Cuba has a dual currency. Learn the difference between Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP), how to get money, and where to exchange it. We answer all your questions regarding Cuba’s dual currencies.
When and why did Cuba start using the dual currency system?
Cuba started using the dual currency system in 1994 in response to the Soviet Union breaking up. The ‘Special Period’ was a time of deep economic crisis. The dual currencies helped Cuba reenter the global economy while being able to grow domestically.
When will Cuba unify the dual currencies?
No one knows when Cuba will unify the dual currencies. Raul Castro in his series of economic reforms from October, 2013 has made this a priority. However, there are still dual currencies so your guess is as good as ours.
There are still many hurdles to clear before this becomes a reality. The Cuban government has to devalue the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), and start distributing a unified currency. This is all easier said than done.
Are there ATM’s in Cuba?
There are ATM’s in the larger cities in Cuba. These include Havana, Camaguey, Trinidad, Cienfuegos, and Santiago de Cuba. However, you may not be able to use your card so plan on relying on cash for the time being.
Will my debit card work at the ATM?
Although the US has lifted restrictions on bank transactions for Cuba, there has been little progress in reality. Do not count on withdrawing money from an ATM if your debit card is a Mastercard, based in the US, or US-affiliated. Citibank, Travelex, Westpac, St. George, Capital One, Maestro, MBNA, AMX, Diners, Egg, Santander/RBS, Abbey, Abbey National, and Alliance & Leicester are all cards that will not work. The problem is that the transactions are routed through the US, and are prevented from occurring.
Local ATM fees are 4.50 CUC, and withdraw limits are only 150 CUC. This makes using ATM’s very costly in Cuba.
Can I use a credit card to pay for purchases or get cash advances?
There are very few places to use a credit card in Cuba. It is more common to use your credit card to get cash advances instead.
It is possible to get cash advances inside a CADECA with either a Visa or Mastercard provided it is not a US bank, or affiliated with one. Citibank, Travelex, Westpac, St. George, Capital One, Maestro, MBNA, AMX, Diners, Egg, Santander/RBS, Canadian Credit Union Mastercards, Abbey, Abbey National, Alliance & Leicester are all cards that will not work. The problem is that the transactions are routed through the US, and are prevented from occurring.
Which currency will I need in Cuba?
Most tourists will need Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) almost exclusively. Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) pay for accommodation in hotels and casa particulars, items from shops, food in tourist restaurants, and transportation on Viazul or taxis.
Cuban Pesos (CUP) are useful for government restaurants, peso food and drink stalls, camiones, and public transportation in Havana. Cuban Pesos (CUP) are a great way to save money for budget travelers as the local currency makes subsidized items extremely affordable.
Where can I exchange my foreign currency for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)?
You can exchange foreign currency for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) at either a bank or CADECA. Both are government run, and have the same exchange rates. We felt more comfortable exchanging our money at a bank, though. Banks tend to be in main cities, while at least one CADECA is in each town.
Hotels and third parties are not regulated by the government and will exchange at worse rates.
What is a CADECA?
A CADECA is short for Casa de Cambio, or Money Exchange House. They are small government run offices with the sole purpose of exchanging money. Compared to banks, CADECAS are more common. Each town will have at least one. This makes CADECAS convenient, and lines tend to dissipate quickly. You can identify them by their mirror C’s with a slash through them that resembles a dollar sign.
How much are Cuban Convertible Pesos worth?
Cuban Convertible Pesos are pegged to the US dollar at 1:1. Exchange rates for select world currencies are based on this, with roughly 3.5% taken as a conversion fee. The exceptions are the US dollar and Mexican Peso that are heavily discounted. You can find the official exchange rates on the Banco Central de Cuba website.
Banks and CADECAS (Casa de Cambio) will have similar rates. Hotels and third parties are not regulated by the government and will exchange at worse rates.
What documents and information do I need to exchange foreign currency to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)?
In order to exchange foreign currency to Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) you need the currency you wish to exchange, passport, and exact address for where you are staying. The name of your hotel or casa particular will not suffice. They need an actual address so taking their business card is helpful. Otherwise, use a map app to grab the address for a large hotel. They don’t check.
For women, many banks will not allow you in if you are wearing shorts and/or flip-flops. There never seemed to be an issue for men under the same conditions.
You are not supposed to use your phone inside banks or CADECAS so discretely calculate how much you expect to receive beforehand.
When exchanging money at a bank or CADECA, only one person is allowed at the teller’s window at a time. This is for security purposes.
Where can I exchange Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) for Cuban Pesos (CUP)?
The best place to exchange Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) for Cuban Pesos (CUP) is at a CADECA (Casa de Cambio). The process is straightforward as you hand over the amount of Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) you want to exchange, and notify the teller you want Cuban Pesos (CUP). None of the CADECAS we frequented asked for a passport, address, or other information. They only want to know if you want to exchange the entire amount you hand them, or just a portion. Exchanging multiples of 10 makes calculations easy with an exchange rate of 1 CUC to 24 CUP.
It may be possible to exchange Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) for Cuban Pesos (CUP) at a bank, but security directed us to a CADECA both times we asked.
Also note, when exchanging money at a bank or CADECA, only one person is allowed at the teller’s window at a time. This is for security purposes.
What is the exchange rate between Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP)?
The official exchange rate between Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP) is 1 CUC to 25 CUP. Many businesses will honor this rate, but you only receive 24 CUP for 1 CUC at banks or CADECAS (Casa de Cambio).
What currencies can I exchange in Cuba?
You can exchange British Pounds, Canadian dollars, Danish Kroners, Euros, Japanese Yen, Mexican Pesos, Norwegian Kroner, Swedish Kroner, Swiss Francs, and US dollars.
What is the best currency to exchange in Cuba?
The two best currencies to exchange in Cuba are Canadian dollars, and Euros. The next best are the British Pound, Japanese Yen, and Swiss Franc. All have approximately 3.5% or less conversion fee.
US dollars are taxed an additional 10%, and Mexican pesos have a poor exchange rate. All three Kroners are difficult to find places willing to exchange.
What is the worst currency to exchange in Cuba?
The worst currency to exchange in Cuba is the US dollar. Besides roughly a little more than a 3% exchange fee, the Cuban Government levies an additional 10% tax. Depending on which fee gets processed first, you wind up between 12-13% short versus an equal exchange.
Only slightly better, the Mexican Peso also has an unfavorable exchange rate. Only the US dollar is charged a 10% tax, but you lose a little over 6%. All the other main currencies result in a roughly 3.5% net loss.
Can I exchange Danish, Norwegian, and Swedish Kroners?
In theory, you can exchange Danish Kroners, Norwegian Kroners, and Swedish Kroners in Cuba. However, it may be difficult or impossible to find a bank willing to make the exchange. We had Norwegian Kroners left over from a previous trip that we wanted to exchange, but no bank would make the deal. Your best chance would be in Havana, but do not count solely on these currencies.
Why does the US dollar and Mexican peso have such a bad exchange rate?
For a country that pegs their currency against the US dollar, Cuba sure has a strange way of exchanging both currencies. There are many reasons why Cuba has decided to effectively devalue the US dollar. The main reason is that they need US dollars to buy foreign goods on the open market. What better way to acquire more tangible currency than to tax foreign money exchanges?
Another key reason is that the Cuban Government does not want competition for the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC). They can freely print as many bills as they want, but cannot do so with US dollars. Whereas it is useful to peg the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) to the US dollar for stability, it is not beneficial to have competing currencies that they do not control.
The Mexican peso is discounted to second-class status in Cuba, because there is too much supply. With limited flights from the US, many tourists fly through Mexico to arrive in Cuba. The two main airports are in Cancun, and Mexico City to some degree. Cuba no longer needs a steady influx of Mexican pesos so they discourage travelers from exchanging the currency.
Is it a good idea to exchange US dollars to Euros or Canadian dollars, and then into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)?
Yes. If you are traveling from the US, it is often better to exchange US dollars to Euros or Canadian dollars, and then into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Since you are effectively being charged 12-13% to exchange US dollars in Cuba, you will come out ahead as long as you can make the initial exchange at less than 8.5%.
Here is how I came to that conclusion. Of the major world currencies, the British Pound had the worst exchange rate for that given day at a conversion cost of 3.55%. I used this instead of Euros or Canadian dollars to account for the worst case, and exchange rate fluctuations on the open market. The US dollar conversion cost was 12.29%. Subtract the two and you have 8.74% to play with to still come out ahead.
Is it a good idea to exchange Mexican Pesos to Euros or Canadian dollars, and then into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC)?
This is a toss-up. If you are in or from Mexico and traveling to Cuba, then you really need to look at exchange rates. Your target should be 2.5% or less. Otherwise, save yourself the trouble and possibly money by not exchanging your Mexican pesos to Euros or Canadian dollars.
Here is how I came to that conclusion. Of the major world currencies, the British Pound had the worst exchange rate for that given day at a conversion cost of 3.55%. I used this instead of Euros or Canadian dollars to account for the worst case, and exchange rate fluctuations on the open market. The Mexican peso costs 6.14% to exchange in Cuba. Subtract the two and you only have 2.59% to play with to come out ahead.
Exchanging Mexican pesos to Euros or Canadian dollars before entering Cuba might also make sense if you do not plan on staying or returning to Mexico after visiting Cuba. There are favorable exchange rates in Cancun, and you usually get a better deal when buying foreign currency with local currency. We were unsure how much to budget for Cuba, and wanted a currency that would be easy to exchange in future countries. Therefore, we made the switch from Mexican pesos to Euros, and then into Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC).
Can foreigners use Cuban Pesos (CUP)?
Absolutely! There is no law against foreigners using Cuban Pesos (CUP) similar to not being able to take domestic buses. In fact, this is the best way to save money as you get to enjoy government subsidized prices.
How do I know which currency the price is listed in?
When unsure which dual currency is being advertised, it is best to ask and clarify in advance so there is no misunderstanding. Some opportunists will try to pass off CUC prices in lieu of CUP. After a few days in Cuba, you will begin to realize the difference. Regardless, it is best to pay and receive change in the same currency that is advertised.
What are other names for Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP)?
Sometimes, Cubans will refer to both Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP) as just pesos. It is best to clarify before agreeing to a transaction. Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) are commonly called ‘kook’, and convertibles. Cuban Pesos (CUP) are also called Moneda Nacional. Use these differentiating terms to confirm which dual currency to use.
How can I tell the difference between Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP)?
This is a tricky situation that you don’t encounter in too many countries around the globe. What makes this more difficult is that both currencies originate by the same country, which makes them similar in appearance. Here are the top ways to distinguish them.
- Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) bills will have monuments while Cuban Pesos (CUP) will have portraits.
- Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) bills will say CONVERTIBLES, while coins will have either a $ or cent symbol.
- Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) coins have an octagonal border inside the circle.
The most confusing are the 1 CUC and 1 CUP coins, and the 3 CUC and 3 CUP bills. Always keep an eye out when receiving change as not everyone is honest. The difference in value is 25 times so even a careless mistake can cost you a lot of money.
Can I exchange my Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP) before leaving Cuba?
Yes. You can exchange Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP) before leaving Cuba. Make sure you budget enough time to visit a bank, CADECA, or airport CADECA. Sometimes the lines can be very long.
A better idea is plan your finances towards the end of your stay in Cuba. By converting money as you need it, you will not have to pay the commission twice.
Can I exchange Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP) outside Cuba?
No! Cuba’s dual currencies are not traded on the open market. Your only options once leaving Cuba are to keep them as souvenirs, use them on a return trip, or exchange with someone you know visiting soon.
We hope these questions and answers have helped you understand Cuba’s dual currency. Please contact us if you have further questions that need answering.
Check out our post Cuba Budget Travel Guide & Information for Cuban basics that let you in on how Cuba works before you arrive.
***The Final Word – Take advantage of Cuba’s dual currencies while both exist. Cuban Pesos (CUP) make travel so much cheaper for backpackers.***
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