Although Cuba has been off-limits to Americans for over five decades, Cuba’s improving relations with the U.S. makes it an easier destination to visit now. With affordable flights departing from the U.S., Cuba is one of the hottest travel destinations in the world and you can easily fill a 10 day Cuba itinerary. In fact, in 2016, Cuba was the top trending destination to search for on Kayak. And although many of my friends are rushing to visit before it “changes forever”, I’ve only started thinking about visiting Cuba recently. But as I plan my trip with tour operators like Cuba Holidays, I’ve realized that I have a lot of Cuba money questions.
What currency should I use in Cuba? Can I use the US Dollar in Cuba? And more importantly, what’s the exchange rate?
I’ll be the first to admit that the Cuba money situation is complex. So for starters, here are the important financial things that you should know about Cuba before you go.
Krity’s Cuba guide is also extremely insightful. It shares tips on the best times to travel, where to go and how much things cost. Also if you rather book a casa particular, an accommodation similar to a homestay or bed and breakfast, this in-depth booking guide walks you through how to book a casa particular in Cuba.
Your Cuba Money Questions Answered
Currency in Cuba
1. What currency do Cubans use?
Cuba has two official currencies: the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) and the Cuban peso (CUP).
Although Cubans refer to both currencies as “pesos”, they are different.
Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)
Tourists and foreign visitors use the CUC.
Nicknamed “chavito”, the CUC is on par with the US Dollar. As the ratio suggests, a stronger US Dollar implies a stronger CUC. Although in theory, this is a 1:1 ratio, you’ll have to read on to find out how the embargo makes this inaccurate.
$1 USD = 1 CUC$
Where to use CUC:
- Hotels and resorts
- Bus fares
Money Tip: When quoted a price, always confirm if it is in Cuban pesos or Cuban convertible. Also, if you pay in Cuban convertible, check your change. You should always get back CUC, not CUP.
Okay…still with me? Great, time for the second currency.
Cuban Peso (CUP)
Referred to as “moneda nacional”, locals use the Cuban peso (CUP). The Cuban peso is worth a lot less than the Cuban convertible peso.
1 CUC$ = 25 CUP$
25 CUP$ = $1 USD
Money Tip: The Cuban peso is not exclusive to locals. Visitors can also use the national peso.
Where to use CUP:
- Food stalls and food markets
- Ice cream shops and cafes
- Communal taxis
- Local shops
- Inter-city buses
2. Can you exchange Cuban currency at home?
Since Cuban currency is not available in foreign markets, you cannot buy Cuban currency before you arrive.
You can only purchase Cuban currency on the island.
3. Where to exchange currency in Cuba?
Exchange your currency for Cuba money at the airport. You can also go to CADECAs (change bureaus or casa de cambios). The Cuban BFI Bank is another reliable alternative.
Exchange rates at government operated change bureaus and banks are generally the same. The exchange fee is 3%.
Remember, you will need your passport to exchange money in Cuba.
Expect less favorable rates at the hotel and resort front desks. These rates are not regulated by the government.
4. What’s the best currency to bring to Cuba?
Euros, British Pounds, and Canadian Dollars are the most common currencies to exchange in Cuba. Rates for Mexican Pesos, the Danish Krone, and Japanese Yen are also favorable.
Avoid using the US Dollar.
Effects Of U.S. Embargo
When converting US Dollars to pesos, there is a 10% special additional tax/commission – this is the embargo at work here. This tax only applies to US currency. It does not apply to other currency.
If you are exchanging US Dollars, the exchange rate fee will be 13% (10% special additional tax + 3% exchange fee).
So for example, if you walk into a change bureau with $100 USD, you will walk out with 87 CUC$.
Money Tip: Avoid this unnecessary loss in value by changing your US Dollars into another currency at your local bank. Once you get to Cuba, exchange your Euros or Canadian Dollars for Cuban cash.
Cash is king in Cuba.
Major hotels and restaurants may accept credit cards. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to pay for goods and services with a credit card.
In summary, do not rely on credit or debit cards.
5. Are ATMs accessible?
Although ATMs are gradually popping up in Cuba, most ATMs do not accept foreign debit or credit cards. So bring all of your cash with you to Cuba. And don’t forget your emergency stash too!
Since you won’t have access to U.S. banks, carefully plan your Cuba budget.
Tipping & Taxes
6. How much to tip in Cuba?
Tipping can go a long way in Cuba. On a global scale, the hourly rate for service industry workers in Cuba is considered low income.
Rule of thumb, at restaurants, tip at least 5-10%. But check your bill carefully, some establishments may include a 10% gratuity. For outstanding service, feel free to add another 5%.
Who To Tip:
- Resorts and hotel staff
- Tour guides
- Toilet assistants
In regards to taxes, the Cuban government requires departing travelers to pay a tax of 25 CUC$. As for sales tax, the standard sales tax rate is 20%.
Have you been to Cuba? Share a Cuba money tip!
Danielle is a travel finance strategist, writer, speaker and podcaster. She paid off $63,000 of student loan debt in 4 years, bought a house at 27 and has traveled to 25 countries. She refuses to let her financial responsibilities hold her back from living life on her own terms.