There are two currencies in Cuba:
- The CUC: Cuban Convertible Peso
- The CUP: Cuban Peso (a.k.a Moneda Nacional or Peso Nacional)
1 CUC = 1 USD (fixed rate) and 1 CUC = 26.50 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. it's always handy to have a few Cuban Pesos (CUP) on you. In 2015, the Cuban government introduced new CUP larger bills: 200, 500 and 1,000 CUP.
ALL CASH PURCHASES must be made in CUC (or CUP); no other foreign currency is accepted.
TIPPING to hotels and resorts staff is made in CUC.
You can only get Cuban currencies (CUP or CUC) in Cuba.
These currencies are not traded internationally, so they cannot be bought in advance.
Exchange from USD to CUC is subject to a 10% surcharge (penalty) since November 2004.
This is the only foreign currency that is penalized with this additional fee.
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: airport, most hotels and resorts, downtown, shopping centers. However, in our experience, the Cadecas located in Cuban airports is usually the place where you'll get the least favorable exchange rate.
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 are on average 3% to 6%, but may be higher in some upscale hotels.
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.
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 (or CUPs) out of Cuba.
They are not practical in Cuba because it's difficult to find a place to cash them, only a few banks and some larger hotels in big cities accept travelers cheques, and you have to pay a commission (4 to 6%). Plus, you cannot have them replaced in Cuba if you loose 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:
Most cards with the VISA or MASTER CARD logo that are issued by a non US bank.
Some example of useless cards in Cuba:
American Express, MBNA, City Bank, Capital one, Diners, Egg, Marks & Spenser, Maestro, Alliance & Leicester, any MasterCard from a Canadian Credit Union, 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 that 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 on your credit card statement.
DEBIT CARDS & ATM (aka ABM)
Debit cards have been ineffective in Cuba for a long time, but it's slowly starting to change. Now only the debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo on them works, but in an ATM (Automated Teller Machine) only the one with a Visa logo works, for a MasterCard debit card you have to go inside the bank and see a teller. The biggest problem remains to actually find an ATM, and one which is working! They can be found in larger cities and some major tourist areas.
And note also that direct payment with a debit card (like Interac in Canada) is not possible anywhere in Cuba.
Note that since the spring 2014, Cuban Immigration systematically stamps all passports when entering and leaving the country. And also: Since 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 vacation package to Cuba.
In October 2013, the Cuban government announced its intention to eliminate the dual currency system, unique in the world. The Cuban peso (CUP) would become the official currency and the convertible peso (CUC) would be phased out. No official timetable has been announced, although Raul Castro is firmly committed to implementing this economic project as soon as possible. More information to come.
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