For the time being (2015) there are still two national currencies in Cuba:
CUC: Official name Cuban Convertible Peso
CUP: Official name Cuban Peso (a.k.a Moneda Nacional or Peso Nacional)
1.00 CUC = $1.00 USD (fixed) and 1 CUC = 25 CUP
Both currencies are now available to everyone (foreigners and Cubans) without any restrictions, but CUPs are mainly used by the Cubans and CUCs are used by both the foreigners and the Cubans. Some establishments only take CUCs and others only take CUPs. The CUP-only establishments are mostly for the day-to-day life, such as street food, produce markets, small grocery stores, cafeterias, public transportation, movies, etc. If you're travelling independently and/or off the beaten track, it's always handy to have a few Cuban pesos (CUP) on you when you're outside of a hotel or resort.
ALL CASH PURCHASES have to be made in CUC (or CUP); no other foreign currency
TIPPING is made in CUC
Important to know: You can only get Cuban currencies (CUP or CUC) in Cuba.
The Cuban currency is not traded internationally; so it cannot be bought in advance
Warning! Sometimes when buying an item in CUC, the change may be given to you in CUP. This scam is not very common but it would still be wise to become familiar with the appearance of both currencies and to be vigilant.
The CUC was first introduced in 1994 but the US Dollar still remained the preferred currency for tourists until November 8, 2004 when the Cuban government completely withdrew the US dollar from circulation. Since then the CUC became the "tourist currency" to substitute the US Dollar (USD). At first (November 2004) the CUC was pegged to the USD (1.00 CUC = 1.00 USD), then in April 2005 the exchange rate was changed to 1.00 CUC = 1.08 USD, and then in March 2011 the Central Bank of Cuba devaluated the CUC by 8% against all foreign currencies, so this measure now pegs again the CUC at 1 to 1 with the US Dollar.
Future of the CUC:
In October 2013 the Cuban Government announced its intention to eliminate their dual currency system (CUC and CUP). According to our best knowledge, it seems like no schedule has been officially announced yet for this plan to eliminate the CUC and revalue the CUP; and so far (2015) there's no indication yet on when the CUC will be put out of circulation. More new to come...
You can exchange foreign currencies at the following locations in Cayo Coco:
On Cayo Coco there's a bank at the Rotonda (roundabout) Commercial Center. This is where you'll get the best exchange rate.
2. Cadeca (acronym for Casa de Cambio)
This is the official government's currency exchange house. Exchange rate can be just a little bit higher than the bank, but they usually are more conveniently located. Cadecas can be found everywhere in Cuba: airports, many hotels and resorts, on the streets, shopping centers, etc. According to our experience, the Cadecas located in airports usually charge a higher service fee. On Cayo Coco/Guillermo the Cadecas are located inside the resorts.
3. Hotels and Resorts Front Desk
Exchanging currency at the Front Desk is the most easy and convenient option but usually not the best rate you will find. Service fees vary from a hotel to another, on average 3% to 6%. Note that in some hotels the money exchange booth located in the lobby may be an official Cadeca, and in other hotels exchange in made at the Front Desk.
Important details about money exchange:
The passport is required to exchange money at a bank or Cadeca but not at hotel's Front Desk.
Banknotes with rips, markings or tears are not accepted so make sure to bring notes in good condition.
Please note that no foreign coinage can be exchange, notes only.
Before leaving the exchange desk, always check the cashier calculation to make sure that the right exchange rate was applied, and count your money to make sure to receive the right amount.
It's forbidden to take Cubans pesos (CUC ou CUP) out of Cuba.
Many foreign currencies may be exchanged for CUC (such as: EUR, CAD, USD, GBP, CHF, MXP, DKK, NOK, SEK, and JPY) at the daily exchange rate, but not all banks, cadecas or hotels can handle all of these currencies. The "Banco Nacional de Cuba" publishes the official daily exchange rates in its website (www.bc.gov.cu/).
US Dollars: USD exchange against CUC is different; a 10% surcharge (penalty) is added, so avoid bringing US dollars if you're not American. This is the only foreign currency that is penalized with this additional fee.
You can exchange back leftover CUCs at the end of your trip but the exchange rate (sale) is very bad. The CUCs have no value outside Cuba so it's better to exchange smaller amounts at the time and budget wisely at the end of your stay. Note that the airport's Duty-Free shops usually accept foreign currencies.
They are not very useful in Cuba because it's often difficult to find a place to cash them and you have to pay a commission. Plus, you cannot have them replaced in Cuba if you lose them or they get stolen, you'll have to wait until you come back home.
Credit cards issued by or affiliated with a US bank (or any other US financial institution) are not accepted in Cuba.
Accepted cards in Cuba:
Most cards with a VISA or MASTERCARD logo and non US affiliated.
Some example of useless cards:
American Express, MBNA, City Bank, Capital one, Diners, Egg, Marks & Spenser, Maestro, Alliance & Leicester, any MasterCard from a Canadian Credit Union, or any other credit card with US affiliation.
Check with your bank to make sure that your credit card will be accepted in Cuba. And before traveling to Cuba, you should always call the issuer of your credit card to notify them of your travel plans (where and for how long); as you should always do if you're traveling abroad.
Credit cards are accepted as a form of payment in most hotels and resorts, big restaurants, large stores, and travel and tours agencies; but usually not in open-air markets, handicraft kiosks, small restaurants, casa particular (B&B), smaller hotels or hotels outside the popular tourist areas, privately own restaurant (paladar), street vendors, and many other places off the beaten path.
Credit cards can also be used in banks or cadedas to get a Cash Advance, but remember that your credit card company will charge interest starting the day of the transaction.
Given that the CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) is not traded internationally, all transaction on credit cards are charged in $USD (remember that 1 CUC=1 USD), and an administration fee of 3% is added to each transaction. For example: if you buy something which costs 100 CUC you credit card will be charged $103 USD, and then you credit card company will convert the amount to your local currency.
DEBIT CARDS & ATM (aka ABM)
Debit cards have been ineffective in Cuba for a long time, but it's slowly starting to change. Now only the debit cards with a Visa or MasterCard logo on them works, but in an ATM (Automated Teller Machine) only the one with a Visa logo works, for a MasterCard debit card you have to go inside the bank and see a teller. The biggest problem remain to actually find an ATM, and one which is working! They can be found in larger cities and some major tourist areas. In retail Direct Payment (interac) with a debit card is not available anywhere in Cuba
Note that there's no ATM in Cayo Coco / Cayo Guillermo.
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