by Female Abroad

First off, If you are flying into the country without an all-inclusive vacation you will need to be able to prove you have access to at least CUP 100/person/day during you trip. Of course once you leave the airport you will have this money to spend on top of what you've already planned for food, excursions, taxis, tips, and hotel.

Now that you are in the city, what happens? To put it bluntly, it can be difficult to access funds while in Cuba.

Being a Canadian (or from any Western Country really) credit and debit cards are the main form of payment. Due to this there are two things to keep in mind:

  1. Debit cards & money transfers are unheard of
  2. If your credit card is affiliated to or is American, it won't work.

Do not rely on your card!

The only place that would take our credit or debit cards were the ATM and they are Canadian backed. My travel partner's debit and credit card were frozen by his bank even though he had called and told them that he was travelling (CIBC). I travel with Vancity and had no problem getting cash off of my visa (I don't have a debit card). No matter where we went though, no one took credit or debit cards they would only take cash.

When it comes to point #2, a most people know, American's are not the Cuban's favorite people.

While tensions are slowly relaxing they are not at the point that they want to risk American credit. Due to this any credit card issued by an American financial institution (think American Express) won't work and if your credit card is affiliated with a US bank, it's not going to work (ex. HBC is done through Chase Capital) so make sure you do your research before leaving.

If your credit card will work then it will only be accepted in state-run businesses (banks, hotels, and restaurants) as well as international resort chains. If you are going to save money and eat at Paladares or stay at a Casa Particulares then they will only accept cash. Also keep in mind that if you are able to use your credit card there is a very good chance you will be charged a credit card fee by the business.

side note - leave a copy of your card numbers with family members in case of emergencies (ex. stolen or need money added onto it)

Now if you are going to travel with your credit card or you need to use it then you can take out advances on it if you don't want to risk being stuck without being able to pay. State run banks, hotels, and Cadeca's will let you take out an advance on your credit card. The ABM's in a Metropolitan bank and Miramar Trade Centre will also let you take out an advance on your credit card.

If you are going to use an ABM, do so only during business hours and at a location inside a bank or large commercial building. Not every city has any ATM/ABM's so make sure you have money if you travel to Trinidad, Vinales, or Baracoa. Holguin, Santiago, and Camaguey have a couple with Havana having the most in on the island.

Cash is king throughout the country so keep that in mind!

While traveller cheques are going the way of the dodo bird some state run hotels and banks will allow you to exchange them, make sure to keep the receipt for the cheques. If you have some foreign currency on you (even American) you can exchange it at cadeca's as well as state banks and major hotels. Canadian currency (cash and/or traveller cheques) can be exchanged to CUP without additional fees. If you are exchanged US$ then there will be a 10% fee.


How do you exchange?

Start by swinging by one of these four places:

  1. at a bank - usually in main cities
  2. at a CADECA (Casa de Cambio) - at least one in each town
  3. hotels
  4. third parties

Option 1 & 2 are government run with the bank being the most popular option out of all 4. option 3 and 4 are not regulated by the government so the exchange rates will be worse.

Once there, decide how much CUP you want, the cashier will let you know the total in your currency that you owe and voila you have CUC. Exchanges are done in calculations of 10. and businesess will usually honor this but CADECAS and banks will usually exchange C$ 1 = 18 CUP. CADECAs are supposed to ask for passport, address, and other personal information to do the exchange but they rarely do. All they want to know is how much you want to exchange. ​