Everything you need to know from the basics to budgeting for your trip to Cuba
There are two legal currencies used in Cuba:
- the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC), pronounced “kook” and
- the Cuban Peso (CUP), pronounced “koop”
The locals mostly carry CUP, as they are paid in this currency. Tourists, on the other hand, usually only carry or need CUC, but you can use either currency.
When should you use CUP vs. CUC?
The value of the CUC is 25 times to that of the CUP. So, if you’re paying for something that is only a few CUP, you won’t be able to receive proper change in CUC. For example, all taxi colectivos (shared taxis) rides are 10 CUP regardless of distance, however, if you pay in CUC it will cost you $0.50 CUC ( = 12 CUP). So, if those fractions of cents are that important to you, you should use CUP over CUC for small purchases.
Bottom line: CUP is useful for small purchases like street food, taxi colectivos, and if you’re concerned with stretching your cash to the very last cent.
1 USD = 1 CUC = 25 CUP
When exchanging USD, you will incur a 3% exchange fee and an additional 10% penalty charged so you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for 1 USD.
If you’re looking for the best bang for your buck and to avoid this 10% penalty charge, you can exchange your USD for EUR (or any other currency you prefer) prior to leaving the US. You will still incur the 3% exchange fee, but your overall conversion rate should be closer to 8-9% instead of 13%.
Pick your poison…
Where to exchange
Found in terminals 2 & 3 once you leave security.
If you choose this option, be prepared to wait! Depending on the time you arrive (and your general luck of the draw), you may have to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to 3 hours to exchange your cash. Unfortunately, most of you will have to go with this option so that you have CUC to pay the taxi driver for your ride from the airport.
Tip: If you are traveling in a group arriving at different times, have the person who arrives first exchange their money at the airport while they are waiting for the others to arrive.
CADECA or Cuban Banks:
A CADECA, or Casa de Cambio, is a change bureau that can be found within many hotels and resorts.
Both CADECAs and Cuban banks will give you the best exchange rates (they are identical).
Banks usually close by 3PM, while CADECAs may be open later. Regardless, leave yourself plenty of time. Remember, they’re all on “Cuban time” and when in Rome…
You can exchange your cash at most hotel front desks, but you should expect the worst exchange rate in comparison to the options listed above.
- It may not be required, but is usually helpful to have your passport on you when you go to exchange money.
- If you’re looking for CUP, you can try your luck at some of the non-resort CADECAs.
How much to bring
This is a complicated question to answer and it is highly dependent on what you plan to do and what kind of experience you are looking to have while you’re in Cuba.
- You can spend anywhere from 20 CUC per night at a Casa Particulares to 300 CUC a night at some of Cuba’s luxury hotels.
- Your cheapest option is definitely street food. Most street food is pretty safe to eat, but just as in any underdeveloped country eat meat especially at your own risk. You can usually find a ham and cheese pizza for 10-15 CUP ($0.50 CUC). Alternatively, you can eat at Casa Particulares. The price and quality of the meal will depend on your host, but they usually range from 1-5 CUC for breakfast and 5-10 CUC for dinner. You can even get a mojito or El Presidente (local beer) for 1-2 CUC!
- Even at the most expensive tourist restaurants, you should spend no more than 15 CUC for breakfast and 40-50 CUC for dinner per person with the most expensive mojito I saw at a whopping 6 CUC (I’d kill for those prices in NYC) – and even these prices are pushing it!
- Most of our meals cost between 10-15 CUC per person including a few mojitos or daiquiris.
- There is plenty to see and experience in Havana without spending a dime! You don’t have to pay a cent to see the beautifully colored buildings, watch the sunset on El Malecón, or see the architecture and people watch in Plaza Vieja or Plaza de la Catedral.
Additionally, here is a list of some admission fees for attractions around the city:
- Havana: Museo de la Revolucion (Museum of the Revolution) – $8
- Havana: Fortaleza de San Carlos de la Cabana (Fort of Saint Charles) – $7
- Havana: Museo de Bellas Artes – $5
- Cabaret Tropicana – $75-110
- Obviously the cheapest option for transportation is to strap on some comfortable shoes and walk.
- If you’re looking for another cheap option, you can take taxi colectivos (shared taxis). Each ride is 10 CUP (you’ll pay $0.50 if you pay in CUC). Since it is a shared ride, you join the route they are already going so you’ll have to determine the route before hand and have an idea of where you need to get off at (ability to speak Spanish highly recommended here).
- You can also take private taxis found outside of some of the more touristy areas for roughly 10-15 CUC for a 15 minute drive (also depends on your bargaining skills).
- For a more luxurious option, you can hire one of the pristine vintage for 90 CUC for a private 3 hour Hemingway tour of Havana or 150+ CUC for a regular full day rental (3 day minimum). Check out these links for more info!
- Lastly, don’t forget to account for the 25-30 CUC for a taxi to and from the airport each way.
For a more detailed breakdown of how much you should bring on your trip to Cuba, check out my post, How Much Money to Bring With You to Cuba.
Don’t forget to bring all the cash you anticipate needing for the entirety of your trip. YOU CANNOT USE AMERICAN CREDIT CARDS OR DEBIT CARDS IN CUBA!
Oh geez, now I’ve gone off shouting at you. My enthusiasm in that statement almost seems like I made such a ridiculous mistake myself..
And that leads me to my last topic…
What to do if you run out of money
Whether you were like me and misread all the advice about not being able to use credit cards assuming it excluded debit cards/ATM machines OR you decided to live like Leo in Wolf of Wall Street and blew threw your money too fast, you CAN have money sent to you in Cuba.
The ONLY way for Americans to get additional money once in Cuba – besides selling your body in the Plaza (let me know how a Cuban prison treats ya) – is Western Union.
With Western Union you can have your parents or friend set up an account and send money to a Cuban person to give to you. Recommendations for going this route:
- Ask your Airbnb or Casa Particulares host to help you. You’ll need their name and address.
- Your family/friend in the States will set up an account and send money to that individual. Have them give you the confirmation number of the transaction, but DO NOT share this with the Cuban person you sent the money to (this is your safeguard if the deal goes awry).
- You will then go to the closest Western Union with your Cuban sugar daddy to withdraw and exchange the money.
And there you have it.
That should be everything you need to know about money and budgeting in Cuba!
I hope you enjoyed this post! Tell me what you think, or if you have been to Cuba, please share what things you wish you had known about money in Cuba before visiting.