Question: What money or currency is used in the Caribbean? Can I use U.S. dollars?
The Short Answer: There are many types of money used in the islands, but the U.S. dollar is by far the most widely accepted.
The Long Answer: The Caribbean is one of the easiest places in the world to spend your money. By that, we mean that U.S. dollars are accepted almost everywhere, as are major credit cards like Visa and Master Card.
Still, there are a variety of local currencies in use on Caribbean islands, and in some places it makes sense to convert at least a few of your dollars to local cash.
For starters, the U.S. dollar is the legal currency of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, which are part of the United States. It's actually a big part of the attraction of these destinations that you never have to think about how much something is actually costing.
In countries that use the Euro and some Caribbean nations in South America and Central America (as well as Cuba), you'll have to exchange your U.S. dollars to local currency. Cuba has an unusual two-currency system: tourists are required to use "convertible pesos" that are pegged 1:1 in value to the U.S. dollar, whereas the pesos used by residents are worth far less (but are banned for use by foreigners). Cuba also is virtually the only place in the Caribbean where U.S. credit cards cannot be used.
In Mexico, you should exchange dollars for pesos if you plan to venture beyond the major tourist areas where U.S. currency is commonly accepted -- advice that also applies to other big countries, as well, including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
Currency exchanges are typically available in Caribbean airports, and you can also exchange money at local banks.
Exchange rates vary, but generally banks offer a better exchange value than airport outlets, hotels, or retailers. ATMs in the Caribbean also dispense local currency, so that's what you'll get if you try to make a withdrawal from your bank back home -- and you'll typically pay fees in addition to getting a less-than-ideal exchange rate on the amount you take out.
Note that even in destinations where the U.S. dollar is accepted, you may receive change in local currency. That's why it's good to carry small-denomination notes if you plan to spend U.S. dollars in the Caribbean. You can reconvert your foreign change back to dollars at the airport, but if it's a small amount we'd suggest skipping the hassle and cost and just keeping a few coins or bills as a souvenir of your island adventure!
Official Currency (Money) for Caribbean Countries:
(* indicates U.S. dollar also widely accepted)
The following nations have their own unique currencies:
- Aruba*: Aruban florin
- Bahamas*: Bahamian dollar
- Barbados*: Barbadian dollar
- Belize*: Belizean dollar
- Bermuda*: Bermuda dollar
- Cayman Islands*: Cayman Islands Dollar
- Colombia: Peso
- Costa Rica: Colon
- Cuba: Cuban Peso (note that tourists are officially required to use a special "convertible peso" that has inferior buying power)
- Dominican Republic: Dominican Peso
- Guatemala: Quetzal
- Guyana: Guyana Dollar
- Haiti: Gourde
- Honduras*: Lempira
- Jamaica*: Jamaican Dollar
- Mexico: Peso
- Nicaragua*: Cordoba
- Panama: Balboa, U.S. dollar (both are official currencies)
- Suriname: Suriname Dollar
- Venezuela: Bolivar
- Trinidad and Tobago*: Trinidad and Tobago Dollar
Many places will accept the U.S. dollar, but you should always check before traveling to make sure you have the right money to spend -- wouldn't want to disappoint your friends at home waiting for the next installment in their foreign snow globe collection!