Caribbean countries generally use their own currencies, though many tourist destinations throughout the islands accept U.S. dollars to encourage American travelers to visit. Major credit cards such as Visa, Master Card, and American Express work there too, but credit card purchases nearly always occur in the local currency, with conversion rates handled by your card-issuing bank.
In many places, it makes sense to convert at least a few dollars to local cash for tips, small purchases, and transportation.
For starters, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, both U.S. territories, use the U.S. dollar as the legal currency. This makes it easy for U.S. residents to travel there, eliminating the hassle of money exchange and the confusion of currency conversions when making a purchase.
In countries that use the Euro and some Caribbean nations in South America and Central America (as well as Cuba), you must exchange your U.S. dollars to local currency. Cuba enforces an unusual two-currency system: tourists must use "convertible pesos" pegged 1:1 in value to the U.S. dollar, whereas the pesos used by residents are worth far less. Credit cards issued by U.S. banks don't work in Cuba.
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, including Jamaica and the Dominican Republic.
You can usually find a currency exchange window in Caribbean airports, and you can also exchange money at local banks. Exchange rates vary, but banks generally offer a better rate 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 that accept the U.S. dollar, you usually receive change in local currency. So carry small-denomination notes if you plan to spend U.S. dollars in the Caribbean. You can convert your foreign change back to dollars at the airport, but with small amounts, you lose quite a bit of value.
Official Currency (Money) for Caribbean Countries:
(* indicates U.S. dollar also widely accepted)
The following nations use their own currencies:
- Aruba*: Aruban florin
- Bahamas*: Bahamian dollar
- Barbados*: Barbadian dollar
- Belize*: Belize dollar
- Bermuda*: Bermudian dollar
- Cayman Islands*: Cayman Islands dollar
- Colombia: Colombian 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: Guyanese dollar
- Haiti: gourde
- Honduras*: lempira
- Jamaica*: Jamaican dollar
- Mexico: Mexican peso
- Nicaragua*: cordoba
- Panama: Panamanian balboa, U.S. dollar (both are official currencies)
Many places accept the U.S. dollar, but you should always check before traveling to make sure you have the right money to spend.