As in so many other respects, Cuba is an unusual destination in regards to money. When we were last here, 20 years ago, there were two currencies. The convertible peso, or CUC, equivalent to a U.S. dollar, was the currency used by foreigners for most purchases. The national peso, or CUP, was worth much less, but could only be used by foreigners for minor purchases, such as a pizza.
The CUC was abolished last year and now there is only one currency, the CUP. In reality, however, there remain two currencies: the CUP and foreign hard currency. We did some Internet research before coming here, and learned that American dollars, Canadian dollars, Euros and British pounds are all accepted. As a reaction to the tightening of sanctions by the Trump administration, which have not been relaxed by Biden’s, there is officially a 10 percent charge for using American dollars. In fact, however, the U.S. dollar is still the preferred currency. Prices at accommodation and in better restaurants are generally posted in U.S. dollars. Other currencies may be accepted, but usually at a discounted rate.
Based on our research, we decided to bring Canadian dollars and Euros. Insofar as we have sufficient cash, this was a good decision. However, it would be better if we were carrying U.S. dollars. Our Euros in particular are readily accepted, but on a one to one basis with U.S. dollars. Since a Euro on international exchanges is valued at more than a U.S. dollar, we are taking a bit of a hit on each purchase.
There are state currency exchanges (called Cadeco, short for Casa de Cambio) that will exchange foreign currency into CUP, but the rates are less than can be obtained on the street. The last time I looked, the Cadeco rate for a Canadian dollar was 87. We exchanged some Canadian dollars through our accommodation for 100.
The bottom line is that travellers should bring enough cash for the duration of their visit, mostly in U.S. dollars. We have read that it is possible to get money from your home account through a local bank, but we have not attempted it. Such a withdrawal would be in CUP, and presumably at a disadvantageous official rate. We have also read that it may be difficult to get money from a U.S. bank.
When we were checking out of our accommodation recently I told our host that we could pay in Canadian dollars or Euros. As an afterthought, I said we also had CUP. “Oh no” she responded, becoming more animated, “Definitely not CUP”. As usual, we paid in Euros as though they were U.S. dollars.
A final caution: don’t change too much foreign currency into CUP. It is not a freely traded currency and it is impossible to exchange any surplus CUP back into foreign currency. A pair of Québécois cycle tourists that we met learned this lesson the hard way as they were departing the country