Where can I get the Cuban currency?
The dual-economy system in Cuba is somewhat confusing for an average traveler. There are two currencies in daily use: convertible pesos (CUC) and Cuban pesos (referred to as moneda nacional or CUP).
Most tourists will not even get in touch with the local currency since most, if not all of their expenditure (such as accommodation, food in most restaurants, transportation tickets, nightclub entrances, etc.) will be in CUCs. You will only need Cuban pesos if you want to make purchases at the local agricultural market (e.g. fruit and vegetables), buy a ticket for a local bus or get some street food. Even in those cases, CUCs are accepted and welcomed by the sellers. Just make sure you know the exchange rate, in case you get your change in the local currency:
1 CUC = 24 Cuban pesos
Unfortunately, neither CUC nor Cuban peso are available outside Cuba.
Where to change the money?
As you cannot obtain any of the Cuban currencies anywhere else, you will have to change your money once you get there (the CADECA exchange offices or the bank branches). The most widely accepted currencies are Euros, British Pounds and Canadian Dollars, and as no outright commission is charged on cash transactions, the exchange rates are quite reasonable. Swiss Francs, Mexican Pesos and Japanese Yen are accepted as well, but in the banks.
Although the CUC exchange rate follows the one of the U.S. Dollar (i.e. 1 CUC = 1 USD) and thus depends on the strength of the U.S. Dollar, it must be noted that 10% special additional tax/commission is still charged on the exchange of US Dollars in Cuba.
Withdrawing cash on your credit cards includes a 3% processing fee, which equals the percentage you lose on the exchange rate when you change other currencies in cash, therefore the amount you receive is the same, whether you change your money in cash or on your credit card.
There is a number of CADECAs in every city or town in Cuba, while tourist resorts and hotels often have one change bureau on their premises. It is recommended not to change your money in places other than the CADECAs and banks, because the exchange rate is usually worse. All CADECAS and banks offer identical exchange rates, so there are no better options to consider.
The BFI Bank is the most reliable in terms of being able to meet the travelers’ requirements and provide them with the sufficient amount of CUC. Make sure you always have undamaged banknotes, as the ones with markings or rips will not be accepted, just like the foreign coins. Always take and keep a printed receipt of money exchange.
Be aware of the locals who try to persuade you to exchange the money for you at a better rate, since a CADECA is far away or complicated to find – this is a scam which is best avoided.
Are credit cards accepted everywhere?
Do not count on paying for any services or goods with a credit card anywhere in Cuba, except in the major hotels and all-inclusive resorts. Make sure you always have enough cash on you.
Visa & MasterCard are accepted. The most widely accepted credit card is Visa, but bear in mind that authorisation can sometimes be denied due to technical issues, such as poor internet connections. It is highly recommended that you check with your bank before you travel to confirm that your debit, credit and ATM cards will work in Cuba.
ATMs in Cuba
ATM machines exist in Cuba, however it is inadvisable to use them as they generally do not work very well and may swallow your card, so we recommend that you take plenty of cash with you. As it appears, only VISA cards will work in Cuban ATMs.
Many banks in Havana have ATMs, so if you must use them, try the ones on Calle Obispo.