How confusing can currency be in a particular country? The answer is very! The problem lies with using a duel currency system – CUC and CUP – Both are legal tender for tourists but one will be much more useful to you than the other.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE?
As a rule, tourists will only need to use CUCs (convertible pesos). These can be used to pay for hotels, transport, goods and services in shops – everything is priced in CUCs, even for locals – and generally you will be unable to pay in CUPs. Since 2011 the CUP has exchanged at 1:1 with the US dollar.
CUPs are the national currency of Cuba and generally exclusively used by locals to pay for things like rent, food and utilities. That’s not to say it isn’t worth having a few (although you won’t need much) as the can be used to pay for street food, markets, shared taxis or even a trip to the cinema. Since trade laws were relaxed, some Cubans sell food out of their windows or from their front porches – this can be bought in CUCs or CUPs but note that you will receive your change in local currency. We got a few coins as change for sandwiches we bought and they were pretty hard to shift.
One CUC is worth 24 CUPs so many Cubans want to get their hands on convertible pesos rather than local currency. Try to tip in CUC – it will make a difference to people and tipping in CUPs can be a little insulting!
The only other reason to get hold of CUPs are that they lookawesome! Both the coins and notes have Che Guevara’s face on them so it may be worth heading in to a bank to exchange some convertible pesos for a set of souvenir notes.
WHY IS THIS AN ISSUE?
The peso is a closed currency and so can only be purchased within Cuba – make sure you take plenty of cash with you.
Only clean, crisp Pounds, Dollars (Canadian or American) and Euros will be accepted. Ensure that any pounds are issued by the Bank of England – Scottish notes are not accepted.
Once in Cuba you can exchange your money at the Cadeca (Money Exchange Bureau), at the Airport on landing in Cuba or at your hotel. I generally exchanged at the our hotel but a passport was often required.
100 pounds will get you around 150 CUCs
100 Candian Dollars will get you are 80 CUCs
100 Euros will get you around 110 CUCs
Its recommended that you don’t bother taking US Dollars as there is a 3% exchange fee and a 10% charge when changing them to CUCs.
USING CREDIT OR DEBIT CARDS
You can get cash advances through your debit/credit card from banks, hotels and CADECAs, provided they are not issued by a US Bank. You will need to have your passport on you and be warned, you will be charged a whopping 12% commission for the privilege of using a debit or credit card.
American cards such as American express are NOT accepted. It’s worth noting that this can affect some British cards such as Alliance and Leicester as these banks are part of MBNA, an American bank. We were fine with both Natwest and HSBC debit cards.
Cash machines are surprisingly abundant in Havana – the majority of banks will have them – but can be a little temperamental, you don’t want the cash point to swallow your card and only source of money!
Another reason to take a fair amount of Cash is that the ATMs will charge you a huge $4.50 each time you withdraw. Couple this with the fact that you can only withdraw $150 worth of CUCs at a time, this can hit your pocket pretty hard.
Note: There is no ATM in Vinales!
Let us know how you dealt with Cuban currency issues or give us a run down of any money nightmares you’ve had abroad!
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