Part of Cuba’s charm is that it’s so unusual. Years of Communism and a trade embargo have ensured that the fundamental currency structures, which many in the West are used to, are completely different.
Planning a trip to Cuba is incredibly exciting, but there are lots of questions, and what money to take is generally the most pressing. While not all of the answers are straightforward, we’ve tried to shine as much light as possible on this tricky subject with our guide:
Cuba has a closed currency
That means you can only purchase Cuban Pesos in Cuba. Therefore your only decision is what other type of currency to bring, whether that is Euros, Dollars, Sterling or another currency. Currently Americans are advised to change their currency into Euros (depending on the exchange rate) before exchange, as there is a 10% surcharge on changing USD in Cuba. You are advised to bring cash to change in Cuba as the ATMs are somewhat hit and miss.
Cuba has two currencies
Tourists will use the Cuban Convertible Peso CUC, while locals tend to use the regular Cuban Peso, the CUP. The Cuban money exchange rate for these two currencies is very different as the CUC is roughly worth the same as an American Dollar, while the CUP is one twentyfourth of a CUC. Be careful when paying (or haggling) for things in Cuba to know whether you are paying or receiving CUCs or CUPs. Cubans like to get paid in CUCs as it’s very hard for them to get hold of convertibles, which allow them to then buy foreign currency.
Currency exchange in Cuba
Currency exchanges are called Cadecas – you should only change money at a Cadeca and be wary of those who offer to exchange money for you. You’ll find a Cadeca on arrival at Havana airport. However if you fly into other airports such as Holguin, Varadero and Cayo Coco, the Cadeca is in the departure hall, not at arrivals.
You may find that the airport Cadeca has worse rates than at your hotel, though when we last traveled there (Nov 2016) the airport was offering 1.18 to the pound, which was only bettered by the Cadeca at the Hotel Nacional at 1.19. All the other hotels had much worse rates of 1.09 or 1.10. Based on our recent trip to Havana, it would have worked out best for us to change all of our money at the airport, though rates do fluctuate obviously. The few Cadecas that existed in Havana were hard to find and had lengthy queues. They also closed at around 12pm, and were unreliable in their opening hours generally. You can find the official exchange rate at the Bank of Cuba website. Hotel Cadecas will mostly give CUC.
For a little bit of the color involved in exchanging money in Cuba, read this Bloomberg article.
Scams in Cuba
Always check your receipts as scams are common, even at the Cadeca. You may also find some scams that run at car rental offices.
ATMS in Cuba
Cuba does have some ATMs, but for a card to work it must have no connection with an American bank. At least, that’s the case at the time of writing, with the current US-Cuba thaw this may not be the case for very long. ATMs have long queues and it’s best to go early in the day as they often run out of money by the afternoon. Also, as we found out to our cost – the times when a bank says it will be open are only to be treated as a rough guide!
Can I use bank cards in Cuba?
Most places don’t take bank cards so don’t rely on them at all. We only found one very upscale restaurant (reportedly the best in Havana) which would take a card, and the Hotel Nacional, though the latter was a bit of a performance.
The Halifax Clarity and Post Office credit cards are two examples which have no US affiliation and may work in some parts of Cuba. However, other cards, such as the Alliance and Leicester credit card, although it appears to be a UK card, is actually owned by MBNA which is American, and so would not be accepted in Cuba. There are thought to be plans afoot by Mastercard in Cuba to change this. The situation in Cuba is constantly changing, so we will endeavour to keep this information updated on a monthly basis. Debit cards with a Visa logo are usually accepted and can be used at an ATM if you find one that works. If you manage to use your bank card, the 10% surcharge which applies to USD transactions will not apply.
Cash is king
Without cash your stay is likely to be short lived. There’s no point in using travellers cheques in Cuba, as they can’t be exchanged if they are lost or stolen. Obviously arriving at an airport with a large amount of money makes you vulnerable to scams, so keep your wits about you. We heard of one Aussie bloke who fancied himself a bit of a ladies man, and who quickly met a beautiful Cuban woman. A few hours into his stay, he realized that his pockets were a bit lighter – the large wad of notes he had brought with him had been removed! On the whole though you will be quite safe as violent crime is rare.
Cuban currency for tourists
Scottish notes can’t be changed in Cuba, and only untorn, unmarked 10, 20 or 50 notes are accepted – that means no fivers. No coins are changed either, in any currency.
What do I need to bring to Cuba?
All travellers to Cuba will have a passport, and this will be required for money exchange, or for getting a cash advance on a credit card, which can be quite a drawn out process. Therefore it’s advisable to make a scan of your passport for safe keeping.
Do not expect to do much shopping in Cuba as they don’t have much due to the embargo. Try and bring everything you might need, especially in terms of toiletries. If you get some CUP, having paid in CUC, it is useful to have a bit of both currencies.