If you are used to travelling through the Eurozone, here in Cuba it starts to be a little bit confusing. Because Cuba has two currencies, yeah! The Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC$) – simply called convertibles – and Non-Convertible Pesos (CUP) / Moneda Nacional (MN$) simply – Cuban Pesos.
Non-Cubans use mostly convertibles. That’s what you exchange foreign currency for and that’s what you pay with. 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD (for international exchange purposes). The exchange rate for Euro depends on the € to $ rate. During the time we planned our Cuban trip 2015/2016, the dollar was getting stronger, so each day CUC$ became more expensive for us. In January 2016: 1€ = 1,09 CUC$.
Most Cubans earn their money in Non-Convertible Pesos. The rate is more or less one convertible to 25 Cuban pesos. As a tourist you can use Cuban pesos as well. With MN$ you can pay for some old taxi rides, street food like pizza or sandwiches, fresh fruit drinks and small purchases in local shops. Remember to tip in CUC$, as with the exchange rate: 1 CUC$ = 25 MN$ it makes a huge difference.
Among the most popular scams to avoid in Cuba is the trick with the currency. Locals having no change in CUC$ or giving MN$ notes on purpuse claiming it is CUC. So if you are supposed to get e.g. 5 CUC$ change back,but instead you end up with 5 MN$ (≈0.20 CUC$) , well, you lost quite a bit. So just in case, here are how both of them look like:
Before our trip to Cuba, I had read on some blog that the most comfortable way to exchange money is at the airport. The exchange rates are supposed to be almost the same as in the city and you don’t have to wait for hours in the line. And so I exchanged all the money that we needed for the whole trip at the airport. What I didn’t see was that I got 70 CUC too less, although the worker counted the money with a bill counter and one more time in front of my eyes.
Only later we found out that the exchange rates in the city are in fact much better than at the airport and to avoid the lines at the exchange offices or banks, it is enough to ask your casa owner when it is best to exchange money without waiting for hours. Locals will definitely tell you the best time.
Opposite than in Argentina, in Cuba it is possible to change CUC back to Euros / Dollars. The rates are of course not favorable but better that carrying whole bunch of CUCs back home 😉
There is also the possibility of exchanging money in hotels, but they usually have additional fees.
If you have a choice to take Euros or American Dollars to Cuba, take Euros. There is a 10% fee charged when exchanging $.
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