Don’t neglect to sort out your money for Cuba and what currency to take to Cuba. Probing around jungle waterfalls, Havana’s boulevards or stripped-back beaches is fantastic. However, if you don’t have the correct currencies and a good knowledge of how the system works, you’re guaranteed to introduce a lot of unnecessary stress into your Cuba holiday.
Arriving with the wrong currency – or not enough cash, for that matter – is the most common pitfall for many visitors in Cuba. I experienced this first-hand in January 2022, and I’m using my own experience to make sure that no one else makes the same mistakes I did.
You need more than one currency to visit Cuba. You also need to know about possible issues with ATMs, the government’s exchange rates, and the possibility of using credit cards in Cuba. A lot of the information online is outdated or inaccurate. That’s why I have created this guide to the Cuban currency to establish exactly what currency to take to Cuba and common issues you can encounter.
Money for Cuba: What currency to bring to Cuba
The official currency in Cuba is the Cuban National Peso (CUP). This is different to the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is no longer a legal or used form of currency in Cuba. All CUP banknotes are marked with faces – do not fall victim to a scam where the person exchanging your money hands you the old currency, Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).
CUP is a closed currency. You can’t buy CUP before you arrive in Cuba. As a result, you must exchange another currency into CUP when you arrive in Cuba.
Where most holiday-goers go wrong is assuming that CUP is the only currency they need in Cuba. On the contrary, visitors to Cuba also require a substantial amount of euros (EUR) or US dollars (USD) in cash. This is because certain transactions (especially larger transactions, such as paying for accommodation or lengthy taxi rides) must be paid for in euros or US dollars.
These are the currencies accepted in Cuba and what they are used for:
Cuban National Peso (CUP): CUP is the primary Cuban currency. It is used to pay for food and drink in restaurants and bars, short inter-city taxi rides, tips, and a number of inexpensive tourist activities such as watersports equipment rental or sunlounger rental.
Euros (EUR) or US dollars (USD): Euros and US dollars are the only currency accepted when paying for accommodation (including meals consumed at your accommodation), out-of-city taxi rides, bus journeys (including the hop-on hop-off bus to the beach in Havana), high-end restaurants, and more expensive tourist activities such as classic car rides or organised excursions.
UPDATE: There is controversy around the US dollar being accepted in Cuba due to the poor relationship between Cuba and the United States. At the time of my visit in January 2022, the US dollar was the most asked-for currency when I paid for large sums. However, US dollars are part of the so-called black market in Cuba. Therefore, the best and safest foreign currency to bring to Cuba moving forward are euros.
Other currencies: Depending on your haggling skills and fluency in Spanish (the language spoken in Cuba), you may be able to pay for big transactions in another strong foreign currency such as British pounds (GBP). I managed this on several occasions. However, this should be a last resort. You may not always be successful.
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Money for Cuba: Exchanging foreign currency into Cuban pesos (CUP)
Now that you’re aware of the main currencies used in Cuba, you need to know how to exchange your foreign currency into Cuban pesos (CUP). This isn’t as straightforward as exchanging any old currency at the the airport.
First of all, the best foreign currency to bring to Cuba is euros. It bears repeating – this is very important.
When you arrive in Havana, you’ll notice that there are floods of locals asking, “Exchange the money?” This is because the Cuban government’s currency exchange rate is notoriously low.
Essentially, when you take money out of ATMs in Cuba (provided they work) or exchange your money at the airport or bank, you will notice that more money than expected is subtracted from your bank account. The exchange rate in the airport or ATMs does not match information online; the government enforces its own strict exchange rate.
For that reason, you should avoid exchanging your money in banks or the airport and avoid withdrawing money from ATMs unless absolutely necessary. Bring a large amount of cash in euros, and exchange around 30-40% of your cash into CUP at your chosen accommodation. You can check they offer currency exchange before arriving in Cuba.
Some hotels, casas, and hostels will also be happy to exchange other strong currencies such as British pound (GBP), Canadian Dollar (CAD), Swiss Franc (CHF), Japanese Yen (JPY) and the Mexican Peso (MXN) into CUP. However, you should double check directly with your accommodation before you arrive to ensure that they can offer this service.
What is a good exchange rate?
A good exchange rate in Havana is around 80 CUP to one Euro. The further you travel away from tourist hotspots such as Havana and Varadero, the better the exchange rate will be.
Is it safe to exchange money on the street in Cuba?
Exchanging money on the street in Cuba has its risks. Wherever possible, you should exchange your money at your accommodation. If you do decide to exchange money on the street, exercise caution, check for forged or damaged currency, and double check that you have received Cuban National Peso and not Cuban Convertible Peso.
Money for Cuba: ATMs in Cuba
Trinidad, Cuba. Browse the best things to do in Trinidad Cuba.
There are ATMs in Cuba. They dispense money in CUP, the national currency.
Note again that withdrawing money from an ATM should be a last resort due to the poor exchange rate enforced by the government. In addition, the banks in Cuba often charge a small commission fee. If you don’t have a travel card such as Monzo, your bank may also charge foreign transaction fees.
ATMs are mainly located in bigger cities and towns such as Havana, Trinidad, Varadero, and Cienfuegos. However, successfully withdrawing cup from an ATM in Cuba is a matter of luck. Some days the ATMs might work, and other days, they will be out of money.
If you do need to find an ATM, head towards main streets, banks, and tourist areas. You can ask at local hotels and homestays for directions if you’re having trouble locating an ATM.
Money for Cuba: How much currency to take to Cuba
Swimming at the Parque Guanayara Waterfalls in Topes De Collantes, near Trinidad
The amount of money you should bring to Cuba depends upon your budget, the length of your trip, and what kind of activities you have planned.
Cuba is largely a cash-only country. Therefore, because you may encounter difficulties withdrawing money once in Cuba, you should bring enough cash to cover all of your spendings, including food, transport and accommodation.
The biggest chunk of your cash is likely to go on accommodation, transport, and eating out. It’s difficult to save money by cooking in Cuba because the majority of the grocery stores in Cuba sell limited items such as water, alcohol, tinned tomatoes, beans, and other canned foods.
Here’s an idea of what you might spend in Cuba:
Accommodation: To get a sense of the cost of accommodation based on your destinations and the standard you expect, I would suggest searching on Booking.com, Agoda, Hostelworld and Homestay.com first. If you’re planning on staying in casas (a homestay where meals are often included in the price and a popular accommodation option in the country), you should expect to pay anywhere between 10 euros to 30 euros per room per night. Hostels have similar pricing. Higher-end hotels, especially in Havana, will cost significantly more.
Transport: Cuba’s former tourist bus company, Viazul, stopped providing transport services due to the pandemic and reduced number of tourists (due to other political situations with the US). Therefore, all transport around Cuba is done by traditional taxi or collectivo taxi. The most affordable option is a collectivo taxi, which is a communal taxi which picks up tourists travelling on the same day to the same destination. Collectivos are pre-arranged by your accommodation. A four-hour collectivo taxi from Havana to Trinidad, for example, should cost around 25 euros per person.
Bars and restaurants: The price of eating out varies depending upon your exact location and the calibre of the restaurant. If you’re mindful of your budget and eat mainly at basic restaurants, a basic meal (such as rice and chicken, or rice and fish) should cost between approximately 350 pesos and 700 pesos per person. Alcoholic drinks typically cost between 100 and 250 pesos, depending upon your location. A meal at a higher-end or Western-style restaurants will likely cost between 500 and 1500 pesos, but more depending upon the high calibre.
Money for Cuba: Can I use my credit card in Cuba?
Credit, debit cards, or pre-paid travel cards can be used to pay for transactions in grocery stores or to withdraw money from ATMS, as long as they were not issued by an American bank or one of their subsidiaries. American Express, for example, does not work in Cuba.
Occasionally, you may be required to pay by card for things like the hop-on hop-off bus in Havana. That being said, Cuba is primarily a cash-only country and you should prepare to operate using cash only.
If you’re travelling to Cuba, being prepared is key. You should also know the ins and outs of getting around Cuba using the Cuban transport system, and the dress code in Cuba. My Cuba packing list also details exactly what you should and should not bring into the country.
What is the best currency to take to Cuba?
The best currency to take to Cuba is euros. It is required to pay for large sums such as accommodation, long-distance taxis, and excursions. Euros are also easy to exchange into Cuban National Pesos, which is the currency required to pay for meals or drinks in restaurants and bars, shorter inter-city taxi rides, and inexpensive tourist activities.
How can I avoid scams and tell apart Cuban National Peso from Cuban Convertible Peso?
All Cuban National Peso (CUP) banknotes have faces, rather than pictures of monuments.
What currency do Cuba grocery stores accept?
Cuba grocery stores accept debit or credit card only. The card must not be associated with an American bank (for example, American Express cards will not work in Cuba).
I’m Katie, the owner of Escape Artist Katie. I have been travel writing since 2018, including writing for luxury travel magazines and publications such as Wanderlust.
As well as being a digital nomad who works and lives abroad permanently, I’m a big advocate for offbeat travel and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.