Traveling to Cuba – How To Deal With Currency Exchange
When I plan an international trip I don’t usually worry too much about changing currency. I usually just have it delivered for free through Travelex and save myself a trip to the bank.
However, traveling to Cuba is a little different since you can’t buy or exchange Cuban currency in America. Another issue is that Cuba is not very connected with the internet so credit cards aren’t widely accepted, especially American credit cards. Prepare for your trip to Cuba with these easy tips and have a smooth exchange.
Remember That Cash is King
Cash is used 99% of the time for all transactions in Cuba. The internet is very scarce and there is no way to run your credit card without that connection. Cuba does not accept credit cards from America anyway, even if you did have a connection. The same issue applies to ATMs. They are far and few between, have an unreliable internet connection, and if they do work, there will most likely be a huge line.
Bring plenty of cash with you for the whole trip. A safe budget would be about $100 a day per person, depending on your spending habits, of course. The exchange rate is about $1 USD to 1 CUC so budget what you would normally spend on a trip in U.S. dollars.
Bring Cash, But Not U.S. Dollars
If you bring U.S. dollars to exchange for pesos in Cuba, then you will be charged an extra 10% penalty fee on the amount exchanged. This is basically just a waste of money. Instead, bring Euros or Canadian dollars for a much better rate. This is an extra step but it will save you a lot of money. You don’t want to show up uninformed and waste 10% of your travel budget without even having left the airport.
Exchange Cash Upon Arrival
You cannot buy Cuban currency in America so you’ll need to exchange at the airport upon arrival. You will need it to pay for the taxi anyway so you might as well get it all done here. I don’t usually recommend exchanging money at the airport, but in this case, it’s the same rate as any other CADECA (exchange house).
In Havana, there is an exchange booth right outside of the airport. Walk outside and turn right and you’ll see it on your right. The one inside the airport had a long line and this one didn’t. You’ll have this checked off of your list and you can go enjoy your trip without having to waste time trying to track down a bank.
The banks usually have the best rates, but they also have long lines where you may wait for hours. The rate is not that much better, and the line isn’t worth saving a few dollars. Hotels have the worst rates so be sure to avoid this option. Always get a receipt when exchanging money.
Know The Difference Between CUC & CUP
This is where things can get confusing and you don’t want to get ripped off. The Cuban peso (CUP) and the Cuban convertible peso (CUC) are both legal currency in Cuba, and they are both in circulation. Cubans call them both ‘pesos’. You’ll want to know the difference because the CUC is much more valuable. It is also much more commonly used.
$1 USD = 1 CUC
$1 USD = 25 CUP
A vendor or taxi driver may try to give you change back in CUP so be aware of this trick and know your currencies. Both CUP and CUC are completely useless outside of Cuba. Make sure to exchange your money again at the airport before you head home. There are places to do this at the airport after you pass security, so you’ll be able to grab your last meal before exchanging the rest.