As a first-time traveler to Cuba, you probably have many questions about the Cuban currency: What’s the official Cuban currency? Can you use US dollars in Cuba? 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.
Right off the bat, we can tell you that the Cuban currency system is super complicated to deal with as a traveler. But don’t panic. We will cover absolutely everything you need to know about using money in Cuba.
- What is the Currency of Cuba?
- What Cuban Currency to Use as a Visitor?
- Can You Use the US Dollar in Cuba?
- What is the Best Currency to Bring to Cuba?
- Where Can You Get Cuban Currency?
- The Cuban Currency Exchange Rate
- Avoid Currency Scams
- Can You Use Credit Cards in Cuba?
- Prepaid Cards in Cuba
- 10. ATMs in Cuba
- Using CUPs at Airports in Cuba
- Key Takeaways
1. What is the Currency of Cuba?
The official currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso (CUP). However, Cuban residents can also use a digital currency called “Moneda Libremente Convertible” (MLC) at the so-called “dollar stores” (“tiendas MLC”).
As a visitor, you will primarily use the CUP.
The Cuban Peso (CUP)
The Cuban Peso is locally known as “Peso Cubano”, “moneda nacional” or simply “MN”. It is used by both residents and visitors alike.
The CUP is available in bills of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, 100, 200, 500, and 1000. It would help if you always had the lower denomination CUP bills at hand to cover small expenses such as street food, bus fare, flea market finds.
Because of the current inflation crisis in Cuba, expect to carry a ton of cash with you. But 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.
Moneda Libremente Convertible (MLC)
MLCs can be expressed in any foreign currency accepted in Cuba, and they can even include the Cuban Peso.
We know, it’s complicated.
But all you need to know is that MLCs are mostly reserved for Cuban residents. As a traveler, you won’t likely need it. You can still get a pre-paid MLC card (we talk about it below), but we see little use to it for you as a traveler.
The (Eliminated) Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
Beware that you can no longer use the CUC in Cuba, contrary to what many outdated articles say on the Internet. The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) was one of Cuba’s two official currencies, most frequently used by visitors.
This is because Cuba eliminated the dual currency system on January 1st, 2021, when the Cuban Peso (CUP) became the only official currency in Cuba.
2. What Cuban Currency to Use as a Visitor?
You must use CUPs to cover most of your trip to Cuba costs. Most states and private facilities, and tourist attractions will accept CUP.
There are a few exceptions, though. Please, read carefully below and avoid unwelcome surprises:
- All-inclusive hotels and some resorts won’t accept cash in Cuban Pesos. For example, non-covered services or products in all-inclusive resorts are charged in Cuban Pesos, but you can only pay with a credit card! They will exchange your home currency for Cuban Pesos at the official exchange rate while completing the transaction.
- When renting a car, you must pay in foreign currency at car rental offices in Cuba and you can’t pay in cash!
- When leaving the country, you must use your home currency past the security check at airports.
You can also use foreign currency in these scenarios:
- When tipping in Cuba, but keep in mind that the people you tip will later need to exchange the foreign currency for Cuban Pesos.
- Because the informal exchange rate has nearly quadrupled the official exchange rate, some private facilities, such as “hostales” (private rooms) and “paladares” (private restaurants) will welcome your Euros, Pounds, or even US dollars.
3. Can You Use the US Dollar in Cuba?
As a traveler, you cannot use US dollars in Cuba at any government-owned facility. Even the currency exchange offices in airports are no longer exchanging US dollars for CUPs. You can’t use credit or debit cards issued by US banks either.
However, due to the new wave of Cubans leaving the island, the price of the US dollar in the informal market has skyrocketed. You can sell one US dollar in the informal market for as much as 100 CUPs, which is four times the official USD-to-CUP exchange rate (1 USD = 25 CUPs).
For that reason, lately, many travelers are bringing US dollars to Cuba and selling them in the informal market through hosts and friends.
If you still want to come with USDs, just keep in mind that your money will be pretty much useless at any state-owned facility (airports, car rental offices, etc.).
That’s why, if you are traveling to Cuba from the US, we still recommend exchanging your US dollars for Euros before landing in Cuban territory.
4. What is the Best Currency to Bring to Cuba?
The Euro is the best currency to bring to Cuba. The Euro has the second-highest official conversion value, but you can sell it in the informal market for four times the official exchange rate.
For example, 1 EUR sells for about 26 CUPs at the government’s currency exchange offices, while people pay between 110 to 120 CUPs on the street.
With that said, we can’t recommend selling your Euros in the informal market because of the risk of currency scams. Currency scams in Cuba are rare, but they can happen. However, if you really trust your host or Cuban friends, ask them to exchange your Euros at a better rate in the informal market. You can get a ton of Cuban Pesos this way!
You can also exchange the following foreign currencies in Cuba:
- Canadian Dollar (CAD)
- Swiss Franc (CHF)
- Euro (EUR)
- Pound Sterling (GBP)
- Japanese Yen (JPY)
- Mexican Peso (MXN)
5. Where Can You Get Cuban Currency?
You can get Cuban Pesos from CADECA, hotels, banks, hosts and friends, online marketplaces like Revolico, and street vendors. You can’t get Cuban currency in your home country.
Banks, Hotels, and CADECA (Safest, Lowest Value)
CADECA is the government’s currency exchange house. CADECA offices are located in airports, cruise ports, and shopping centers.
CADECA is the safest place to sell your home currency, but it offers less value for your money.
Keep in mind that, as part of the travel restrictions enforced by the Cuban Government to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 epidemic, CADECA offices may experience limited capacity and reduced hours.
Travelers can also exchange Cuban currency at some banks, and hotels.
Hosts and Friends (Good Value, Still Risky)
If you truly trust your friends or host, ask them to sell your home currency for you in the informal market. You won’t get the total value for it, but you will be better off.
Don’t forget to give them a good tip for the favor!
Revolico (Best Value, Very Risky)
You can post an ad on popular Cuban online marketplaces such as Revolico. Thousands of users are selling and buying foreign currencies, and you can get a good price for your home currency.
Still, this process is risky and requires a good knowledge of how online Cuban marketplaces work. Besides, it’s not like you can just sell the currency online. Someone still needs to go where you are and exchange the money.
Street Vendors (Good Value, Very Risky)
You can often stumble upon “opportunities” to sell your currency outside CADECA offices and local shops. Often, people roaming around will pitch you attractive offers.
The risk of being scammed is higher this way, though. We always advise against exchanging your money on the street.
Can You Get Cuban Currency in Your Home Country?
You can’t buy Cuban Pesos in your home country. Even if you manage to do it, you can only import up to 5,000 CUP, according to a recent resolution from the Aduana General de la República de Cuba (customs).
6. The Cuban Currency Exchange Rate
As we mentioned earlier, there are two exchange rates in Cuba: the official exchange rate at CADECA, banks, and hotels; and the unofficial exchange rate in the informal market.
The Official Exchange Rate
At each CADECA office, you will notice a TV screen displaying the daily exchange rates, like this:
Please, keep in mind the above table may be outdated. Consult CADECA’s website to check the current exchange rates. The column Compra/Buy indicates the exchange rate at which CADECA buys the currency. In contrast, the Venta/Sell column shows the exchange rate they sell the currency.
Whatever currency you want to sell to CADECA, you will need to multiply the amount of money you want to exchange by the exchange rate listed on the Compra/Buy column.
For example, if you want to exchange 100 CAD to CUP, the math is 100*18.3451 ≈ 1,835.5. Yeah, that’s right, you will get around 18.35 CUP for 1 CAD… exactly how it says in the table.
You should also know that the Cuban currency exchange rate may be slightly more expensive at CADECA offices in hotels, ports, and airports. The exchange rates are also updated twice a week.
The Informal Exchange Rate
Due to the recent spike of Cuban migrants, the price of foreign currencies in the black market is nearly four times that of CADECA, banks, and hotels.
El Toque has been tracking the evolution of the unofficial exchange rates for some time now, and it does not seem that the upward trend is going to end anytime soon:
You may be tempted to buy Cuban Pesos in the informal market with these unbelievable prices. But beware of currency scams!
7. Avoid Currency Scams
Although Cuba is a relatively safe country, currency scams can happen, 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 CUC, which was eliminated, instead of CUP.
You could lose a lot of money this way!
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 CUP bills have faces. If you expect to receive CUP in a transaction and don’t see a face on the bill, you will be getting CUC instead! The CUC bill also says “pesos convertibles” right at the center.
8. Can You Use Credit Cards in Cuba?
In most cases, yes. Unless they were issued by a US bank or a subsidiary of a US bank.
However, one of the most important travel tips for Cuba that must know is that Cuba is primarily a cash country. So, plan on paying for most of your expenses with hard currency!
9. Prepaid MLC Cards for Travelers
On June 15, 2021, the Cuban Government launched prepaid MLC cards exclusively available to foreign visitors. BANDEC (a Cuban bank) issues these cards, and you can use them to pay for goods and services at facilities that accept MLC, such as retail stores, car rental offices, some hotels, and state-operated restaurants.
Here are the main facts you must know about using prepaid MLC cards in Cuba:
- You can only pay in MLC and they are valid for two years.
- You can buy prepaid cards in CADECA and BANDEC offices. You will need your passport to acquire a prepaid card.
- There is a 5 USD processing fee, and you cannot pay for it in USD (lol).
- To make things even more complicated, the prepaid cards are printed with denominations in US dollars (!) in the amount of 200 USD, 500 USD, and 1,000 USD.
- You can reload the prepaid cards any time you need.
- You can’t load the card from any other country.
- The card won’t display your name on it.
- You will need to set up a PIN.
- You cannot transfer money to prepaid cards from other cards or bank accounts.
- You can withdraw money, but only in CUP.
- The bank wouldn’t replace your card if you lost it.
- If you have leftover money at the end of your trip, CADECA will refund the money in Cuban Pesos.
Learn more about prepaid MLC cards in Cuba in the list of FAQs from the Government’s tourist portal.
10. 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 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 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).
11. Using CUPs at Airports in Cuba
As of May 21, 2021, CADECA offices will no longer offer currency exchange services in Cuban airports. Due to the low influx of tourism amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the company lacks enough funds to sell foreign currencies. This may be a temporary measure; we will keep you updated.
Although you can use CUPs in facilities at Cuba airports, we recommend you exchange your leftover Cuban pesos before checking in at the airport because:
- The long lines at the airport’s CADECA office will make you cringe.
- Some travelers have reported that CADECA offices at airports won’t exchange certain amounts of CUPs because they might not have the equivalent amount of your home currency available.
- You cannot use CUPs past the security checkpoint.
- You are not allowed to export more than 5,000 CUP anyway. Airport authorities will likely confiscate any amount over that limit.
Perhaps, you will want to keep 25-50 CUP to buy the NAUTA card to get Cuban WiFi at the airport.
You can use foreign currency only after passing through the security checkpoint, but here are some other crazy facts that you should know:
- You will get change in Cuban Pesos.
- Many attendants won’t take coins (!). (They said that Cuban banks might have an issue with it when depositing the coins later).
- Some travelers have reported that the airport facilities won’t take bills with tears or writing on them.
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:
- You must use Cuban Pesos for most of your expenses in Cuba.
- Although you can get a prepaid MLC card, it’s unlikely that you will really need it. MLC are mostly reserved for Cuban residents.
- You cannot use CUC either because it was eliminated in 2021.
- You can use your home currency only when paying for a rental car, tipping, and past the security checkpoint at airports when departing.
- US dollars in Cuba are useless unless you manage to sell them in the informal market.
- The best currency to bring to Cuba is the Euro because it has a high official and unofficial conversion value.
- Selling your home currency in the informal market can get you a ton of Cuban Pesos, but it’s quite risky because you may be scammed.
- You cannot buy Cuban Pesos in your home country.
- You can use non-US credit cards and ATMs in Cuba, but the infrastructure is scattered and old.
- Exchange your leftover Cuban Pesos before going to the airport. It will be hard to sell them once you are there, and you can’t use them past the security checkpoint.
So, what do you think? Let us know in the comments!