There are two official national currencies in Cuba:
- The CUC: Cuban Convertible Peso
- The CUP: >Cuban Peso (a.k.a Peso nacional or Moneda Nacional).
1 CUC = 1 USD (fixed rate)
1 CUC = 26.50 CUP
Both currencies are now available to everyone (foreigners and Cubans) without any restrictions, but CUPs are still mainly used by the Cubans and CUCs are used by both foreigners and Cubans. Some commercial establishments only take CUCs and others only take CUPs. The CUP-only shops are mostly for the day-to-day life, such as produce markets, small grocery stores, street food, cafeterias, public transportation, movies, etc. If you're travelling independently and/or off the beaten track, 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.
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 between USD and CUC is subject to a 10% surcharge (penalty). This is the only foreign currency that is penalized with this additional fee.
Warning! Sometimes when buying an item in CUC, the change may be given to you in CUP. This scam is not very common but it would still be wise to become familiar with the appearance of both currencies and to be vigilant.
History of the CUC
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.
Future of the CUC
Le 22 octobre 2013, le gouvernement cubain annoncait son intention d'éliminer leur système de double devise (CUC et CUP). Au meilleur de nos connaissances, il semble qu'à date aucun échéancier n'a été annoncé officiellement pour ce plan d'éliminer le CUC et réévaluer le CUP. Il n'y a aucune indication à savoir quand le CUC sera mis hors circulation. Plus d'information à venir...
You can exchange foreign currencies at the following locations :
This is where you will usually 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, many 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 Reception
Exchanging money at you hotel is a simple and convenient option but usually not the best rate you will find. Service fees can sometimes be quite high (average 3% to 5% but as high as 10% in some upscale hotels!). Note that in some hotels/Resorts the money exchange booth located in the lobby may be an official Cadeca, and in other hotels exchange in made at the Front Desk.
Useful tips about money exchange:
- The passport is required to exchange money at a bank or Cadeca, but usually not at your hotel’s Front Desk.
- Banknotes with rips or markings are not accepted so make sure to bring notes in good condition.
- Please note that no foreign coinage can be exchange, notes only.
- Before leaving the exchange desk, always check the cashier calculation to make sure the right exchange rate was applied, and count your money to make sure you received the right amount.
Many foreign currencies may be exchanged for CUC (or CUP) (such as: CAD, EUR, 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. 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 (sale) 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. Note that the airport's Duty-Free shops usually accept foreign currencies.
They are not practical in Cuba because it’s quite 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 MASTERCARD logo that are issued by a non US financial institution.
Some example of useless cards:
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.
Check with your bank to make sure that your credit card will be accepted in Cuba. Before traveling, you should call the issuer of your credit card to notify them of your travel plans (where and for how long); as you should always do when traveling abroad.
MasterCard and Visa 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 property 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 Cadecas (Casa De Cambio) or banks to get a Cash Advance, but remember that your credit card company will charge interest starting the day of the transaction.
As the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is not traded internationally all transaction 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 statement.
Transactions on credit card (and debit card) are not subject to the 10% surtaxe for using US dollars, this penalty is applied only when exchanging US dollars cash to CUC.
Debit Cards and ATM
Debit cards have been useless in Cuba for a long time, but it’s starting to change. Now only the debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo on them work, 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 also, direct payment with a debit card (like Interac in Canada) is not possible anywhere in Cuba.