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Money & Shopping

Money & Shopping


Dual currency system

There are two currencies circulating in Cuba, Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC) and Cuban Pesos (CUP). Wide circulation of US dollars in Cuba ended in November 2004.

Cuban Convertible Pesos are referred to by locals as kooks and is the currency most tourists will use in Cuba. The CUC is primarily used for the purchase of tourist and luxury goods such as hotels, official taxis, entry into museums, meals at tourist restaurants, export quality cigars, bottled water and rum. The CUC is pegged 1:1 to the US dollar and conversion into CUC can be done at Casa de Cambio's or Cadeca's (exchange houses) which are located in many hotels and in other places throughout the city. Tourists are permitted to import and export a maximum of CUP 100 and CUC 200 respectively at any one time.

Cuban Pesos are referred to by locals as Moneda Nacional (National currency) and a mainly used by locals. As of October 2015, 1 CUC buys 24 CUP and 25 CUP buys 1 CUC. The CUP is primarily used for the purchase of daily, non luxury goods that are sold in agricultural markets, street stalls and local restaurants. This means you can buy things like coffee, bread, fruits, vegetables, fresh juices and snacks at local street stalls with CUP. In addition to this, CUP can also be used at some (non-tourist) sit down restaurants and for the purchase of local cigars known as 'tabacos' or 'Nacionales'. If you are on a budget and intend to eat mainly local food to save money, it is recommended you obtain some CUP as although peso priced places will accept CUC, it is more convenient to use the local currency, and some government shops will not accept payment in CUC as they cannot provide change. Exchanging currency to CUP can be done at exchange houses. CUP currency cannot be converted to foreign currencies.

Note: Raul Castro, who has long criticised the dual currency system as it generally pays hôteliers and taxi drivers more than medical doctors, announced in October 2013 that the dual currency system would be scrapped in approximately 18 months - however two years later that change has not been made.

Exchanging currency

Travellers can exchange a range of foreign currencies at Casa de Cambio's or Cadeca's(exchange houses) which are located in airports, hotels and in major towns and cities. Bancos (banks) also exchange foreign currencies and are located in most major towns and cities. Both exchange houses and banks accept a number of foreign currencies with the most popular being Canadian and US dollars, Sterling and Euros. Mexican Pesos, Swiss Francs and Japanese Yen may also be accepted by some banks in Cuba. If you are holding US dollars, it is important to note that a 10% exchange penalty will be charged in addition to any commissions normally added. If you wish to exchange US dollars, it may be cheaper to convert to another currency before hand (so long as you don't lose more than 10% in that conversion).

US Dollar Tax in Cuba

In 2004, Fidel Castro imposed a 10 percent tax on the US dollar. With the normalising of relations between the two states however, the Cuban government announced in March 2016 that this tax would be eliminated. No official date has been given for the lifting of the tax so as of July 2016 the tax still stands. There is no tax when converting from CUC to US Dollars.

A full list of currencies that are accepted by banks and indicative exchange rates can be found on the Banco Central de Cuba (Central Bank of Cuba) website. It is important to note that if you hold a currency that cannot be exchanged in Cuba, you may have to first exchange your home currency to one that is accepted and then exchange again to the Cuban currency. Doing the first step at at home will probably be the easiest and cheapest option.

Many exchange houses and banks have credit and debit card facilities where they can debit your account and exchange it for cash. Be aware however that U.S issued cards will not work at these terminals. In addition to this, many places do not accept MasterCard cards (U.S. issued or otherwise). Be aware also that the terminals at exchange houses and banks often break down or go offline so you may not be able to use any card (until at least the next day when the machine is working again). Be aware that some places will not accept cards without your name on it (travel cards for example) even if it has your signature on the back.

When changing currency, be sure to bring your passport for identification (as well as the address of where you are staying as this is sometimes asked). If you are using a credit or debit card, the name on the card will need to match the name on the passport otherwise they will not accept the card. Be prepared for long queues at exchange houses and banks as well as odd opening and closing hours. Be aware that exchange facilities in resorts and hotels will often offer worse rates then banks and exchange houses in the town. Finally, do not change currency on the street as travellers have been defrauded, with fake or local currency.

Currency can be converted from CUC to foreign currencies, but as of July 2016, the currency changers at Havana's airport only change to Euros and US Dollars. The currency changers also do not have anything lower than 5 Euro bills and $5 USD bills, so expect to be stuck with a few CUCs that cannot be converted. Currency changers will also not convert any CUP currency.

Traveler's Checks

Traveler's checks drawn on American banks are not technically valid in Cuba, though many have had success cashing U.S. traveler's checks at major tourist hotels. American Express checks are difficult to cash due to the likelihood that they were purchased with U.S. dollars. For example, Swiss traveler's checks will be accepted, as long as they are in Swiss francs, even if the checks are made "in licence" of an American bank, as long as the real producer of them is non-American. Visa Traveller's cheques are accepted, though the same caveats about being drawn on an American bank apply. It's better to bring cash to Cuba; resorts accept Euros, Canadian dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs and Hong Kong Dollar currencies without any fees.


ATMs are relatively rare in Cuba but they can be found in most larger towns and cities. It is important to note however that U.S. issued cards and MasterCard cards (U.S. issued or otherwise) do not work at any ATM in Cuba. ATMs do accept Visa (non U.S. issued of course) and sometimes UnionPay. It is important to note however that although your card may be accepted, ATMs in Cuba often break down or do not have sufficient cash for a large withdrawal (if refused, try a smaller amount). Finally, be aware that only primary accounts are recognised so ensure your funds are not in a secondary account linked to the card.

Purchasing on credit and debit cards

Top Tip for money

Do not rely on your bank cards as you would in other countries. Be prepared for your bank card to not work from time to time or at all! Have enough currency or travellers cheques when you enter the country and get around

There are generally facilities for making payments with plastic in many hotels and touristy shops and restaurants. As mentioned above, U.S. issued cards will not work. Visa and MasterCard (non US issued) cards do generally work however they can only charge in US dollars and will incur a 3% fee. If using a debit card, cards that have a PLUS or CIRRUS logo may work. As mentioned above, be prepared for the card terminal to not work or be disconnected so do not rely on using your card. Finally, private businesses such as casas particulares and paladares will never accept card, necessitating the use of cash.


As in any developing country, most of the merchandise available is designed for tourists to take back home. The biggest Cuban exports for tourists are rum, cigars, and coffee, all of which are available at government-owned stores (including the duty free store at the airport) or on the streets. For genuine merchandise, you should pay the official price at the legal stores.

Cubans also do well in creating music such as salsa, son, and Afro-Cubano. You can purchase CDs or tapes anywhere, but paying the average cost of 20 CUC assures you of quality.

If you are planning to take big quantities (several boxes or more) of cigars with you, be sure you have purchased them officially from an approved shop that gives you proper purchase documentation. Foreign nationals are allowed to export up to 50 cigars (generally 25 to a box) without special permits or receipts, but the export of more requires official receipts. If you buy cigars cheap on streets and you don't have official purchase invoice then your cigars may/will be confiscated. Also, be advised that any purchase of Cuban cigars outside government-approved stores (even in resorts) has the potential to be fake, and that the "cigar factory worker who steals from the factory" does not exist in any appreciable quantities. If you find a "deal" from a street vendor, it's highly likely you are getting fakes, some of which may not even be made of tobacco. Always ensure, no matter where you buy, that the Cuban government origin warranty stamp is properly affixed to the cigar box. Since 2014, licensed U.S. visitors to Cuba were being authorized to import $400 worth of goods from Cuba, of which no more than $100 could consist of tobacco products and alcohol combined. These restrictions were further relaxed in 2016, but bringing back cigars or rum for resale remains prohibited. As the situation is changing, it's best to verify current limits in advance.

Officially you'll need permission to export paintings that are larger than 70cm/side. When you buy artwork from approved shop then they'll give you also the required document, that consists of one paper and one stamp that will be glued on back of your painting. Serial numbers on the stamp and paper must match. Cost of the document is about CUC 2-3. In reality, it is possible that no one will be interested in your paintings.

Medical Tourism

Cuba has long been a popular Medical Tourism destination for patients worldwide that seek high quality medical care at low costs. According to the Association of Caribbean States, nearly 20,000 international patients visited Cuba in 2006 for medical care. Cuba is especially attractive to many Latin American and North American patients given its easy proximity and relaxing environment.

A wide range of medical treatments are provided including joint replacement, cancer treatment, eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and addictions rehabilitation. Costs are about 60 to 80 percent less than U.S. costs. For example, Choice Medical Services a health tourism provider, provides a hip replacement at leading Cuban hospitals for US$5845

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