There are a lot of articles on the internet already about Cuban money, here’s a 10 cent version:
- The national money is called Moneda Nacional, or MN, or CUP, or peso. Tourists don’t use this.
- The official currency is Convertible Pesos, or CUP, or dollar, or peso. Tourists use these.
The exchange rate is approximately $1 = 1 CUC = 25 CUP.
If someone is selling something that should be very cheap (like an orange) and the cost sounds very expensive (like 10), then it’s in CUP. If you don’t have CUP, you either need CUC coins of less than 1 CUC or you’ll get ripped off, especially if you don’t know the look of the different bills.
Example: a bottle of water may be listed as “$25.” You give them a 5 CUC note and they give you back 4 CUPs. That means you just paid ~$5 for a bottle of water and got back about 1 penny.
How do you convert your money?
Since you can’t exchange into Cuban money outside of Cuba and your US bank card won’t work there, you have to carry cash with you into the country. I did some research and found that in Cuba, they charge a 10% surcharge to convert from US dollars into CUC, but only 3% from Euros. So we exchanged $800 into Euros in Miami (3% fee), then exchanged it to CUCs in Cuba (another 3% fee), thus saving 6%. (Though of course we had 100 Euros stolen, so it was a wash.)
DO NOT CHANGE MUCH MONEY AT THE AIRPORT! If you need a cab, change only enough for that and change the rest at a reputable hotel in Havana.
How much money do you need to bring?
This was a challenging question to find the answer to.
First, we had prepaid for most of it: the tour, our flights, visas, rides to and from the airport in Havana, and the extra night in Havana.
Second, for spending money, we changed $800 into Euros and then to CUC. We split that between the 2 of us. Then we brought about $500 in USD that stayed strapped to us at all times. We broke into that on the last day in order to tip and buy a few souvenirs.
There weren’t many souvenirs to buy and the cost of most of our meals was included. Check with your tour but you may need to bring less than you think.
Things we learned
We found out later that what we paid for the ride to/from the airport was about double what we would have paid in-country.
Booze, cigars, and coffee at the airport is the exact same price as anywhere else. You may as well buy it there. And it’s a good way to use up the last of your currency as it’s completely worthless once you leave the country.