What you should know about currencies in Cuba!
For the time being (2015) there are still two national currencies in Cuba:
- CUC: Official name Cuban Convertible Peso
- CUP: Official name Cuban Peso (a.k.a Moneda Nacional or Peso Nacional)
1 CUC = 1 USD (fixed) and 1 CUC = 25 CUP
Both currencies are now available to everyone but CUPs are mainly used by the Cubans and CUCs are used by both the foreigners and the Cubans. Some stores and other establishments only take CUCs and others only take CUPs. The CUP-only establishments are mostly for the Cuban day-to-day life, such as street food, produce market, small grocery stores, cafeterias, movies, etc.
ALL CASH PURCHASES in Cuba have to be made in CUC (or CUP); no other foreign currency is accepted.
TIPPING is made in CUC, no other foreign currency.
The CUC was first introduced in 1994 but the US Dollar still remained the preferred currency for tourists until November 8, 2004 when the Cuban government completely withdrew the US dollar from circulation. Since then the CUC became the “tourist currency” to substitute the US Dollar (USD). At first (November 2004) the CUC was pegged to the USD (1.00 CUC = 1.00 USD), then in April 2005 the exchange rate was changed to 1.00 CUC = 1.08 USD, and then in March 2011 the Central Bank of Cuba devaluated the CUC by 8% against all foreign currencies, so this measure now pegs again the CUC at 1 to 1 with the US Dollar.
You can obtain Cuban currencies only in Cuba. You can exchange foreign currencies at the following locations:
This is where you’ll get the best exchange rate.
2. Cadeca (acronym for Casa de Cambio)
This is the official government’s currency exchange house. Exchange rate can be just a little bit higher than the bank but they usually are more conveniently located. Cadecas can be found everywhere in Varadero: airport, most hotels and resorts, downtown, shopping centers.
3. Hotels and Resorts Front Desk
Exchanging currency at your hotel is an easy and convenient option but usually not the best rate you will find. Service fees can sometimes be quite high, on average 3% to 6%, but may be higher in some upscale hotels; and their rate is not regulated by the government.
The passport is required to exchange money at a bank or cadeca but not at your hotel’s Front Desk. Banknotes with rips, markings or tears are not accepted so make sure to bring banknotes in good condition. Please note that no foreign coinage can be exchange, notes only. Always check the cashier calculation to make sure you receive the same amount as written on the receipt and the right exchange rate was applied.
Many foreign currencies may be exchanged for CUC (such as: EUR, CAD, USD, GBP, CHF, MXP, DKK, NOK, SEK, and JPY) at the daily exchange rate, but not all banks, cadecas or hotels can handle all of these currencies. USD exchange rate against CUC is different; a 10% tax (penalty) is added, so avoid bringing US dollars. The "Banco Nacional de Cuba" publishes the official daily exchange rates in its website (www.bc.gov.cu).
You can exchange back leftover CUCs at the end of your trip but the exchange rate is very bad. The CUCs have no value outside Cuba so it's better to exchange smaller amounts at the time and budget wisely at the end of your stay. It's forbidden to get CUCs out of Cuba.
They are not very useful in Cuba because it’s often difficult to find a place to exchange them and you have to pay a commission. Plus, you cannot have them replaced in Cuba if you lose them or they get stolen, you’ll have to wait until you come back home.
Credit cards issued by or affiliated with a US bank (or any other US financial institution) are not accepted in Cuba.
Accepted cards in Cuba:
Any VISA (with no USA affiliation)
Any MASTER CARD (with no USA affiliation)
Useless cards in Cuba:
American Express, MBNA, City Bank, Diner’s Club, Capital one, Egg, Marks & Spenser, Maestro, Alliance & Leicester, or any other credit card with US affiliation.
MasterCard and Visa credit cards (from a non-US bank) are accepted as a form of payment in most hotels, resorts, restaurants, stores, and tours agencies, but usually not in open-air markets, handicraft kiosks, small restaurants, casa particular (private home lodging), smaller hotels or hotels outside the popular tourist areas, privately own restaurant or paladar, street vendors, and many other places off the beaten path. Credit cards can also be used in banks or cadecas to draw cash (CUCs) but remember that your card company will charge you interests starting the day of the transaction.
Given that the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is not traded internationally all transactions on credit cards are charged in $USD (remember that 1 CUC = 1 USD) and an administration fee of 3% is added. For example: if you buy something which costs 100 CUC you credit card will be charged $103 USD, and then you credit card company will convert the amount to your local currency.
DEBIT CARDS & ATM (aka ABM)
Debit cards have always been useless in Cuba but it's slowly starting to change. Now only the debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo on them work, but in an ABM (Automated Banking Machine) only the ones with a Visa logo works, for a MasterCard debit card you have to go inside the bank and see a teller. Another challenge though would be to actually find an ATM and one that works! They can be found only in major cities and some tourist areas, but there's no ATM in Cayo Coco. In retail Direct Payment (interac) with a debit card is not available anywhere in Cuba
Please note that since the spring 2014, Cuban Immigration systematically stamps all passports when entering and leaving the country. And also: as of May 1, 2015, the Cuban Departure Tax is no longer paid at destination. It should now be included in the price of your trip when buying a flight-only or package to Cuba.
In October 2013 the Cuban Government announced its intention to eliminate their dual currency system (CUC and CUP). To the best of our knowledge, it seems like no schedule has been officially announced yet for this plan to eliminate the CUC and revalue the CUP; and so far (2015) there's no indication yet about when the CUC will be put out of circulation. More news to come.
Visit our website that chronicles the announcements and events related to The Cuban Thaw (the normalization of US-Cuba relations).
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