Exchanging Money in Cuba
You’re traveling to Cuba and are wondering how to get local currency during your trip? Well you should, because it is not always a cup of tea. So here are 3 tips you should know about exchanging money in Cuba.
1. Money in Cuba : Double (Currency) Trouble?
There are two types of currency in Cuba : the peso cubano (CUP) and the peso convertible cubano (CUC). This is sometimes a source of confusion for tourists traveling to Cuba. Basically, the CUP is the currency used uniquely among the Cuban people for everyday exchanges of goods. On the other hand, the CUC is the designated currency for tourists. Neither currency is up for exchange in foreign markets. This means, that outside of Cuba, you cannot legally exchange either type of Cuban money for another currency. At the same time, no other foreign currency is accepted by local shops, restaurants, and bars.
Each currency’s value and rate of exchange within Cuba is controlled by the Cuban government and can fluctuate albeit generally not too drastically. For all intents and purposes, most travelers think of 1 CUC as equal to $1 USD. However, a more precise ratio is below :
1 Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) = approximately $0.87 USD
When traveling in Cuba, you will almost always purchase goods and services with CUC and receive CUC as change. On rare occasions, you will get CUP as change, but that is usually when the sales establishment has no CUC to give or it is not a major tourist institution.
Most Cubans you encounter, would much prefer to receive CUC because the CUP is extremely undervalued. 1 CUP is less than $0.05 USD – just to give you an idea of how little the local currency is actually worth. One Cuban man I spoke with once told me that the CUP is worth so little that he might as well use it as toilet paper!
2. ATM Withdrawals? Forget About It!
Should you run out of cash while in Cuba, there is a slim to none chance of getting more. You will not be able to withdraw money from an ATM using any American card. Western Union and other wiring services take a very long time to reach the receiver in Cuba.
This is why we always tell our travelers to bring more cash than expected to spend. We think it is always better to have extra cash on hand rather than to run out and have no way to get more. A large number of our travelers to Cuba have told us that they wish they had brought more spending money. Cigars and rum are probably the most popular souvenirs for purchase, but many travelers regret not budgeting for the amazing, original artwork. Artwork is exempt from the souvenir quota of $400 USD.
Many travelers have also told us that they found Cuba to be a lot more expensive than other developing countries they have visited. In Cuba, be prepared to pay as much for food and services as you would in a ‘developed’ country. The unexpected higher prices are mainly due to the government placing large taxes on anything considered “non-essential” or tourism-related as well as the artificial exchange rate for the CUC. The trade embargo placed on Cuba by the United States also has some effect on prices. Cuba is a unique case and it is not as cheap as countries such as Indonesia, Guatemala, or Thailand just to name a few. Most visitors find it much more expensive than they anticipated.
Every traveler is different and therefore money spending will vary. Please consider your own spending habits when it comes to budgeting for drinks, shopping and tipping.
If you tend to purchase many souvenirs and/or art or if you enjoy spending a lot on big nights out, we recommend that you take more than the estimated amount below. An estimated total to bring for purchases, activities, and tipping is between USD $400-600. WE HIGHLY ADVISE BRINGING MORE MONEY THAN YOU EXPECT TO SPEND IN CASE OF AN EMERGENCY!
At the end of the trip, if you are satisfied with the service that you received from your Cuban guide and bus driver, you are more than welcome to tip them. You will have one bus driver that accompanies the group throughout the tour. The driver is employed by a Cuban government transport agency and thus receives a typical Cuban salary, ranging from about $10 – $20 USD a month. We therefore encourage you to tip the bus driver, especially if you received excellent service and your experience was enhanced by his/her services.
You are welcome to tip according to what you feel is appropriate, but here are some suggested amounts :
Cuban tour guide : $30 – $80
Cuban bus driver : $5 – $10
3. Exchanging Money
For international exchange purposes, 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. Note that on top of the 3% currency exchange fee, there is a 10% fee charged when exchanging US dollars, so you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one US dollar when exchanging currencies.
There are two official currencies in Cuba. The Peso Convertible (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP or Moneda Nacional – M.N). The exchange rates of these currencies are fixed by the Cuban government and are liable to change at any time.
Tourists use Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cubans use Cuban pesos (CUP). You will be quoted for everything you purchase in Convertible Pesos (CUC) as a tourist.
In Cuba, there are official government exchange houses called CADECA. These can be found in every reasonably-sized city and also at the airport. We suggest exchanging most of your currency at the airport for the sake of convenience. There are CADECAs in some of the bigger hotels and also near the accommodation in Havana. All exchange houses and hotels offer the same rates so there is no need to shop around for the best rate. Be sure to count the money you receive from the CADECA, as staff have been known to short-change tourists.
Exchange counters accept all denominations, so you can bring 20’s, 50’s and/or 100’s. Make sure that the bills are in relatively good shape with no tears and limited wrinkles.
At the end of your trip, you can exchange your money back to USD at the airport. You cannot exchange pesos outside of Cuba, so you can either exchange it to USD in Cuba at the airport or spend the rest on souvenirs at the airport.
Many travelers ask about bringing Euros or Canadian dollars to Cuba as these currencies do not have an additional 10% exchange fee like the USD. Remember that all foreign currencies in Cuba are subject to the 3% currency exchange fee. Your home bank may also have supplementary currency exchange fees, so it is up to you to check with your bank and inform yourself of the exchange rate, which you can find online.
Please understand that we do NOT advise travelers on what currency to bring with them to Cuba and it is the responsibility of the traveler to decide on his/her own. Please weigh the pros and cons of exchanging to another currency on your own.