Cuba’s currency is known as the peso, CUP, or moneda nacional. The Cuban peso is only good in Cuba. Visitors can purchase Cuban pesos at exchange bureaus and banks in Cuba. BUT NOT with American dollars (more details below). It is not possible to buy Cuban pesos outside of Cuba. We don’t recommend taking Cuban pesos home, except as souvenirs, as they have no value outside Cuba.
New 2022 money guidelines for Americans visiting Cuba
How much cash do I need in Cuba?
Primer on the peculiar Cuban peso
Are American dollars and other currencies illegal in Cuba?
No. Small private businesses welcome payments in US dollars. They honor the official exchange rate of one USD for 24 Cuban pesos. Sometimes you’ll benefit from a more favorable exchange rate if you ask. However, this practice is frowned upon by the Cuban government.
Why would I bother to convert my US dollars into pesos?
Small private businesses display prices in pesos. So you’ll always know accurate costs and pay the same price as Cubans. You’ll not have to worry about calculating or haggling over exchange rates on the spot. Having Cuban pesos in hand provides a sense of security, and you’ll feel like a local.
“I heard special Cuban debit cards for tourists are required.”
Not true. It’s an option, not a requirement. In Cuba, there are two types of payment systems: Pesos and MLC cards. And, there are two types of MLC cards. One is for tourists and another for Cubans. Both function as pre-paid debit cards. You add money to these cards using foreign currencies like Canadian dollars or Euros (BUT NOT US DOLLARS). Once the money is in the MLC card, its value is equivalent to the US dollar.
Why would I want a pre-paid tourist card?
Pre-paid MLC cards are the only way to make purchases and pay fees at Cuban government stores and institutions. In Cuba, there is an extensive network of grocery stores that sell products in MLC not otherwise available to Cubans. Likewise, many small private businesses, including restaurants, are beginning to accept MLC card transactions.
How do pre-paid tourist cards work, and where do I get one?
Pre-paid MLC tourist cards are sold at Cuban banks and exchange bureaus. The cards come in three USD equivalent amounts: $1000, $500, and $200. Refills are in the same fixed amounts. The one-time card cost is $5 USD.
Popular currencies used to purchase or refill tourist MLC are euros, UK pounds sterling, Canadian dollars, Swiss francs, and Mexican pesos. BUT NOT US DOLLARS.
Pre-paid MLC tourist cards only work in Cuba. You cannot transfer funds into or out of the card. However, you can refill them, and you can use them to withdraw Cuban pesos from Cuban bank machines.
Your name is not attached to the card. You are only given a PIN. If you lose the card or forget your PIN, no replacements or refunds are provided. At the end of your stay, you can redeem the balance of funds in your card in US dollars. The card is valid for two years.
How do I obtain Cuban pesos and what is the exchange rate?
Cuban pesos can be purchased at banks, exchange bureaus, and major hotels. The official exchange rate is one dollar for 24 Cuban pesos. Here’s the snag: Cuban pesos can only be purchased using foreign currencies like Canadian dollars, Euros, or Mexican pesos. Travelers should avoid shady black market money changers who trade Cuban pesos for US dollars. It leads to heartache.
Travel with Cuba Explorer means fewer money worries in Cuba
Major expenses on your Cuba Explorer tour are prepaid: accommodations, transportation, day excursions, and most meals. You only need cash for gratuities, optional evening entertainment, extra libations, souvenirs, and meals not included in your trip package.
Tips from seasoned travelers and Cuba travel advisers
Don’t be overwhelmed. Make a simple plan before travel. Here’s a summary of what our travelers say worked best for them. Cuba travel advisers concur.
- Budget a minimum of $100 per day in US dollars. You can bring more for hiccups or larks.
- Allocate some of your budget, perhaps the minimum of $200, for a pre-paid MLC tourist card. Then allocate an additional portion of your funds for Cuban pesos. REMEMBER TO CONVERT these two portions to a popular foreign currency such as Canadian or Euros before coming to Cuba.
- Keep the rest of your money in US dollars, which you’ll have no problems spending while in Cuba.
- Rest assured, Team Cuba Explorer is happy to answer money questions and assist with Cuba money matters. Don’t hesitate to call, email, or chat with us.