Money in Cuba

One of the things that was giving me a slight amount of stress before I arrived in Cuba was the issue of money.   I didn’t want to have to carry enough money for a month in Cuba in cash, but there was so much scattered information on the internet about what would and would not work it was hard to tell whether this was going to be a really short trip!

money Cuba

Here’s what I learned through internet research and actual experience (valid July 2016, I’m sure this will change quickly):

  • Cards associated with a US bank are not accepted anywhere. US Citizens really do have to bring cash with them for however long they are staying.  Fortunately, and as the name suggests, the Commonwealth Bank in Australia is not affiliated with a US bank (though I believe Westpac is)!
  • ATM machines only take VISA cards that are not affiliated with US banks, not Mastercards.
  • However, if you have a Mastercard that is not affiliated with a US bank, you can use these in most banks and Cadecas (currency exchange houses). I used my Commonwealth Bank Mastercard Travel Money card to withdraw money all throughout Cuba with no problems.
  • There is a 3% surcharge to withdraw money this way – ie if you want to withdraw 300CUC, it will cost you 310CUC. Ouch, but nothing you can do, except bring it all with you.
  • You can exchange US dollars in many banks, but there is a 10% surcharge to do so. Better to bring Euros or Canadian dollars if you are bringing cash.  I got a better exchange rate for USD in Mexico City airport (yes, they sell CUCs) than in Cuba.
  • You need to take your passport with you anytime you want to withdraw/exchange money.

Having ascertained that I could withdraw money on the first day, the next thing to get used to was the fact that there are two forms of currency here.   There is the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), which is what is used to pay for pretty much everything to do with tourism and which is equivalent to a little over USD$1.   Then there is the Moneda Nacional (CUP), which is what the locals use and which is equivalent to about 4 US cents.   Unfortunately, the 20 CUC and 20 CUP notes are rather similar, so make sure you are careful about which ones you are handing over!

money Cuba CUP

I suggest when you extract your money from the bank or the Cadeca that you convert about 5CUC into CUP so that you can use the public bathrooms everywhere (they are expecting CUPs), and buy street food – especially the pizza (they eat a lot of pizza here) –  if you like to eat cheaply.

 

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3 Comments

  1. simone February 24, 2017 at 5:44 pm #

    Thanks for this info, im heading there soon and was wondering if my commbank travel money card would work or not. Thanks for all the other tips too

  2. Rebecca May 5, 2017 at 7:38 am #

    Hi Lisa was that a comm bank travel card you used in Cuba , if so did you load it up with a foreign currency then the bank would exchange into cuc.probably crazy questions just a little confused , also do u think my comm bank debit card would work? hope to hear soon thanks

    • lgermany May 21, 2017 at 2:19 am #

      Hi Rebecca – Yes it was a Commonwealth Bank Travel card. I had USD as my primary currency and I would just tell the bank how many CUC I wanted to withdraw and they would do a cash advance for me from the credit card.

      Re: Commonwealth Bank debit card. I don’t think it would work in the same way (though I didn’t try it). There was one ATM that I found in La Habana that would take foreign cards, so that might work. And there might be other ATMs by now…

      Enjoy!

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