With a somewhat weird two currency monetary system Cuba’s foreign currency exchange can appear a bit daunting for a first time visitor, but with some basic info most people should be able to grasp the essentials of CUC and CUP.
Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba.
The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC.
For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. There is a 10% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars cash, so, you will only receive 87 centavos CUC for one USA dollar when changing the money, allowing for the 10% penalty and a 3% currency exchange fee.
The second legal currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, CUP, which is rarely used by tourists, but it’s still something you should know about as it is perfectly legal for tourists to use it. For example, you can pay the ride in almendrones in CUP.
You get about 24 Cuban pesos or CUP for 1 Convertible Peso or CUC.
Both types of Pesos, CUC and CUP, are legal tender in Cuba and both are completely available to anyone – including foreigners – with no restrictions whatsoever. You can exchange your CUC for CUP at any bank and most non-resort and non-airport Cadecas.
Cheques are more hassle than they’re worth. They’re sometimes difficult to exchange and when you do find a place to accept them you pay a commission to cash them. If they do get lost or stolen they can’t be replaced until you return home.
The 3 CUP bill with the image of Che makes a nice inexpensive souvenir.
Street food like sandwiches and pizza, fresh fruit drinks and other small purchases are all incredibly cheap. Movies are cheap too.
Make sure if you leave a tip, leave it in CUC.