Cuba has a fascinating and complex history, which has also had an impact on the country’s monetary system.
Working the system out can be a little confusing, as it is very different to what we are used to in the UK.
So, we’ve compiled a guide to introduce you to Cuba’s currency system.
Cuba’s currency system is called the “dual currency system”.
In practice, this means that there are two different kinds of currencies in the country.
In the 1990s, Cuba experienced an economic crisis. During the crisis, a new currency was developed with the aim of strengthening the country’s economy. The new currency was to be used by tourists and for international trade, while the existing currency was used by the locals for internal trade in the country.
So, Cuba now officially has two currencies:
When the CUC was introduced, it was supposed to be a currency for visitors, but as the new currency has become more widespread, the locals are also able to use it.
As CUP is worth less than CUC, it has, however, created social inequality in the country. Those who are paid by the state are paid in CUP, and are therefore worse off than those paid in CUC.
It is not possible to change to the Cuban currency before travelling to Cuba, so be sure to have some EUR, GBP or USD with you on your trip. You can exchange the currency you have with you to convertible peso (CUC) when you land. Please note that a fee of 10% is added when exchanging USD, so we recommend that you bring EUR or GBP.
You may find that the Cubans can only give you change in CUP, even if you have paid in CUC. If this happens, you can use it for tips, at food stalls, markets and local shops.
When you arrive at Havana Airport, it’s a good idea to exchange enough money to tide you over for the first few days before leaving the airport. There is a bureau de change (Cadecas) at the airport.
In the city, you can exchange money at a bureau de change (Cadecas) or at the BFI or Metropolitano banks (the other banks don’t deal with CUC). Remember to have your passport with you when exchanging money.
When you exchange money, make sure that the notes you bring with you are intact, otherwise the bureaux de change won’t accept them. You should also make sure that you change to small banknotes to make it easier for the Cubans to give you change when you shop.
And be sure to check that you have been given convertible peso (CUC), which is the currency you are required to use as a visitor. The original peso (CUP) has a face on the banknotes, and it is not the one that visitors are supposed to use.
NB: The Cuban currency cannot be exchanged outside Cuba, so be sure to change back at the airport before your return journey.
Generally speaking, you can withdraw cash at the same places that you can exchange money – i.e. at the airport, at bureaux de change (Cadecas), and at BFI or Metropolitano banks.
Cash machines are now available in most major towns and cities in Cuba, but not all accept foreign VISA cards, especially if the VISA card is issued by a US bank. Mastercard is not widely accepted, so ideally bring your VISA card to withdraw cash.
You may also be able to pay by VISA card at larger hotels and restaurants. But you shouldn’t count on it.
NB: When you withdraw cash, a fee of approx. 3% + your bank’s fee for withdrawing cash abroad will be charged.
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