One of the most complicated things to deal with when traveling to Cuba is the currency. And travelers from the US face even greater complications. I’m here to help! From the basics of how much to bring, how to deal with security of your cash, where to exchange money and the darn digital currency card, to the complexity of where you can spend your money and how to track it, and whether you should pay in local currency or dollars, I got you covered.
Cuban currency in a nutshell:
Currently there are two currencies in Cuba. The CUP (Cuban Peso) which is the national currency used for the purchase of most items, such as food in restaurants, local stores, taxis, etc. The MLC (Moneda Libremente Convertible) is a digital currency used primarily to purchase items that are imported such as electronics and some food items.
The fixed exchange rate for the CUP is $1 USD=$24 CUP, however, the Cuban government has set the exchange rate at about 120 CUP/ $1 USD (110 CUP after the conversion fee). In addition there are many people changing money on the black market which is driving up the value of the dollar, (and also inflation). The black market rate varies from about 150-170 CUP: $1 USD.
The MCL is a digital currency card that can only be purchased with Euros and some other foreign currency (but not USD). This card gives you access to a number of shops where pricier and harder to get imported items can be purchased–if they have them. These items might include tampons, diapers, electronics, even rum and according to the Cuban government, raises foreign currency for the importation of various items.
FAQ: Common questions I get asked
Do I need the MLC card?
In theory if you want to buy certain items, such as bottled water, or Havana Club rum, you will need the MLC. Once you purchase an MLC you cannot get the money back. I would suggest finding a local who has a card and asking if you can pay them in euros or dollars in exchange for a purchase, or you can try to use USD in those shops. Sometimes they make an exception. The only time I used the MLC card was to buy Havana Club rum.
How do I exchange money in Cuba?
There are many places to exchange money where you will get the government rate of $120 CUP, such as banks or exchange houses called Cadecas. Although not legal, changing on the informal market (such as with the owner of your airbnb) will offer you a higher exchange rate.
How much money you exchange will depend on a few things. First, you cannot bring Cuban currency back into the US, so you don’t want to change more than you will use.
What currency should I bring?
I would bring USD (new, not torn) in various currencies. You will typically get pesos back in change. I also brought a few Euros, which I don’t think was entirely necessary.
How much money should I bring?
This depends entirely on if you booked your airbnb or casas online and paid in advance. In terms of food, breakfasts are typically $10 USD, lunch and dinner from $10-25/pp. Oh, and you can legally only bring a maximum of $5000 USD into Cuba.
Taxis are $10-20. Classes are $15-35. The maximum amount of USD you can bring into Cuba is $5000. I would estimate about $200/day, just to be safe, You will probably take some home.
What about ATMs/credit cards?
You cannot use US bank/debit or credit cards in Cuba. You must bring enough cash.
When should I pay with dollars vs CUP?
Many tabs will come with the option to pay in USD or CUP, especially when dining out. In most cases, it is a better value to pay in CUP (that you exchanged with an individual at the higher rate). Most people took USD or Euro for experiences or casas, etc.
Can I bring pesos back?
You cannot bring Cuban money into the US. It is illegal. Leave your change there, just change what you need.
Is my money safe?
Your money is safe in Cuba. It will feel strange to carry large amounts of cash. I left my money in a backpack in my room when I didn’t have a safe, and carried large amounts at times. Most rooms have a safe. If you are traveling with cash, use common sense. Carry the cash on you when you travel, especially using public transportation. Use a money belt, or two. If you have private transportation, you can leave it in a bag, but I still only put it into bags that I carry on my lap. When you are out and about in Cuba I just took what I needed and used a belted fanny pack.
What other questions do you have about money in Cuba?