Exchanging Money in Cuba
Exchanging money in Cuba and the country’s currency system can be a complex matter and difficult to navigate. The Cuban government is notorious for making monetary and economic reforms at random and with little notice. This blog will introduce you to the basics of Cuba’s currency and of exchanging money plus tips to help you understand Cuba’s currency system.
What is the currency in Cuba?
Before finding out how to exchange money in Cuba, it’s important to know a bit about Cuba’s currency system. Cuba’s official currency is the Cuban peso (CUP). The moneda libremente convertible (MLC*) is also in use in certain places. The Cuban peso is a closed currency so you can’t buy, sell or trade it outside of Cuba. This means that you won’t be able to legally exchange other currencies for pesos before your trip; you can only do so in Cuba.
Official exchange rates are determined by the Cuban government and are subject to change at any moment without notice. You can see the government’s recent exchange rates on CADECA’S WEBSITE. This website may not be updated regularly or have the most current rates.
The Cuban convertible peso (CUC) is no longer in circulation in Cuba!
*MLC stands for moneda libremente convertible. It is a term created by the Cuban government for foreign currencies, usually US dollars and euros.
Which currency should I bring to Cuba?
Simply put, we recommended that US travelers bring US dollars (USD) for purchases and spending in Cuba.
Cuba is experiencing one of its worst bouts of inflation so prices in CUP are extremely elevated, but USD are accepted at many private food and beverage establishments. These are the only types of places we dine at on our 9-day trip.
At the official government exchange houses, 1 USD is approximately 110 CUP.
When paying in US dollars, you will often receive change in CUP. You can use this to tip your server, bartender, etc. Be sure to ask at every place you visit what their USD to CUP exchange rate is. 1 USD is valued at varying amounts of CUP at private restaurants, bars, and cafes. For more information about what to tip, check out our blog about Tipping in Cuba!
If you are from another country, it is probably more feasible for you to bring euros (EUR), Great British pounds (GBP), or Canadian dollars (CAD). We do not advise travelers on which currency to bring. It’s best to look around and find out exchange rates and fees locally in order to decide which currency is best for you.
PRO TIP: When bringing US dollars, it’s best to bring smaller bills of 20s, 10s, and 5s for purchases (i.e. meals, drinks, tips). Avoid bringing too many bills above 50.
How can I exchange money in Cuba?
The most common place to exchange money in Cuba is the CADECA, the official government currency exchange office. You will see these offices at the Havana airport as well as in major cities and tourist destinations. The official exchange rates are set by the government and do not really vary too much from office to office.
As of June 23, 2023, 1 USD = 110 CUP. This includes the 8% conversion fee that CADECA charges. All other currencies have a 2% conversion fee.
Many hotels will often exchange money, but it is not recommended to exchange there because of the inflated exchange fees they charge.
There are many unofficial money exchangers on the street, but we do not advise our travelers on how to do this. If you choose to exchange money in Cuba in this way, it is at your discretion and own risk!
At the end of your trip, you can usually exchange your remaining CUP back to an available foreign currency at the airport. CADECA in the city may exchange CUP back for foreign currency for you depending on availability. You can also try to spend the rest of your CUP. Keep in mind that CADECA in the city or at the airport may impose a $100 – $300 USD limit when exchanging back from CUP.
Note that only euros and Canadian dollars are accepted after security at the Havana airport. USD will not be accepted.
PRO TIP: As most taxis at the airport will accept USD, we recommend that all travelers on our 9-day trip wait to exchange money in Cuba until you meet with the guide on the evening of Day 1 of the trip. He will offer guidance on exchanging money at the first meeting when you arrive.
Can I use my debit/credit card in Cuba?
In short, you cannot use a debit or credit card in Cuba as a US traveler and you should not rely on any card as a main method of payment. No US debit or credit card will work in Cuba so basically: No, you cannot use your debit/credit card in Cuba.
Many cards issued from non-US banks may work in Cuba, but the common issues with cards are twofold: 1.) Card readers don’t always function properly because they’re outdated or they experience connectivity problems; 2.) ATMs are known to break down or run out of cash when withdrawing Cuban pesos. Remember that some cards from banks in other countries are affiliated with US banks so they may not work either.
It’s best to be prepared to deal in cash only during your travels to Cuba. We never recommend relying on a card as a main method of payment for the above-mentioned reasons.
PRO TIP: You may be advised to get an MLC debit card on arrival in Cuba. We do not recommend getting this card. It is offered by the Cuban government and works primarily at state-run businesses which we do not patronize on our trips. Most private restaurants, bars, casa particulares, etc. do not have card readers and will not accept payment by any type of card.
How much money will I need for my Cuba trip?
For travelers on our 9-day trip, we recommend bringing 600 – 900 USD in cash based on past travelers’ feedback for the few lunches & dinners that are not included as well as tips, souvenirs, and any other optional activities that you wish to participate in. This will vary depending on your spending habits and travel style. We strongly advise bringing more money than you expect to spend in case of an emergency!
Many travelers have told us that they found Cuba to be much more expensive than other developing countries. Be prepared to pay as much for food and beverages as you might in a ‘developed’ Western country.
Below are some approximate prices for food, drink, souvenirs, etc. to help you budget for your trip:
• Meal at a nice, sit-down restaurant: 20 – 30+ USD
• Cocktail: 5 – 10 USD
• Can of beer: 2 – 3 USD
• Wifi (1-hour card): 1 USD
*These are only approximate prices and the cost of items may vary depending on location and your personal preferences.
You can read up on tipping by checking out our Tipping in Cuba blog!
Cuba’s currency exchange and monetary system are ever-changing and quite complex at times. By knowing what to expect beforehand, you’ll have a great trip that you’ll never forget. Remember that on our Globe Drifters 9-day trip, your guide will be there to help point you in the right direction. Happy travels!