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

You’ve landed in Cuba and now you’re ready to hail a famous vintage taxi to whisk you off to your room at the nearby casa particular. But all you have in your wallet is money from your home country and an American credit card, but… no Cuban currency and no idea on how tipping in Cuba works?

At this point, you probably have a lot of questions: What’s the deal with Cuba’s two currencies? Which Cuban currency should tourists use? Can you pay with a credit card or debit card? How tipping in Cuba works?

UPDATED: Are you a US citizen visiting Cuba soon? Check out our complete guide on how to travel to Cuba from the US.

NEW: For practical advice on saving money on your first trip to Cuba, read out the ultimate list of travel tips for Cuba.

In this article, we answer these questions and more. Before going on a trip to Cuba, you’ll want to know how to convert your currency and spend money on the island.

1. What is the Currency in Cuba: the Dual System

How to Travel to Cuba - Cuban Currency

The basics

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 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. Exchanging Money in Cuba


You can’t buy the Cuban currency in advance

Prepared travelers often like to exchange currency in advance so they have spendable money in their pockets as soon as they arrive in the country. Keep in mind that you can’t do this for Cuba.

Cuban money is not available for exchange outside of Cuba, so you’ll have to stop by a currency exchange office once you arrive (and don’t forget to exchange your extra Cuban currency before you leave!).

Each major airport has a currency exchange office, so that should be the first place you stop after getting off the plane.

Where to exchange money in Cuba

When you arrive in Cuba, you’ll have to change your foreign currency into Cuba money. So where should you go to get Cuban money?

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

Aside from official currency exchanges, there are a few unofficial ways as well. In a pinch, there are other options that may be more convenient if the CADECA is closed or too far away to easily travel to.

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.

Another option is working with the owner of the casa particular you’re staying in (this obviously doesn’t apply if you’re staying in a resort!). Many hosts are willing to help their guests exchange money at a better rate than what you would get from a CADECA.

Although you may save money using unofficial means, it comes with a risk. Tourists often fall victim to scams like receiving CUP (the lower value currency) instead of CUC or getting fraudulent bills.

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

Currency scams are common in Cuba, and tourists are typically the victims. The currency scam can go one of two ways.

The first scam is when you receive forged currency in exchange for your (legitimate) money. You’re only at risk of getting forged money if you make an unofficial currency exchange. This is not a risk for exchanges made at CADECA offices.

The second scam to watch out for is the “wrong change” scam. In the second scenario, a sketchy merchant might give you back the “correct” amount of change but in the lower value of the two currencies and hope you don’t notice (remember: 1 CUC = 1 USD, but it takes about 24 CUP to add up to 1 CUC).

You could lose a lot of money this way!

Avoid pickpockets

Although Cuba is one of the safest destinations for tourists in the Caribbean and Central America, there is still some criminal activity on the island, like pickpocketing.

You’re especially prone to pickpocketing in large cities like Havana or at popular tourist destinations where thieves are prowling for easy targets.

Here are a couple tips on how to avoid becoming a pickpocket’s next victim:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings and the people around you. Pickpocketing is most likely to happen in crowded public areas during broad daylight.
  • If you normally carry your wallet in a back-pocket, move it to a front pocket. Pickpockets will go after your back pocket because it’s an easy target.
  • Be careful with purses and backpacks. Keep your wallet and valuables zippered up in an inner pocket and carry the bag in front of you instead of on your back.
  • Never carry all of your cash on you. If you get robbed once, it’s all gone.

The best way to protect your money and small valuables while walking the streets of Cuba is with a travel money belt like this one from Peak Gear.

The belt is designed to be subtle enough that you could wear it under your shirt or jacket so it would be very obvious if a thief went after it. It’s also lightweight and comfortable enough to wear on all your sightseeing adventures.

Learn more about safety tips for traveling to Cuba here.

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

Currency to bring to Cuba

Foreign currencies accepted in Cuba

Since you can’t get Cuban currency anywhere in the world except Cuba, your best option is to know 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.

You can 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.

The best currencies to bring to 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.

4. Debit and Credit Cards in Cuba


Do they work in Cuba?

In most cases, yes. Unless they were issued by a U.S. bank or a subsidiary of a U.S. bank. We know, this is a big deal for US travelers.

For the time being, cards issued by American banks cannot be used in Cuba. As the diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba continue to thaw, that might change, but both countries’ governments and American financial institutions need to jump on board first.

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

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: When and Where

When and where to use the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)?

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.

When and where to use the Cuban Peso (CUP)?

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

You can’t export Cuban currency

Keep in mind that you can’t export Cuban money. This is especially important at the very beginning and very end of your trip.

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!

6. Tipping in Cuba

Tipping in Cuba is expected and encouraged. Workers rely on tips to supplement their incomes and support their families.

Tips are also a great way to show your appreciation for a job well done! While tipping in Cuba is the norm, there is a certain etiquette you should follow regarding who to tip and how much to tip them.

Cuban Currency - Cuban Convertible Pesos

When and where?

Common places to tip workers include hotels, resorts, restaurants, taxis, spas, and guided tours.

Anytime someone renders a service for you, like serving your food, cleaning your room, or even bringing you towels on the beach, you should offer a tip to that person. The amount you tip them typically depends on the service rendered.

Take a look at the section below for some specifics.

Who you should tip in Cuba?

Restaurants: 10% gratuity is standard. Keep in mind that some restaurants in Cuba automatically add 5% gratuity to your bill. There’s no limit on how much you can leave, so if the service was awesome, say “thanks” by leaving a little extra!

Hotels: Maids should be tipped 1 CUC/night for each night of your stay. For porters, tip at least 1 CUC/person at check-in and again at check-out.

Taxi drivers: 1 CUC/person for a short trip around town.

Tour guides: Depends on what kind of tour you sign up for. For a guided bus tour, 2 to 3 CUC/person should suffice. For a more involved tour like snorkeling or sailing, you should tip 3 to 5 CUC/person per day.

Musicians: If you stop to listen to a musician, consider leaving a tip of .5 to 1 CUC/person. Especially if you request a song!

PRO TIP: Never tip in CUP since it won’t be well regarded by the hosts.

In addition to tipping in Cuba as a token of your gratitude, Cubans also love when tourists speak Spanish with them. Even a few basic phrases will go a long way toward bringing a smile to a local’s face!

If you’re still new to the Spanish language or a little rusty since your last Spanish class, bring a handy guidebook with you like Cuban Spanish 101: Bilingual Dictionary and Phrasebook for Spanish Learners and Travelers to Cuba.

If you are planning your budget, tipping in Cuba is definitely not the only cost to consider. Read our backpacking Cuba guide to understanding all the costs involved in a trip to Cuba.

It’s a Wrap

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? Have you used the Cuban currency before? Or are you planning your first trip and reading up and what to expect when you get there?

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.


  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
      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!

  2. posted by
    Feb 28, 2019 Reply

    Thank you for the tips, very helpful !

    • posted by
      Mar 11, 2019 Reply

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

  3. posted by
    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
      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
          Apr 4, 2019 Reply

          Hope you have a wonderful experience in Cuba!

  4. posted by
    Apr 7, 2019 Reply


    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
      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
        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
          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
            Apr 7, 2019

            Thank you Digsan! Now i understand 🙂

          • posted by
            Apr 7, 2019

            No problem. Enjoy your trip to Cuba, Alberto!

  5. posted by
    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
    Apr 27, 2019 Reply

    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
      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
        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
          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
    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
      Apr 29, 2019 Reply

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

      • posted by
        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
    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 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

    • posted by
      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:
      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:
      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
      May 13, 2019 Reply

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

  11. posted by
    May 17, 2019 Reply

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

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