Here is all you need to know about the 2 distinct currencies that are in parallel use in Cuba: the Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC).
- The Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC) is the currency that you will be using as a tourist. Most luxury goods and services are priced in CUC. Moreover, you can exchange your local currency only in CUC.
- The Cuban Peso Nacional (CUP) is the currency that the locals are using for their basic everyday needs. As a foreigner, you can neither buy nor sell CUP in your local currency. Using CUP as a tourist is not illegal, but you have to find it first!
For the limited goods available in both CUP and CUC, you can immediately evidence the wide price difference favoring the use of CUP. With this in mind, you can understand why tourists do not have easy access to CUP. Simply because the Cuban government is trying to prevent foreigners from using the currency that is intended for locals.
If you are planning to stay in the city center and move exclusively around the touristic areas, then you may never use CUP. However, if you are more of an alternative traveller then CUP is definitely your thing! You may use it for commuter buses around Havana, as well as for shopping or dining at local shops outside touristic areas. You cannot pay for your accommodation in CUP, though!
The easiest way to get your hands-on CUP is by asking to get your change from CUC to CUP. Head to any shop in a local neighborhood and hopefully the owner will be willing to help out.
It might worth mentioning, that in Havana airport there are two different exchange kiosks. The one is serving tourists in exchanging their currency for CUC, and the other one is serving locals allowing them to get CUP. You can try your chances in exchanging some CUC to CUP already at the airport, but it might not work out as tourists are not easily given access to CUP.
© Photo by Thaleia Ioannou
Currency Exchange, Cash and Credit Cards
Truth be told, unless you are a US citizen or your cash money is in US dollars, Cuba will not impose any exchange tax on you!!! How great is that?!?! In the unlikely event, however, that you need to exchange US dollars for CUC, you will be paying a special 10% penalty fee for this service.
In short, here is where and how you can get CUC in Cuba:
- At the airport, of course. You will find the Currency Exchange kiosk outside Havana airport. Unlike all other airports in the world, in Cuba you will get the official exchange rate, commission free!
- At certain banks (Banco Metropolitano and BFI, for example) that offer CUC.
- At Currency Exchange kiosks in the city (known as cadecas).
- At ATM machines and only if you hold a non-US card! For each withdrawal there is a transaction fee, so use them when in great need.
Pre-pay for your accommodation in advance to the extent possible. For all other expenses, you will need to have cash with you. Credit cards (non-US) are only accepted in large hotels and expensive restaurants.