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Using a credit card in Cuba
You can use your Canadian Visa or Mastercard in Cuba, but many merchants don't accept credit card payments.
You should check with your bank before travelling to Cuba to confirm whether or not you’ll be able to use your credit card during your trip. While most Canadian Visa and Mastercard branded credit cards are accepted in Cuba, it’s difficult to find merchants that actually accept credit card payments since cash is king.
Cuba’s outdated technology and spotty Internet means that not many merchants are set up to accept credit card payments. That said, many big hotels and resorts, large stores and restaurants, car rental kiosks and tour agencies will likely accept credit card. You’ll need cash when you go to smaller hotels, shops and cafes, as well as B&Bs, markets, street vendors and anything off the beaten path.
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If you plan to use a Visa or Mastercard credit card in Cuba whenever possible, it’s best to use a card that doesn’t charge foreign transaction fees. These fees may seem small, but they add up each time you use your card while you travel overseas.
If a merchant does accept credit card as a form of payment, it’ll likely need to be a Visa or Mastercard branded credit card.
Common credit cards used in Cuba
Visa and Mastercard credit cards may be accepted at larger hotels, shops, restaurants, resorts, car rental kiosks and tour agencies – but not all merchants will accept credit card. Before travelling to Cuba, ask your credit card provider if your credit card will work in Cuba. But remember: even if they say it will work, it doesn’t mean every merchant is going to accept it as a form of payment.
In addition to relying on your Canadian credit card, Stonegate Bank, Banco Popular of Puerto Rico and Canada’s Natbank are authorized by the Central Bank of the Republic of Cuba to provide credit and debit cards that are valid in Cuba.
You can also use your Visa card to withdraw funds from an ATM, a bank or a government exchange facility (also called a Cadeca) – but be wary of incredibly high fees. Cash advance transactions should only be used in emergency situations. Mastercard is usually not accepted at ATMs in Cuba, although you may be able to use your card to withdraw money from inside a bank or a Cadeca.
Using a debit card in Cuba
Debit cards are not widely used in Cuba and should not be relied upon, although the technology improves each year. Some ATMs will allow you to use your Visa or Mastercard branded debit card to withdraw cash, but you may need to go inside the bank and withdraw money with the help of a teller. This is likely a safer option as well because there’s always the risk of losing your debit card to the bank machine.
Potential credit card fees in Cuba
When using a credit card in Cuba, know how much you’ll need to pay in fees to your provider. Two fees you’ll typically face with international credit card transactions are:
- Foreign transaction fees. You’ll pay around 2.5% on every purchase you make overseas. That’s $2.50 for every $100 you spend. Avoid it by applying for and using a no foreign transaction fee credit card.
- Currency conversion fees. These fees are charged when converting the currency from Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) to Canadian dollars. If a merchant asks whether you’d like to be billed in your local currency — Canadian dollars — decline the offer. When your card is billed in CAD by an overseas business, you’ll pay high dynamic currency conversion (DCC) fees.
Is it safe to use my credit card in Cuba?
Using your credit card in Cuba is safe, although you’ll want to exercise some caution.
- Safeguard your PIN. When entering your PIN, use one hand to shield the keypad for protection against hidden cameras and prying eyes.
- Choose ATMs with care. Choose ATMs that are located inside banks, shopping malls or in popular and safe areas.
- Watch out for skimmers. If you think there’s a problem with an ATM slot or its keypad, don’t use it. Someone might have installed a credit card skimmer.
- Beware of pickpockets. Old Havana and the public transportation system is infamous for pickpockets and bag-snatchers. Additionally, be wary inside nightclubs and tourist attractions. Beware of misdirection schemes, where one person distracts you while another takes off with your wallet, bag or purse.
How to prepare before travelling to Cuba
- Check with your bank. Ask your provider if you can use your credit card in Cuba before you depart. Visa is more widely accepted than Mastercard in Cuba. You should leave your American Express at home, as very few merchants – if any – will accept it.
- Get a card with no foreign transaction fees. Dodge expensive and unnecessary fees by applying for a no foreign transaction fee credit card well in advance.
- Notify your bank of your travels. Banks are always on the lookout for fraudulent transactions. If your card provider sees a transaction that’s unusual, it can temporarily block your card.
- Carry emergency numbers. You never know when you might end up losing your card or requiring a replacement, so write down your credit card provider’s phone number just in case.
- Plan where you’ll get money from. If you’re headed to Cuba from Canada, you’ll need access to cash. To exchange currency, try to stick to banks, government exchange houses and large hotels to avoid ending up with counterfeit currency.
Using cash in Cuba
While many merchants will accept Canadian dollars, you shouldn’t rely on it as a source of accepted currency in Cuba. If you exchange Canadian dollars in Cuba, you’ll often pay up to 10% commission. Cuba operates a dual-currency system, wherein locals use the Cuban peso (CUP) and tourists typically use the Cuban convertible peso (CUC).
The CUC’s value is less than the CUP’s value. If you’re carrying banknotes in Canadian dollars or any other currency, make sure they’re in good condition: Merchants can refuse to accept dollars with markings, rips or even slight tears.
Should I use my card to get cash?You should only use your credit card to get a cash advance if it’s an emergency. This is because a cash advance APR is charged from the moment you withdraw the funds – there is no grace period. You’ll also face a cash advance fee.
Although it’s not the best solution, many Cuban merchants willingly accept Canadian dollars, so if you urgently need cash and have some CAD on hand, consider handing it over – just be sure of the exchange rate.
Ask yourself a few simple questions before you leave for Cuba to avoid unnecessary travel headaches.
- Which card should I take? Call your providers to learn which of your cards will work in Cuba. If you don’t have a Visa or Mastercard credit card that’s accepted, consider applying for a new one.
- Did I let my bank know of my travels? Keep your bank in the loop on your travel dates to avoid unexpected blocks on your card.
- What fees will I need to pay? Not all credit cards come with the same foreign transaction fees, so confirm the fees that you should expect to pay in advance.
- What’s my source of cash? You’ll need access to cash throughout your stay in Cuba, so it’s important to identify where you can safely and easily get it from when you need it.
How to use a credit card in …
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