Currency in Cuba
Dual currency system
Two currencies circulate in Cuba, the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP). The wide circulation of US dollars in Cuba ended in November 2004.
Cuban convertible pesos are called kooks by the locals and are the currency most tourists will use in Cuba. The CUC is mainly used to buy tourist and luxury goods such as hotels, official taxis, museum admissions, meals in tourist restaurants, export quality cigars, bottled water and rum. The CUC is fixed at 1:1 to the US dollar and conversion to CUC can be done at the Casa de Cambio or Cadeca (exchange offices), which are located in many hotels and other places in the city. Tourists are allowed to import and export a maximum of 100 CUP or 200 CUC at a time.
The Cuban peso is called Moneda Nacional (national currency) by the locals and is mainly used by locals. As of October 2015, 1 CUC buys 24 CUP and 25 CUP buys 1 CUC. The CUP is mainly used to buy everyday goods sold at farmers’ markets, street stalls and local restaurants. This means that you can buy things like coffee, bread, fruit, vegetables, fresh juices and snacks at street stalls with UPCs. In addition, UPCs can also be used in some (non-tourist) restaurants and to buy local cigars, the “tabacos” or “nacionales”. If you are on a budget and intend to eat mainly local food to save money, it is advisable to buy CUPs. Although places that pay in pesos accept CUCs, it is more convenient to use local currency and some public shops do not accept CUC payments because they cannot give change. Exchanging currency for CUPs can be done in exchange offices. CUPs cannot be converted into foreign currency.
Note: Raul Castro, who has long criticised the dual currency system for generally paying hoteliers and taxi drivers better than doctors, announced in October 2013 that the dual currency system would be abolished in about 18 months – but two years later this change has not happened.
Change the currency
Travellers can exchange a variety of foreign currencies at casa de cambio or cadeca (exchange offices), which are located in airports, hotels and major cities. Bancos (banks) also exchange foreign currencies and can be found in most major cities. Exchange offices and banks accept a range of foreign currencies, the most popular being Canadian and US dollars, pounds sterling and euros. Mexican pesos, Swiss francs and Japanese yen are also accepted by some banks in Cuba. If you hold US dollars, it is important to note that a 10% exchange fee will be charged in addition to normal commissions. If you wish to exchange US dollars, it may be more economical to convert them into another currency before departure (provided you do not lose more than 10% on this conversion).
For a full list of currencies accepted by banks and indicative exchange rates, visit the Banco Central de Cuba (Central Bank of Cuba) website. It is important to note that if you have a currency that cannot be exchanged in Cuba, you may need to first exchange your local currency for an accepted currency and then exchange it back into Cuban currency. Taking the first step at home is probably the easiest and cheapest option.
Many exchange offices and banks have credit and debit card terminals that can debit your account and convert it into cash. Note, however, that cards issued in the United States will not work at these terminals. In addition, many locations do not accept MasterCard cards (US or non-US). Also be aware that terminals at money changers and banks often break or shut down, so you may not be able to use a card (at least until the next day when the machine is working again). Be aware that some places will not accept cards that do not have your name on them (e.g. travel cards), even if they have your signature on the back.
When exchanging money, remember to bring your passport for identification (as well as the address of where you are staying, as this is sometimes requested). If you use a credit or debit card, the name on the card must match the name on your passport or the card will not be accepted. Be prepared for long queues at exchange offices and banks and unusual opening and closing times. Be aware that bureaux de change in resorts and hotels often offer lower rates than banks and bureaux de change in town. Finally, do not exchange money on the street, as travellers have been scammed with counterfeit or local currency.
It is possible to exchange CUCs for foreign currencies, but since July 2016, the money changers at Havana airport only change euros and US dollars. The money changers also do not carry notes smaller than 5 euros and 5 US dollars, so expect to have a few CUCs that cannot be exchanged. The money changers also do not convert UPCs.
Travellers’ cheques drawn on US banks are technically not valid in Cuba, although many have successfully cashed US travellers’ cheques at major tourist hotels. American Express cheques are difficult to cash as they are likely to have been purchased in US dollars. For example, Swiss travellers’ cheques, if denominated in Swiss francs, are accepted even if the cheques are “licensed” by an American bank, as long as the actual maker is not American. Visa travellers’ cheques are accepted, but the same caveats apply as for cheques made out to a US bank. It is best to bring cash to Cuba; resorts accept euros, Canadian dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs and Hong Kong dollars without charge.
ATMs are relatively rare in Cuba, but are available in most major cities. It is important to note, however, that US issued cards and MasterCard (whether US issued or not) do not work at ATMs in Cuba. ATMs accept Visa (not US issued, of course) and sometimes UnionPay. However, it is important to note that even if your card is accepted, ATMs in Cuba often break or do not have enough money for a large withdrawal (if you are rejected, try a smaller amount). Finally, note that only main accounts are recognised. Make sure that your balance is not in a secondary account linked to the card.
Credit and debit card purchases
In many tourist hotels, shops and restaurants it is generally possible to pay by card. As mentioned above, cards issued in the USA do not work. Visa and MasterCard (not issued in the USA) generally work, but can only be charged in US dollars and there is a 3% fee. If you use a debit card, cards with the PLUS or CIRRUS logo may work. As mentioned above, be prepared for the card terminal not to work or not to be connected, do not rely on using your card. Finally, private shops such as casas particulares and paladares will never accept cards, but require the use of cash.
|Do not rely on your bank cards as you would in other countries. Be prepared for your bank card not to work from time to time, if at all! Have enough cash or travellers’ cheques ready when you enter the country and during your trip.|
Shopping in Cuba
As in any developing country, most of the goods available are for tourists to take away. The main Cuban exports for tourists are rum, cigars and coffee, which can be bought in public shops (including the duty-free shop at the airport) or on the street. For real goods, you have to pay the official price in legal shops.
Cubans are also good at creating music like Salsa, Son and Afro-Cubano. You can buy CDs or cassettes everywhere, but if you pay the average price of 20 CUC, you can be sure you are getting quality.
If you plan to take large quantities (several boxes or more) of cigars, make sure you have officially purchased the cigars from a licensed shop that will give you the appropriate purchase documents. Foreign nationals may export up to 50 cigars (usually 25 per box) without a special permit or receipt, but official receipts are required to export more. If you buy cheap cigars on the street and do not have an official receipt, your cigars can/will be confiscated. Also be aware that any purchase of Cuban cigars outside of government-approved shops (even in resorts) may be counterfeit, and that the “cigar factory worker stealing from the factory” does not exist in any significant quantity. If you find a “shop” from a street vendor, it is likely that you will get fakes, some of which may not even be tobacco. Always make sure, no matter where you buy, that the Cuban government’s stamp of origin is properly affixed to the box of cigars. Since 2014, US visitors licensed to travel to Cuba were allowed to import US$400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than US$100 could consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined. These restrictions were further relaxed in 2016, but bringing cigars or rum for resale remains prohibited. The situation is changing, so it is best to check the current limits in advance.
Officially, you need a permit to export paintings larger than 70 cm per side. If you buy a work of art in an authorised shop, you will also receive the required document there, which consists of a paper and a stamp that is stuck on the back of your painting. The serial numbers on the stamp and the paper must match. The cost of the document is about 2 to 3 CUC. In reality, it is possible that no one will be interested in your paintings.