Cuba has two currencies, and understanding the difference between the two can be a bit confusing. We’ll do our best to outline the practical ways of using each currency, and also mention other important money-related things that you should know before traveling to Cuba.
One of the reasons navigating money is more complicated in Cuba than in other countries is due to the country's government and economy. As a Communist nation, Cuba is not governed by the same market principles as most countries you'll visit. This is most apparent in the fact that this small island country uses two different types of currency. Additionally, the Cuban economy must continuously try to improve in the face of both self-imposed restrictions and foreign embargoes.
Tourists use convertible pesos, known as CUC, to purchase goods and services in Cuba. The rate is one-to-one with the American dollar. Local Cubans, however, are paid in pesos, or CUPs, which run around 25 to the dollar. In essence, this system makes tourists pay higher prices and allows the Cuban government to subsidize certain essential items for locals. The government has talked of unifying the dual currencies, which would attract more foreign investment and help prepare the Cuban economy to participate more fully in the global market.
CUCs – pronounced “say-oh-says,” but simply called “kooks” by most people – come in the following denominations: 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100. There are 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavo coins. Travelers must convert their foreign currency to CUCs when arriving in Cuba. The easiest way to do this is to stop by the currency exchange at the airport after arriving in Cuba.
While traveling around the island, try to keep small bills on hand. Oftentimes, stores will have a hard time cashing anything over CUC10, so it’s wise to have a wad of smaller bills with you. If you’re a photographer and want to tip your subjects, it’s best to use 50-centavo coins or CUC1. CUCs are much more valuable to Cubans than the Cuban pesos, as they are worth much more.
All state employees are paid in Cuban pesos. There are 100 centavos to the peso. Pesos can be used to purchase food at Cuban street stalls – including pizza, sandwiches, and coffee – or to buy fruits and veggies in markets. At such places, it may be hard for the purveyor to give you change in CUC, so it will come in handy to have a few pesos on hand. Travel on local buses also requires the use of pesos.
On signs, the peso is often designated by “$” however, CUCs will sometime share this symbol as well. When in doubt, ask which currency is accepted.
Travelers can exchange foreign currency for CUC at banks, hotels, and burós de cambios (exchange bureaus) run by Cadeca. All exchanges are subject to a 3 percent commission charge. If you want Cuban pesos, you can also exchange CUCs and foreign currency for moneda nacional at one of Cadeca’s exchange bureaus. Do note that when exchanging U.S. dollars, you’re subject to an additional 10 percent commission charge, putting the total fee at 13 percent. To avoid this additional 10 percent charge, change U.S. dollars into Canadian dollars or euros before arriving in Cuba.
You may be offered to exchange your money on the street while in Cuba. Don’t do it! Not only is this illegal, but you’re also more likely to be ripped off.
All Cuban banks are run by the state. Banks are typically open Monday–Saturday from 8 AM to 3 PM. Banco de Crédito y Comercio has branches throughout the island. Banco Financiero Internacional caters to foreigners; Banco Metropolitano and Banco Popular also offer transactions for foreigners. After receiving money from a bank, always check your receipt and count out the money.
ATMs can be used during bank hours (some ATMs will eat your card after the bank closes). Many ATMs are connected to Cirrus and other international systems. Although Americans are now legally allowed to use credit and debit cards in Cuba, the electronic system has not caught up with the law—you’re unlikely be able to us a U.S.-issued credit or debit card to withdraw money from an ATM or bank in Cuba. You can, however, use a non-U.S. credit card to get cash advances from a bank (the limit is CUC5,000).
Hotels, major restaurants, and large shops often accept credit cards. Do note that credit card transactions are subject to an 11 percent commission.
Travelers checks can be cashed at banks and in many hotels. Some stores, restaurants, and hotels will also accept travelers checks.
Costs are somewhat variable in Cuba, due to the government’s strong hand in the economy. However, as of 2015, here is what you can generally expect to pay for goods and services in Cuba:
Casa particulares cost around CUC25 per night. In Havana and other large cities, the going rate is usually CUC30 per night.
Hotels vary based upon location and quality. Most cost between CUC100–CUC300 per night.
Breakfast in a casa will usually run about CUC5. Lunch and dinner in a restaurant can cost between CUC5–CUC25.
Liters of water cost CUC1–CUC2. Local beers cost about the same.
Internet at an Etecsa office costs CUC4.50 per hour. Hotels sometimes charge more.
A 5–10 minute taxi ride will usually cost at least CUC5–CUC10.
Cubans receive very low wages—the average worker is paid about $20 per month. For this reason, it’s extremely important to tip service providers. Tip waiters and waitresses at least ten percent. The same goes for tour guides. Tipping musicians is welcomed, as this is how they earn the majority of their income.
Also, if you’re staying in casa particulares, it’s nice to leave a small tip for the family. The state takes a huge portion of the money that owners make, and it’s good to give the family you’re staying with a bit more income for the services that they provide.
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Can I Bargain In Cuba?
It is considered impolite for foreigners to try to bargain or haggle with Cubans. Most Cubans live below the poverty line and make the equivalent of 17 USD per month.You can sometimes negotiate the price of your stay at a casa particular, but not always. It is acceptable to bargain with the driver of an un-metered taxi. Anything at a shop or a restaurant is non-negotiable.
Are Traveler's Checks Accepted in Cuba?
It is possible to use traveler’s checks in Cuba, but they are not considered a convenient way to carry money.To use traveler’s checks you need to have the receipt for the checks from the bank where you purchased them. You can only use traveler’s checks at banks, where you can exchange them for cash. If your traveler’s checks are from an American bank, you will have to pay the same expensive 10 percent charge that applies to exchanging American dollars.
Where Can I Exchange Moneyin Cuba?
Whatever you do, make sure not to exchange money on the street. You are likely to be cheated. Remember, Cuba has two currencies, the moneda nacional (national money) and the CUC, also known as the convertible peso. Money changers on the street are known for trying to trick visitors into exchanging their money for the much less valuable moneda nacional.Before you leave for Cuba make sure you have currency in something other than U.S. dollars. There is a hefty 10 percent charge to exchange American dollars into Cuban currency. In addition to the charge, the exchange rate is approximately 1 USD to 0.87 CUC. If you are leaving from the U.S., exchange your money for Canadian dollars (or another foreign currency) before you leave.
Once you arrive in Cuba, exchange your money at the local banks. In nearly every visitor destination and in most airports you will come across a casa de cambio (or “changing house”) called CADECA. It’s also possible to withdraw money from non-U.S. based credit cards and debit cards and exchange currencies at either a Banco de Crédito y Comercio or a Banco Financiero Internacional.
Remember that you will be stopped at customs if you try to export more than $5,000 of any type of currency. You are not allowed to take Cuban money with you when you leave. It is also hugely expensive to withdraw money from American banks at ATMs in Cuba, with 10 percent charges added to your bank’s international withdrawal fee.
Should I Leave Tipsin Cuba?
Tips are expected for tour guides, cab drivers, servers, and bar tenders. You should also tip your maids and porters. Remember, Cubans make extremely low wages, and your small tips will be a huge help for their personal economies.If you take a metered taxi ride, you should pay a 10 percent tip. It is best to only take taxis with meters, but if you choose to do otherwise, agree to the fare beforehand.
Tip your server 10 percent of the total cost of your stay. It’s common to tip servers 15 percent for excellent service.
Tip your hotel (or casa particular) maid around 1.50 CUC per day. You should tip hotel porters 1 CUC per guest. Be a little more generous if you have more than a few bags.
Tip bartenders around 1 CUC for every couple of drinks.
Give tour guides a 5 to 7 CUC tip. Tip museum guides 1 CUC.
How Much Are Daily Vacation Expenses in Cuba?
Traveling in Cuba can get pretty expensive, but you can make it affordable by knowing your options ahead of time.Hotels in Cuba can cost as little as 20 to 30 USD per night if you choose to stay in one of the privately owned casa particulares. For a nice resort you will pay as much as 200 USD per night. Mid-range hotels usually cost 60 to 70 USD per night.
State-run restaurants and roadside stands are your cheapest options for meals in Cuba. Food served in state restaurants is notoriously bland, and you will probably get tired of the menu options quickly. Privately owned restaurants called paladares cost around 15 USD per day.
If you want to hire a private car or pay for a taxi, you can expect to pay around 60 to 70 USD per day on transportation. Small Coco taxis are available in some Cuban cities, and are significantly cheaper. The most affordable way to travel in Cuba is the Viazul tourist bus. You can take a 3-hour bus ride that covers 185 miles (280 km) for around 20 USD. Domestic flights in Cuba cost around 60 USD.
Drinking can be quite cheap in Cuba. Domestic beer is especially cheap, and you can have a decent beer for a 1 or 2 USD. Cocktails are usually around 2 to 4 USD.
Entrance fees to museums and other sites of cultural interest cost approximately 5 USD. Visiting a cabaret or seeing a live performance can cost quite a bit more, depending on the performer. Budget around 60 USD for a night out on the town.
What Kinds of Gifts and Souvenirs Can I Findin Cuba?
Cuba's famous rum and cigars are the obvious choices. Remember that you can only bring back $400 worth of souvenirs, and you must have receipts for everything that you purchase. Only $100 of these can be for cigars, so choose your Cuban cigars carefully. Any cigars that you find on the black market are most likely to be fakes. Moreover, black market cigars won’t come with receipts.Go the art galleries in Havana and Santiago de Cuba, if only to browse the latest additions to Cuba’s art scene. Original works of art are exempt from the export restrictions on travelers. Varadero has a popular street market for art souvenirs – here you can buy distinctly Cuban crafts and paintings.
Cuba is known far and wide for its music. Look out for albums of Cuban jazz, salsa, and son music.
How Much Cash Should I Carryin Cuba?
Pickpocketing is fairly common in Cuba, so it is a good idea not to carry more than 100 USD. That should be more than enough to cover your meals, drinks, an overnight stay in a casa particular or a hotel, tips, small souvenirs, as well as tours and entrance fees.
Are Credit Cards Accepted in Cuba?
There are still prohibitions against using US-issued Visas and Mastercards. Make sure you bring cash to spend. Keep in mind that some businesses, especially those in rural areas, only accept cash.If you choose to use a debit card abroad, check with your bank to learn how much of a fee they will charge for an overseas withdrawal. The fee for withdrawing money from the ATM will probably be higher in Cuba than it is at home. Withdrawing money from an American bank is especially expensive, and comes with a whopping 10 percent fee.
Are There Tourist Taxes in Cuba?
The only tourist tax is the departure tax, and as of May 2015 the departure tax is included in the cost of your airline ticket. The exit tax costs 25 USD.