Cuban Money Tips
- Cash is used in 99% of commerce in Cuba. There are a few ATM machines in Havana (for tourist use) but they are unreliable and you sometimes have to wait in line to show identification before using the machines. If your credit cards are at a US based bank, then they will not work. If the credit cards are at a Canadian or European based bank, then they might work.
- Some hotels will accept non-USA based credit cards for bookings at the front desk, but even this is not common. For restaurants or regular shopping, no credit cards can be used.
- From a financial perspective, it is best to bring Euros or Canadian dollars, rather than American dollars. Both Euros and Canadian dollars can be exchanged in Cuba. Several other currencies can be exchanged too (see full list here). The euros and Canadian dollars have the most favorable rates in Cuba. There is a 2.5% exchange fee. This is the difference between the spot rate and the rate at which you can buy or sell the currency (compra or venta rates)
Using American Dollars in Cuba
- With American dollars, you pay the standard exchange fee (2.5%), and in addition, you lose 10% extra (government penalty). So you lose 12.5% automatically. So, even though the Cuban dollar and American dollar are at par (1 for 1 exchange), when you actually go to exchange 1 American dollar into Cuban CUC, you will only receive about 87.50 cents.
- Some people still bring American dollars for the convenience. It saves them a trip of going to a bank in the USA and getting Euros or Canadian dollars. If you are not planning on spending much money in Cuba then it won’t make a huge difference. But, fundamentally, you lose considerably more, percentage-wise, by exchanging American dollars in Cuba.
- American dollars are not acceptable as currency in Cuba. You can’t just go to a store or restaurant or hotel and use American dollars (or any other foreign currency) to pay your bill. Cuba is an independent country with it’s own currency. While in Cuba you have to use Cuban currency to pay for all your expenses. Most countries are like this. You will always have to exchange your money to Cuban currency if you want to buy things in Cuba.
Exchanging Money in Cuba
CADECA exchange office – There are many little exchange offices located all over Cuba. In big cities like Havana you can find them at most large markets and in tourist areas. Basically in every 5 to 10 block radius you will find one of these offices. Some are tiny, built in small shipping containers. Their function is simply to exchange money. You give the teller your foreign currency and show your passport. The teller enters the order into a computer and in return you get Cuban money (CUC currency) and a printed receipt of the transaction. Count your moeny to make sure the total is correct.
If you want to get Moneda Nacional currency (the currency that most locals use) then just give the CUC currency back to the teller and ask for Moneda Nacional. This is always a separate transaction. Don’t exchange too much money into MN as you won’t likely be able to spend it on too many things that you actually want. The exchange rate is 24MN to 1 CUC. So, if you exchange 100 CUC, you would get 2400 MN. this would be more than enough to buy a weeks worth of street food and vegetables at a local market. It would likely even be too much. I recommend you exchange smaller quantities, for example, only 20CUC into MN at a time.
Banks – Yes, there are banks in Cuba. Lots of them. They look and feel like banks anywhere else in the world. The lineups are a bit longer sometimes, but other than that, all banks are similar. You can exchange your foreign currency for CUC at almost any bank in Cuba. The process is the same. The exchange rates are usually the same as in a CADECA. The main difference is that banks cannot exchange money for Moneda Nacional. If you want Moneda Nacional, you have to use a CADECA. Most foreigners do not exchange money at banks. Banks are mostly used by local Cubans to pay bills and for other banking services, rather than exchanging money.
Hotel Exchange offices – Most hotels in Cuba have small exchange offices near the front desk. Anybody can use these exchange desks. They are not reserved for hotel guests. These exchange offices are the same as CADECAS, but the exchange rates are less favorable. The added convenience of having and exchange office right in your hotel comes with the added cost of worse exchange rates. For example, if you are exchanging $100 USD, you might get 87 CUC from a standard CADECA or bank, but only 84 CUC from your hotel CADECA. It’s the cost of convenience.
Airport CADECAS – Exchange offices located in airports sometimes have worse exchange rates too, but it’s typically not so bad. In any case, if you are just arriving to Cuba at the airport and have no Cuban currency on you, then it is always a good idea to exchange a bit of money at the airport, regardless of the rates, so that you can at least pay for a taxi and get to Havana, without having to worry about finding a CADECA immediately.
Budgeting in Cuba. How Much Money do you Need for Your Trip
In terms of how much money to bring, the Cuban government always suggest bringing a minimum of the equivalent of 100$ USD per day, per person. This would be the bare minimum. But if you are just staying just a few nights, I would suggest you bring a bit more.
For example, if you stay 2 nights in Havana, you will definitely need more than 200$. For a weekend trip, you should bring the equivalent of $300 to 500$ USD per person. Even if you have a wild party, it will be more than enough money, and it’s better to have too much rather than too little.
And only exchange it as needed. It is not economical to exchange everything to CUC, because if you then want to exchange it back to your original currency, at the end of the trip, the exchange fees will be high again.
7 nights in Cuba – Solo Trip or couple ($ = CUC)
- – $30 per night ($210 total)
- Breakfast (street food) and lunch (Sandwich and beer) – $5 per day, per person (Weekly -$35 solo or $70 for a couple)
- Supper (a cheap restaurant) (Meal and drink) – $5 per day (Weekly -$35 solo or $70 for a couple)
- Drinks and going out (Nightlife) – $15 per day (Weekly -$105 solo or $about $200 for a couple)
- Taxis (In the city) $5 per day (Weekly – $35 solo or couple)
- Taxi to – $120 per way, $240 total
- Airport taxis – $25 per way, $50 total
- Incidentals $10 per day (Weekly -$70 solo or $140 for a couple)
Want to learn about Havana and how to explore Cuba like a local?
Download the Best Cuba and Havana Travel guide: Real Havana.