Money & costs
Two currencies circulate throughout Cuba – Cuban convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (CUP), also called moneda nacional (MN). Most prices here are quoted in convertible pesos (CUC$) and nearly everything tourists buy is in this currency, although you can often buy street food and drinks in CUP, making it a good idea to change CUC$10 to CUC$20 for such sundries at a Cadeca.
Convertible pesos can only be bought and sold in Cuba with euros, British pounds, Canadian dollars and Swiss francs; these currencies are exchanged at the global exchange rate for the dollar, plus an 8% margin tacked on by the Cuban government. US dollars are also convertible, but exchanging them not only incurs the aforementioned 8% fee, but a further 10% penalty. Therefore bring one of the four accepted currencies to avoid giving more than is inevitable of your holiday funds to the Cuban government.
Convertible pesos are useless outside Cuba; you can reverse-exchange currency at the airport before you pass through immigration. Do not change money on the street as scams are rampant and there’s no benefit to you.
ATMs have become much more reliable in recent years, but should only ever be taken for granted in Havana and Santiago. Elsewhere imagine their working as a useful bonus, but never count on it. Credit cards are also charged at an 8% commission, so their use will not save you any money, sadly. Generally, using them in better hotels and resorts is trouble-free, but again, never rely on them. Visa is the most widely accepted credit card. Due to embargo laws, no credit card issued by a US bank or subsidiary is accepted in Cuba.
While they add security, traveler’s checks are a hassle in Cuba. In addition to commissions, cashing them takes time, and smaller hotels don’t accept them. They’re virtually useless in the provinces. If you insist on carrying them, get Thomas Cook checks.