First of all, it depends on where you’re going. For some Caribbean destinations, the U.S. dollar is the currency used. Others have their own local currency, but they also accept U.S. dollars. There are also some British overseas territories that use Euros. A currency reference list is provided at the end of this article for each country/territory.
In places where the U.S. dollar is the local currency, you will absolutely use U.S. dollars. The Canadian dollar is a major currency and easily traded almost anywhere in the world, however purchasing your USD at a local exchange bureau before you leave can give you the best exchange rate.
Most Caribbean destinations have their own currency. However USD is often still widely accepted, and sometimes even preferred. In some cases you will need both U.S. dollars and local currency. How much of each will depend on what type of trip you are taking and what you want to do while you’re there. For example, at your hotel (and especially on your cruise ship), you will likely need USD – not local currency – for pay for services or activities.
However, the farther you venture out of the touristy places, the less likely it is that they will accept other currencies, even USD. You can also generally get a better rate of exchange by paying in local currency. This is because you will not be at the mercy of the merchant’s rate of exchange. So, if you will be going to local restaurants, and shopping at local shops and markets, you should bring local currency.
If you are heading to one of the British overseas territories that uses Euros, then you should bring Euros. You can use USD, but it’s better just to convert directly to Euros so you don’t make two conversions. As with U.S dollars, purchase euros before you leave to get the best rate.
Credit cards are generally widely accepted around the Caribbean and are good for large purchases such as hotel bills and car rentals. Just make sure you are charged in local currency. Merchants sometimes offer you the option of being charged in your home currency. This service is called Dynamic Currency Conversion. It essentially lets the merchant set the exchange rate instead of your bank or credit card company, yielding a less favorable rate of exchange.
ATMs are also fairly common, but usually have international transaction fees. Your bank will usually charge you an international withdrawal fee anywhere from $3 – $5 in addition to the 2% – 2.5% on top of the interbank exchange rate. The bank ATM you use will usually charge you a fee as well. If you are withdrawing USD using a Canadian debit card where the local currency used is not USD, you will likely be charged to convert first to the local currency, then then into USD.
Remember to bring multiple payment options with you for backup wherever you’re going, and don’t forget to notify your bank of your travel plans so they don’t freeze your debit and credit cards.
Caribbean destinations and their currencies
Anguilla – East Caribbean dollar
Aruba – Aruban florin
Bahamas – Bahamian dollar
Barbados – Barbadian dollar
Bermuda – Bermudian dollar (Bermuda is actually in the North Atlantic Ocean and not technically considered to be part of the Caribbean, but has been included in this list.)
British Virgin Islands – United States dollar
Caribbean Netherlands (Bonaire, Sint Eustatius, and Saba) – United States dollar
Cayman Islands – Cayman Islands dollar
Cuba – Cuban peso and Cuban convertible peso (Cuban currency is not available for purchase outside the country. Bring Canadian currency for exchange, not U.S. dollars. Read our article about Cuba’s dual currency system.)
Curaçao – Netherlands Antillean guilder
Dominica – East Caribbean dollar
Dominican Republic – Dominican Peso
Antigua and Barbuda – East Caribbean dollar
Martinique – Euro
Montserrat – East Caribbean dollar
Saint Kitts and Nevis – East Caribbean dollar
Saint Lucia – East Caribbean dollar
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines – East Caribbean dollar
Guadeloupe – Euro
Grenada – East Caribbean dollar
Haiti – Haitian Gourde (Haitian dollars are a concept only. 5 Gourdes = 1 Haitian dollar.)
Jamaica – Jamaican dollar
Puerto Rico – United States dollar
Saint Barthélemy – Euro
*Saint-Martin – Euro
*Sint Maarten – Netherlands Antillean guilder
Trinidad and Tobago – Trinidad and Tobago dollar
Turks and Caicos Islands – United States dollar
U.S. Virgin Islands – United States dollar
*On the island of St. Martin, there are actually two separate places, the overseas French territory of Saint-Martin, and the Dutch island country of Sint Maarten. While the French side uses euros, and the Dutch side uses the Netherlands Antillean guilder, USD is often preferred on both sides. On the French side, restaurants often take 1 U.S. dollar as equal to 1 euro, provided it is in cash. When withdrawing money from an ATM on the French side, choose euros, not USD or you will be paying for two conversions.