ATM in Cuba how-to and what-if?

Happens more than you think!

Can I use an ATM in Cuba?

The answer to that question varies…

History of Cuban ATMs

The internet never forgets and a lot of information is outdated to say the least.

About 10 years ago the first ATMs became available but the first few years they only worked VISA credit and debit cards issued by non US banks. Hence the confusion that ATMs don’t work in Cuba.

Then they started accepting Mastercards in 2017 but still no other debit cards than VISA. A few months later almost all cards worked with the exception of all cards issued by US banks. The embargo forbids them to pay their Cuban counterparts so the Cuban Banks block those cards because they will never recuperate the money.

Then Machines with a Maestro logo appeared. But they were just second hand ATMs and they did not bother to take the logo off. Like there are still busses driving around on their way to Amsterdam.

Nowadays (December ’19) Almost all cards work.

Pitfalls

That your card works does not mean the ATM works. There are a lot of reasons for them not to work. They are out of money, the Internet connection is down, it just broke down, there is maintenance going on or any other excuse. I have not been able to use any ATM for over a week once.

Cuban logic dictates that the better your plan B is, the higher the probability than plan A is a succes… So if your plan B for not being able to use the ATM today is sleeping under a bridge and eating a Cuban pizza you are doing it wrong. Always keep other options open to get money and always get money some time before you run out!

Get your card back

Cuban ATMs hand out the money first and then you have to close the transaction and you get your card back. A lot of people are used to the opposite hence the warning above. Your system is used to getting the money and walking away. In Cuba you then just lost your card… And getting it back will take a few days at least.

Don’t Cue

If there is a line at the ATM, just walk on. In our book we tell the funny story about Cubans and their ATM but if you don’t want to buy that just belief us… walk on if there is a line.

Expensive

Using the ATM is more expensive than elsewhere in the world. A 100 CUC is converted in 103 US $ which is then exchanged for you local currency by your bank. So you lose about 6%. On top of that: Most banks charge a fee per transaction. Ask you bank if and how much, I can’t make a list of all banks ;-).

Card refused

Sometimes, without any apparent reason, your card is spewed out by the machine that states ‘transaction not possible’ without further motivation. The begin screen shows you which bills are available in the machine and if you want to get 150 from a machine that only carries 20s… That is just not possible and the transaction is cancelled.

Cuban ATM

Cash is still the best solution

Cuba is a cash society. You can not pay anything with a card, any card! (not true, you can pay in a lot of shops with a card issued by a Cuban bank. But you can not get such a card… So forget about paying lunch or your casa particular with a card.

In short: Yes you can get money out of the ATM if you’re not US based. Don’t put too much fate in that and bring enough cash. Replenish your CUC before you run out. And don’t get taken in (too much) by those Jineteros

Please read our book! On this page a tip that will save you a few hours upon arrival.