Question: I thought that only Cubans could eat in peso (MN) restaurants and so I never went in, and that I always have to pay in CUC to see movies in regular Cuban theatres. Is this true?
Answer: Many foreigners assume that if they go to a restaurant serving food to Cubans in MN – which stands for moneda nacional (national currency) or Cuban Pesos (CUP) – they, the foreigners, must pay in CUC (Cuban Convertible Pesos). Many Cubans also assume that foreigners are not allowed to use MN and inform them of this when they’re asked.
However, this is not correct. Both Cubans and foreign visitors are permitted to use both currencies, MN and CUC. In general, where one uses these currencies does not depend on nationality, but on what kind of authorization the particular establishment – restaurant, cinema, museum, etc. – has for its commercialization activities. And because there is a wide range of possibilities, and pricing policies are seldom posted, it can quickly become confusing for the uninformed visitor. Here are just a few examples:
- Many museums, theatres, art galleries, etc., especially in tourist areas, charge CUC entries for foreigners whereas Cubans and residentes permanentes (foreigners with a permanent residence status in Cuba) can pay in MN. However, in the majority of cases, both prices are clearly posted at the entrance.
- Cuban cinemas tend to charge in MN whether one is a Cuban or foreigner.
- Many restaurants, particularly in tourist areas, charge in CUC regardless of nationality. This means that if you invite a Cuban guest to dine with you in one of these restaurants, their meal will also be charged in CUC.
- Restaurants outside tourist areas may charge only in CUC, or only in MN, or in CUC for foreigners and MN for Cubans and residentes permanentes. In some cases, a restaurant that charges in both currencies has two separate menus, one showing the prices in MN and the other in CUC. In other cases, there is one menu that lists both prices. And in still other cases, there are no menus at all!
- Some municipal or local art galleries or museums don’t charge at all.
- Peso taxis, which normally charge Cubans and residentes permanentes 10 Cuban pesos to go from one municipality to another, are not technically authorized to provide service to foreigners. However, many of them do – and will often charge CUC 1-2 for the service rather than MN.
One of the most difficult situations in the above list is with restaurants outside tourist zones. Although there is a stipulation that restaurants, cafeterias and bars must have a printed list of prices, whether posted or in a menu, this is not always the case. Sometimes, the prices are simply indicated verbally by the waiter or waitress. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous attendants will take advantage of this, telling foreigners that they must pay in CUC when, in fact, the restaurant is authorized to charge only in MN. And in some cases, there is no relationship between the indicated CUC price and the MN price for the same dish or drink. The only “protection” one has is to get information, before ordering, about pricing policies, and to insist on seeing the menu showing prices – and if there’s still a doubt, to ask to speak with the administrator for clarification.
As for entrance fees for museum, theatres, art galleries, etc. that charge such fees, there is also sometimes ambiguity. There are several different categories of foreign residents in Cuba, three of the most common being residente permanente (much like landed immigration status in Canada or a Green Card in the U.S.) residente temporal (temporary residence status usually tied to short- or long-term work that has an identified termination date) and estudiante (foreign student officially registered in a Cuban academic institution). In all three cases, a Cuban identity card is provided indicating the status of the individual. Whereas in general all three categories of foreign resident pay entrance fees in MN, in some cases they must pay in CUC. For example, in a phone consultation with both the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes and the Teatro Nacional de Cuba, both located in Havana, Residentes Temporales are obliged to pay in CUC, whereas in Havana’s Museo de la Revolución, they can enter for MN. Thus, it is best to check pricing policies at the gate, and it is essential that you have your residence identity card with you. Note: foreign students who are not enrolled at a Cuban academic institution must pay CUC like a regular tourist.