Cuba's monetary system may confound and bewilder many but here we break it down for you and explain how the island's baffling dual-currency system works and what role you as a tourist will play in it. We simplify the difference between the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) and the Cuban Peso (CUP). We give you an insight into where you can pay in each currency, depending on which method of payment you decide to use and we tip you on the best places to exchange money, the types of debit and credit cards accepted in the island and where you will be able to use them.

Cuba Quick Facts


Capital
Havana
Area
110 860 km² (almost half of UK)
Population
11 242 628 hab.
Language
Spanish
Currency
Cuban Pesos (CUP)
Electricity
110 v / 60 Hz
Dial code
53
Time zone
GMT -5 hours

A little introduction to Cuba’s dual currency system

Cuba has a dual currency system that confuses many travellers. Here we break it down for you with a summary of the main points you need to know about when it comes to exchanging money in Cuba and paying for goods:

  1. The two currencies officially circulating in Cuba are: Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP or MN which stands for Moneda Nacional).
  2. 1 CUC = 24 CUP and £1 will get you 1.50 CUC approximately.
  3. Cuba is a cash country. While many places are equipped to take card payments this mainly applies to hotels and some restaurants only. For most services and goods you’ll be required to pay in cash only.
  4. As a tourist you'll be using CUCs 98% of the time, in fact you don't need to get CUPs at all, so our recommendation is to avoid yourself the hassle and only get CUCs.
  5. Even when things are priced in CUPs the equivalent amount in CUCs will be accepted (some local vendors might in fact even prefer being paid in CUCs) BUT it's never the other way around – for services advertised in CUC you MUST always pay in CUC.
  6. Cubans are paid in CUP in their vast majority and as such most of the services and goods aimed at locals ar priced in this currency. This is why sometimes entry prices to museums or theatres will be advertised in different currencies for locals and tourists.
  7. There's no need for you as a tourist to exchange or use CUPs, unless you want to just for fun or to keep some notes for sentimental value or as a souvenir.
  8. You can't buy CUCs prior to your arrival in Cuba. As Cuban currency is not traded internationally you can only buy it when you arrive in Cuba.

CUC vs CUP

Cuba is peculiar and interesting even in the fact that it has a dual-currency system that may not make much sense at all but it’s how the island’s economy has been operating since the early 1990s.

In order to sustain its battered economy, badly affected by the collapse of the USSR, American dollars (the use or possession of which had been previously prohibited and penalised) started circulating in Cuba alongside the national currency and Cuban Convertible Pesos, shortened to CUC (which was the Cuban alternative to the U.S. dollar and which was pegged against its value).

That was until the government stopped accepting U.S. dollars in 2004 and penalised it with a 10% Cuban tax on top of the exchange rate. So, no, it's not a good idea to bring U.S. dollars to Cuba, not when you can avoid it, you'll get a much better exchange rate with virtually any other currency.

Whilst the official national currency is the Cuban Peso (CUP), also called Moneda Nacional (MN), the one with the highest value is the Convertible Cuban Pesos (CUC) in which all tourist installations, goods and services are priced.

What to pay with what

Cuban locals are paid in CUP with a small bonus percentage sometimes also paid in CUC, depending on the industry they work for.

Staple food in street markets (but not in supermarkets) or obtained through the food ration card are priced in CUP, as are some goods and services not oriented towards foreigners. In short, there’s very little in Cuba that can be bought with CUP, and as a tourist it’s highly likely that you wont’ be able to pay in that currency.

Having said that, it’s not illegal for foreigners to have or use CUPs; you can go to a local bank and exchange CUC for CUP at an exchange rate where you'll roughly get 24 CUP for 1 CUC, but you might find there’s very little to buy with that currency except food off street vendors, fruit at street markets and some private taxis (who seeing you’re a tourist might still demand you pay them in CUC).

During your time in Cuba you’ll be using CUC at all times, for purchasing everything and anything, from cabaret tickets to excursions, taxis, car rentals, meals at private or government-owned restaurants, toiletries, phone calls, etc. Our advise is to change as much as you think you'll need during your trip at the first opportunity to save you queing up in banks or at CADECA kiosks.

You can always exchange at your hotel but make sure you leave with enough money as you might have trouble finding working ATMs on the street and local bank branches are not that easy to find either. This mainly applies if you stay in cities, as in tourist beach resorts and especialy in all-inclusives, you'll hardly venture outside your hotel and money exchange facilities are always on hand.

Exchanging Money in Cuba

The CUC is a closed currency which means you cannot get it in advance of travel as it cannot be purchased outside of Cuba. After arriving in the island you can either change your money at the airport, at your hotel, at one of the CADECA (Money Exchange Bureaus) or at a local bank.

Exchanging Money in Cuba

The best currency to take and the one that gives you the most value when purchasing CUC is the British Pound Sterling (GBP). Take clean, untorn bills with you with no writing on them and in denominations of £10, £20 and £50. Regrettably, Scottish Bank notes are not accepted in Cuba. You can also take Euros but as the stronger currency, British Pounds will always give you more for your money.

Exchange rates vary daily but you usually get around 1.50CUC for £1. For a more accurate rate before you travel you can check the rates published online by Cuba’s Central Bank (Banco Central de Cuba).

Please beware of scams and never ever, under no circumstance, exchange money on the street. You’d probably get ripped off or scammed in some way. Avoid it at all costs.

Lastly, remember to spend every last one of your CUCs before leaving Cuba (unless you plan on keeping some as holiday mementos) as you won’t be able to change them back in the UK.

ATMs in Cuba

Whilst ATM machines do exist in Cuba, these are not that easy to come by outside Havana and they might not always work too efficiently.

In more recent times, Cuban banks have been expanding the network of ATMs but they are still hard to find outside main cities like Havana, Trinidad or Varadero.

You will find ATMs inside (or outside) some local bank branches as well inside some of the country’s largest and most prestigious hotels, like the Nacional de Cuba and at a good number of Melia hotels.

No debit or credit cards issued by U.S. banks or companies will work at any of Cuba’s automated teller machines, nor will they be accepted by local banks or exchange bureaus (CADECAS).

Paying with Debit or Credit Cards in Cuba

In Cuba you will be able to make payments with debit or credit cards at most hotels, at the airport and in some of the larger shopping centres.

When it comes to street restaurants outside hotels, you may find that whilst some are equipped to take payment from cards, in most of them (especially in the privately owned ones) you will need to pay with cash only.

Make sure you check with your bank before bringing your credit card as even when your card is issued in a country other than the U.S. it might still be issued by a bank whose parent company is a U.S. corporation. In that case the card still won’t work because the parent company is bound by U.S. law. Always double-check with your credit card company or bank to see if the cards you’re taking with you will be accepted in Cuba.

Furthermore, VISA is the most accepted payment network and others might be difficult to process in Cuba. However, in recent times, with the softening of relations between the U.S. and Cuba, MasterCard unblocked its restrictions on the island and MasterCard cards can now be used in Cuba and American Express is expected to follow soon. But before more changes happen, just to be on the safe side, make sure to bring at least one VISA or MasterCard debit or credit card if you plan to use plastic in Cuba.

What CUCs look like

What CUPs look like

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