There are two official currencies in Cuba:
- The CUC : Cuban Convertible Peso (a closed currency)
- The CUP : Cuban Peso (a.k.a Moneda Nacional or Peso Nacional)
1.00 CUC = $1.00 USD (fixed) and 1 CUC = 26.50 CUP
Both currencies are now available to everyone (foreigners and Cubans) without any restrictions, but CUPs are mainly used by the Cubans and CUCs are used by both the foreigners and the Cubans. Some establishments only take CUCs and others only take CUPs. The CUP-only establishments are mostly for the day-to-day life, such as street food, produce markets, small grocery stores, cafeterias, public transportation, movies, etc. If you're travelling independently and/or off the beaten track, it's always handy to have a few Cuban pesos (CUP) on you when you're outside of a hotel or resort. In 2015, the Cuban government introduced new larger bills: 200, 500 and 1,000 CUP.
- ALL CASH PURCHASES have to be made in CUC (or CUP); no other foreign currency is accepted
- TIPPING in resorts and hotels is made in CUC.
You can only get Cuban currencies (CUP or CUC) in Cuba.
These currencies are not traded internationally, so they cannot be bought in advance.
Exchange from USD to CUC is subject to a 10% surcharge (penalty) since November 2004.
This is the only foreign currency that is penalized with this additional fee.
Be aware! Sometimes when buying an item in CUC, the change may be given to you in CUP. This scam is not very common but it would still be wise to become familiar with the appearance of both currencies and to be vigilant.
You can exchange foreign currencies at the following locations in Varadero:
This is where you’ll usually get the best exchange rate. Click for a list of banks located in Varadero.
2. Cadeca (acronym for Casa de Cambio)
This is the official government's currency exchange house. Exchange rate can be just a little bit higher than the bank, but they usually are more conveniently located. Cadecas can be found everywhere in Varadero: airport, many hotels and resorts, on the streets, shopping centers, etc. However, in our experience, the Cadecas located in Cuban airports is usually the place where you'll get the least favorable exchange rate.
3. Hotels and Resorts Front Desk
Exchanging currency at the Front Desk is the most easy and convenient option but usually not the best rate you will find. Service fees vary from a hotel to another, on average 3% to 6%. Note that in some hotels the money exchange booth located in the lobby may be an official Cadeca, and in other hotels exchange in made at the Front Desk.
Many foreign currencies may be exchanged for CUC (such as: EUR, CAD, USD, GBP, CHF, MXP, DKK, NOK, SEK, and JPY) at the daily exchange rate, but not all banks, cadecas or hotels can handle all of these currencies. The "Banco Nacional de Cuba" publishes the official daily exchange rates in its website (www.bc.gov.cu/).
Useful tips about money exchange:
- The passport is required to exchange money in a bank or a Cadeca but usually not at the Front Desk of your hotel.
- Banknotes with rips, markings or tears are not accepted so make sure to bring notes in good condition.
- Note that no foreign coinage can be exchange, notes only.
- Before leaving the exchange desk, always check the cashier calculation to make sure that the right exchange rate was applied, and count your money to make sure to receive the right amount.
- It's forbidden to take Cubans pesos (CUC ou CUP) out of Cuba.
You can exchange back leftover CUCs at the end of your trip but the exchange rate (sale) is very bad. The CUCs have no value outside Cuba so it's better to exchange smaller amounts at the time and budget wisely at the end of your stay. Note that the airport's Duty-Free shops usually accept foreign currencies.
They are not practical in Cuba because it’s quite difficult to find a place to cash them, only a few banks and some larger hotels in big cities accept travelers cheques, and you have to pay a commission (4 to 6%). Plus, you cannot have them replaced in Cuba if you loose them or they get stolen, you’ll have to wait until you come back home.
History of the CUC:
The Convertible Peso (CUC) closed currency was first introduced in 1994 but the US Dollar still remained the preferred currency for tourists until November 8, 2004 when the Cuban government completely withdrew the US dollar from circulation. Since then the CUC became the “tourist currency” to substitute the US Dollar (USD). At first (1994 to early 2005), the CUC was pegged to the USD at 1:1. In April 2005, its value was increase to 1.08 USD, and then in March 2011 the Central Bank of Cuba devaluated the CUC by 8% against all foreign currencies, so this measure now pegs again the CUC at 1 to 1 with the US Dollar.
Note that since the spring 2014, Cuban Immigration systematically stamps all passports when entering and leaving the country. And also: Since May 1, 2015, the Cuban Departure Tax is no longer paid at destination. It should now be included in the price of your trip when buying a flight-only or vacation package to Cuba.
In October 2013, the Cuban government announced its intention to eliminate the dual currency system, unique in the world. The Cuban peso (CUP) would become the official currency and the convertible peso (CUC) would be phased out. No official timetable has been announced, although Raul Castro is firmly committed to implementing this economic project as soon as possible. More information to come.
Lily & Normand