Cuban convertibles (CUC$) and Cuban pesos (MN$; moneda nacional).
Budget: Less than CUC$70
- Casas particulare: CUC$25–35
- Meal in government-run restaurant: CUC$10–15
- Museum entry: CUC$1–5
Midrange: CUC $70–140
- Mid-range hotel: CUC$50–100
- Meal in paladar (private restaurant): CUC$15–25
- Víazul bus travel: Havana–Trinidad CUC$25
Top End: More than CUC$140
- Resort or historic hotel: CUC$200-300
- Car hire or taxi: CUC$60–70
- Evening cabaret: CUC$35–60
Cuba’s socialist economy doesn’t have a history of bargaining, though there may be some room for maneuver on prices at private enterprise markets.
Cuba has two currencies though the government is in the process of unifying them. At the time of writing, convertibles (CUC$) and pesos (moneda nacional; MN$) were both still in circulation. One convertible is worth 25 pesos. Non-Cubans deal almost exclusively in convertibles.
This is a tricky part of any Cuban trip, as the double economy takes some getting used to. As of early 2017, two currencies were still circulating in Cuba: convertible pesos (CUC$) and Cuban pesos (referred to as moneda nacional, abbreviated MN$).
Most things tourists pay for are in convertibles (eg accommodation, rental cars, bus tickets, museum admission and internet access). At the time of writing, Cuban pesos were selling at 25 to one convertible, and while there are many things you can't buy with moneda nacional, using them on certain occasions means you'll see a bigger slice of authentic Cuba. The prices we list are in convertibles unless otherwise stated.
Making everything a little more confusing, euros are also accepted at the Varadero, Guardalavaca, Cayo Largo del Sur, Cayo Coco and Cayo Guillermo resorts, but once you leave the resort grounds you'll still need convertibles.
The best currencies to bring to Cuba are euros, Canadian dollars or pounds sterling. The worst is US dollars, for which you will be penalized with a 10% fee (on top of the normal commission) when you buy convertibles (CUC$). Since 2011, the Cuban convertible has been pegged 1:1 to the US dollar, meaning its rate will fluctuate depending on the strength/weakness of the US dollar. Australian dollars are not accepted anywhere in Cuba.
Cadeca branches in every city and town sell Cuban pesos (MN$). You won't need more than CUC$10 worth of pesos a week. There is almost always a branch at the local agropecuario (vegetable market). If you get caught without Cuban pesos and are drooling for that ice-cream cone, you can always use convertibles; in street transactions such as these, CUC$1 is equal to 25 pesos and you'll receive change in pesos. There is no black market money changing in Cuba, only hustlers trying to fleece you with money-changing scams.
ATMs & Credit Cards
Cuba is primarily a cash economy. Credit cards are accepted in resort hotels and some city hotels. There are a growing number of ATMs.
US residents must note: as of early 2017, debit and credit cards from the USA could still not be used.
The acceptance of credit cards has become more widespread in Cuba in recent years and was aided by the legalization of US and US-linked credit and debit cards in early 2015. However, change is still a work in process.
While services can still be booked with credit cards from the USA on the internet, in the country it's another story. Residents of the US can wire money via Western Union, though this requires help from a third party and hefty fees.
When weighing up whether to use a credit card or cash, bear in mind that the charges levied by Cuban banks are similar for both (around 3%). However, your home bank may charge additional fees for ATM/credit card transactions. An increasing number of debit cards work in Cuba, but it's best to check with both your home bank and the local Cuban bank before using them.
Ideally, it is best to arrive in Cuba with a stash of cash and a credit and debit card as back-up.
Almost all private business in Cuba (ie at casas particulares and paladares) is still conducted in cash.
Cash advances can be drawn from credit cards, but the commission is the same. Check with your home bank before you leave, as many banks won't authorize large withdrawals in foreign countries unless you notify them of your travel plans first.
ATMs are becoming more common. This being Cuba, it is wise to only use ATMs when the bank is open, in case any problems occur.
Credit cards don't have the importance or ubiquity that they do elsewhere in the western hemisphere. Although carrying just cash is far riskier than the usual cash/credit card/debit card mix, it's infinitely more convenient. As long as you use a concealed money belt and keep the cash on you or in your hotel's safety deposit box at all times, you should be OK.
It's better to ask for CUC$20/10/5/3/1 bills when you're changing money, as many smaller Cuban businesses (taxis, restaurants etc) can't change anything bigger (ie CUC$50 or CUC$100 bills) and the words no hay cambio (no change) echo everywhere. If desperate, you can always break big bills at hotels.
Denominations & Lingo
One of the most confusing parts of a double economy is terminology. Cuban pesos are called moneda nacional (abbreviated MN) or pesos Cubanos or simply pesos, while convertible pesos are called pesos convertibles (abbreviated CUC), or simply pesos (again!). More recently people have been referring to them as cucs. Sometimes you'll be negotiating in pesos Cubanos and your counterpart will be negotiating in pesos convertibles. It doesn't help that the notes look similar as well. Worse, the symbol for both convertibles and Cuban pesos is $. You can imagine the potential scams just working these combinations.
The Cuban peso comes in notes of one, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos; and coins of one (rare), five and 20 centavos, and one and three pesos. The five-centavo coin is called a medio, the 20-centavo coin a peseta. Centavos are also called kilos.
The convertible peso comes in multicolored notes of one, three, five, 10, 20, 50 and 100 pesos; and coins of five, 10, 25 and 50 centavos, and one peso.
For current exchange rates see www.xe.com.
Tipping in Cuba is important. Since most Cubans earn their money in moneda nacional (MN$), leaving a small tip of CUC$1 (MN$25) or more can make a huge difference.
- Resorts/hotels Tip for good service with bellboys, room maids and bar/restaurant staff.
- Musicians Carry small notes for the ubiquitous musicians in restaurants. Tip when the basket comes round.
- Tour guides Depending on tour length, tip from a dollar for a few hours to more for extensive guiding.
- Restaurants Standard 10%, or up to 15% if service is excellent and/or you’re feeling generous.
- Taxis Tip 10% if you are on the meter, otherwise agree full fare beforehand.
While they add security and it makes sense to carry a few for that purpose, traveler's checks are a hassle in Cuba. Bear in mind that you'll pay commission at both the buying and selling ends (3% to 6%), and that some hotels and banks won't accept them, especially in the provinces. The Banco Financiero Internacional is your best bet for changing Amex checks, though a much safer all-round option is to bring Thomas Cook.
In October 2013, Raúl Castro announced that Cuba would gradually unify its dual currencies (convertibles and moneda nacional). As a result, prices are liable to change. At the time of writing, the unification process had yet to begin and no further details had emerged as to when or how the government will go about implementing the complex changes. Check www.lonelyplanet.com for updates.