Frommer's lists exact prices in the local convertible peso currency. However, rates fluctuate, so before departing consult a currency exchange website such as www.oanda.com/convert/classic to check up-to-the-minute rates.
Cuba is not a particularly cheap island to travel around for tourists and is not cheap at all compared to its neighboring Central American countries. You can reduce costs by traveling on the Víazul bus system and staying in casas particulares (private homes with rooms for rent), but note that single travelers rarely get a discount on a double room in a private house. You can easily pay out CUC$25 in a 2-week trip just on tipping the ubiquitous music bands that play in restaurants.
Although Castro has replaced the U.S. dollar with the Cuban convertible peso, or CUC, Cuba has always operated under a de facto dollarized economy. The CUC is an internationally unsupported currency, and it is, for all intents and purposes, pegged to the U.S. dollar. All of the CADECA branches and major banks will change U.S. dollars, euros, British pounds, and Canadian dollars.
There are, in fact, two distinct kinds of currency circulating in Cuba: the moneda libremente convertible ("convertible peso" or CUC), and the moneda nacional (Cuban peso or MN or CUP). Both are distinguished by the dollar $ symbol, leading to some confusion. Both the CUC and moneda nacional are divided up into units of 100 centavos. To complicate matters, the euro is also legal tender in many of the hotels, restaurants, and shops in several of the larger, isolated beach resort destinations. Note: In this guide, we list prices in the Cuban convertible peso (CUC$), but when an establishment only accepts the Cuban peso (MN) we also list prices in MN.
The convertible peso functions on a near one-to-one parity with the dollar -- at press time, the official exchange rate was US$1=CUC$0.93 and £1=CUC1.43. However, U.S. dollars are penalized by a 10% surcharge on all money exchange operations into convertible pesos. For this reason, it is best to carry any hard currency you plan on spending in Cuba as euros, British pounds, or Canadian dollars. All of these are freely exchanged at all CADECA branches and most banks around Cuba. Be sure to bring relatively fresh and new bills. Cuban banks will sometimes refuse to accept bills with even slight tears or markings. Also, it is wise to bring a calculator with you and carefully monitor the exchange process, as tellers have been known to deliberately shortchange unsuspecting and overly trusting tourists.
Convertible pesos come in 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 peso bills. Convertible peso coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos, and 1 peso. Although the government has long abandoned its official posture of a one-to-one parity between the Cuban peso (MN) and the U.S. dollar, the habit of converting moneda nacional prices directly into dollars is still common in many situations. Currently, Cuban pesos can be exchanged legally for CUC (and vice versa) at any CADECA money exchange office, some banks, and many hotels. The official exchange rate as of press time was around 24 Cuban pesos to the CUC. While opportunities for travelers to pay in Cuban pesos are few and far between, it is not a bad idea to exchange around CUC$1 to CUC$2 for pesos soon after arrival. It may be possible to pay for some meals, movie tickets, and other goods or services in Cuban pesos, and the savings are substantial. If "MN" is displayed on the prices, you should theoretically be paying Cuban pesos. However, in most cases, vendors will try to insist that any non-Cuban pay in convertible pesos, often at a one-to-one rate of exchange.
You can exchange any remaining convertible pesos for U.S. dollars, sterling, or euros at the airport before leaving. Do so, as the convertible pesos will be useless outside of Cuba.
Note: Cubans still often use the terms peso and dollar interchangeably. If you are quoted a price in pesos, it may not be the bargain you think it to be. To be clear, "moneda nacional" or "MN" always refers to Cuban pesos. Other terms for a CUC include divisa, chavito, verde, guano, and fula. Cash is known as efectivo.
Cuba's state banking system is trying to keep up with the rise in international tourism and joint business ventures. Both the Banco de Crédito y Comercio and Banco Financiero Internacional have opened up branches in most major business and tourist areas; most are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 4pm and a handful are open on Saturday mornings. These banks are the place to go for cash withdrawals off of your non-U.S.-issued credit cards. They'll also work for cashing traveler's checks or changing currency, but your best bet for money-exchange transactions is the national chain of casas de cambio (money-exchange houses), CADECA, S.A. You'll find CADECA branches in most major cities and tourist destinations, as well as at all the international airports. Don't be scared off by the long lines in front of most CADECA offices. These are invariably Cubans looking to buy Cuban Convertible Pesos, or CUC (chavitos). Foreigners wanting to sell dollars (dólares) and sterling (Libra Esterlina) for Cuban Convertible Pesos can almost always jump to the head of the line and walk right in, but ask beforehand. This is also the place to change your CUCs into national pesos (moneda nacional) for the odd purchase of mani (peanuts in a paper cone; $1MN), Granma newspaper, or a peso pizza and peso beer.
Warning: Do not change money in the street. It is inevitable that you will be given a wad of useless national pesos instead of CUCs. Also, if you are offered the silver three-peso Che Guevara coin as a souvenir, note that it is worth three national pesos and not CUC$3; it can be obtained in a CADECA for $3MN.
MasterCard and Visa are widely accepted at hotels, car-rental agencies, and official restaurants and shops, with the caveat that they cannot be issued by a United States bank or financial institution. Diners Club is also accepted, although to a much lesser extent. American Express cards are not accepted anywhere on the island. It is always best to check with your home bank before traveling to see if your card will work in Cuba. If you have ignored all advice, contact Asistur, which can advise you on a company in Santo Domingo that can arrange a transaction between your U.S. bank and Asistur.
You are fabulously ripped off when taking money out on your debit or credit card in Cuba. No matter what the country of origin of your card, your transaction will first be converted into dollars, thereby incurring a charge of up to a staggering 12.5%, before you are given the CUC. On a CUC$800 withdrawal, you'll pay a whopping CUC$100fee. This also happens at ATMs where your request for CUC is converted to U.S. dollars at that day's exchange rate. You are then charged 3% of the transaction in dollars at the point of withdrawal.
Most paladares (private-home restaurants), casas particulares (private-home accommodations), and small businesses do not accept credit cards. In the more remote destinations, you should count on using cash for all transactions. Moreover, shaky phone connections and other logistical problems often get in the way of credit card usage. I actually saw some British travelers unable to use a card at a major hotel because the hotel was out of receipt tape, and the staff wasn't sure when the hotel would get more. Do not count on paying a hotel bill with a credit card unless it is a very expensive hotel and/or linked to an international chain such as Sol Melía.
If your credit card is lost or stolen while you're in Cuba, you can contact Fincimex, 3 Av 408 corner of Calle 6, Miramar, Havana (tel. 7/204-9252). However, you're best off having written down in advance your issuing bank's telephone number and calling the bank directly. Banks will usually accept collect calls from anywhere in the world. You can also contact Asistur.
Cuba has a modestly expanding network of ATMs (automated teller machines) associated with a string of banks, like the Banco de Crédito y Comercio and Banco Financiero Internacional. No credit or debit cards issued by U.S.-based companies will work at any of these machines. However, travelers from other countries can easily extract convertible pesos from ATMs at the international airport and most major tourist destinations. As with credit cards, it is always best to check with your home bank before traveling to see if your ATM card will work in Cuba.
Note: Remember that many banks impose a fee every time you use a card at another bank's ATM, and that fee can be higher for international transactions (up to $5 or more) than for domestic ones (where they're rarely more than $2 in the U.S.).
You can use your credit card to receive cash advances at ATMs. Keep in mind that credit card companies protect themselves from theft by limiting maximum withdrawals outside their home country, so call your credit card company before you leave home. And keep in mind that you'll pay interest from the moment of your withdrawal, even if you pay your monthly bills on time.
In Cuba, traveler's checks are accepted at most major hotels, government-run or chain restaurants, and major attractions, but far less readily than credit cards. The same prohibition against U.S. bank-issued tender applies to traveler's checks. If you are a die-hard fan of traveler's checks, Thomas Cook (visit www.thomascook.com to find your nearest branch) and Visa (tel. 0800/89-5078 in the U.K.) traveler's checks issued outside of the United States are still your best bet. Most banks, CADECA offices, hotels, and businesses charge commissions of around 3% and 4% on weekends for cashing traveler's checks.
What Things Cost in Cuba (CUC$)
Taxi from Havana airport to downtown 20.00-25.00
Bicitaxi ride from bus station to downtown 5.00
Double room in an all-inclusive beach resort, moderate 100.00-150.00
Double room in a provincial city, moderate 50.00-100.00
Room in a casa particular 20.00-35.00
Three-course dinner for one without wine, moderate 10.00-15.00
Bottle of beer 1.25
Bottle of water (1.5 liters) 0.70-1.50
Cup of coffee 0.25-1.00
1 gallon/1 liter of premium gas 4.16 / 1.10
1-hour Internet card 6.00
Admission to most museums 1.00-5.00
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.