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The Basics of Cuban Currency Exchange

Updated: Sep 22, 2022

Choose the value of your Cuban Currency!  By learning the basics of Cuban Currency Exchange.

No one in the world is allowed to have Cuban Currency, unless they are in Cuba!  It is not allowed to leave Cuba.  It has never been an issue, until now, I mean who would want it?  We don’t have a use for it, even though it’s value is set to match the United States Dollar exactly.   Now that we are able to travel to Cuba, we need money to spend while we are there.  There is frequently no way to pay with a debit or credit card, like you would anywhere else in the world.  At least at this time you must pay with CUC’s the Cuban Convertible Peso, ” Tourist Cuban Currency “

But wait…. if you bring US Dollars to Cuba they may only give you as little as $0.80 CUC (Cuban Currency) for every $1.00 USD!!  What?!?!

People who visit Cuba have to get their money when they arrive and are not allowed to take it with them when they leave.  We can not order up Cuban CUC’s from our local bank, in preparation for our trip.  The tradition in Cuba (and most of the world) is to be as nice to Americans as we are to them. When the George W. Bush administration tightened the ropes on Cuba in 2004 they returned the favor.  Since then the Cuban money exchange booth charges us a 10% penalty for exchanging US Dollars.  They will also charge up to a 10% currency exchange fee.  This amounts to a 20% loss of value when exchanging USD’s for CUC’s right out of the gate!  OUCH!

But - if you are an Architect you are always looking

for a solution to the problem.

The problem is “Exchanging US Dollars” for Cuban Currency.

In May of 2016 we made History by traveling on the Second EVER fathom Travel People to People Cruise to Cuba!  As always we did our research before leaving and found a way to save the 10% penalty fee that seemed inevitable…  Lynn went in to our local Chase Bank branch office about a week before we were scheduled to leave, and ordered $1,000.00 USD worth of Euros!  We took the Euros with us to exchange for CUC’s when we arrived in Cuba.

Cuban Currency Exchange Line

The line was LONG in Havana on the first day, because everyone had to exchange money!  The exchange booths are right in the terminal building, and it was “Cuban HOT” in there!

We were the last in line so when we got to the teller our whole group was waiting for us which made me a little anxious…  Then to make matters worse the teller asked to see our passport!  All I could think was oh SHIT!  They are going to charge us the extra 10% fee because we carry an American Passport, not because we exchanged USD’s….  NOT SO! (Just my brain getting in the way of reality)  We got exactly what we were expecting for our Euros, right down to the “cent”.  We believe we were charged a 3% Exchange Fee!

stand in line for cuban currency

Here is an example of the Cuban Currency Exchange at today’s rate.   Although – remember that it may be different or they may make it different on the day that you are there.  In Cuba they make their own rules regardless of what the rest of the world is doing. (I salute them for that – we would all be better off thinking for ourselves.)

There is a slight gain depicted here when you convert to Euros first – remember the dollar and CUC are set to be equal.

1 USD = .91 EUR = .9954399 CUC = 1.000446962697 USD

My example does not take into effect the exchange fee.  I have conflicting information on how much it actually is.

We recommend getting your Euros as close to your arrival date in Cuba as possible because the exchange rate can change daily, and if the value of the Euro fell you could loose money that way instead.  Check the economic forecast here or look at the history for an idea of what to expect.  On the day that we exchanged our left over CUC’s for US Dollars they were paying $0.96 USD for $1.00 CUC (might be a 4% exchange fee that we see here)

When spending your CUC in Cuba pay attention to make sure that you get the correct kind of change, because there are two Cuban currencies.  There is a Cuban Currency for the locals and one for tourism.  The CUC is the Cuban Currency for tourism and the CUP is the currency for locals.  The exchange rate between the two is about 25 CUP : 1 CUC as depicted on this exchange chart that Rob photographed.

CUP to CUC exchange rate in Cuba

Although dishonesty among Cubans, desiring to do business with tourists is rare, it is wise to be aware that the two currencies in Cuba have drastically different values.  The currency used by the local people, the CUP is 1/25 the value of the tourism currency the CUC.  You will want to know how to tell the difference between them to make sure that you are not given change for a purchase with the wrong kind of currency.

As a Tourist you will be carrying the Cuban currency with buildings on it.

So make sure when getting change for something your change has buildings on it too!  It is important because of the drastic difference in value.  If you exchange your money back to USDs when leaving you won’t get much for the CUP!

But if you accidentally get some CUP Cuban Currency we learned that you would not go hungry…  You could buy food in the ration store.  Here is an example of food prices that locals pay with their CUP’s.  The ration store ONLY accepts CUP Currency.

Food Pricing in CUPs

In case you are curious here are some food prices converted to CUC’s which are equal to the USD (Price in CUP ÷25 = Price in CUC)

$1.20/Pound for Ham

$0.84/Pound for Chorizo

$0.60/Package for Chicken Sausage

$0.60/Pound Cured Meat Sausage Mortadella

$0.016/Each Croquete

$0.40/Pound Butter

This food is likely organic, because they used to get fertilizer and pesticides from Russia, but do not any more.

Wow – looks much different than the food prices in the United States.

In our Capitalist Economy of the U.S. our food prices contain a lot of money for marketing that is not in the price of food in a Socialist country.

The biggest thing I learned from our trip to Cuba is that we may have a lot to learn from Cuba!

Cuba Currency and Money Guide – More information about the different currencies circulating in Cuba.

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