What currency to take to Cuba?
What currency to take to Cuba? The official Cuban currency is the Cuban Peso, which has no quotation outside the country. That is, you will arrive in Cuba without having been able to buy pesos in your country of origin. So the question is forced: What currency to take to Cuba?
Types of EXCHANGE Accepted
You can enter Cuba with any of the world’s strongest currencies, but the best thing is not to complicate your life and take one of these:
- CAD (Canadian dollar)
- EUR (euro)
- GBP (pound sterling)
- CHF (Swiss Franc)
- USD (US Dollar)
Officially it is only possible to change currency in the branches CADECA (Official Exchange Houses), banks and the reception of luxury hotels. These points of exchange will accept any of the strong coins that I have just recommended, without question.
Mind you, do not be wrong with this. They are accepted ONLY to be changed. In the street, only the Cuban currency is accepted.
What currency to take to Cuba?
Now you know that you can introduce yourself in Cuba with any of those five currencies, but … What currency to take to Cuba? Is there one better than another?
Indeed, there is one that is THE WORST, the one you should NOT TAKE (although they will change it enchanted and you will not have problems to take it). It is the USD. The USD is the worst currency you can take to Cuba because it is the symbol of the enemy of communism: capitalism. And because it is the currency of the country that has 60 years blocking the economy and free trade of the island: United States. For these two reasons, Cuba “punishes” the US dollars with a tax of 10% applied to the change or counter value.
This means that if you arrive in Cuba loaded with EUR, GBP or CAD (for example), you will change any of these coins to pesos and you are done. But whoever changes dollars will automatically lose 10% of the money changed.
I give a practical example:
Imagine that 1 EUR had a price exactly equal to 1 USD, okay?
Now imagine two brothers who come together to Havana and are going to change their currency for pesos. The first one changes 1,000 USD, the second changes 1,000 EUR. When they go out into the street and look at what they have given to each other, they will find that the first one will have given pesos worth 10% less than the second. So easy is to lose purchasing power if you bring US dollars to Cuba!
And now that I’ve told you, when you ask “What currency to take to Cuba?” – you know the answer: you should not carry USD because, every time you change them, you lose 10% in the counter value.
The most common international currencies are CAD (Canadian dollar), EUR (euro), GBP (sterling) and CHF (Swiss franc). Give yourself away from oddities and eccentricities, and take some of these currencies, is the way to get right and have no problems.
The Cuban Peso
Finally, it is imperative to explain to you an important gibberish that Cuba has about its own currency: historically, the official Cuban currency has always been the CUBAN PESO. I’m going to skip historical explanations and economic arguments to get to the point. Currently, Cuba has two very different types of CUBAN PESO:
- CUBAN PESO (CUP, better known in Cuba as MN)
This is the peso of a lifetime and has very little value against strong currencies. Its acronym is CUP (cuban peso), although in the street you will see that the Cuban calls it MN (acronym for “moneda nacional”, in english “national money”).
- CONVERTIBLE CUBAN PESO (CUC)
This is the strong peso (equivalent to 24 MN), which you get in exchange for your foreign currency. Its acronym is CUC (from English “cuban [peso] convertible”) and its value in the street is 1 CUC = 24 MN
To find out how much the CUCs are worth against your currency (CAD, EUR, USD, etc.), I recommend this currency conversion calculator (great and with the changes updated online).
You are going to change your foreign currency for CUC. And it is good that you pass a few CUC to MN (to have “calderilla”). About 500 MN will be fine (approximately 20 CUC).
Where are the pesos acquired?
There are two ways to get pesos:
- WITH PASSPORT
This is the official way of getting your euro banknotes changed (for example). You can change them in the exchange houses (called by their spanish acronym, CADECA), in the banks or in the reception of the hotels. They will always ask for your passport and will register your data in a log book where who is counted, how much and when (they even note the serial numbers of each ticket, just in case).
They are official and legal change agencies. Even if you find queues, they are very fast and you will expect little. The change is official and there is no danger of deception.
Banking agencies will also exchange foreign currency. The problem is that it is very normal to find huge queues, that advance very slowly and you despair.
No queues, no problems, no cheating, no peeps. You show the passport and you change currency (sometimes exclusively to its own customers). The drawback is the exchange rate. Hotels can apply (and apply) a trade margin on the change. That is to say, the changes will apply much more unfavorable to you than CADECAS and BANKS.
- WITHOUT PASSPORT
If you have gone out and left your passport in the room, you will not be able to change currency because it is mandatory to show your passport. But there are always individuals who – illegally – are in the street wanting to change currency. If you are one of those brave ones who do not care about legal, just give you some advice:
- Be discreet. Never show large sums of money in public. Cuba is a safe, very safe country. But that does not mean that all Cubans are saints. Do not call bad luck.
- Be very clear about the change before bartering, lest you “get in the wrong” and get hurt.
- Do you know how to clearly recognize and differentiate peso tickets in MN and CUC? I ask you because it is given – sometimes, not that it is the norm – a scam that I call “the special for linnets tourists”. It consists of making the change correctly. You calculate it and you see that you do not lose and accept it. Then they give you exactly the agreed pesos in the change (for example, 100 pesos) and you leave so happy. Where did they deceive you? They gave you 100 pesos … in MN when they should have given you 100 CUC (remember: 1 CUC is equivalent to 24 MN). They gave you the equivalent of 4 CUC and you were cheated out of the other 96 CUC.