As relations with Cuba continue to normalize, U.S. citizens may be more inclined to visit the Caribbean island nation.
Plans for traveling to the unique country, including how to pay for items while in Cuba, must be ironed out ahead of time. In short, if you are traveling to Cuba, bring cash -- and preferably not U.S. dollars.
“It’s a heavily cash-centric economy,” said Ross Thompson, founder and managing director of Classified Worldwide Consulting.
While U.S. dollars are becoming more accepted, they were previously outlawed for decades. As such, many Cubans don’t know how to distinguish between real and fake U.S. currency and may feel uncomfortable accepting it.
Thompson recommends paying with Euros and Canadian dollars from an exchange rate standpoint. The official Cuban currency is the convertible peso, but it is “highly unstable and confusing.”
What About Credit Cards?
Several credit card companies including Visa (NYSE:V) and MasterCard (NYSE:MA) have removed the network block on U.S.-issued cards being used in Cuba.
“That said, the changes implemented by the government leave the final decision to each card issuer whether its cardholders will be allowed to use their cards on the island,” said a MasterCard spokesperson.
“So, before traveling to Cuba, cardholders should check with the bank that issued their card to see if it can be used on the island.”
Visa gave a similar statement.
Most recently, American Express (NYSE:AXP) said that it is “planning on initiating business activities” in the region, but did not elaborate much further. AmEx did not return FOXBusiness.com’s request for comment.
Thompson warns that even if the bank that issued your credit card allows you to use it on the island, tread carefully. Cuba, after all, is still a Communist country that has been engaged in a mini Cold War with the U.S. for more than 50 years.
“The chances of Cuban intelligence accessing your information while in the country are high,” Thompson said.
While it is probably safe enough to use your credit card when paying for flights and hotels, Thompson recommends using cash otherwise.
Classified Worldwide Consulting advises travelers to open up a new bank account/debit card before heading to Cuba that is not in any way linked to the one(s) they use in the U.S. If you plan on taking cash out of your account while in Cuba, you will likely have to go inside a reputable bank because many ATMs are defunct. In which case, the Cuban government can access all of the information in your account.
Finally, Thompson encourages changing your debit card’s PIN number once you get back to the states to further protect yourself from the prying eyes of the Cuban government.