite a few

    • posted by
      Digsan
      Apr 29, 2019 Reply

      Stan, wherever you can use CUC you will be able to get change in small notes 🙂

      • posted by
        Stan
        Apr 30, 2019 Reply

        Thanks digsan

  8. posted by
    Josè Magìn
    Apr 29, 2019 Reply

    Thank you. Your page was very informative and helpful in planning our trip.

  9. posted by
    Valerie
    May 1, 2019 Reply

    I am leaving for Cuba this coming Monday…May 6. We are traveling on a cruise ship. If I bring Canadian money do I still need to convert to Cuc’S ? Also how will I know with the current situation with Cuba and Venezuela if travel to Cuba will be stopped?
    We also were looking at a trip to the Tropicana for a night of intertainment ..the price per person is $199.00 ..do you feel that is worth doing ? We are only in port in Havana for an overnight….I would love to get to other small towns and the ocean ..I hear it’s beautiful. How would you travel outside the city? A cab ? The cars rides are very expensive to take for a. Tour…

    Thank You
    Valerie

    • posted by
      Digsan
      May 3, 2019 Reply

      Hi Valerie,
      I don’t believe that your trip to Cuba will be canceled due to the situation in Venezuela. Last time the US administration imposed travel restrictions to Cuba, it didn’t affect people who had already booked their trip.
      Regarding Tropicana, I don’t think that that price is accurate. Here is the official page where you can book the entrance tickets: https://www.cabaret-tropicana.com/en/book/category/espectaculo-cena/
      To be honest, it will be difficult to visit other cities in only 1 day. You still have to spend a whole day in Havana! Sometimes, cruisers prefer to spend little time in Havana and visit Viñales or Varadero, which are nearby cities. In this link, you can find some one-day excursions to Viñales from Havana: https://www.tourepublic.com/city/vinales/all_6892511.
      Hope it helps!

  10. posted by
    G Mc
    May 13, 2019 Reply

    Heading to Santa Maria in a week, 1st time there but 3rd to the island. Thanks for the refresher on Cuban currency and tipping. The picture distinguishing the 2 currencies is very helpful. My son in law is Portuguese and communicates very well in Spanish which has always endeared him to the locals, they certainly do appreciate the communication.

    • posted by
      Digsan
      May 13, 2019 Reply

      So exciting, Gary! Cayo Santa Maria is a wonderful place. Have a blast!

  11. posted by
    Steve
    May 17, 2019 Reply

    Is there another 13% tax/fee applied when you exchange the CUC back to USD before leaving?

  12. posted by
    Ashley
    Jul 26, 2019 Reply

    This information is extremely helpful. About to head to Cuba in two weeks. I’m really excited.
    I saw in the post they will exchange Mexican Pesos. Is there a big currency exchange fee if coming from Mexico?

    • posted by
      Tour Republic
      Jul 26, 2019 Reply

      Hi Ashley. The only currency that has an “extra” exchange fee is the US dollar. You will be fine with the Mexican Peso. I hope you have an amazing stay in Cuba!

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