Money is an issue if you are traveling to Cuba as an American. It takes a lot of planning and can be quite tricky. I will attempt to make this simple and easy to understand by breaking down everything you need to know about Cuban currency and using foreign credit cards in Cuba.
Are American Credit/Debit cards accepted in Cuba?
No. Let me repeat, if you are American – this is a little more complicated.
American credit and debit cards are not accepted in ANYWHERE in Cuba. Again, they are not accepted in ATMs, banks, hotels or restaurants. In fact, most restaurants are cash only no matter what.
If you are from elsewhere foreign Visa cards are more widely available. Even still, cash is king in Cuba.
Can you take out American Cash in Cuba?
No. ATM's and banks do not accept US debit cards.
Can you exchange US dollars in Cuba?
Yes. But there is a big but....
Cuban banks do accept US dollars as long as you bring them with you from the states. (Remember you can't take US currency out of an ATM or bank in Cuba). But, if you bring them with you Cuban banks will convert US dollars into CUP or CUC (more about the differences later). BUT they charge a HEFTY penalty (10-15%) for US dollars on top of the bad exchange rate.
Basically, it is possible but much more expensive to exchange US dollars compared to Euros, Canadian dollars, or other currency.
Don’t freak out. This just means you'll have to take out Euros (or pounds or Canadian dollars) before you leave for the US. It also means you'll have to budget and plan a little bit more. If you can take more cash with you than you think you need.
How to get Euros before you leave the US
Figure out your budget for the trip. Add up everything you could possibly spend in Cuba. What is the number? If you can, I suggest adding a couple hundred more. Remember, you CAN'T get more money once you are there. It will ease your mind to give yourself a small cushion just in case.
At least a week before you leave, call your bank and request to withdraw your full budget in cash in the foreign currency of your choice. We suggest Euros but you can also take Canadian Dollars or British Pounds. It took our bank two days to send the money to a local branch for pickup.
Pick up your cash and while you are packing separate your cash into different hiding places in your luggage. Cuba is very safe but you can never be too careful.
When you get off the plane immediately find a Casa de Cambio (Exchange) and exchange some of your Euros to Cuban dollars (CUC).
Even though exchanges in the airport typically give you the worst exchange rate and should be avoided at all costs you should exchange more than you think you need now. You don't have to exchange all of it though. You can exchange the rest at a bank or hotel as your trip continues.
Please remember: If you are arriving on a Saturday/Sunday - banks will be closed. At the airport, exchange more than you need to get you through the weekend.
All done! Guard your cash!
Getting Euros beforehand is a little more labor intensive but all in all not too hard.
Different types of Cuban Currency
CUP vs CUC
CUC (Cuban convertible peso or ‘Cuban dollar’) is attached to USD and is what tourists typically use. Hotels, restaurants, tourist shops, and street food will all take CUC.
CUP (Cuban national peso) is what locals use. 1 CUC = 24 CUP. Most places will charge you in CUC but if you see signs that say MN Only (Money National) you will need CUP instead. If you see a price that looks crazy high (aka a pineapple for 12) it’s most likely in CUP. Some street vendors will let you buy things using your CUC and then give you change in CUP. Again, if you don’t travel too far off the beaten path you will most likely only see CUC while in Cuba.
SUPER CRAZY IMPORTANT:
The two currencies in Cuba look very similar!!! Always make sure you are receiving the correct type of change – crime and scams are low in Cuba but it does happen.
What Bank Should You Use in Cuba
Every city has a Banco de Cuba branch. These usually have the best exchange rates. Cadeca is also in every town and is similar to a currency exchange kiosk. I've mentioned this before, but banks are closed on Sunday and the hours are short on Saturday.
More Cuba Money Tips
- Even if you do have a foreign (i.e. Non-American bank) card if the banks have American alliances you may not be able to withdrawal money once in Cuba. Call your bank and double check before you leave.
- Banks in Cuba have locked doors and usually only let one person in at a time.
What happens if you run out of cash in Cuba?
So the worst case scenario happens: You blow all your money 3 days in. Or you lose it. Or you get robbed. (Again, crime is low in Cuba - but it could happen) What do you do?
If you run out of money in Cuba you will have to have someone in the states wire money to you through Western Union. But, to contact someone back home you'll need to buy internet cards. That is kind of hard to do if you don’t have any cash. So guard your money. Keep your budget tight. And good luck!
Even though researching ahead of time is great, I definitely recommend bringing a guidebook along with you. Here are some books I recommend...
Also, a super common question I get asked constantly is what camera do I use for my travels. The body is a Nikon D3300 and I mostly use this wide angle lens made by Sigma. It's awesome for travel photography - I am seriously obsessed with it.