We have become very accustomed to the ease of using mostly one currency and credit cards for our travels in Europe. For Cuba, a set of different considerations needs to be taken into account as you’re getting ready to travel. In Cuba cash is king, and we’ve put together some tips below to help you plan and know what to expect.
The official Cuban currency is known as the CUP, or Cuban Peso. It is also referred to as “moneda nacional” (“national money”).
The official exchange rate was pegged at 24 CUP to $1 USD as of March, 2022. However, due to a growing informal or “black market” exchange that provided a much better rate, the Cuban government changed course August 4, 2022 and set the foreign currency exchange rate for USD at 120 CUP per dollar.
Currently you can get this rate at banks and/or the Cadeca Exchange Bureaus. An 8% conversion fee for USD is applied, meaning that you’ll get about 110 CUP to the USD. Other currencies, such as the Euro or Mexican Peso, Canadian dollar, etc., have a 2% conversion fee.
This determines the amount you will get at the bank or any official exchange bureau and rates are consistent at all banks and exchange bureaus in Cuba.
US dollars (USD) are very popular in Cuba and can be used for many small purchases and tipping. Euros are also widely accepted and generally preferred. Based on this, we recommend bringing either currency in small denominations like €5, €10, €20 or coins for Euros, and smaller bills for USD. Make sure bills are intact and not torn.
Prices at shops and restaurants are usually posted in CUPs, even though Euros and USD are often happily accepted. However, to ensure you get the same price as locals, it’s helpful to have a few CUPs with you to avoid having to negotiate an exchange rate with a merchant when making small purchases like souvenirs or drinks. That said, it never hurts to ask “What is your exchange rate for USD or EUR?” and see what the merchant says.
Cards affiliated with American banks are NOT accepted in Cuba. If you have a credit card issued in another country, it might work, but even that is not assured. Plus, there are very, very few businesses that accept credit cards.
Like anywhere in the world, be smart with your cash. Generally, Cuba is a very secure place but it’s smart to carry your wallet in your front pocket. Don’t carry large amounts of cash outside of your accommodation. When you leave your room, use the room safe, or hide your cash in your luggage.
There are several options: Banks and the official foreign currency exchange house called CADECA are the primary locations for exchanging foreign currency for CUP. Banks and CADECA pay the official rate.
There is also an informal market where you can find a better rate. This, however, is strictly speaking, not legal so our guides won’t help you find those options. However, owners of private businesses such as restaurants or B&B’s, often will. This informal rate is tracked by the website El Toque but know that this is only a guide and you may not be able to exchange for as much as is indicated on the website.
For a typical one-week tour, we recommend that you exchange no more than $40-$50 USD into CUP at any time.
As a rule of thumb, bring more cash than you think you’ll need. Remember there is likely no way to obtain more cash at an ATM while you travel and you can easily bring back your home currency that you don’t exchange.
The following estimates are in US-dollars and based on an 8-day trip and could be converted to Euros.
$200 to $400 per person for shopping and souvenirs. Please bring small bills. This of course depends entirely on how much of a shopper you are.
$100 per person for any unexpected personal costs along the way This might be for tips or services outside the scope of the tour, laundry services, etc.
$75 to $100 per person for food and beverages not covered by the tour Check your tour itinerary as to which meals are included.
Tipping for Tour Leaders – read more on under the tipping section on this page.
On our Cuba cycling tours, we include most tips for group activities and meals. There will likely be a few occasions that you would want to tip, and we have listed some common examples below
When you are out on your own in the evening having an extra drink.
Maid Service: Leave $2-$3 for maid service at your accommodations. This is up to you, but remember Cuba is a poor country and your money will go a long way in helping people
Anytime you feel inspired to give someone a bit of appreciation. Bring $1, $5, $10 and $20 bills for this purpose.
If you’d like to show your gratitude for your Tour Leaders’ and the driver’s excellent service, a gratuity is very much appreciated. This is best given in foreign currency such as USD, CAD or Euros. As a guideline, we suggest 5% of the tour cost per traveler – this is for the entire tour leader team, not each Tour Leader. You can give the tip to any member of the tour leader team, as they share it evenly but you may want to split it in Cuba as suggested below. In order to avoid social tensions, we recommend tipping as individuals, not as a group.
If you have Tour Leaders from Europe on your tour, we suggest you tip them in Euros. To lower the amount of cash for you to carry, our office can help process tour leader tipping by credit card upon request. Contact us to learn more.
Cuban Tour Leaders should be tipped in cash, and the office unfortunately is unable to assist with processing tips. Plan to tip your Cuban Tour Leaders in person.
For most travelers this information is not essential but if you’re the curious sort you may want to know about MLC cards.
MLC means “Moneda Libremente Convertible” and is Cubas official digital currency. MLC Cards work for limited purposes, like making payments to the Cuban government, certain restaurants, government hotels and government-run stores that sell imported items that can only be purchased with MLC. Cubans load these cards with EUR or USD, which is why having EUR and USD matters to the locals.
We don’t recommend use of these cards while you travel, mainly due to the hassle of buying it and the limited places that accept it.
MLC trades at a 1:1 conversion rate with the USD, and is sometimes is even referred to as “dollars.”
MLC Cards are sold at some hotels and CADECA offices in denominations ranging from $50-$1000. A $5 charge for issuing the card applies, which is deducted from its value at its purchase.
You can only purchase these with Euros, CAD or other foreign currencies, but not USD.
The card expires after two years, and any remaining balance of your MLC card won’t be refunded.
CUP– The Cuban Peso also known as M.N. or Moneda Nacional. This is the only official currency in Cuba and it has no value outside of Cuba.
MLC – Moneda Libremente Convertible meaning “Freely Convertible Money”. This is Cuba’s dollar equivalent digital currency.
MLC Card– This is a pre-paid card you can buy in Cuba that will work in government, restaurants, government hotels and the few government stores that exist. We don’t recommend use of this mainly due to the hassle of buying it and the limited places that accept it.
Official Rate – The CUP exchange rate offered in CADECAs (exchange bureaus), ATMs, Banks, Hotels, and with state-run entities. This rate is static and set by the government, and as explained above, changed dramatically in August 2022.
Unofficial Rate – The exchange rate found with individuals or private businesses, instead of state institutions. It’s also known as the black market or ‘por la izquierda’ (to the left) and the rate is determined by supply and demand. The rate fluctuates and you can find current rates on El Toque.com.