When was the last time you used all cash for days on end? Probably years ago given the ease of online banking these days, right?
Well, if your banking is set up in the United States, taking a trip to Cuba means you’re probably going to have to get used to using cash for the duration of your trip.
Due to the U.S. embargo of Cuba, U.S. financial institutions are not allowed to do business on the island. For Americans traveling to Cuba, this means you won’t be able to access your credit or debit cards while on the island.
This means you’ll need to plan out how much cash to take with you to Cuba, and plan to exchange your money for CUP (Cuban Pesos) once you arrive.
Even if you have your banking set up in another country, it is still important to plan ahead and have cash on hand – most restaurants, shops, and experiences you’ll want to pay for in Cuba will be cash only, so don’t show up surprised. Keep reading for more details!
Planning your Trip to Cuba
My number one piece of advice before even getting started planning how much cash you need to take is this: book as much as you can ahead of time in order to pay in advance!
Booking as much as your can ahead of time will simplify your trip and mean you have to travel with a lot less cash.
With websites like Hotels.com, Get Your Guide, and Airbnb all offering options to book ahead before you get to Cuba, you are now able to book your accommodation, tours, experiences, and more online before you even step foot in Cuba.
The process of pre-booking and taking a look at what is available will also help you get an idea of what general costs are going to be for your trip as well.
Expenses in Cuba
Now that you’ve booked out your accommodation and some of your experiences, let’s dive in to what you’ll need day to day while you’re in Cuba.
Food & Drinks
The cost of eating out in Cuba can differ wildly depending on where you want to eat and what you’re in the mood for.
Before you get an idea of how much you’ll probably want to budget for spending a day, I recommend checking out apps like TripAdvisor and AlaMesa (think of a Cuban version of Yelp!) to get a better idea of the prices at places that interest you.
If you’re eating at local places you can get some really delicious and plentiful food for as little as $10 a day (yes, total!) but if you’re planning on eating at more trendy places that cater to more foreigners and tourists I’d budget around $10-15 per meal per day and you should have some to spare.
Luxury dining can run $30 a meal or more.
Finally, most people visiting Cuba will want to drink bottled water, just to stay on the safe side of their stomach if you know what I mean. Budget at least $1 per bottle, though you may be able to get boiled or filtered water at your hotel or homestay. Or, use a steripen to easily sterilize tap water in seconds – this useful piece of travel gear pays for itself in just one trip.
Total – $20 to $55 per day
There are few type of transportation to factor in to your budgeting – daily transportation around the city and longer trips. For example, from the airport into Havana should cost you $25, so you’ll need to have $50 set aside just for these two trips.
Planning on going to the beach or multiple cities while in Cuba? These are additional expenses to factor in to your plan.
I’d say planning on spending $15-20 a day in transportation is a fair and safe estimate if you’re just planning on staying within the same city and getting from site to site.
Of course, there are ways to get around much more cheaply in Cuba, but the public transportation system is, though functional and largely complete, a nightmare to navigate even for locals, so I recommend sticking to private taxis if you’re planning to be in Cuba for just a visit.
Total – $15-20 per day + Airport Travel Expenses
Souvenirs / Shopping
Havana and the rest of the country are not generally known for being shopping destinations. However, there are some gems – art, photography, antiques, etc. that can be really special to take home to remember your trip. Simple paintings or prints can start at $15 and go up from there.
Total – $10 and Up. Totally up to you!
Many of these experiences and many more can be pre-booked online via Get Your Guide – take a look to an idea of what’s out there!
Total – Pre-book online! from $10 and up!
Making a separate line item in your budget for Cuba may not register for you, but I think its important to mention depending on how much time you want to be connected while in Cuba.
While many hotels, home rentals, and casas particulares are now starting to install wifi so guests have access while there, if your accommodations do not include wifi, it can cost anywhere from $1 to $3 an hour to connect to the internet in Cuba.
Make sure that you’re keeping this in mind, especially if you’re planning on being in Cuba for a while or you’re planning on connecting a lot.
Total – $1 per Hour
Try to give yourself some padding in the amount of cash you’re planning on bringing as well – remember, you’ll lose a percentage when you exchange money – and things always come up that aren’t expected when traveling, whether it be a souvenir you can’t forget, an extra drink at the bar, or museum admission.
Total – Around $50-100 (or whatever you feel comfortable with!)
You really do not want to run out of cash while on your trip, or start to feel like you might be and cut corners by missing out on experiences you wanted to enjoy.
With this in mind, I recommend giving yourself a cushion in your budget of at least $100 in case of an “emergency.” Stick an extra $100 in your suitcase and save yourself the stress – you’ll probably never have to touch it.
And remember, you don’t have to immediately exchange your home currency for CUP when you arrive in Cuba… I don’t recommend it. Just exchange what you are positive you’ll need and revisit changing money again if need later.
Planning ahead like this and operating entirely in cash might not be something that you’re not used to, but as you dream about the trip you want to create, it will come together for you.
… and honestly, not having access to a credit card will help keep your travel within your larger financial goals as well – trust me, I’ve been thankful for that before, too!
Carley Rojas Avila is a bilingual travel writer, editor, content marketer, and the founder of the digital travel publications Home to Havana and Explorers Away. She is a serial expat and traveler, having visited 40+ countries and counting. Carley has written for publications like Travel + Leisure, MSN, Associated Press, Weather Channel, Wealth of Geeks, and more. Find her front row at a Bad Bunny concert, befriending street cats, and taste-testing every pizza in Havana.