There are two official national currencies in Cuba:
- CUC: Official name Cuban Convertible Peso
- CUP: Official name Cuban Peso (a.k.a Peso nacional or Moneda Nacional).
1 CUC = 1 USD (fixed) and 1 CUC = 25 CUP
Both currencies are now available to everyone, but CUPs are generally used by the Cubans and CUCs are used by both the foreigners and the Cubans. Some stores and other establishments only use CUCs and others only use CUPs. The CUP-only establishments are mainly 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 foreign currency.
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.
IMPORTANT! You can only get Cuban currencies (CUP or CUC) in 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 new to come.
This is where you will 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.
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!) and their rates are not regulated by the government.
Your passport is required to exchange money at a bank or cadeca but not at your hotel. Banknotes with rips, markings or tears are not accepted so make sure to bring banknotes in decent condition.
Please note that no foreign coinage can be exchange, notes only. Always check the cashier calculation to make sure you get the same amount as written on the receipt and the exact 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 (please note that 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 ... http://www.bc.gob.cu/
You can change back unused CUCs at the end of your trip, but then the exchange rate is extremely bad. The CUCs have no value outside Cuba, so it is better to buy smaller amounts at the time and budget wisely at the end of your stay. Don’t forget to keep at least keep 25 CUC for the airport departure tax and some more for other airport purchases like duty free, souvenirs, drinks, snacks, etc.
They are not very practical in Cuba because it’s tough to find a place to change 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. American Express Travelers Cheques are not accepted in Cuba.
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 and Master Card with no USA affiliation
Useless cards in Cuba: American Express, MBNA, City Bank, Capital one, Egg, Marks & Spenser, Maestro, Alliance & Leicester or any other credit card with US affiliation.
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 banks or cadedas to withdraw money (CUCs) but remember that your card company will charge you interests 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 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 on your statement.
DEBIT CARDS & ATM
Debit cards have always been ineffective in Cuba, 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. Another problem however would be to actually find an ATM and one which is working! They can be found only in main cities and some major tourist areas.