The official currency is the peso, often abbreviated CUP, and sometimes referred to as moneda nacional (national currency).The state has also created a secondary currency, the convertible peso (abbreviated CUC). The peso convertible is largely on par with the U.S. dollar, with one big caveat. The nonconvertible peso, worth about 25 times less than its CUC counterpart, is used by Cubans to buy basic everyday products, amenities, and food. Cubans with access to CUC can purchase a wider range of quality consumer goods, an endless source of resentment among the majority population who cannot. In 2013, the government announced an eventual end to the dual-currency system. It has yet to publicly specify a timetable. Nearly all travelers' expenses will be charged in CUC. (U.S. dollars are not accepted for payment.)
Both currency series come in bills of 1, 3, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 pesos, with the CUP currency also having denominations of 200, 500, and 1,000 pesos. In addition, the convertible currency has coins of 5, 10, 25, and 50 centavos, and 1 peso. (One peso = 100 centavos.) Though not common, the occasional unscrupulous vendor will try to pawn off nonconvertible pesos as change for convertible pesos on unsuspecting visitors. Learn to recognize the difference. CUC pesos are brighter, with a variety of colors, and bear the words PESOS CONVERTIBLES; CUP pesos look duller.
ATMs and Banks
Most travelers use the Banco Financiero Internacional or the Banco de Crédito y Comercio. Both change hard currencies into convertible pesos and give cash advances from credit cards. Automatic teller machines (a cajero automático in Spanish) accept international bank cards. ATMs are becoming more common, but are still scarce the farther you get from Havana. Inquire at your hometown financial institution to check on fees for ATM use in Cuba.
The longtime restrictions on use of U.S. credit cards in Cuba are in the process of being lifted. MasterCard and Visa are accepted, and American Express and Discover are soon to follow. In the case of Visa and MasterCard, we recommend that you contact your issuing financial institution to be sure that their specific cards are supported–-not all are. In any case, realize that credit cards are still not widely accepted in Cuba, especially outside Havana. Even places that do accept them might find their systems down and unable to process transactions, so be sure to carry sufficient cash.
If you plan to use your credit card for cash advances, you'll need to apply for a PIN at least two weeks before your trip. Although it's usually cheaper (and safer) to use a credit card abroad for large purchases (so you can cancel payments or be reimbursed if there's a problem), note that some credit-card companies and the banks that issue them add substantial percentages to all foreign transactions, whether they're in a foreign currency or not. Check on these fees before leaving home, so there won't be any surprises when you get the bill.
U.S. currency can and must be exchanged for convertible pesos to pay for your travel expenses in Cuba, at an approximate rate of US$1 to CUC$1. (If you're on a package tour, most of those expenses will already be paid for in advance, and you'll be concerned only with incidental costs.) The big kicker here? Each and every time you change dollars to convertible pesos you will incur a 10% penalty . (Thus US$100 fetches you around CUC$90.) Other currencies are not assessed this fee, and if you have euros, Canadian dollars, or pounds sterling, exchange rates will resemble those on the international market without the 10% hit. Some U.S. travelers convert their dollars to other currencies before arrival in Cuba. However, that transaction also costs you a percentage. Gauge if it's worth your time and effort. Plus, outside Havana, few banks can exchange non-U.S. currencies. You can freely exchange CUC back to dollars, and it will be at a 1:1 rate. Nonconvertible pesos may not be changed for dollars. Nothing prohibits you from changing convertible pesos to regular Cuban pesos, but there are few opportunities for travelers to spend this currency—save for ice cream, popcorn, or some street food. The shops, restaurants, hotels, taxis, paladares, and casas particulares you'll patronize accept only convertible pesos. Import or export of either type of peso is prohibited, although no one will look askance if you take a small bill or two home as a souvenir. The nonconvertible 3-peso bill with the iconic portrait of Che Guevara is a favorite.
Major banks change Western currencies for CUC pesos, as do branches of CADECA, the state exchange bureau. International airports have CADECA branches that offer a slightly less favorable exchange rate than their in-town counterparts. Never exchange money on the street. Black-market transactions are illegal.
Traveler's checks issued by U.S. banks can't yet be cashed in Cuba. Those issued by a foreign company can be cashed at banks and branches of CADECA in Cuba. They cannot be replaced if lost or stolen.