There are two currencies circulating in Cuba, Cuban Pesos (CUP) and Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Prior to November 2004 US dollars were in wide circulation on par with the CUC, but the government discontinued that and they are no longer used.
CUC is the currency most tourists will use in Cuba. It is how you will pay for hotels, official taxis, entry into museums, meals at restaurants, cigars, rum, etc. Conversion into CUC can be done at exchange houses (casa de cambio, or cadeca). These are located in many hotels and in other places throughout the cities. CUC are valued at 25 times the value of CUP. Tourists are permitted to import or export a maxiumum of CUP 100 or CUC 200 at any one time.
CUP are also known as local Pesos and Moneda Nacional (National money). As of Jan 2011, 1 CUC buys 24 CUP and 25 CUP buys 1 CUC. There is a limited range of goods that can be bought for local pesos, and these are transactions carried out in agricultural markets or from street vendors. Fruits, vegetables, fresh juices and snacks from street vendors are among the things CUP can buy. CUP's also buys the local cigars 'tabacos' or 'Nacionales' in local shops. These taste fair, and you get one for 1 CUP, far cheaper than what you have to pay for the exportation brands. Try them, they are OK.
Because the products that can be purchased with CUP are limited, it is not a good idea to change more than CUC 5-10 into CUP at a time, as the CUP will last for a good while.
If you are on a budget, finding food vendors in CUP is the best way to go. These will not be aimed at tourists and therefore much cheaper. A street vendor selling donuts for 5 CUP will bump up the price to 1 CUC (roughly five times more) though, so make sure you always have some CUPs on you.
The USD is no longer a proxy currency in Cuba, and now incurs a same 10% exchange penalty that other foreign currencies are exempt from. Therefore, if you are holding USD, it will be cheaper to convert to another currency (CAD/EUR/GBP), so long you don't lose more than 10% in the conversion.
For the overwhelming majority of travelers, it is completely unnecessary to exchange your money (losing) twice. Check to see if your home currency is accepted at the Banco Metropolitano Over 75% of Cuba's visitors hold Canadian Dollars, Sterling or Euros which are perfectly acceptable. Mexican Pesos, Swiss Francs, Japanese Yen, Australian Dollars and at least four other currencies are also reportedly converted at major banks in Cuba. If you must change a large sum of home currency for another, make sure to change directly into CUCs, and research exchange rates in advance. For currencies that aren't accepted in Cuba, converting to Euros in your home country will probably be the easiest & cheapest option.
Banco Central de Cuba publishes official exchange rates and the official buy/sell rates on its website. If you must buy Canadian Dollars or Euros first, compare retail rates from different forex vendors: the interbank rates cited by online calculators will underestimate your true exchange costs by 5-10%.
Most travel transactions and expenses are in 'pesos convertibles' or 'chavitos' (CUC$). The best rates for CUC$ are at the banks or CADECA kiosks, not resorts. There's little difference between the rates offered at Cuban airport kiosks or banks. Consider changing only what you need, because re-conversion will add another exchange cost. Also, be advised that travelers changing money on the street have been defrauded, with fake or local currency. Caveat emptor!
Changing a very small sum (USD$ 5.) into 'moneda nacional' (CUP) is useful only for theaters, cinemas, local buses, etc. Most tourists will not ever use the 'moneda nacional' on holiday. Travelers or Backpackers with a low budget can save a lot of money in food expenses if they are willing to compromise on food quality. This is particularly feasible in Havana where there is more street food.
Traveler's checks drawn on American banks are not technically valid in Cuba, though many have had success cashing U.S. traveler's checks at major tourist hotels. American Express checks are difficult to cash due to the likelihood that they were purchased with U.S. dollars. For example, Swiss traveler's checks will be accepted, as long as they are in Swiss francs, even if the checks are made "in licence" of an American bank, as long as the real producer of them is non-American. Visa Traveller's cheques are accepted, though the same caveats about being drawn on an American bank apply. It's better to bring cash to Cuba; resorts accept Euros, Canadian dollars, British pounds, Swiss francs and Hong Kong Dollar currencies without any fees. If backpacking or leaving the resort areas, exchange your currency to CUCs, as foreign currency is not accepted by many locals. For U.S. dollars, they will charge a penalty of 10%, so it's better to change to Euros, Canadian dollars or Swiss francs before travelling there.
ATMs and Credit cards
ATMs are rare in Cuba, with only a handful found in Havana. Most are linked with either the Mastercard/Cirrus or Visa/Plus interbank systems. U.S.-issued cards will not be accepted. Unlike some national systems, only primary accounts (typically checking) are recognized. Even if you find an ATM and meet the above criteria it still may not have sufficient cash for a large withdrawal - if refused, try again and ask for a smaller amount or ask the bank clerks for a cash advance, they can process cash advances.
Visa & Mastercard credit cards (of non-US origin) can usually be used, including for cash advances, but places that accept Visa as payment are extremely limited. Credit cards are charged in US dollars plus 11.24% (the 8% exchange difference plus a 3% fee). The best places to attempt to use a credit/Debit card for a cash withdrawal are at the state run Cadecas / Cambios - rather than banks used by Cubans, using the 'red' (company name) ATMs. Debit cards are generally not accepted, although this does vary from card to card.
As a rule of thumb: if your debit card has a PLUS or CIRRUS logo it may work. If you were able to make a purchase via internet it may work. If it is a USA bank card it won't work.
Many banks will tell you that your debit card will be accepted in Cuba when in fact it will not. Do not rely on ATMs for cash as you may be used to in other countries. Top Tip: Have enough currency or travellers cheques when you enter the country to get by, if necessary. There is a high chance you will not be able to withdraw any cash other than with a credit card,for which you will pay the 12.5% conversion to "US dollar rate" and then conversion of those US dollars to your local currency at the rate charged by your card (which is usually about 2% more than the posted bank rate). To withdraw cash you will need to present your passport to an employee00:14, 4 August 2010 (EDT)00:14, 4 August 2010 (EDT)~~, and will be asked where you are staying. The Cadecas are open longer hours than the banks, but the queues are usually much shorter in the banks.
Other than for use at ATMs and banks, there are generally no facilities for making payments with plastic in hotels, shops and restaurants, necessitating the use of cash.
Banks often close at 3PM, and earlier on the last day of the month. Cadecas (exchange bureaus) may be open longer, especially in hotels. When going to a bank allow enough time as service is usually slow and many people may already be waiting. Foreigners may get preferred treatment in exchange for a small tip.
You must bring your passport in case you want to exchange traveler's checks or make a credit card advance, although cash can be changed without a passport. Exchange rates do vary from place to place, and some hotels do give significantly worse exchange rates than the banks.
As in any developing country, most of the merchandise available is designed for tourists to take back home. The biggest Cuban exports for tourists are rum, cigars, and coffee, all of which are available at government-owned stores (including the duty free store at the airport) or on the streets. For genuine merchandise, you should pay the official price at the legal stores.
Cubans also do well in creating music such as salsa, son, and Afro-Cubano. You can purchase CDs or tapes anywhere, but paying the average cost of 20 CUC assures you of quality.
If you are planning to take big quantities (several boxes or more) of cigars with you, be sure you have purchased them officially from an approved shop that gives you proper purchase documentation. Foreign nationals are allowed to export up to 50 cigars (generally 25 to a box) without special permits or receipts, but the export of more requires official receipts. If you buy cigars cheap on streets and you don't have official purchase invoice then your cigars may/will be confiscated. Also, be advised that any purchase of Cuban cigars outside government-approved stores (even in resorts) has the potential to be fake, and that the "cigar factory worker who steals from the factory" does not exist in any appreciable quantities. If you find a "deal" from a street vendor, it's incredibly likely you are getting fakes, some of which may not even be made of tobacco. Always ensure, no matter where you buy, that the Cuban government origin warranty stamp is properly affixed to the cigar box. Americans are no longer allowed to bring Cuban cigars back into the U.S., regardless of their value, if they have an OFAC license, or even if they were given as a gift. It is also illegal for Americans to smoke or buy Cuban cigars anywhere in the world.
Officially you'll need permission to export paintings that are larger than 70cm/side. When you buy artwork from approved shop then they'll give you also the required document, that consists of one paper and one stamp that will be glued on back of your painting. Serial numbers on the stamp and paper must match. Cost of the document is about CUC 2-3. In reality, it is possible that no one will be interested in your paintings.
Cuba has long been a popular Medical Tourism destination for patients worldwide that seek high quality medical care at low costs. According to the Association of Caribbean States, nearly 20,000 international patients visited Cuba in 2006 for medical care. Cuba is especially attractive to many Latin American and North American patients given its easy proximity and relaxing environment.
A wide range of medical treatments are provided including joint replacement, cancer treatment, eye surgery, cosmetic surgery and addictions rehabilitation. Costs are about 60 to 80 percent less than U.S. costs. For example, Choice Medical Services a health tourism provider, provides a hip replacement at leading Cuban hospitals for US$5845