Travel Essentials

The main question – Money (How much would I need?)

The currency in Cuba is a little complicated, mainly because there are two types of currencies in circulation – the moneda libremente, convertible (Convertible Peso or CUC) and the moneda nacional (the National Cuban Peso or MN or CUP). The one you’ll be using mostly is the CUC, and it’s equal to the dollar. The exchange rate is roughly as shown:

  • 1CUC = $1US
  • 1CUC = 25 CUP
  • 1CUP = $0.04

Almost all tourists use the CUC as the CUP is known as a currency only for local people. That being said, should you have the chance to get and use CUP for things like street food and transport, don’t be afraid to use it as it can save you quite a lot.

Although all major banks will exchange US dollars, euros, British pounds and Canadian dollars, it is perhaps unwise to take US dollars on your trip. In 2004, Fidel Castro replaced all American greenbacks with the CUC and imposed a 10% surcharge on all money exchanges to CUC from the US dollar. All of the above currencies can be easily exchanged at all CADECA branches and most banks around Cuba. Try to bring relatively fresh and new-looking bills, as Cubans can be fussy when it comes to old banknotes.

Cuba’s banks are probably the best places to exchange money, the two main ones being Banco de Crédito y Comercio and Banco Financiero Internacional. They are generally open from Monday to Friday from 8am to 4pm, though please remember that US credit cards will not be accepted. The national chain of exchange bureaus is known as CADECA and is also a good place for exchanging money. Their branches can be found in most major cities and tourist destinations, as well as international airports.

It should almost go without saying that you should never exchange money on the streets, as you’ll  inevitably be given the CUP instead of CUCs.

MasterCard and Visa are both widely accepted at hotels, car-rental agencies as well as official restaurants and shops – but not those issued by any United States bank. Diners’ Club cards are accepted in some places, although much less commonly, and American Express cards won’t be accepted anywhere on the island.

It isn’t the best idea to withdraw money from an ATM in Cuba either, as you’ll be charged a 12.5% transaction fee no matter what the country of origin of your card. This is because your money will first be converted into US dollars and then converted into CUC – so avoid cash machines if you want to avoid big fees.

Remember, in more remote areas of Cuba, cards won’t be accepted at all. So if you’re planning on visiting a paladares (private-home restaurant) or any casa particulares (private-home accommodations) be sure to take enough cash with you.

Depending on what you wish to do and buy while in Cuba, it can actually be quite expensive. You should be prepared to pay as much for food and services as you would in any western country, and so you could find yourself paying between $35 to $150 a day. A safe, minimum budget is at least $50 (or 50 CUC) each day, although this does not include accommodation.

The prices for food can vary greatly depending on where you eat. In Havana, a meal can cost around 20-25 CUC whereas in the provinces you might only pay 10-15 CUC.

Comprehensive travel and medical insurance is a must when you’re visiting Cuba. In May 2010, Cuba implemented new insurance rules stating that all visitors and non-Cuban residents must hold a medical insurance policy. A copy of your insurance policy must be shown at the airport upon your arrival, and failure to do so could result in you having to purchase mandatory coverage at the airport through Asistur.

For more information on this, please visit the website 

Many medicines are unavailable or restricted in Cuba, mainly because of the US Embargo. For this reason, we recommend bringing a full medical pack containing all basic medicines, as well as a full supply of any prescription drugs you take. It’s also a good idea to carry a copy of the prescription and a doctor’s note explaining your condition and treatment.

Although UK health authorities have classified Cuba as having a risk of Zika virus transmission, mosquito-bourne illnesses are not a significant concern on most of the islands. The Cuban authorities have taken measures to control these illnesses (such as the Chikungunya virus or Dengue fever) by carrying out chemical fumigation measures across the island. Nevertheless, a good mosquito repellents should definitely be taken and used regularly throughout your time in the country (at least 10% DEET)***

All in all though, so long as you’re careful about what you eat and drink (and please remember the tap water is not considered drinkable) then Cuba is a reasonably safe country, medically speaking.

It’s also very safe in terms of crime. Although there have been cases of pickpocketing and mugging in Old Havana and Centro Havana, these cases are by far the exceptions to the rule. With strong security and a police presence both in and outside the main tourists routes, street crime, theft and assaults are all incredibly rare.

The one thing you do have to watch out for though is jineterismo, or ‘jockeying’. Though not dangerous, per se, these Cubans earn a living by befriending tourists and then taking them to specific restaurants or hotels in order to earn commission. They may even ask you directly for money in return for their ‘services’.

That being said, however, Cubans are amongst the most friendly, open and down-to-earth people you could possibly hope to meet, so avoid the jineterismo and we’re sure you’ll fall in love with both the country and its people.

In general, dress is very informal in Cuba. It’s a hot and humid country, and so a casual approach to clothing has been taken, with light, cotton shirts, tops and dresses always being a popular choice. Suits are sometimes worn for very formal occasions, such as business or governmental meetings, but even in these situations a short-sleeved cotton shirt with a tie is allowed. Perhaps you might think of buying a guayabera, which is a sort of loose-fitting shirt with two or four outer pockets on the front. The only real rule is that theatres and cinemas have a strict ‘no shorts’ policy for men.

Cuba is GMT-5 zone, making it 5 hours behind Greenwich meantime. Or, in other words, the UK is 5 hours ahead of Cuba.

Electricity in Cuba is mostly 110-volt AC with American style, flat 2 or 3 prong plugs. Some of the hotels that cater mainly to Canadian and European clientele, however, are wired to 220 volts. Therefore it’s always best to take an international adapter with you on your trip, and read the instructions of your appliance before plugging it in.

The Internet in Cuba isn’t great to say the least. In all cities outside Havana, the Etecsa telephone office offers a small bank of computers where you can connect to the world. A large number of hotels in the provinces and at beach resorts also offer Internet access, but whether through Etecsa or the hotels, you can expect from 6CUC to 8CUC per hour for dial-up access. Some of the hotels offer WiFi ‘hotspots’ with charges  from 2CUC an hour but you still need to obtain an internet card which are usually sold at the reception.

In Internet cafes, rates are about 2CUC per hour, and occasionally a casa particular will offer Internet – it’s gradually getting better, with more and more casas offering it year by year.

Tipping etiquette is the same as in any other country in the world, so if you’re happy with the meal or service 10% is standard, and 15% if you’re feeling generous. Remember that most Cubans earn in CUP, so it’s always a nice gesture to leave a small tip in CUC – which is why it’s always a good idea to have some small notes with you.

Spanish is the official language of Cuba, but English is widely spoken and understood especially in larger cities and tourist areas.