Money and Currency in Cuba

Money in Cuba

Understanding the way money and currency work in Cuba is particularly important because of the almost unique way in which the island is isolated from many of the world’s standard financial institutions. Not only that, but Cuba’s government has created a system that uses two different currencies, as we will show, alongside additional top money and currency tips for those heading to Cuba!

Cuba’s dual currencies and economy

There is not one, but two Cuban currencies. The first is the Cuban Convertible Peso, which has the short code CUC. It is the main currency used by tourists to the island. It has an exchange rate intended to be 1:1 with the US dollar, although bank charges will mean in reality the CUC is worth just slightly less. These charges are fixed by the government in Havana, and currently set at 3%, whether seeking to exchange foreign currency, cash in travellers’ cheques, or withdraw cash from an ATM with an international bank card. It’s worth noting that there is an additional extra fee of 10% on exchanging US dollars to CUC, largely as a response to the current financial embargo the U.S. enforced over Cuba. As a result, we recommend avoiding the use of US dollars in Cuba. Euros, British Pounds Sterling, and Canadian dollars are all easily exchanged.

Cuban pesos

The second currency you might come across on the island is the Cuban Peso, short code CUP. It is also widely known as moneda nacional, with price-tags labelled MN. It is intended for use by resident Cubans buying everyday items from government ration stores. The two currencies are not meant to be interchangeable, although it is sometimes possible to purchase items priced in MN with CUC in private businesses (but not government stores). The MN is valued at about 20 CUP to the CUC (and therefore dollar). Confusingly, both currencies are colloquially called the peso, though as a tourist it can be assumed the price is in CUC rather than CUP. If you do see the MN, it will likely be when a cashier is short of CUCs to give you as change. Should you wish to, CADECA offices (but not all of them) will convert CUC to MN for you, though you will find the latter of limited use as a visitor. The same item can have two different prices – one in MN and the other in CUC, with the price in CUC much higher than the first. Unfortunately, for the time being, there is no real away around this!

Exchanging foreign currency

Cuban pesos cannot be obtained abroad, so you will have to obtain some on arrival into the country. The main international currencies – Euros, Pounds Sterling, and Canadian dollars in particular – can be exchanged at most banks in the country, and at CADECA offices. These are official foreign exchange centres run by the government. Exchange rates are very similar throughout the country, including at Havana’s international airport, where there is a useful desk. Take note of the airport’s CADECA location, as you will need to exchange any leftover CUC into foreign currency on leaving the country. It is illegal to export CUCs, and any found on your person or in your luggage on passing through airport security can be confiscated without compensation. CADECA offices are also able to cash travellers’ cheques, and provide cash advances on credit and debit cards.

Here is the list of foreign currencies that are currently accepted for exchange in Cuba.

British Pound – GBP

Canadian Dollar – CAD

Swiss Franc – CHF

Japanese Yen – JPY

USA Dollar – USD

Mexican Peso – MXP

Danish Krone – DKK

Norway Krone – NOK

Sweden Krona – SEK

Euro – EUR

These currencies should be able to be exchanged at most banks in Cuba, but CADECA’s
might only accept some of them.

ATMs in Cuba

Havana’s international airport also has an ATM, should you rather withdraw cash on a card rather than exchange currency. ATMs can now be found in most destinations across the country, with some exceptions. The best types of card to bring to Cuba are those linked to the Visa and Mastercard networks. Credit cand Debit Cards can be used to withdraw funds from an ATM, providing you have a PIN loaded. Any card aligned to a US banking institution is unlikely to work in Cuba due to the US trade embargo that is still in place. It is also known that several bank cards outside of the U.S. (Travelex, Westpac, St George, Citibank, 28 Degrees) fail to work in Cuba, so it’s best to specifically check with your bank before leaving home. To complicate matters further, some pre-paid rechargeable travel cards or currency cards do seem to function, even when obtained through these same banks. So again, it’s best to be absolutely sure before arrival. If you card does not work in an ATM in Cuba, you still might be able to withdraw funds when visiting a CADECA or bank.

Using credit and debit cards

While it is useful to bring a couple of different credit and debit cards with you to Cuba as a way of withdrawing cash from ATMs, do not expect to be able to use your cards as a direct method of payment. Few but the largest businesses have card payment facilities. Also remember that should your account be with a US or US-affiliated bank, it won’t work in any case.

Using credit and debit cards

While it is useful to bring a couple of different credit and debit cards with you to Cuba as a way of withdrawing cash from ATMs, do not expect to be able to use your cards as a direct method of payment. Few but the largest businesses have card payment facilities. Also remember that should your account be with a US or US-affiliated bank, it won’t work in any case.

Our final tips for money and currency in Cuba

Financial rules relating to Cuba can change without warning. We recommend double checking the travel advise from government agencies in addition to specifically checking with your bank whether credit and debit cards will function in Cuba. Even if you are assured that cards will function, avoid relying on a single card, but bring along cards from different banks whenever possible, alongside foreign currency. We also recommend that you bring more cash than you think you will need. Cuba is more expensive than most people think, and you don’t want your trip to be compromised because you don’t have enough funds.

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