Everything you need to know about Cuban Currency & Money in Cuba


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The currency of Cuba can be a confusing situation.  There are two units of currency in Cuba and have been since 1994.  Cunningly both units of Cuban currency are called the peso.    When you arrive in Cuba one of the first things you’ll need to do is change some money, or get some out of the ATM as it’s not possible to get Cuban currency outside of the country.  You will be sold the Cuban convertible peso – the CUC.  This is the official currency used by 99% of tourists.  Cuban salaries are paid in, and Cubanos, however, tend to use the other form of Cuban currency, the Cuban peso, the CUP.  There are 24 CUP to each CUC.  The CUC is pegged to the US Dollar at the rate of 1:1

Our guide on Cuban currency and the vagaries of Cuban money aims to outline the difference in the currency how you get hold of Cuban currency, how to make it easier to deal with Cuban currency and what you need to be aware of when you’re travelling around Cuba.

 

Cuban Currency

As I mentioned there are two forms of Cuban currency.  Both are legal and as a tourist, you can use both of them.   Both are confusingly called the peso.

You will, however, use 99% of the time, the Cuban convertible peso, the CUC.

The Cuban convertible peso (CUC)

The CUC is pegged 1:1 to the US Dollar.  This is the major currency of the tourism industry in Cuba.    1 CUC is the equivalent of 24 CUP – the Cuban peso.  When you change your foreign currency at a Cadeca or a Bank, or when you take cash out of an ATM in Cuba you will receive CUC.

NOTE: If you are travelling during September 2019 – October 2019 read this about Cuba’s fuel shortages

The Cuban peso (CUP)

While in the main you will use CUC, you also need to be aware of the second form of currency in Cuba. It’s also called the Cuban peso or “moneda nacional”. it’s designated as CUP and there are 24 CUP to 1 CUC.  If you buy street food or take trips in some of the fixed-route taxis in Cuba, almendrones or colectivos, then you will likely pay in CUP – or at least get your change back in CUP.

You cannot exchange foreign currency for CUP, but once you have received CUC, you can go and change them for CUP at a bank or non-airport cadeca.  Personally, I wouldn’t bother.  You more than likely have better things to do with your time in Cuba!

CUP are used by Cubans when they’re buying goods from their libreta – or ration book.  Street food is often sold in CUP, although, if your Spanish isn’t good you may find yourself being a higher rate, or a rate in CUC that is much higher than the CUP rate!

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Why Are There Two Currencies in Cuba?

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, which previously provided both a huge amount of support and revenue to Cuba, the country entered what is called the “Period Especial” – the special period.  The income of the country dropped significantly, imports and exports dropped.

To try and replace the revenues lost from trading with the Soviet Bloc tourism started to open up in Cuba.  However, the Cuban government did not want to bring back the huge American influence that had been commonplace prior to communism and so attempted to keep tourists and Cubanos separately.   Cubans weren’t allowed to enter tourist hotels or resort areas like Varadero.

At first, the US dollar was the acceptable tourist currency, but then the Cuban government I traduced the Cuban convertible Peso, the CUC, in 1994 and pegged it to the US dollar at the rate of 1:1.

There has been a plan to do away with the dual currencies for a long time.  There’s still no date for this happening.

How to take money to Cuba

Cuba is primarily a cash-based society.   If you book or plan to undertake activities here then you’ll be paying for them most of the time in cash.  Some of the higher-end hotels, of course, have facilities for credit cards, but American cards do not work in Cuba.

Take these currencies to Cuba

Cuba is the completed opposite to every other country that we’ve visited, where we normally have an emergency stash of US dollars.  For Cuba, we had an emergency stash of British pounds.  That’s because there is a 10% surcharge on exchanging US dollars.  This is on top of the 3% currency exchange fee.

The best currencies to take to Cuba to exchange are British Pounds (GBP), Canadian dollars ($) and Euros.  You cannot exchange Australian banknotes or Scottish or Northern Irish banknotes in Cuba.   You can, however, exchange Mexican pesos, Swiss francs and Japanese yen.

Using Debit and Credit Cards in Cuba

You will be able to use Visa and MasterCard credit and debit cards in Cuba, but only at upmarket, high-end hotels, expensive restaurants and in tourist shops.  So, if you’re staying in casa particulars that you haven’t prepaid, eating in paladars and hailing colectivos and taxis on the streets you’ll need to make sure you have cash.

However, you’ll want to be sure you have a back-up of cash.  Power cuts are still likely to happen in Cuba and when the power goes out your credit cards won’t be approved and you’ll have to find an alternative means of payment.

Avoid Taking Cash to Cuba by Prebooking and PrePaying Online

One way around this, if you’re not comfortable carrying wads of cash around is to prebook and prepay for your activities, accommodation and transport.  Here are some suggestions as to how you can do that.

  1. Use Airbnb for your accommodation provider – use our code here to get US$42 free on your first bookings. If you already have an account, set up another one with a different email address and the code works!
  2. Prebook your transport – you can use our partner in Cuba to book AND pay for your Viazul bus tickets, your airport transports, and shared or private rides all around the island. The team in Cuba buy your tickets for Viazul from the offices, so you’re not subject to the limits on online tickets that can be sold.  If they can’t find availability for your ticket you get a full 100% refund.
  3. Prebook activities – want to take a classic car tour in Havana? A day trip to Vinales?  A private walking tour? Book it online before you go to Cuba and you won’t have to worry about taking the cash there to pay for it. > read our article on things to do in Cuba and get some ideas for what you shouldn’t miss!
  4. Don’t forget that it is mandatory to have medical travel insurance for Cuba – if you don’t have it on arrival and you’re asked for it, you’ll have to buy a policy before you’ll be allowed in the country! > check policy recommendations here! 
  5. Save money on drinking water by buying and taking a filter water bottle so you CAN drink the tap water (which isn’t deemed as safe without further treatment)

Take cash securely to Cuba

Serious crime isn’t a problem in Cuba, but the more cash you have on you, the higher the risk of it being stolen.  Only take out what you need each day.  Avoid counting out large amounts of cash I public.  Secure your cash and other valuables when you are away from it.  We recommend and use the Pacsafe portable safe.  This nifty little device has secured our valuables around the world, even padlocked to trees with all our gear while we’ve been snorkelling on secluded (but busy) beaches!

How to buy Cuban currency

The Cuban CUC is a closed currency.  That means its not available outside of the country.  So you can’t head to your bank or to your home airport and change a few dollars or pounds before you get to Cuba.  You have to wait until you arrive to buy Cuban currency.

This will likely be your first experience of the Cuban queue.  Get used to it.   Don’t forget that you will need your passport in order to change money.

 

Buy Cuban CUC from the official Cuba money exchange – CADECA

The official Cuban currency exchange offices are called Cadeca’s.  You’ll find them at airports – (here are our experiences at Havana Airport ) although the rates aren’t as great there, and you’ll also find them in major towns.  Just search for cadeca.    Rates will always be posted above the window that you approach individually – they won’t serve you if more than one person is at the window at a time.

Getting Cuban currency from Banks in Cuba

There are ATM’s in the major cities in Cuba.  We only had one instance where the ATM didn’t work – and that was because my debit card had been stopped by my bank.  Of course, this is a challenge when internet access was poor (read about how to get internet in Cuba here ) and my mobile phone didn’t work either.  However, that’s why we travel with a back-up card (or two) – we recommend the borderless account from Transferwise, which provides for many different currencies and also allows the equivalent of USD $200 free withdrawals each month.  When you do pay for withdrawals the rates are the best that we’ve found in the industry. Try it out here. 

Buying Cuban CUC On the Black Market

You can, of course, buy Cuban currency on the black market.  You’ll find plenty of offers – from the taxi or colectivo drivers, looking for hard currency, to those standing around waiting by ATMs and Banks.  All we’ll say is do this at your own risk.  Know how to check that the currency you’re receiving isn’t fake and that you understand what a good exchange rate is.

It is not illegal for YOU as a tourist to exchange money on the black market, but the person you’re exchanging with could get into trouble.  Don’t forget, if something, like the rate you’re being offered, sounds too good to be true, then IT IS.

ATMs in Cuba

When we needed an ATM in Cuba we could find one.  And they always worked for us.  Apart from once when my card stopped working.  Luckily, we had a backup, as it was a further 3 weeks before the card worked again (we were back in the UK before we were able to contact the bank!)

All foreign exchange rates, including those set by the Cuban banks ATM’s that you will use, are set by the Cuban government.  There is a 3% fee set on ATM withdrawals.  This is because the amount of CUC you withdraw is converted to US Dollars, on which there is a 3% charge.

So if you withdraw 100 CUC from an ATM you will be charged US$103.    Many of the ATMs in Cuba have a 200 CUC limit.  And this limit includes the foreign exchange fee, so it’s likely that you’ll only be able to take out about 190 CUC.

Withdrawing money in Cuba

We withdraw several lots of cash in Cuba on a variety of card, all of which are set as foreign transaction FREE or very cost-effective – outside of our free foreign transaction cards we also use Transferwise’s borderless account, which allows for the equivalent of US$200 of fee-free transactions per month and then after that has the lowest rates that we’ve found. Get your borderless account here.

Credit Cards in Cuba

Cuba is a cash-based society, and while we did use a credit card while we were in Cuba, it was to pay for pre-booked casa Particulars – which we’d booked through Airbnb and Booking.com We didn’t stay ay high-end hotels or eat in high-end restaurants and paid for all of our activities and food with cash.

Debit Cards in Cuba

Debit cards can be used in the same way as credit cards in Cuba.  If it’s a Visa or MasterCard, then it will be accepted in the same way that the credit card is.  You’ve just got to find the location that accepts it.

FAQs on Cuban Currency

What is Cuba’s Currency?

Cuban currency is the Cuban peso.

Can I buy Cuban currency in the UK?

No.  You cannot buy Cuban pesos outside of Cuba.   Cuban money is not traded internationally and is known as a closed currency.  You cannot buy Cuban currency outside of Cuba.

Can I use ATMS in Cuba?

Yes.  There are ATMS in Cuba.  They are not designated just for Cuban cards.

Will my ATM card work in Cuba?

It depends.  If you have an American ATM card it will not work in Cuba.  For all other countries, you should ask your bank prior to travel as to whether there are restrictions on using it in Cuba.  Always take a back-up card or two.

Which is the best ATM Cuba?

The only serious answer to this is one that both works and one that has cash inside it.  Be conscious of weekends, holidays and potential powers cuts and always plan ahead when it comes to cash in Cuba.

Can I use a credit card in Cuba?

Yes and no.  If you are staying a higher end hotel then they will accept credit cards.  If you are staying in a casa particular (which we seriously recommend), then they are unlikely to accept credit cards.  Only high end restaurants will accept credit cards.  If you want organize trips, activities and even dining, then we recommend booking ahead online if you want to use your credit card.  A La Mesa, a local Cuban app and website allows for this. Check out their options here.

What’s the difference between CUC and CUP?

When you exchange your foreign currency at a Cadeca or put your ATM card into a machine you will be given CUC, the Cuban convertible peso.  You can then exchange these CUC for CUP (if you so desire).  There are 24 CUP to the CUC.  Don’t get them muddled up.  The changes are that you’ll never see any CUP while you’re travelling to Cuba.

What currency can I change in Cuba?

You can change Canadian dollars, British pounds sterling, Japanese Yen, Swiss Francs, Euros and Mexican pesos in Cuba.  You can also exchange US dollars in Cuba, but you will be charged an extra 10% on top of the 3% set Cuban government foreign currency exchange rate.

What do you do if you run out of cash in Cuba?

If you have problems in Cuba you’ll be directed to Asistur.  This is the Cuban government agency set up to help Tourists.  They can arrange for you to have money sent from abroad.  They will also be able to assist if you have problems with your credit or debit card being declined.

Our experiences with money in Cuba

We took a small amount of cash to Cuba – we prebooked our Casa Particulars for the first two weeks of our trip with Airbnb and prepaid them.  For everything else we paid cash.  And we used ATMs throughout Cuba with only one problem – a card that stopped working, so we used another one.

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About Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter is an avid reader, writer and traveller. She loves hiking, sailing, skiing and exploring the world through food. She left a successful career in IT security and compliance in both the UK and US to travel the world with husband and partner in adventure, Nigel.

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