In Cuba they have TWO currencies.
They have Cuban Pesos (CUP) for the locals and Cuban Convertibles (CUC) for the tourists. The exchange rate on the CUP is 25 per $1 and on the CUC it is 1 to $1. DON’T get them confused!! Both are called pesos – Both have images you would expect on Cuban currency – but the Tourist currency (CUC) cost 25 times more than the Local currency (CUP).
BE CAREFUL, if something cost $10 CUC and you gave the vendor a $50 CUC bill, he “should” give you $40 CUC in change. But if he thinks you won’t notice, he might give you $40 CUP (which is worth only $1.60 and you will have just lost $38.40. It’s important to ALWAYS COUNT YOUR CHANGE and PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR CURRENCY.
Changing your currency
You can’t buy CUC outside of Cuba. You have to buy it when you arrive in Cuba. Yes the lines will be long as everyone else will need money as well. You can change money at a CADECA (Change bureau) or at a Cuban BFI Bank. Rates are the same so no need to shop around. The exchange rate is generally 3%. NOTE: US dollars get a 10% penalty in addition to the exchange rate. If you have Canadian Dollars or Euros you will only be charged the 3% exchange fee.
How to tell them apart
CUP are kind of monochromatic, while CUC have many colors in them. Then double check to make sure the CUC bills have the words “PESO CONVERTIBLE” on them. Look at the examples on the right below. Tourists lose hundreds of dollars over the course of their holiday by not paying attention to their change.
You also have to be aware of this two currency system when buying goods. If something seems to be extraordinarily high priced – it may be priced in CUP (which is 25 to a CUC). I was told that some shops mark one of the currencies with two lines through the dollar sign and mark the other with only one line – but I wouldn’t trust that system. Better to just ask and make sure what currency they are using for pricing.
Credit and Debit cards
Cuba is still a cash economy. Credit and debit cards are not common. Even the large hotels that do take credit cards, will not accept US Bank credit cards. So far we have found one exception. Stonegate Bank has a relationship with the bank in Cuba and I have used their credit card to reserve and pay for my hotel. Almost everything else will have to be paid for in cash so take plenty of money. ATM’s are rare and are known for eating your card.
Note – street vendors usually price in CUP’s so that cup of coffee isn’t really $50!
Much more on currency, exchanging, credit cards etc to come in future blogs.