Which Currency Should I Take on My Trip to Cuba?

 

HAVANA TIMESWould it be wiser to exchange US Dollars to another currency prior to traveling to Cuba or should I just exchange US Dollars to CUC (Convertible Cuban Pesos) when arriving in Havana?

Answer: It will be to your advantage to take Canadian dollars, Euros, or Swiss Francs instead of USD. Whether it is also advantageous or not to take Mexican pesos will depend on the exchange rate you get.

After the 10% penalty (surcharge) is subtracted and the commission (just under 3%), the USD is exchanged at a fraction over 0.87 cents CUC.

Here is the site for the latest average exchange rates at the CADECA money exchange. http://www.cubacurrency.com/exchange_rates.html

Below is a list of currencies that can be officially exchanged in Cuba:

Country and acronyms

CAD – Canadian dollar
GBP – British Pound
MXN – Mexican Peso
CHF – Swiss Franc
EUR – Euro
DKK – Danish Krone
NOK – Norwegian Krone
SEK – Swedish Krona
JPY – Japanese Yen
USD – US Dollar (a 10% tax is applied before the exchange)
CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso

Should I change my money at the airport?

Question: How do I ensure i don’t get cheated when changing money at the Havana International Airport Cadeca? 

Answer: The exchange rate is the same at the airport as it is at a Cadeca anywhere else in the country.  The only places that give a different (lower) rate are at hotel desks.  Therefore, avoid changing money at the hotel.  Stick to the airport official Cadeca (money changing house) or any Cadeca in the city. 

24 thoughts on “Which Currency Should I Take on My Trip to Cuba?

  • March 13, 2018 at 9:02 am
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    This is a grossly misleading article that ignores two critical points.

    First, it appears that at least 95% of the US dollar to CUC exchanges occur in private exchanges at a 94-95 CUC for a US$100 bill. This eliminates the 10% tax on US dollars. There is significant private demand for US$100 bills in Cuba from Cubans who travel overseas to purchase merchandise to resell in Cuba for CUC or CUP. While the dollar – CUC market is technically illegal, that regulation is never enforced and the market is brisk. The author seems to think that the primary source of US currency in Cuba is from tourists. In reality it is some $3.5 Billion brought in the pockets of Cuban Americans returning to visit family or for investment.

    Second, the article completely ignores the transaction costs to exchange US dollars for Euros or Canadian. This is a minimum of 5% at major banks resulting in only a minor savings at best while subjecting the traveler to additional cost to exchange left over foreign currencies back into dollars. But if a traveler exchanges US dollars for any intermediate currency such as Euros or Canadian at a US airport foreign exchange kiosk, the transaction costs are so high that they will net less than the .87 CUC they would have gotten by simply exchanging dollars for CUC in a cadeca.

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    • March 13, 2018 at 11:55 am
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      Bob, We do not advise visitors, be them from any country including Cubans living abroad, to look for illegal money change opportunities to get a better rate on the US dollar. You are right, they exist but we cannot publicize or vouch for any private money changers. On the other point, people with the exchange information in Cuba and what it would cost to change their money into Euros or Canadian Dollars at home, can calculate the best way to go. It will very from country to country, bank to bank, and from the type of accounts different people have and the rates charged for currency exchanges. Lastly, most Cubans returning home to visit are well aware of their different options both legal and illegal.

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    • March 13, 2018 at 9:05 pm
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      Circles: OK if you want to be Puritanical and be in that small minority to use cadecas. BTW: I defy anyone to strictly obey all the Cuban regulations. We both know that is simply impossible. I certainly agree that a first time visitor to Cuba should not attempt to exchange $ for CUC in the street solo. However it is quite normal to ask a casa host to help arrange such.

      But the issue of the exchange cost from US dollars to an intermediate currency remains. That is the key variable that requires doing some simple math and makes any blanket statement grossly misleading.

      If someone buys Euros or Canadian at a US airport foreign exchange kiosk, then exchanges that intermediate currency for CUC in a cadeca, they will end up with the equivalent of 85 and a fraction CUC. That is less than if they would have simply exchanged US dollars for CUC in a cadeca at the .87 rate. That is because of the poor exchange rates (i.e. transaction costs) at the airport FX kiosk. I know as I frequently ask the rates at MIA, TPA, FLL, and MCO as I travel to Cuba every 6-8 weeks or so.

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      • July 17, 2018 at 1:20 pm
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        Oh, Bob! I hope we see you on an episode of “Locked Up Abroad!” Please let me know before your next trip… I’d like to give the Cubans a head’s up!

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    • April 1, 2018 at 4:09 am
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      Bob not everyone is so determined to eek out the last cents from their money-changing transaction as you appear to be! Nor are all casa owners able or willing to facilitate unofficial exchanges. And it depends on where you travel also. Now Cubans can get hold of dollars ‘more easily’ than say 10 years ago, not everyone wants to do deals with unknown yumas. Not sure where you get your stats but leaving that aside, Cadacas, with their single rates, are way better for changing money than if you needed to change money in another foreign country where rates inevitably swing wildly between banks etc. Also if an American happens to have excess Euros, sterling or Canadian dollars it makes sense to change them in Cuba if rates are favourable.

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      • April 16, 2018 at 3:54 pm
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        Just admit your wrong

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  • March 13, 2018 at 12:14 pm
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    If you are going to Cuba from Canada, buy US dollars at your Canadian bank before leaving. Exchange the USD at the airport or hotel in Cuba for CUC, at the fixed exchange rate of 1 USD for 0.87 CUC. The Canadian dollar / CUC exchange rate is not fixed, so the rate varies daily. It will cost you more to use Cdn dollars for CUCs in Cuba than if you used USD, because the Cdn / CUC rate will be more expensive than the Cdn / USD rate in Canada. And, don’t buy more CUCs than you can use, because they are worthless outside of Cuba.

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    • March 13, 2018 at 3:08 pm
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      Not true. To get $100 US will cost you $130 CA. To change $100 US to CUC you will get 87 CUC. If you change $130 CA to CUC you will get about 101 CUC. So it better to take Canadian dollars if you live in Canada.

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      • March 13, 2018 at 8:27 pm
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        Are you honestly this financially incompetent to suggest buying Canadian with American to travel to Cuba? The airport in Havana shows a rate for Canadian dollars significantly less than that for the US dollar. When you calculate using that exchange rate, you come out much worse off. That does not include the exchange rate transaction costs, which make the deal even less favorable.
        If what you posit were correct, you could get rich exchanging US for Canadian and then converting it to CUCs, then back to US.
        The technical term for this process is arbitrage. I suggest you stick to talking about hotels and beaches, and leave money management to people more competent.

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        • March 14, 2018 at 12:33 am
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          My calculation was to explain that there is no point for Canadian to change money first to US dollars and after that to CUC. It is better for Canadian to take Canadian dollars and change them directly to CUC. Canadian loses money if they first change Canadian dollars to US dollars in Canada and change US dollars to CUC in Cuba. Please note $100 US is about $130. Willy Moron if you don’t agree my calculations on my previous comment please explain why you think I am wrong. Please remember Canadians need to pay $130 CA to get $100 US.

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          • September 16, 2018 at 7:55 am
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            you are absolutely correct! Makes no sense whatsoever.

      • March 13, 2018 at 8:45 pm
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        KAV: Today 13 March 2017 at Wells Fargo bank, US$100 will get you CDN$122.05. At a cadeca in Cuba that Canadian 122.05 will convert into 93.52 CUC, not your 101. Those are actual numbers for those specific banks. Maybe you are using the spot rate, not what a customer actually pays.

        Indisputably, if you live in Canada, you are always better taking Canadian dollars. That is a no brainer.

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        • March 14, 2018 at 1:06 pm
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          Bob Michaels: My first reply was to PLP who recommended Canadians to take US dollars to Cuba. If you change CAD to US$ it cost about 130 CAD for $100 US in Canada. 130 CAD is about 99.60 CUC.

          My second reply to Willy Moron was to make sure that I was talking about Canadians taking Canadian dollars to Cuba.

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        • May 25, 2018 at 1:24 am
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          This is the most accurate scenario as far as exchanging U.S. currency to CUC. I have done it this way for 6 of my visits to Cuba and I always yield anywhere between .938- .942 or so.
          Banks will charge the most for currency exchange. I go to a currency exchange place. Usually better rates. NEVER exchange $ at an AP kiosk. Unless you know someone that will exchange USD to CUC in Cuba where at most you will get .95, change to Canadian before arriving and in Cuba at a “Cadeca” Acronym for “Casas De Cambio” change to CUC.

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    • September 16, 2018 at 7:53 am
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      That’s not a good idea when our Canadian dollar is only worth about 75 USD.

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  • March 18, 2018 at 9:27 am
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    So, let me get this straight. As an American, it is better to exchange money, with my bank, into Canadian dollars and, then upon arrival into Cuba, to change the Canadian money into CUC’s?

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    • March 18, 2018 at 5:20 pm
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      Maybe: It all depends on the rate of exchange you get at your bank. Often American banks will charge up to 10% (the charges are not explicitly stated, but reflected in the rates you are given). You will pay about 3% at the cadecas in Cuba to change your currency to CUC. So check with your bank for its rates, and do the math. (Unless you are dealing with a Canadian bank, operating in America, you probably will not get a good enough rate to make it worthwhile.)

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      • March 19, 2018 at 7:29 am
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        The bank tells you outright what they will charge, so that’s not problematic. Since, Canadian dollars offer a higher rate of exchange than Euros, it is more beneficial to exchange dollars to Canadian dollars. But, the difference will be eaten up in fees, perhaps, when exchanging for CUCs. It is always something!

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  • March 19, 2018 at 7:33 am
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    Funny how hard it is to clarify the answers to a fairly simple question: which currency to bring to Cuba? Part of the problem is that answers are country-specific. If you’re a US traveler, here is my experience with 4 different ways: As a US traveler, I have bought Euros at my local US bank, then converted those to CUC at a Cuban bank; also converted some of those Euros on the street to CUC; converted US Dollars to CUC at a Cuban bank; and converted USD to CUC on the street. On the street we got 90 CUC per $100 once, and 93 CUC per $100 another time. Now, I realize that I could probably get 95 CUC per $100 if I wanted to spend the time hunting for better rates, but keep in mind that a difference of 2 CUC per $100 equals only $20 CUC per $1000 US! Personally, my time while visiting Cuba is always the most limited commodity–losing 20 CUC per $1000 is not a crisis, I’d rather spend that time enjoying Cuba. As soon as we felt we were spending too much time looking for exchange rates, we went to a bank, ate a little cost, and enjoyed our time again. Euros were more or less the same range of options, but the more imortant lesson there was that by the time my bank in the US took a cut of my Dollars-to-Euros exhange before I headed to Cuba, and then when I exchanged Euros to CUC, any appreciable savings by avoiding the 10% tax on US Dollars in Cuban banks was lost.

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  • March 21, 2018 at 5:26 am
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    We travel to Cuba from the UK a lot and never think about exchange rates. To busy enjoying this wonderful country. The exchange rate is what it is. Best to avoid Americans and Russians

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  • March 21, 2018 at 3:53 pm
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    I tried converting 1000 USD to CAD at an exchange place at the mall with a price match guarantee. I then converted the CAD to CUC and would up with 892 CUC at the SNU airport. The 22 CUC extra wasn’t worth the legwork.

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    • May 25, 2018 at 12:49 pm
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      Remember Mr. Anonymous that the 22 CUC you so lightly dismiss, is the average pay for a MONTH in Cuba. Quite a price for a little legwork!

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  • July 22, 2018 at 12:46 pm
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    As a frequent Cuba Visitor and Travel Guide, I really appreciate this discussion above. There are different opinions based on a variety of individual experiences. My specific advice for first-time American visitors is to bring newer USD $100 bills (Cubans generally do not like the old ones, because some have been counterfeit). Convert only one or two at a time if you are staying at a hotel. You will be able to use USD’s in a number of situations involving private restaurants, private galleries, artist street fairs, etc.. Except for highest-level government taxis, you can usually use USDs to pay for services. As an example, if a taxi driver quotes you a rate of “10 CUC’s” to take you to a specific spot, you can counter with “8 dollars.” This amount value is less than 8 CUCs, but quite likely to be accepted.
    If you are a repeat visitor or an experienced traveler who speaks conversational Spanish, and especially if you are staying at a BnB, speak privately with the owner or other individual. Be discreet. Being discreet while traveling around Cuba is essential. If caught, YOU won’t get locked up, but the Cuban involved could get fined. It is simply a matter of who receives the conversion commission—the Cuban Government, your pleasant & helpful BnB owner, or his sister-in-law next door. (I also view it as a political affirmation about where I want my conversion-donation to end up—with the government?–or with a private entrepreneur!) It’s definitely worth it for a local to take your new USD $100 bill, disappear for a few minutes, and return with $90-93 in CUCs. He will get his 2-3 CUC’s for a 5-minute transaction, you will get a better rate, and all will be well.
    I’ve tried converting at my local bank 100 USDs to Canadians and Euros, and I do not think it is worth it. Here is the issue–when you receive the conversion rate, it may seem like a reasonable deal, and your first math calculation may seem to make sense. However, most banks quietly add a separate fee or cost for the transaction. If you include this in your calculations, Then your original $100 is quickly re-valued to $95-97 USD’s before you even consider the official conversion rate–which your bank will emphasize, so that you think you are getting a great deal. I’ve met travelers who bragged about this scheme, as though they were suddenly international money traders! Do the math with ALL the figures!
    As I said at the beginning of this article–if it’s your first trip, bring newer USD $100 bills and convert only a few at a time at your hotel. (You should also bring about 30 USD $1 bills for tips, where you can leave for any occasion or venue.) The only CHANGE you should concern yourself about is the big change coming to Cuba very soon. Go soon–meet some wonderful locals, and HAVE FUN!

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  • August 28, 2018 at 8:59 am
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    By far the best comment on this thread is … ‘I hope we see you on an episode of “Locked Up Abroad!” ‘!

    I think, in a nutshell, this is a great guiding principle, do you want to be locked up in a Cuban prison for your own stupidity? You’re adults, make your own decisions, but why not just follow the rules, get a little less on the exchange rate and enjoy your time in Cuba.

    Do your own math to see what is the most cost effective currency to bring with you.

    Just my opinion.

    Reply

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