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.