Hip Tips: What Currency To Bring To Cuba?
THE OFFICIAL CURRENCY OF CUBA
The current system is quite complex: despite the recent monetary unification, there are two types of currency in Cuba, one physical and one digital, and most importantly there are different exchange rates. Let us try to simplify:
The process of monetary unification that the Cuban government formally initiated on January 1, 2021 has come to fruition.
The Cuban Peso – CUP – is now the official currency of Cuba.
The CUC, or convertible Cuban peso, whose value was pegged to the U.S. dollar, no longer exists. If by chance you kept a small amount of CUCs from your last trip and never returned to Cuba, be aware that you will not have the option of either using your CUCs or converting them into CUPs.
Cuban peso – CUP – is the currency officially used to make all cash payments.
MLC – digital currency – refers to a hard currency, thus of foreign origin, which is needed to make purchases of basic necessities in stores where MLC is the only accepted means of payment.
Those who hold bank accounts in Cuba, essentially Cubans and resident foreigners, can obtain a card to make payments in MLC.
As a tourist, you can buy in MLC stores with your international credit card (Visa or Mastercard only) or a rechargeable card, and you are charged in your currency at an exchange rate of 1 MLC = 1 USD, minus fees.
HOW MUCH IS CUP WORTH
In Cuba, the answer is not unique. There is an official exchange rate, which anchors in a fixed way the CUP to the USD. Currently, the fixed exchange rate is that1 USD = 120 CUP.
With respect to other currencies, the official exchange rate fluctuates according to the market changes they have against the USD.
There is also another exchange rate, referred to as the informal exchange rate or “cambio por la calle“. In practice, currency exchange takes place between private individuals, outside official channels. Due to the liquidity crisis and mighty inflation, the informal exchange rate is much cheaper than the official exchange rate (1 USD – 250 CUP). This is a widespread practice, to the point that there is a reference quotation of the informal exchange rate provided daily on the web.
Keep in mind, however, that informal exchange is not legal, and therefore we do not recommend it, also in view of the fact that for those who are not intimately familiar with local dynamics, the likelihood of being scammed can be substantial.
HOW TO MAKE PAYMENTS IN CUBA
In general, you can pay by CUP and cash.
Exceptions are some state resorts that demand credit cards as a means of payment. In this case, the exchange rate is the official rate, less exchange fees charged by telematic payment circuits.
Be aware that credit cards issued by U.S. banks cannot be used. Visa and Mastercard are accepted, however.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO PAY IN FOREIGN CURRENCY IN CUBA?
As in any country, payments must be made in the official currency.
But of course, in an environment of weak currency and hyperinflation, foreign currency in cash is a much sought-after means of payment. So it is not surprising that private business operators (case particulares, hostal, hotel boutiques, restaurants, cabs, stores, professional service providers such as photographers, videomakers etc.) will accept cash payments in your currency. In this case, of course, the person receiving the payment cannot be expected to have the ability to issue change in case you do not have the exact amount.
The Cuban economy suffers from a shortage of circulating money. Cash is not flowing into the banking system, due to various factors including lack of trust, uncertainty of credit institutions’ solvency, endless queues and technological backwardness. These situations have already been seen in countries suffering from hyperinflation. ATMs have no money.
For this reason, in August 2023 the government has passed a measure aimed at limiting cash withdrawals from banks (maximum amount 5000 cup) and imposing payments in digital form.
This measure, which is of doubtful effectiveness, is likely to cause counterproductive repercussions such as the development of a black market of domestic currency (that of foreign currency has always existed). Money in the bank, today is worth less than that circulating on the streets (at least 10%).
What reflections on the tourist visiting the island? It will depend on how the rule is implemented in practice (the next 6 months will be needed for the central bank to create the conditions), but there is certainly an added element of complication to take into account when planning a trip to Cuba.
Stay tuned for news.
TIPS – Where to change money?
CADECA = casa de cambio. These are the official exchange offices, distributed throughout the territory in such a way as to meet the main needs of tourists. The exchange rate is the same in all CADECAs, so we suggest that you start changing some money when you arrive at the airport and continue changing throughout your stay according to your spending needs.
Warning : in CADECA they ask for your passport. Therefore, avoid standing in line (it can be long) if you forgot to bring your passport with you.
For up-to-date exchange rates, you can consult the CADECA website, where there is a converter to calculate the exact number of CUPs corresponding to the currency you intend to bring to Cuba.
Changing at one of Banco Metropolitano’s branches can be a good solution. Exchange rates are close to those of the cadeca, so convenience over CADECA is to be judged by proximity and existing queue
Major international hotels have an exchange office. Beware, however, The rates are markedly more inconvenient than those of CADECA and BANCO. Therefore, to be used exceptionally, for small amounts and perhaps to avoid long lines at other exchange offices
Not to be recommended, due to queues, fees, cash shortages, and frequent technical problems with operation
As mentioned, for the tourist carrying foreign currency cash, it is easy to encounter opportunities to exchange currencies outside the official circuit. As convenient as it may prove to be, it should be remembered that this solution is not legal and carries certain risks. Therefore, one must ask whether it is really worth it
TIPS – You will need a lot of cash. Which currency to bring?
Undoubtedly EUR for those coming from Euro area.
GBP and CAD are market-rate exchangeable currencies in CADECA
As for USD, it can be exchanged into CADECA but with 8% penalty.
For those traveling from the U.S., in our opinion it may not be worth changing USD to EUR before leaving for CUBA. The convenience would depend on the exchange fees charged in the US for currency exchange, the time it takes to do the transaction, etc. And don’t forget that if you end up paying for some services in cash with USD, in this case you bypass the exchange penalty that would be applied in CADECA.
For those traveling from Latin American and Asian countries, it is best to change your currency to EUR ( and not USD) before you leave.
TIPS – How much money to bring with you?
It depends on the style of the vacation, the type of stucture you staying in, and your specific needs in terms of food, entertainment, activities, and on-site transfers. It is very important to build a daily budget.
We can help you estimate your daily needs; this is part of our bespoke travel design service. Have a look here.
Link to bespoke service
TIPS – Do you have leftover CUPs before you leave?
You can take them out up to a maximum of 5,000 CUPs, but unless you are a recurring traveler, you cannot use or exchange them outside Cuba.
Red Flag: you cannot use them in airport stores after security checks.
Dose the change in the last few days. Plan ahead to leave tips for people you have had a good experience with; it will be greatly appreciated.
If you have a substantial amount of CUP left in your wallet, plan to have enough time to exchange the money before you go to the airport, since the airport’s CADECA does not exchange CUP in international currencies. Keep in mind, however, that the exchange to your foreign currency will not be cheap at all.
How do you plan your trip to Cuba to make the most of your vacation and try to limit unpleasant surprises?
✓ Do it yourself: you can look for information on the Web, where you can find, for free, opinions , stories, advice of all kinds, sometimes interested and sometimes not, sometimes encouraging and sometimes not. Keep in mind, however, that even when in good faith, those who share a travel experience do so based on partial knowledge and a subjective point of view. If you have a passion for planning trips and have no difficulty in designing your own itinerary in Cuba, then we suggest you supplement the information you have gathered on the web with our mini HH LIST guide in which you will find a selection of our favorite places in Havana.
✓ Coaching session: If you have any doubts, book a session of our coaching service, where you will have all your questions answered.
✓ Bespoke Travel design: If you want help estimating your daily budget in Cuba, ask for a quote for our bespoke travel design service. Take a look here.