On Using US Dollars and AirBnB in Cuba

QUESTION:  We are planning a “people to people” five-day trip for a family of three, departing from the US the last week of June 2016.  Things are changing so fast; would appreciate some up-to-date information about two topics…

Can you give advice on the currency situation?  Are US dollars used in daily transactions?   Or do travelers still exchange dollars into CUC?  (And lose 13% in the process.)

We would also like to book lodging through Air B&B to better connect with local people.  Since most Cubans have no internet, there must be some “middle men” acting as agents.   Do you think it a good idea to use AirB&B?  Or do you suggest doing something else for affordable places to stay?

ANSWER: The currency situation has yet to change.  The Cuban government said it will take off the 10% penalty when the US allows the Cuban state companies to open dollar accounts in the United States.  That hasn’t happened yet.  You can save some by taking either Euro’s or Canadian dollars with you instead of USD.

No problem using AirBnB.  People who rent find a way to have email or use the Wifi public points to connect. Most either have email at home, legal or not, or someone who does makes the connections for them.  There are also other Casa Particular sites for booking homestays.

37 thoughts on “On Using US Dollars and AirBnB in Cuba

  • I am very interested in visiting Cuba to research volunteering as a medical professional. Due to the 12 categories of restrictions I am not sure where to start. I am interested in calling any clinics or hospitals to get started. [email protected]

  • You can also go by boat.

  • How safe are the Cubana and aerocaribbean planes? I need to take a flight from Havana to the Isla de la Juventud and am terrified by the airlines record.

  • Most bankers in the US are clueless. When exchanging US dollars for CUC in private transactions, no one wants anything other than US$100 bills, not even US$50’s. It has been that way for years and confirmed once again 2 days ago.

    You can enter Cuba with as many US dollars as you want. You just must declare more than $5,000. It is illegal to bring CUC either into or out of Cuba although everyone commonly does.

  • The fees are in the difference in the exchange rate you actually get and the spot market rate, typically around 5%. In Cuba you will pay exactly 3% difference between the spot rate and what you get in CUC. So typically the effective rate for fees is around 8%,

  • Every Government have the rights to own laws and fees. If somebody doesn’t like the rules they can always travel somewhere else more convenient.

  • If you change in USA they will also suggest denominations no bigger than 20 to travel abroad.
    In Cuba you can not enter more that 5000 CUC or 5000 USD$

  • I was told not to take CANADIAN$

  • in every airport currency exchange.
    Sometimes better prices on the street (only with people that you know)
    You can find those Exchange Banks all over the Island.
    In City of Varadero Street 33 or 34 or around that

  • TD Bank in USA charge $7:50 transaction fee to change to Euros. Were are the hidden fees?
    To be honest,…. LOL

  • Agreed.

  • Thats not going to happen anytime soon. Take my word on that.

  • I miss the old days – when people like you weren’t encountered in Cuba.

  • any suggestions for exchanging $ for CUCs in Havana

  • Would love to know more re: people to people experience!

  • I visited in December 2016 and had no trouble exchanging USD for CUC at the airport. For those who complain about the 10% charge for Americans, I investigated exchanging my USD for Euros for “free” through my American bank. Using this “free” service resulted in less money than what I had after the 10% penalty imposed by the Cuban government. Personally, I prefer the straightforwardness of the Cuban policy to the hidden fees of the American banks.

  • In the end, the Cuban government is punishing itself. Americans have choices. The Cuban travel industry isn’t on par with their Caribbean neighbors. And for better or for worse, Americans love comfort and ease when it comes to travel which Cuba doesn’t offer. I’m heading down in June 2017 to see the country before it resembles another Caribbean nation swamped with American/European tourists and cruise ship revelers.

  • Agreed. I’ll lose slightly more than 10% exchanging dollars for Canadian and lose less than 9% for Euros. On top of that, I may not use all the Canadian $ or Euros and would be hit again converting the currency back to US$.

  • I saw you posted here two months ago. Did you end up going to Cuba? How did you find the currency exchange there? Any good suggestions?

  • Bad Karma? Really? Lets not be ridiculous… First, I don’t believe in “Karma,” I do however believe in right and wrong, and it is WRONG for Cuba to take 10% of my money simply because their government doesn’t like Americans, and finding away around tyranny is never wrong, but right every time…

  • I am coming down to Cuba from the US for a few days, supposed to arrive this Wednesday, January 11th… Any good leads on where I could make a 1 to 1 exchange like that…? [email protected]

  • Whatever currency you choose to use, remember to use lower denomination notes, please do not flaunt your prosperity, show some respect please!

  • Yes. I agree it’s small denominations you want in exchange though

  • One of my friends just came back from Cuba. He has literally traveled to every country in the world and finds the Cuban people to be some of the best. He knows my wife and I will be going to Cuba soon and says I will love it. He advised find an English speaking tour guide with a car who can drive us to different parts of the country. I am a teacher and my wife is a nurse. We would like to get to know the Cuban people. Do you know any that would like to be our guide or have any ideas for our trip?
    Thank You,

    [email protected]

  • Justv try using a CUC100 in a TRD or Cimex store. If fortunate you may be allowed to do so having completed a form giving identity, address etc. and with photographic proof of that identity.

  • There is actually a premium on the street for substantial amounts of either of the North American currencies as some are desperate to obtain it to flee the country. I will only exchange at the current Cadeca rate as to do otherwise is to exploit that desperation.

  • I live in Canada and for my first tips I take in 25 US $ 1.00 bills.
    I exchange my Canadian on my second day when I am not tired. Exchanging on the street only for the very experienced.

  • I agree with Bob. I hand over $100 CAD notes at the bank or cadeca all the time… never been a problem when converting.

  • I am curious why you suggest $20 and not $50 o $100? You can’t spend them, you have to exchange them. Everyone I deal with wants $100. It has been a long time since I exchanged money at a cadeca but when I used to bring Euros, no teller ever flinched at 100 o 200 Euro notes. And high denomination bills certainly lessen the potential for a teller causing intentional confusion about how much you handed over.

  • Whichever currency you use, take $20 bills NOT $50 or $100.

  • To add to Vickey’s advice, go to cubaparticular.com where you will find listings with detailed information about casa particulars (B&B) in every town in Cuba. It is run (inevitably for the government) by a fellow named Raul Fuentes. e-mail reservations which you will receive promptly are honoured and you pay the owners of the casas directly. There is no charge for the service.
    The best way to get around Cuba is by a coach service called Viazul and you can obtain their timeables at viazul.com
    i agree that the best way to minimize conversion costs is to convert to Canadian currency and avoid the US currency penalty. Cuba is very much a cash society, you can leave your credit card at home.
    As one whose home (including wife and dog) is in Cuba, I can only endorse Vickey’s view about Cubans and it is a beautiful country. Do use casa-particulars not hotels as you will be meeting Cubans and don’t worry too much about language and we when travelling within Cuba, usually eat our breakfast and supper at the casa. There are private restaurants called paladars and their food is usually better than that in the State owned restaurants.

    Costs: Casa particulars in Old Havana are about 35 CUC per night for the en-suite
    bedroom with breakfast for 4-5 CUC. Supper 8-10 CUC each. In other places 25 CUC per room for the night (even if there are 2 or 3 people) breaklfast 4 CUC and Supper 8 CUC. Viazul charges are for example:
    Havana – Trinidad 25 CUC each way
    Havana – Vinales 12 CUC each way
    Do enjoy your visit and I hope you will come back.

  • gregklave: I have a strong suspicion than many more US dollars are exchanged in the street than officially in cadecas. Visitors have a tendency of overemphasizing their significance.

    “illegal?” Sure, but then much of everything done everyday in Cuba technically is. The entire “street economy” is illegal but an integral part of Cuban life.

    Yuma certainly is correct in suggesting that a new visitor not exchange money in the street market / black market because of the potential for losses.

  • Or, you can lose 3-4-5% by exchanging US dollars for Euros or Canadian at the wrong place, like the airport foreign exchange kiosk as their exchange rates are so bad. One can end up with less than 83 CUC for US$100 vs. the 87 CUC one gets simply exchanging US$ for CUC at any cadeca. No matter how you cut it, one still should do the simple math.

  • I agree with Circles Robinson. Exchange into Canadian funds. Then exchange for CUC’s in Cuba. I use AirBnB usually but in Cuba I use Cubajunky.com who have an app that can be downloaded for I believe 4.95$. So worth it! I’ve been using the offline app in Cuba for many years now with no problem. I have my usual places to stay now in Havana, Santiago de Cuba, Baracoa, Moron….. That I stay in every year during our one month there. Have fun. The people are amazing.

  • Yes this guy’s ideas are illegal and troublesome.don’t pay the bad American game. Be respectful. No bad karma.

  • As we don’t suggest the black market, which exists and traders prefer the larger bills (50s or 100s) the savings on Euros or Canadian dollars depends on the rate you get from your bank. Many people do this and you should save between 3 and 6 % depending on the rate you get for changing your dollars to the other currency.

  • The suggestion of taking Euro’s or Canadian dollars instead of US dollars is always a wrong one and I have heard it over and over. If you live in Europe or Canada this is not a problem. Being American you’ll have to exchange dollars for euro’s or Canadian dollars in the US, thereby losing money in the exchange. By the time you change these in Cuba the difference is negligible or even. I’ve lived in Cuba 16 years as an American and have tried it all. I personally sell my $100 bills to my friends, it’s a black market money exchange, for 1 to 1, but wouldn’t suggest you do it as there’s a lot of counterfeit money.

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