Cuba Travel Planner
Planning a trip to Cuba? You will love it. Great sights, Great beaches, Great music. Great People. While travel to Cuba is not expensive, you will still have expenses. Here are a few tips for handling money matters during your journey.
Cash Is King –
Don’t plan on using your credit card or ATM card during your Cuban travels. Much of the Cuban infrastructure lags behind many other countries and that includes banking and finances. ATM machines are extremely rare. Few, if any stores or restaurants accept credit card payments. Occasionally a larger hotel might accept credit card payments, some charging an extra fee to do so. In reality, bring cash because that is what you will need.
Two Cuban Currencies –
Financial transactions in Cuba require the use of Cuban currency. The government sets a standard exchange rate so there is really no reason to go looking for a better deal. It’s easiest to change your own currency for Cuban Pesos on arrival at the airport. You can do it later but you may find it difficult to locate a bank or currency exchange.
Cuba actually uses two different types of currencies. This may sound a bit confusing, but in practice it is not. Cubans use the Cuban Peso, known as the CUP, for their personal and daily transactions. The CUP is not available to travelers and tourists. As a traveler you don’t really need to worry about the CUP – you will likely never see any. (Even though never used by Americans, the U.S. Dollar to CUP valuation is around $1.00 = 26 CUP.)
Foreigners and tourists in Cuba use the Cuban Convertible Peso, knows as the CUC. The valuation of the CUC to U.S.Dollar is 1:1. Simple. Right? Well, it is, until you factor in the exchange fees and penalties noted below.
Currency Exchange Fees and Penalties –
Cuba levies a 3% fee when you exchange foreign currencies to or from Cuban Convertible Pesos. The fee applies to all foreign currencies. In Addition, Cuba levies an additional 10% penalty when exchanging American Dollars for Cuban Convertible Pesos. So in total, when changing U.S. dollars into CUCs, for each $1.00 you will get 87 centavos (100 centavos = 1 CUC peso).
Money Saving Tip! ——————–
The 10% exchange penalty makes travel to Cuba considerably more expensive for Americans than those from other countries. Many American travelers try to work around this penalty by not taking U.S. dollars to Cuba. If you have some Euros left over from your last trip to Europe – take those. If you have access to other foreign currencies through your work or bank it might be cheaper to change your dollars to a different currency in the U.S. and then exchanging again in Cuba. Many Americans, for example, exchange U.S. dollars for Canadian dollars before their trip. To see if this will work for you, you’ll have to do the math. For U.S. dollar to Cuban Convertible Peso exchange in Cuba you will “pay” a total of 13%. That’s the universal 3% fee plus the 10% U.S. dollar penalty. You can’t avoid the 3% exchange fee but you might find a way to convert U.S. dollars to a different currency (one which isn’t charged the 10% penalty in Cuba) for travel. For example if you can exchange U.S. dollars to Canadian dollars at your bank for a 4% fee, then your total conversion fee will be 4% to Canadian dollars at your bank plus 3% to CUC once in Cuba for a total of 7%. That’s 6% cheaper than converting directly from U.S. dollars to CUC in Cuba – a 6% reduction of your in-country travel costs while visiting Cuba!
As with any foreign travel, it’s always best to only exchange as much money as you will need and use in country. Otherwise you will also be hit with the same exchange and penalty fees when you convert back from Cuban currency.
The Cuban economy is very poor and Cubans make very little money in their regular or “day” jobs. As a result it seems that a vast majority of Cubans engage in some type of business or commerce “on the side.” Many, for example, are waiters, musicians or singers and entertain in hotel lobbies, restaurants, or even on street corners. They depend on tips from these side businesses to supplement their rather meager incomes. While they would prefer to “be tipped” in Cuban Pesos (CUC) they will, understandably, accept any type of currency including U.S. dollars. But they will then have to exchange the dollars to Cuban currency, paying the exchange rate and penalty. Best just to use Cuban currency for all transactions, including tipping.
Have a Great Journey To Cuba ………….. And Enjoy The Adventure!
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