Answer: Money can be changed in Cuba at either of two official institutions: Banks and Casas de Cambio (CADECA or exchange booths), both of which are found throughout the country. It is important to use these institutions whether you are exchanging foreign currency for the Cuban Convertible Peso (CUC or peso convertible) or CUCs for Cuban Pesos (CUP, moneda nacional or just plain peso).
The most important thing to realize about the CUC is that since it is not an internationally recognized currency, you will not be able to obtain it – or use it – anywhere outside of Cuba. But within Cuba, it is essential.
While the exchange rates for foreign currencies to CUCs change daily, since December 2005 the exchange rate for the CUC to CUP has remained steady at 1 CUC to 24 CUP or pesos – although this could change at some time in the future.
You will need CUCs at hotels, many restaurants, for state-operated taxis, domestic travel (plane or bus), entries to museums and other cultural venues, and the so-called “dollar shops”, whereas CUP or pesos are necessary for public transportation (guaguas or buses), agromercados, at some pesos-only restaurants and bookstores, movies, etc.
In general, CADECAs are found in airports, in tourist areas and busier shopping districts, next to many agromercados (food markets), etc. Rates are usually slightly less favourable in the airports, so upon arrival only exchange what you will need the first day and exchange the rest at other locations. CADECAs are usually open daily from 8:30am to 6pm, although some are closed on Sundays.
You can withdraw CUCs against your credit card – as long as the credit card is not issued by US
or US-affiliated banks – at some Cuban banks such as Banco Financiero Internacional, Banco Internacional de Comercio and Banco Metropolitano. In general, banks are open Monday through Friday from 8:30am to 3pm. Note: only the Banco Metropolitano will exchange CUCs for CUPs.
ATMs exist in some areas; one of the above banks or CADECA can point you in the right direction for the closest location.
In Cuba, the largest CADECA is found in Havana at the following address:
Obispo # 257
e/ Cuba y Aguiar
This CADECA is open daily from 8am to 10pm. It also has an adjacent cajero automatico (ATM) which is open daily from 8am to 2am. But note: the cajero automatico only accepts Visa credit cards for obtaining CUCs. If you have a Mastercard or other credit card, you will have to go during the CADECA hours and bring your passport.
It is strongly recommended that you do not exchange currency on the streets, as not only is it illegal, but there are some scams and cheats why try to take advantage of unwary or inexperienced travellers, passing off old (pre-revolution) bills as CUCs, or passing off counterfeit bills, or even passing off CUPs as CUCs for your foreign currency. They often try to take you in by offering better exchange rates or saying that it’s not illegal to exchange money on the street, so beware!