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Cuba’s MLC System

By the installation of the MLC:  the government is choking their own people with an overly futuristic ambition in a country  crippled by a non-existent economy.   Many Cubans are facing a forced inequality with this new system of payment for everyday items such as electronics, dairy products, toilet paper, canned goods, soaps, shampoos, clothes, household items, beer, wine, and much more.   Cubans are understandably angry as this one bold and swift move by their government is wreaking havoc on an already struggling economy and culture and it is also a stark display of promoting inequality which is very anti socialist in mentality and practice.

Forcing the country into using digital currency via debit/credit cards to purchase items at the government shops is not working out so well for the majority of Cuban people.  Many are upset about this, and as they should be.  This is a system that only widens the gap between those who have and those who do not, as some have said, “Only the elite eat.”

“The freely convertible currency (MLC), is the Cuban digital currency that substitutes the disappeared CUC. It is a currency whose exchange rate has not stopped growing in the informal market and in which most of the essential products are now offered in a network of stores throughout the country with the prices in USD.   This is a phenomenon that represents a loss for the average citizen and a profit for those who invented it. According to the official discourse, initially only “high-end products” would be sold in the MLC with the intention of “reinserting that currency into the national industry” and “importing children’s milk.” Now there is almost no milk for children, Cuban industry is virtually non-existent and a product of any quality can appear in those stores.  The appearance of the MLC was a turning point that enhanced the differences between those who can obtain this currency through payments and remittances from abroad and those who can only do so on the illicit market with their devalued peso salaries and pensions.” (Source: Havana Times)

Cuba has always been a cash society, and still wants to be. The new MLC system is doing far more damage than it is good for the people.   No one that I talked to is in any way supportive of  this new development.  It is creating its own black market, and forcing Cubans who don’t have access to the cards to pay ridiculously inflated prices, or go without.   Those who have access to these cards and Euros are purchasing items and reselling at huge markups and profits to Cubans who do not have access or family on the outside to help fund their cards.

“The arrival of the retail stores in MLC, however, set in place a duality of chain stores, the ones for Cuban Convertible Pesos – CUC and the ones for MLC and a trilogy of currencies (with the Cuban Peso – CUP being the third beside the CUC and MLC) . Thus, inequality was institutionalized in Cuban society, since not all citizens are able to access this currency to obtain basic services, most citizens are still left outside of the dollar economy.

One major difference was quickly seen between the two types of stores in existence, in the so-called Currency Collection Stores (TRD) and between the new MLC stores. The latter were supplied with a different level of basic necessities, most of which were collected from the TRDs at the beginning of the crisis. Government leaders in Havana alleged that these goods were necessary to attract hard currencies essential for the purchase on international markets of some products and raw materials vital for the people. Therefore, the so-called TRDs were facing shortages throughout the country of just about everything to the point that almost all of them sold only 4 or 5 products.”  Source: CubaLog

As a traveler, for a short trip, this had zero effect on me personally, and I did not get a MLC card to use.  However,  if I were a Cuban living there, unable to go to the store to buy dish soap or a bottle of wine, or baby food, or ANYTHING at the stores,  I too would be raging with fury that my own government is prohibiting me from having access to the basic necessities of daily living.


The Cuban Government launched prepaid MLC cards in June of 2021 that are exclusively available to foreign visitors. BANDEC (a Cuban bank) issues these cards, and you can use them to pay for goods and services at facilities that accept MLC, such as retail stores, car rental offices, some hotels, and state-operated restaurants.

Here are the main facts you must know about using prepaid MLC cards in Cuba:

  • You can only pay in MLC and they are valid for two years.
  • You can buy prepaid cards in CADECA and BANDEC offices. You will need your passport to acquire a prepaid card. Some airports have a window for purchasing.
  • There is a 5 USD processing fee, and you cannot pay for it in USD (lol).  Bring EUROS to fund your cards.  European Credit Cards also work as MLC currency and you would not need to purchase a separate card to use.
  • To make things even more complicated, the prepaid cards are printed with denominations in US dollars (!) in the amount of 200 USD, 500 USD, and 1,000 USD, but any withdrawls are in CUP only, the Cuban street currency which can not be used in any government stores.
  • You can reload the prepaid cards any time you need.
  • You can’t load the card from any other country.
  • The card won’t display your name on it.
  • You will need to set up a PIN.
  • You cannot transfer money to prepaid cards from other cards or bank accounts.
  • You can withdraw money, but only in CUP, so load it with only what you need as any funds left on it will only be available to use in Cuba or withdrawn as CUP.
  • The bank wouldn’t replace your card if you lost it.
  • If you have leftover money at the end of your trip, CADECA will refund the money in Cuban Pesos.

Learn more about prepaid MLC cards in Cuba in the list of FAQs from the Government’s tourist portal.


MLC Prepaid Cards Travelers visiting Cuba who have credit or debit cards that are not accepted in Cuban stores may request a prepaid card in the national territory.

This prepaid card is valid for the payment of goods and services in the commercial network in freely convertible currency MLC in Cuba.


Identification document: passport, and cash amount: 1000 USD, 500 USD or 200 USD, to recharge the prepaid card.


It has a cost of 5.00 USD per card.

Where to submit the application?

Prepaid cards may be requested at: Banco de Crédito y Comercio (BANDEC) and Casas de Cambio S.A. (CADECA)

How much can the cards be recharged with?

The prepaid card for travelers and tourists in Cuba may be loaded with cash amounts of 1000 USD, 500 USD or 200 USD. According to the amount with which the card has been recharged, the customer will be given a card with the amount printed on it. Once the amount loaded on the prepaid card is exhausted, the card will stop working until it is reloaded again, or the card expires.

In what currency can prepaid cards for travelers and tourists be reloaded?

Travelers may request prepaid cards in Cuba exclusively by depositing cash in the foreign currencies accepted by the Central Bank of Cuba: euros, pounds sterling, Canadian dollars, Swiss francs, Mexican pesos, Danish kroner, Norwegian kroner, Swedish kroner and Japanese yen; except for US dollars. The cards are not linked to a bank account.

Where can prepaid cards for travelers and tourists be used in Cuba?

The prepaid cards may be used in the commercial network in freely convertible currency MLC, to acquire goods and services until the amount deposited is used up.

Cash withdrawals

Cash withdrawals may only be made in Cuban pesos (CUP), in the country’s ATM network. However, if when leaving Cuba there is any balance left on the card, it can be requested at the CADECA at the airport. At the customer’s request, the balance of the card is reimbursed by card in freely convertible currency (MLC) at international airports when leaving the country. If there is any balance left on the prepaid card when leaving Cuba, it cannot be used abroad. The prepaid card that can be obtained in Cuba is for exclusive use in the national territory.

When do prepaid cards for travelers and tourists expire?

Once the amount loaded on the prepaid card has been used up, it will stop working until it is recharged again, but they expire according to the expiration date printed on the card, being valid for 2 years. The prepaid cards cannot be requested by Cuban nationals and permanent residents in Cuba. The prepaid card is designed exclusively for travelers and tourists traveling to Cuba. In case of loss of the prepaid card, it is not possible to claim a replacement from the bank. The bank will not be responsible for the loss of the prepaid card, because these cards will not have the name of the bearer printed on them, being anonymous. Neither are they associated with a bank account. Therefore, in case of loss, the bearer of the prepaid card loses the amount that he/she has on the card.

What are the benefits of prepaid cards offered in Cuba to travelers and tourists?

• Travelers who only have cards issued by U.S. banks may acquire them for use in the commercial network in USD, throughout the national territory, to acquire goods and services that cannot be paid in cash.

• It allows the control of your expenses during your trip to Cuba.

• They can be charged with successive recharges.

• It does not compromise your bank debit or credit cards for theft or loss, and the risk would be exclusively of the amount you have in the prepaid card in USD.

• No bank account is required for your application. It is not possible to make transfers or deposits from abroad to the prepaid cards. These cards will not accept deposits or transfers from abroad, nor between similar cards or other cards that operate in dollars.

How to check the status of the prepaid card in Cuba?

Users may check the balance of their prepaid cards, the last transactions made, change their PIN and withdraw cash in Cuban pesos (CUP) at the current exchange rate from the network of Automatic Teller Machines (ATMs) distributed throughout the national territory.

Where can I obtain more information?

Those interested in making inquiries about the prepaid cards may call the contact telephone number 80201996, or go to any branch of Banco de Crédito y Comercio BANDEC, distributed throughout the national territory.

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