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Useful input by john abbotsford on Lonely Planet Forum Cuba - January 2012

Cuba is like most other foreign destinations. You bring a major currency, then exchange it into the local currency to make purchases while you’re there. Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba.

1.) The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for, and make all your purchases with in Cuba.

2.) The second legal currency in Cuba is the simple and lowly Cuban Peso, CUP, (Moneda Nacional) which is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists, but it’s still something you should know about. Outside of a resort or hotel, it’s always handy to have a few Cuban Pesos on you. You get 25 or 26 of them for 1 Convertible Peso. Street food like sandwiches and pizza, fresh fruit drinks and other small purchases are all incredibly cheap for Cuban Pesos.

Once you get a feel for the place – and if you speak a little Spanish – there’s also peso bars and restaurants that can be quite interesting. Both types of Pesos are legal tender in Cuba and both are completely available to anyone – including foreigners – with no restrictions whatsoever. You can buy either of them at any bank or money exchange office in Cuba.

3.) Accepted Foreign Currency : Canadian Dollars (CAD), Swiss Francs (CHF), Mexican Pesos (MXN), Japanese Yen (JPY), British Pound Sterling (GBP) and the Euro (EUR) are all accepted. Exchange rate is based on 1 Cuban Convertible Peso being equal to $1.08 US Dollars.

4.) Exchange Rates : Check the Banco Metropolitano, the Banco Popular de Ahorro websites for daily exchange rates. (Links above).

5.) American Dollars : On November 8 2004, the US Dollar was no longer accepted as legal currency in Cuba. Americans now have to exchange their money, same as everyone else. Official exchange rate (as stated above) is $1.08 US Dollar = 1 Cuban Convertible Peso, but there's a 10% surcharge added, so 1 US Dollars really only equals about $0.82 CUC. (The US Dollar is the only foreign currency that faces this surcharge.) Americans should do their own calculating, but I find it very doubtful that they could exchange their US Dollars into another major foreign currency, then exchange that currency into Cuban Convertible Pesos for much less than the 10% service charge that Cuba levies against their US Dollars. Who knows though, perhaps some Americans – especially ones living near the borders – can get great rates on Canadian Dollars or Mexican Pesos and beat the 10% surcharge. Best of luck. In 2011, the US dollar was evened to the CUC.

6.) Trivia : Always bring to Cuba new(ish) foreign bank notes, with no rips, tears or markings. All foreign coins are useless, so don't bother bringing any (and that includes all you Canadians with your Loonies and Toonies!).

7.) Very Important Note When Visiting the Bank or Money Exchange : Always take a calculator with you so you know for sure the amount of CUC that should be coming to you. If you don’t have a calculator do NOT accept any transaction that doesn’t come with a printed receipt. No printed receipt invariably means that you’re being short-changed. Ripping off tourists during money exchange transactions has recently become a very common occurrence.

8.) Service Charges : Don’t listen to a crooked teller. There are no service charges. (The mark-up on the exchange rate is very high in Cuba – that’s where they make their money – not on service charges.)

9.) Airport Money Exchange : Rates are no worse than exchanging at a bank or CADECA Money Exchange. Airport Exchange Offices are always open when a flight arrives.

10.) Street Money Exchange : Lots of Cubans working money exchange scams, including the flight check-in personnel at the airport. It goes without saying that any traveler is an idiot to exchange money anywhere except at a proper institution, or between trusted friends. (And as noted above, even at the bank you have to be frigging careful.)

11.) Hotel Money Exchange : Forget about it. Way too expensive, at least in Havana. I assume the all-inclusive resorts would have to be better. The CADECA on Obispo Street in Havana – as with all their other offices I went too – were all open to 10:00pm, so it’s not a big deal to get money.

12.) Counterfeit Money : Counterfeit Convertible Pesos are quite common now, and not just in Havana. Some tellers double-check your foreign currency (especially Canadian) as there are periods when the banks are victim of counterfeit Canadian 20's or 50's.

13.) ATMs : Not widely available, especially outside tourist areas. If your Canadian cash/debit card doesn't have a VISA symbol on it, then it will probably not work in Cuba. Cirrus and Plus won’t work. Maestro and Cirrus is for interbank transactions on ATMs and won't work in Cuba - you need a card with a Visa/MasterCard logo. I look at ATMs as too much hassle, but some travelers like them. (Hate to think what you'd do if an ATM swallowed your card, which has been known to happen...)

14.) Credit Cards : Easy to get cash advances with any non-US issued credit card. Bring your passport for I.D. Getting a cash advance on your credit card ends up costing almost the very same - maybe even a bit less - than exchanging cash. (Remember to load up your credit card with cash before you leave home, so you're not hit with crazy interests rates...)

15.) Traveler’s Cheques : Personally, I don’t see the point. It costs a commission to cash them (anywhere from 3% to a whopping 6%)… they’re not always easy to cash outside of tourist areas… it’s unthinkable to cash American based TCs like American Express… and if you lose them you can’t get them replaced while you’re in Cuba. They seem like a lot of trouble for very little convenience or security.

16.) Getting rid of your Cuban Convertible Pesos : You can exchange your left-over Pesos at the airport when you leave, but they screw you on exchange, and many times they’re short of foreign currency. Sometimes the only currency available is US Dollars, which they’ll make a straight exchange on, 1 for 1 with CUC. A better way to handle it is to budget wisely during the last few days of your trip so you don’t arrive at the airport loaded with useless CUC.

(Remember, you need 25 CUC per person for airport departure tax.)

Lastly, if you do have a pile of CUC, check where the Exchange Office is BEFORE you go through to the departures lounge – some airports may only have Exchange Booths before security.Hope some of this info helps.Cheers,

Cheers Terry (Film Guy)
March 2005

Source : Debbie's Reviews Forum Link here.

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Updated 15.05.2012