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Cuban Currency: The Definitive Guide (2019)

by cubapura

Using Cuban money one of the most confusing things about travelling to Cuba.

In fact, many tourists who fail to do research are stranded without any usable money!

Our site is run by a group of Cubans and Cuba lovers and we’ll tell you all you need to know in order to help you avoid losing money or being left without any money

What is the Cuban currency?

Che Guevara Coin Cuba
A coin with an iconic Che Guevara portrait.

The official Cuban currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP).

But Cuba also has another currency, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).

Confused yet? Well it gets even more confusing: Cubans use both currencies interchangeably! This is why some say the Cuban double currency is a hoax.

Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC)

The Cuban Convertible Peso was introduced in 1994 as a way of creating a parallel economy. The idea originally was that tourists would use CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos) and Cubans would use CUP (Cuban National Pesos).

How much is a Cuban Convertible Peso worth? In theory, 1 CUC is worth 1 USD and 25 CUP. But in practice, you can only get worse exchange rates.

Cuban Peso (CUP)

Also known as peso cubano or moneda nacional. This is Cuba’s original currency, and is mainly used by locals.

How much is the CUP worth? Its worth only 0.04 USD! For this reason it is mostly useful for small expenses, such as paying the bus or for cheap meals in Havana.

As a tourist, and when in doubt, it is useful to always agree on whether you’ll pay in CUC or CUP, as prices can be confusing.

A misunderstanding can be expensive because 1 CUC is worth a lot more than 1 CUP!

Should tourists get local Cuban Pesos (CUP) or Convertible Pesos (CUC)?

We generally recommend you get both CUP and CUC.

Especially if you are a budget conscious traveller or you plan to consume services and articles from non-touristy, local establishments.

If you’ll be in 5 star hotels and all inclusive resorts, there is probably no need for CUP. You might still find it useful if you want to buy a coconut on the street!

A lot of people think foreigners are not allowed to get CUP. This used to be the case a decade ago, but is no longer true! You can get CUP at any official exchange place!

If you want to buy something that costs 40 CUP at a local shop, you’ll have to keep in mind how much the shop takes CUC for and whether you are paying in CUC bills or CUP bills, as well as the coins. This can get confusing pretty quick, so if you are planning to go to local shops and restaurants it is worth having CUP bills with you.

How to tell apart CUP vs CUC?

Image showing CUC and CUP
CUC vs. CUP Credits to AccountingPlay.com

You can tell the two currencies apart by looking at the artwork on the notes.

You can see that CUC bills have monuments, while CUP bills have famous leaders. You can always read what is says, CUC always say “pesos convertibles”. Generally CUP bills are dirtier and more worn out.

The three peso CUP bill and 1 peso CUP coin is quite popular with tourists, as it has an image of iconic Che Guevara. It is not a rare coin, so if don’t buy it if a scammer wants to sell it to you!

Isn’t using Cuban Pesos (CUP) illegal for tourists?

It is not true that using Cuban pesos is illegal for tourists and foreigners. In fact, you can go to an official exchange and buy Cuban Pesos (CUP) without any issues! We recommend you do, especially if you want to travel like a local.

Can you pay in Cuba with US dollars?

The CUC is pegged to the US dollar, which that means 1 CUC is worth 1 USD (more or less). For this reason, some Cubans will call the CUC a “dollar”. But this doesn’t mean you can pay with US dollars in Cuba.

You cannot generally pay in US dollars in Cuba. Shops and individuals will not take US dollars. You will have to pay in the Cuban currencies: CUC or CUP.

If they do take US dollars, people will give you a bad exchange rate for them because they have to go through the hassle of exchanging them to CUC or CUP.

How to use Cuban money like a local

In practice, CADECAs (Cuban Exchange Houses, more on them later) will give you 24 CUP for 1 CUC when you buy CUP. However, when you get 1 CUC it will cost you 25 CUP.

The difference between the two prices is one of the ways in which CADECA’s make money. 

For this reason, in many private shops will calculate that 1 CUC is worth 24 or even 23 CUP.

Unfortunately, it gets a bit more complicated. A few years ago 1 CUC was worth 20 CUP, which meant that people got used to exchanging 5 CUC cents for 1 CUP.

The rate has now changed, now 1 CUC is worth 25 CUP, but people have kept the old exchange rate when it comes to coins. This means:

  • 0.05 CUC cents are worth 1 CUP
  • 0.25 CUC cents are worth 5 CUP
  • 0.50 CUC cents are worth 10 CUP

Therefore it is possible that two 0.50 CUC coins are effectively worth less than one 1 CUC coin.

Exchanging money in Cuba

You have a variety of options to get Cuban currency.

Most tourists will opt to withdraw cash via ATM, or exchange a foreign currency at a CADECA or hotel.

Other options (much less recommended) are to receive a Western Union transfer or to exchange foreign currency on the black market.

Where can you exchange money in Cuba ????????  :

A wide range of businesses and institutions will happily buy your foreign currency in Cuba.

You will need your passport when exchanging money in Cuba.

You cannot get Cuban currency in advance though. It is impossible to buy Cuban currency abroad. Do not plan on bringing Cuban money from your home country.

CADECA (Casa de Cambio)

CADECAs (Casa de Cambio) are the official currency exchange offices in Cuba. 

It should not be very difficult to find a CADECA. They can be found pretty much everywhere, and asking anyone on the street top point you to the nearest CADECA.

Again, don’t forget that you will need your passport when exchanging money in Cuba.

If you are having trouble finding one, here is a comprehensive map of all locations,, along with their opening times:

Hotel exchanges

CADECA’s generally offer the best exchange rates, but often have long waits. A potential solution is to exchange your money at a hotel exchange. Most premium hotels will have a currency exchange office.

Exchanging your money at a hotels can be more convenient,  but it is significantly more expensive.

As of the moment of writing, 1000 EUR will get you 1099.96 CUC at a hotel and 1108.50 at a CADECA.

Banks

We do not recommend you exchange money in a bank in Cuba.

They will give you a bad exchange rate, and you will also have to wait for hours in line.

Paradoxically, probably the worst thing you can do is go to a bank to exchange money, as they’ll give you a hotel exchange rate with a long waiting time.

Your casa particular

Many casa particulares will offer to buy your foreign currency. Why? Either they’ll resell it at a profit in the black market, or they themselves need foreign currencies for their travels.

Generally, your casa particular host will not try scam you because you know where he or she lives and they will get in serious trouble if you alert authorities.

It is possible to get a better rate from them than at the official exchanges, especially if you are selling US dollars. You should be aware however, that this is illegal.

Can you exchange money at the airport in Cuba?

Yes, both Varadero and Havana airports have a CADECAs. A money exchange will be open 24/7 at the airport.

Usually airport money exchanges are very expensive, but because Cuba isn’t a market economy, the rates aren’t worse than in other CADECAs all over the country!

The problem with Airport CADECAs can get extremely crowded, especially if you arrive late, as they have limited capacity.

If your bank offers you free cash withdrawals it is probably better to go to an ATM.

What currencies can you exchange in Cuba?

CADECAs (Casa de Cambio) are the official currency exchange offices in Cuba. You can exchange the following paper currencies in a CADECA:

  • Canadian Dollar (CAD)
  • Swiss Frank (CHF)
  • Euro (EUR)
  • Pound Sterling (GBP)
  • Japanese Yen (JPY)
  • Mexican Peso (MXN)
  • US dollar (USD) *With an extra 10% tax*

You cannot exchange Australian dollars (AUD), Hong Kong dollars (HKD) or any other currency in Cuba.

You cannot exchange Scottish pound notes (GBP) either. For up to date info on which currencies are supported check here.

Can you exchange US dollars in Cuba?

Yes! But, there is an extra 10% tax for exchanging US dollars, which basically means that your money will be worth 10% less if you bring US dollars.

For this reason many American tourists opt to exchange to Canadian dollars, Euros or Mexican Pesos before coming to Cuba, because it is can cheaper to exchange money twice (from USD to CAD and from CAD to CUC) than to pay the 10% tax.

You can end up losing money though if you’re not careful, so read our guide on exchanging US dollars before going to Cuba.

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Can you exchange Swedish Krona (SEK), Danish Krone (DKK), Norwegian Krone (NOK) in Cuba?

The short answer is no. CADECAs will not accept any of those currencies. If you are preparing to travel to Cuba it is far better to bring EUR.

If you are already stuck in Cuba with nothing but SEK, DKK or NOK, try to go to Banco Metropolitano in Havana. On their website, they claim to exchange these Scandinavian currencies. Whether they actually take them or not is unknown, and you might have to wait for 2 hours to find out that they will not accept them.

Credit and Debit Cards in Cuba

Image showing man withdrawing Cuban money from ATM.
Cuban ATMs. Credit to PanamaToday.com

First, you have to make sure your debit or credit card will work in Cuba. The best thing to do is to ask your bank.

Most US bank cards will not work in Cuba due to the American Embargo.

European, Latin American, Canadian and Asian banks generally work, but it is best to try to do your own research.

Both VISA and MasterCard cards work in Cuba. Union Pay also works. American Express does not work.

However, apart from state owned hotels and restaurants not many places will take card for payment. Cuba is a cash based country, the vast majority of payments are made in cash. No private business will have the permits or infrastructure necessary to receive card payments.  The more reliable option is to go to ATMs.

How easy is it to find ATMs in Cuba?

ATMs are not hard to find in Havana and in other larger cities, specially in the touristy areas.

You might have trouble in smaller cities or towns. In the best case there will be only one ATM in town, in the worst case you might have to go to a neighbouring town for an ATM. For example, there are is no ATM in Gibara.

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When you select an ATM make sure it gives you the currency you want (CUC or CUP) and whether it takes your card (VISA, MasterCard or UnionPay).

Some ATMs have withdrawal limits, make sure you take these into account. The ATMs are a bit older than the ones you might have back home, and it is not unheard of that they can be defective, so make sure you are paying attention when working them.

How much does it cost to withdraw money from ATMs in Cuba?

There is a 3% surcharge on all withdrawals by the ATM. This means that if you withdraw 1 CUC it will cost you 1.03 USD.

Your bank might charge you extra, although many newer institutions such as Revolut do not charge you under a certain monthly limit.

At this moment 1000 EUR will get you 1106.79 CUC if you withdraw by ATM. To figure out the exchange rate you’ll get for CUC using your bank card, calculate how much your bank will charge you for USD (in the example above, the bank will give us 1140 USD for 1000 EUR).

Then, divide the amount of USD by 1.03 and substract any amount that your bank will charge you for withdrawing.

Depending on the rates your bank gives you, you can get almost the same rate by withdrawing via ATM than carrying non-USD cash to Cuba.

Western Union

Vector Illustration showing Western Unions on a Cuba map
Western Union locations in Cuba. Credits to BusinessWire.com

This should be an emergency solution for tourists, as it can be very expensive. If you lose your wallet or are stuck in Cuba with nothing but Australian dollars, this may be the only option you have. Convince a loved one to go to the nearest Western Union place and have them send money to Cuba in your name. They will have to give you the transfer ID number, which you will need along with some ID to get the money.

You cannot send money through Western Union online to Cuba, you will have to go personally. The only exception is if you live in the United States.

Travellers checks

Nobody uses these anymore, not even in Cuba. You shouldn’t use them either.

Black market

We do NOT recommend you buy money on the black market. As a tourist, you will almost be asking to be scammed or otherwise be taken advantage of if you do not buy money at official locations. The “safest” option would be to have your Airbnb host take care of it.

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On the street, you may encounter individuals offering to exchange money (especially outside CADECA’s). These individuals may leave without giving you any money, or can give you fake notes, or notes out of circulation. You could go to the police, but you lose your money anyway, as you are participating in an illegal activity.

That being said, many Cubans exchange foreign money, mostly USD but also sometimes EUR. This is because sometimes it can be difficult to get foreign currencies for Cubans. Meet ups can be organised on sites such as Revolico, which is the most popular classified page in Cuba (like Craigslist).

How much money do you need in Cuba

This depends on how much money you are willing to spend.

You should bring at a minimum 15-30 USD per day if you are planning to travel on a budget.

Most travellers however will want some more comfort and will be spending around $100 USD per day.

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