Money Exchange 101
This thread is meant to help the most common type of tourist in Cuba, the All-Inclusive Resort tourist. For the independent travelers, who will be going off the beaten path, you will want to do more research.
CUBA’S TWO LEGAL CURRENCIES
CUBAN CONVERTIBLE PESO (CUC). This is the most common currency with which the majority of tourists will come in contact. When you exchange your own currency (GBP Sterling, Canadian dollars, Euros, etc.), you will be given CUCs in return. Follow this link to become familiar with what CUC bills look like:
• Convertible Peso bills come in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50 and 100 peso bills
• Convertible Peso coins come in 5, 10, 25, 50 centavos and 1 peso
CUBAN PESO (CUP). This is the currency normally used by locals and the average tourist will not use it. You should check out the following link and be familiar with what the bills look like as you could become the unwitting victim of a scam whereby you are given change in CUPs rather than CUCs if you spend money off resort. They come in the same denominations as CUCs. Follow this link to become familiar with what CUP bills look like…knowledge will help you avoid being scammed:
EXCHANGING YOUR MONEY TO CUCs
FOREIGN CURRENCIES CURRENTLY ACCEPTED IN CUBA ARE:
NOTE: larger denominations of bills are readily accepted (i.e. 50’s & 100’s)
• Canadian Dollars (no issues with the new polymer bills)
• Danish Krone
• GBP Sterling (NOTE: SCOTTISH STERLING IS NOT ACCEPTED)
• Japanese Yen
• Mexican Pesos
• Norwegian Krone
• Swedish Krona
• Swiss Francs
• US dollars (IMPORTANT NOTE:-SUBJECT TO ADDITIONAL 10% SURCHARGE) No other currencies encounter this surcharge.
• NOT ALL BANKS OR CADECAS (Casa de Cambio or House of Exchange) will handle all of these currencies so you might have to go to a main branch.
NOTE: The Convertible Peso (CUCs) cannot be purchased outside of Cuba and, conversely, cannot be exchanged at your bank back home. Make sure you convert your pesos back to your home currency before leaving the country. Better yet, try to budget your CUCs wisely during your last few days so that you have few to exchange as you will receive a very poor exchange rate at the airport or hotel when you leave.
WHERE TO EXCHANGE (IN ORDER OF BEST TO WORST RATES)
- Cadeca (Casa de Cambio or House of Exchange) is a government facility and are located at many resorts and hotels and other locations across the country. Exchange rates will be posted and hours of operation.
- Airport Cadeca NOTE: If you are flying into Varadero, Holquin or Cayo Coco airports, the Cadecas are no longer in the Arrivals Hall. If you want to exchange money, you will have to walk to the Departure Hall, after clearing Customs, and use the Cadeca there.
- Over-the-counter at any hotel or resort reception is often the worst rate, as it is not regulated by the government (not to be confused with a Cadeca found in many resorts/hotels).
UPDATE: CAYO COCO MONEY EXCHANGE - JANUARY 2013 It has been reported that the Colonial Cayo Coco does not have a cadeca and you might have issues exchanging money. The same traveller reported issues trying to use his Mastercard at the resort. Before heading to Cayo Coco, you should email your resort and ask if they have a cadeca on site. If not, plan to exchange your money at the airport upon arrival.
MONEY EXCHANGE TIPS
- YOU WILL NEED YOUR PASSPORT TO MAKE CURRENCY EXCHANGES OFF-RESORT
- To avoid being ripped off, carry a pocket calculator and make sure you are getting the correct amount of CUCs.
- To get a rough indication of the current exchange rates, the following website is the only one to give the exact rates you would receive at a bank in Cuba:
The rates are posted on the left hand side of the page.
- Here’s a handy link where you can create a cheat sheet to print and carry with you so that you have an idea of what you would get when making an exchange: http://www.oanda.com/currency/travel-exchange-rates
The site offers a printer friendly version to print and carry with you for quick reference. You can make a reverse one to use before you return home.
- Accepted currency – the Cubans are very fussy about the condition of the foreign bills they will accept for exchange. Always bring bank notes in excellent condition (preferably newish) with no rips, tears or markings (check for pen or pencil markings)
- All foreign coins are useless – leave them at home or in your room! Some tourists have been known to hand them out as tips but this creates a problem for the locals. They can’t exchange them and, consequently, have to ask tourists if they can exchange the coins (usually Canadian Loonies and Toonies) into bills. Should you decide to help out a local, you can exchange the coins for Canadian bills of equal value as they can get them exchanged. If the exchange rate is pretty much at par between Cdn$ and CUCs you could exchange the coins for CUCs and make out better than exchanging your CUCs back to Cdn$ at the Cadeca at the airport. It’s at the airports that you’ll most likely run into this scenario.
- AMERICANS – you should investigate exchanging your US$s into another foreign currency, before leaving home, to help lessen the 10% surcharge levied by Cuba on US cash. US$ to CDN$ to CUC is usually much cheaper than exchanging US$ directly to CUC.
- Traveler’s cheques: They can be difficult to exchange and you will pay a commission to cash them. If they do get lost or stolen, they can’t be replaced until you return home.
- Counterfeit US$ Scam: Latest money scam to rear its head is locals asking tourists to exchange US$, which they claim have been given to them by family visiting from the States, and they face the 10% surcharge. You give them CUCs and they give you the US$ bills, thinking it’s no big deal you’ll just exchange them at home. You get to your home bank and are told the bills are counterfeit. This leads to the next point.
- DO NOT EXCHANGE MONEY ON THE STREET!!! Use only official exchange locations.
CREDIT CARDS AND DEBIT CARDS
The most important thing for any tourist to Cuba to be aware of, with your Credit Card, is whether it is US affiliated. If it is, it’s useless in Cuba.
• FOR CANADIANS Visa or Mastercard from any of the major banks (RBC, TD/Canada Trust, BMO, Bank of Nova Scotia and CIBC) are fine. Any Mastercard from a Canadian Credit Union is useless. Canadian Debit cards are slowly finding acceptance in Cuba. For instance, the CIBC Advantage Visa Debit Card now works in Cuban ATMs, banks and cadecas because it displays the Visa symbol on the card. Until this becomes more common, do NOT assume your Debit Card will be of any use. If your Debit card displays the Visa or Mastercard symbol, it might work.
• FOR EUROPEANS/BRITS Many UK/European Global Debit and Credit Cards like Barclays, Lloyds TBS, Nationwide, Bank of Scotland (NOT RBS), Post Office, Yorkshire, Tesco, Halifax, etc. are fine. As with Canadian cards, make sure your card is not US affiliated.
• CREDIT CARD VERSUS CASH A long running myth has been that you will be hit with a surcharge, by the Cubans, when you use your credit card to make a purchase. This is not true. There is no extra fee, in Cuba, for using a credit card. Your card may be subject to a Foreign Transaction Fee at your home bank but there are no additional charges in Cuba. Your credit card purchase will be converted from CUC to US$ then, when the transaction is posted to your statement, it will be converted from US$ to your local currency. Remember, the CUC is not traded outside of Cuba therefore it has to be converted to another currency (they use US$ as the currency on the credit card receipt) for your purchase. Most people who use credit cards, in Cuba, find very little difference between using their credit card and exchanging their home currency to CUCs and shopping with cash. When making pricier purchases (like cigars) it’s often more prudent to use a credit card rather than carry large amounts of cash.
[li]make sure your bills are in very good shape
[/li][li]do not exchange money on the street
[/li][li]make sure your credit/debit cards are not US affiliated