Bring plenty foreign currency
An important travel tip for Cuba is understanding their two currencies. The CUC (Cuban Convertible Peso) used by tourists and the CUP (Cuban National Peso) used by locals. The CUC is fixed 1 to 1 with the USD and it’s the currency that you will use while on holiday in Cuba. The locals use CUP and there are about 25 CUP to the CUC.
You cannot bring CUC into the country so you need to collect some when you arrive. There are four places to get CUC: 1) over the counter at banks; 2) CADECA (government currency exchange centres); 3) large hotels and 4) ATMs (3% fee). You can use most foreign currency and most credit/debit cards to obtain CUC. But there are exceptions.
Currently nowhere in Cuba will accept cards issued by American banks. (Non-US issued credit cards with US guarantors such as Mastercard, Visa or American Express are accepted). So, if you only have an American bank card, you must bring enough cash for your entire trip. Furthermore, if you bring US$ (unlike other currencies) a compulsory 13% fee is charged when exchanged for CUC.
Therefore, if you only have a US issued bank card, bring EUR to Cuba if possible. Additional, make sure you call your bank to let them know you’re off on a whirlwind trip to Cuba. There are three reasons for doing this.
Firstly, to confirm that your debit / credit card will actually work in Cuba. Secondly, to confirm the dates you will be in away so they don’t cancel your credit / debit card due to suspicious activity. Thirdly, to make sure your daily withdrawal limit is sufficient. More about that in our next tip.