Cuba can either be one of the most expensive places you visit or one of the cheapest. What you’ll spend in Cuba is determined solely by the amount of research you do before travelling to Cuba. And I would highly suggest you read the rest of the Cuba section on this website.
Do Cubans Live On A Few Dollars A Day?
This is a myth that just refuses to fade away. Cubans do not live on $7 a day or $40 per month. All Cubans have at least one side hustle to bring in extra cash. And very often a Cuban’s side job brings in more money than their official job.
Lawyers moonlight as plumbers. University professors run airbnbs. Hotel workers clean private rentals or work as bar tenders. Teachers make more as waiters than they do as teachers. No Cuban lives on only their government salary.
Cuba is more expensive than you’d think. The rent alone in Havana is often up to ten (10) times the average monthly salary of the people who live in the rentals. A can of local beer will cost 250CUP and nobody earning 1250CUP a day would be drinking a six-pack at night. But Cubans drink most nights.
How Expensive Is Cuba?
Cuba is more expensive than Argentina but much less expensive than Uruguay, Chile or Peru. And it’s far less expensive than the United States, Canada, United Kingdom or Australia.
The first point to note here is that if you’re finding goods and services in Cuba to be expensive than you’re likely being ripped off. Cuba is awash with scams and ‘gringo pricing‘.
You also need to be familiar with Cuba’s blackmarket exchange rate that acts as the real ‘dual currency’ system in Cuba. The unofficial exchange rate operates along side the official exchange rate much like the ‘dolar blue’ in Argentina.
If you’re getting the real exchange rate and aren’t overpaying for goods and services Cuba is relatively inexpensive.
Excluding rent (Airbnb) which is comparable to Buenos Aires in Argentina, I could live very comfortably in Havana for around $25-$50USD per day. And by very comfortably I mean eating all meals in restaurants, taking cabs everywhere and drinking all day long.
Example Costs In Havana Cuba
Havana is the most expensive city in Cuba. So here are some of my example daily costs in Havana Cuba.
- 1.25lt bottle of water – 200CUP
- Packet of cigarettes – 180CUP
- 1kg bag of Cubita dark roast coffee (lasts a month or more) – 2500CUP
- English Breakfast (bacon, eggs, hash browns and toast) with 3 coffees – 1500CUP
- Entre, pasta and 3 ‘Crystal’ (beer) for lunch – 1800CUP
- Entre, enchilado de langosta (lobster) and 3 canchanchara (cocktails) for dinner – 2500CUP
- La Nave (Cuban Uber) from Vedado to Habana Vieja (return) – 600CUP to 800CUP
- A bottle of Gin with Tonic Waters – 1300CUP
- A bottle of good Argentinian Malbec – 2200CUP
- Bottle of Ron Santiago De Cuba (aged 8 years – the good stuff) – 1800CUP to 2000CUP
- Housekeeper 2-3 times per week – 1000CUP to 1500CUP per 3 hour cleaning session
- Fresh fruits and vegetables (Kilogram or dozen) – 20CUP to 50CUP
What I Spend Per Day In Cuba In 2023
At the current exchange rate $50USD is 8500CUP. So with $50USD per day I can be eating out and drinking all day long and relaxing at night with a bottle of something good.
Obviously if I was the budget conscious type I could take ‘colectivos’ (shared taxis) or the bus, cut out alcohol and not eat lobster. And I could visit cheaper more local restaurants. Which would cut my costs down to around $25USD per day.
I could also stay in places like Guanabacoa or Diez de Octubre. Because that would cut all my costs by about two-thirds. But I like being close to the ocean in Vedado. A highly popular area for foreign workers, expats and tourists.
Some (rare) days my costs will far exceed $50USD. For example if I take 2 local friends out to the most expensive restaurants in town and we each have entrees, mains, deserts and copious amounts of the best cocktails the bill for one night out can exceed 20,000CUP ($120USD).
I have also been known to spend up to 50,000CUP ($300USD) in a night. But this is when taking a larger group of friends out for 5 star everything and rolling home in the early hours of the morning. After we’ve tried every cocktail known to man in all the best restaurants and bars in Havana.
Not Eating Like Royalty And Finding Cuba Is Expensive?
If you’re not eating lobster, drinking like a fish and getting driven everywhere and you’re finding that Cuba is expensive you should take a closer look at the Cubans around you. They’re likely freeloaders or are using you as their own little cash machine.
Amongst some Cuban’s there is a tendency to just want to relax, not work and rely on foreigners to pay for everything. Now this isn’t all Cubans. And I will always pay for my close friends because they do earn far less than I do.
But what I won’t do is pay for Cuban’s who don’t feel the need to have a real job and their own sources of income while just freeloading off others. Any Cuban who feels they can just live off the kindness of others to go to restaurants and drink all night will get nothing from me.
And you too should look closely at who you’re associating with in Cuba if you’re finding it expensive. Particularly if you’re spending far more than $50USD per day for food, drinks and goods and services. Because you’ve likely caught yourself a Cuban parasite who’s sucking money out of your wallet.
You should also take a closer look at the restaurants you’re visiting and the shops you’re frequenting. If the prices aren’t clearly marked that store is breaking the law. And they are just making up prices on a per customer basis (i.e. gringo pricing).
If your Cuban ‘friend’ keeps taking you to a restaurant that has high prices but low quality they’re likely getting a commission from your bill. Or if they’re always getting taxis from WhatsApp and not La Nave they’re likely getting commission on your trips. And people who do this aren’t your friends they’re just scammers.
Learn To Negotiate Like A Cuban to Cut Travel Costs
You need to learn how to negotiate like a Cuban and pay cash in local currency everywhere to cut your travel costs. If the prices quoted to you are always sounding expensive you need to learn how to say some bad words in Spanish and walk away.
In the same way you would tell a shopkeeper to f**k off and walk away if they quoted you a price that was ten times the normal price in any other country, you need to do the same in Cuba. Havana is a fast paced and often pushy city.
Be forceful in your negotiations because you have the upper hand. Cubans won’t pay stupid prices and neither should you.
Cubans won’t pay for every freeloader that smiles at them and neither should you. Don’t just hand out money to every person that walks up to you offering goods, services or is begging in tourist areas.
Instead integrate into the society and act like all the other Cubans while you are here and your costs will go down and your level of enjoyment will go up.
Havana is a fantastic, fun and vibrant city and it is quite cheap. But it’s only cheap once you understand how it operates and when you learn to say no and walk away from freeloaders and scammers.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made a Cuba Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQ) available on this website. And I would strongly advise you to read it before travelling to Cuba.
My Cuba FAQ page will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the Cuba FAQ Page here.