Cuban currency and Cuban money is unique, plus Cuba is a country where cash is king so it's good to understand how to use it. There are two currencies: the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) for locals and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) for foreigners. Here's a breakdown of everything you need to know about Cuban money, including credit cards in Cuba.
CUP - Cuban Peso Nacional
Cuban Peso Nacional (aka Moneda Nacional) is the national currency, used primarily by locals in Cuba. The exchange rate fluctuates, but is typically 25 CUP / 1 USD. Although foreigners aren't supposed to use it, this is not illegal. As a traveler you might use this for street food, colectivos, local peso restaurants, food or flea markets, ice cream stands or tipping.
Notes can be of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos. Coins can be of 1, 5 and 20 centavos, and there are others of 1 and 3 pesos.
CUC - Cuban Convertible Peso
Cuban Convertible Peso is the currency used in the tourism industry. The exchange rate for the CUC is pinned to the US Dollar, 1:1. Most restaurants, bars, museums, taxis, stores (including local department stores), souvenir markets, lodging and tourist transportation only take the CUC. 90% of travelers only exchange for CUC, and even if you plan on going to local food stands or using colectivos, everyone will accept CUC. You may just get change back in CUP. Many richer Cubans, usually those in the tourist industry, have access to CUC and use it frequently.
Notes can be of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 CUC.
Where to Exchange
- Airports - Beware that at the Havana Airport the lines to exchange money can be quite long.
- Cadecas or exchange houses in the city. Ask your casa particular owner or hotel front desk for the closest option. they may even offer to do it for you.
- BFI and Banco Metropolitano banks. Most other banks only deal with CUP.
- Major hotels, like the Hotel Nacional or Hotel Saratoga.
Good to Know
- All currencies have a 3% exchange fee.
- You can often use debit cards (non-US) to exchange money at Cadecas.
- US Dollars have an additional 10% tax on exchanging them. 100 USD will get you 87 CUC with the 10% tax and 3% fee. It may be practical to acquire another currency like Euros, Canadian Dollars, British Pounds, Mexican Pesos first, depending on the rates.
- You can exchange for CUP, but many airports won't allow it for foreigners. If they do, you'll need to exchange your currency into CUC first, then exchange some of that to CUP.
- If you acquire CUP and have some leftover upon departure, you can not exchange it back.
- Always count the amount of Cuban currency you receive. It should match the amount on the reciept that's handed to you, but it's common for the teller to 'miscount'.
- As an American you need to bring enough money to last for your entire trip, so budgeting properly is helpful. Paying for lodging via Airbnb or a hotel's website ahead of time is helpful in limiting the amount of cash you need. Food can range from $1 for street food to $15 per meal at a fancy restaurant.
- To save money, we'd recommend exchanging at most 5% of your money to CUP. You can only use this for local food options or colectivos. CUPs go a long way.
Credit Cards, Debit Cards and Traveler's Checks in Cuba
No credit card associated with an American bank can be used while in Cuba. The one exception to this are Mastercard debit and credit cards issued by Stonegate Bank in Florida. Note that Southgate debit cards were functional at Cuban ATMs, but are no longer allowed. Beware that some European banks have American parent holding companies which won't work. Contact your bank beforehand if you are not sure.
For all other credit cards, most hotels and high-end restaurants will accept credit cards. Otherwise all other transactions will be in cash, so budget appropriately.
Debit Cards and ATM Cards
All American debit cards will not be accepted at ATMs. The same goes for all Mastercard debit cards. Visa debit cards associated with a non-US bank are accepted at ATMs.
You can use non-US debit cards to exchange money at Cadecas, plus all BFI and Banco Metropolitano branches. You will be charged a 3% processing fee whenever you take out or exchange money.
Traveler's checks do work in Cuba, most reliably the ones from Thomas Cook and Visa, associated with non-US banks. You can use them at most banks, CADECA offices, hotels, and tourist related businesses and they charge commissions of around 3% and 4% on weekends for cashing traveler's checks.