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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!