Cuba Travel: Why You Should NOT Exchange Your American Dollars to Euros or Canadian Dollars

american dollars to canadian
With all the media sensationalism and hyperbole about Cuba travel, as well as the numerous regulatory changes in the last few years, there are so many myths and rumors about Cuba travel.

  • The embargo has been lifted (nope, only an act of Congress can do this)
  • Cuba is going to get Starbucks and McDonalds soon (this one makes me giggle)
  • It’s illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba (NOT TRUE, you can travel to Cuba legally)
  • You can’t use CUP as a tourist (tourists can use either Cuban currency!)
  • The food in Cuba is bad (actually, there’s been a culinary revolution in Cuba these last few years)
  • You’ll find “Cuban sandwiches” (this is a Miami thing)
  • You can travel like a local (you can try)
  • It’s a dangerous country

I could go on and on. But you get the point. However, one that I see constantly being repeated on travel forums, articles, and blog posts is… that you MUST exchange your dollars to Euros (EUR) or Canadian dollars (CAD) before traveling to Cuba. This is also probably the #1 question asked to me by clients who I consult on their Cuba travels.

Can You Bring American Dollars to Cuba?

First of all, you can bring American dollars into Cuba. Then you can easily exchange American dollars to Cuban pesos (both CUP and CUC) upon arriving in Cuba. And you can exchange leftover Cuban pesos back for American dollars at the airport on your way out.

What is the Best Currency to Take to Cuba?

Secondly… Yes, in Cuba, American dollars are subject to an extra 10% fee which no other currency gets hit with. So immediately many travelers think that if they rush to the bank to convert their American dollars to any other currency Canadian dollars (CAD) or to Euros (EUR) that they will save that 10%.

But unless you have a hook up with a bank/exchange house for super low rates, the mathematical likelihood is that you may actually lose money doing this.

Let’s break it down, mathematically:

Starting with $100.00 USD

–> Right now if you go to Cuba with $100 USD you will get back $87.00 (10% American free + the 3% standard exchange fee).

If you go to a currency exchange agency with $100 (especially at an airport) you’ll likely get hit with a commision and/or fee that is often more than 10% of the currency anyway! This means you could actually lose money (and time) going this route. So unless you are coming directly from another country (because you’re from there or you can directly withdraw their currency from an ATM with your debit card there) or the currency exchange business in your hometown/region offers combined commission fees/rates that are lower than 10%, you should not exchange your American dollars for anything.

If you want to do your own math before you go, here are the Cuba official exchange rates. You can call your bank or your nearest currency exchange business to see what their rates are and compare them with the Cuban official exchange rates to see how much it would cost.

If you’re in NYC, this is the only place I would exchange my money to CAD or EUR. They are rated as the BEST place in NYC for currency exchange by Google and Yelp. I did the math and with their rates and you could save around 5%! But not 10%.

It doesn’t matter where you go in Cuba, 10% American fee 3% administrative fee is the standard rate everywhere because the government owns all the currency exchange offices (“Cadecas”). You can also exchange USD for the same rates at major hotels (also owned by the government).

Fun fact: There exists a black market for exchanging USD to CUC (3-7% rates).  But I’m not advocating for any illegal activity. Just an interesting FYI 🙂

When you SHOULD Convert USD to CAD or EUR Before Going to Cuba

To reiterate the only time it makes sense to take the double conversion route is if you confirmed with your bank/a currency exchange agency that they can offer you a rate with a commission/fee that’s less than the 10% fee Cuba charges. Otherwise, it’s clearly not worth it and you will lose money.

About me: My writing on Cuba has been featured in Forbes, Entrepreneur, Huff Post, and Havana Times. After several visits to Cuba, spellbound to the island, I decided to study in Havana for a few months. And NO, I don’t have a Cuban boyfriend! I just really connected with Cuba, as a Dominican-American passionate about multiculturalism, Latino identity, Latin American history, and politics. Today, I frequent the island as much as possible offering tours, connecting tourists with local Cuban entrepreneurs, providing travel consultation to Cuba, and sharing my photography/general insights on Cuban travel and society. Check out my Cuba IG vivacubatravel and my general travel IG dominicanabroad. The rest of my Cuba blog posts can be found here.

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