Taking money to Cuba
  • Hi. I am American and will be in Cuba for a couple of months. I need to work out about taking money to Cuba. I gather that my credit cards will not work - is this really correct? It seems bizarre. One option is to take cash I believe, but I don't want to be wandering around Cuba with thousands of dollars. What are the other options for taking money to Cuba? Thanks. Mark.
  • Do not take dollars to Cuba! You will be charegd 10% to change them! Take Euros or sterling to change. Some credit cards can be used to pay for resturants and hotels etc but definietly not Americanm Express but mastercard and visa should be fine. There is an ATm in Havana but doesnt always work.... Use the safes in hotels and your money will be safe in casas. Cuba is very safe. Travelleres cheques will also incue huge conversion fees and againa merican express not accepted. Enjoy....
  • Your country has had an embargo against Cuba for more than half a century so of course US credit/debit cards are useless - why would you find this bizarre?

    Bad advice above regarding Visa and Mastercard - if they're US affiliated they're still useless. Also bad advice regarding Traveller's Cheques, they ARE a very good option for Americans.

    Here's a pile of info, much of it is not applicable to your specific situation but if you're going for a couple of months you should know this stuff anyway. Take special note of the comments directed towards American tourists near the bottom of the post. American Express Travellers Cheques and a Caribbean Transfer Card are your best options...

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    With a two currency monetary system and a very unique political situation Cuba's foreign currency exchange can appear a bit daunting for a first time visitor, but with some basic info most people should be able to grasp the essentials without too much trouble.

    Here are a few thoughts...

    ==============================

    Cuba is like most other foreign destinations, you bring a major foreign currency and exchange it into the local currency to make purchases while you’re there.

    Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba.

    1.) The major legal currency for Cuba is the Cuban Convertible Peso, CUC. It’s what you exchange your foreign currency for and make all your purchases with in Cuba. Most tourists will only ever deal with CUC.

    2.) The second legal currency in Cuba is the simple and lowly Cuban Peso, CUP, which is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists, but it’s still something you should know about.

    Outside of a resort or hotel when you're travelling independently it’s always handy to have a few Cuban Pesos on you. You get about 24 of them for 1 Convertible Peso.

    Street food like sandwiches and pizza, fresh fruit drinks and other small purchases are all incredibly cheap for Cuban Pesos. Once you get a feel for Cuba – and if you speak a little Spanish – there are peso bars and restaurants that can be quite interesting. Movies are cheap too.

    Both types of Pesos, CUC and CUP, are legal tender in Cuba and both are completely available to anyone – including foreigners – with no restrictions whatsoever . You can exchange your CUC for CUP at any bank and most non-resort and non-airport Cadecas.

    As a first-time visitor to Cuba though or as a resort tourist venturing off the resort for the day you can easily handle ALL your transactions with Convertible Pesos, CUC. Don't worry about CUP.

    Lastly, all your tipping at the resort is (of course) in CUC. Never tip in CUP.


    ==============================

    In some places it's a fairly common scam to be charged in CUC but given your change in CUP, so it's a good idea to know how to recognize the two different currencies...

    1.) Convertible Pesos, CUC: http://www.cubacurrency.com/cuban_convertible_pesos_cuc.html

    2.) Cuban Pesos, CUP: http://www.cubacurrency.com/cuban_pesos_cup.html

    Note: The 3 CUP bill with the image of Che makes a nice inexpensive souvenir.

    ==============================

    Accurate Exchange Rates: ALL the internet currency exchange sites (like coinmill.com, xe.com, oanda.com, x-rates.com, etc.) are useless for real budgeting because they only give mid-market rates, ignoring the buy/sell costs that you'll be charged at the bank or Cadeca in Cuba.

    This website is sometimes slow to load but it's the ONLY website that will give you the exact rates that you'll receive at a Cuban Bank:

    http://www.bc.gov.cu/Espanol/tipo_cambio_METROPOLITANO.asp

    It's in Spanish, but it's very easy to decipher. Here's how it works...

    1.) The first column, "Compra" (Purchase) is the rate they're charging you to BUY Cuban Convertible Pesos, CUC.

    2.) The second column, "Venta" (Sell) is the rate they're charging to SELL Cuban Convertible Pesos, CUC.

    UK and European travellers: See the asterisk (*) beside the GBP and EUR? That means you multiply instead of divide.

    American travellers: The USD exchanges at $1.08 + the commission so it trades at about 1.11 CUC. Don't forget to subtract an additional 10% for the surcharge that Cuba charges against your USD - it's the only foreign currency that gets hit with this additional fee.

    Mexican Travellers: The only other currency besides the USD that is also consistently a poor choice in Cuba is the Mexican Peso - for some reason its exchange rate is always horrible...

    ==============================

    As you can see from the Banco Central de Cuba website mentioned above these foreign currencies are accepted

    * Canadian Dollars CAD
    * Pound Sterling GBP
    * Mexican Pesos MXN
    * Danish Krone DKK
    * Norwegian Krone NOK
    * Swedish Krona SEK
    * Japanese Yen JPY
    * Euro EUR
    * Swiss Francs CHF
    * US Dollars USD (Don't forget the additional 10% surcharge mentioned above.)

    Note: Not all banks or Cadecas will handle all these currencies, so to cash your Krone, Krona, etc. you sometimes have to go to a main branch.

    For our pals from Scotland... you'll need British notes, so hit a Clydesdale Bank cashpoint, etc.

    ==============================

    Where to exchange your foreign currency:

    1.) The best exchange rate is a Bank.

    2.) The next best exchange rate as it any Cadeca. A Cadeca (Casas de Cambio which means House of Exchange) is a government exchange facility. They're located at many resorts and hotels, and at locations all over the Island.

    3.) The next best rate is at the Airport Cadeca.

    4.) The worst rate can potentially be over-the-counter at any hotel or resort because the rate is not regulated by the government.

    On a 1 or 2 week all-inclusive holiday then the difference between Options 1, 2 & 3 is immaterial.

    If you're an independent traveler or a long term visitor and paying everything in CUC then exchanging at a bank is the most sensible option.

    Lastly, and this is brand new, there are some Cadecas in some of the higher-end hotels that display the exchange rates on a lighted board. (The rates are lit-up with LEDs.) For some reason these particular Cadecas are VERY expensive. Your first clue will be that there's zero line-up. Have a look for these "special" tourist-only Cadecas in the Park Central Hotel, Sevilla Hotel, etc. They're a rip-off.

    You can buy your CUC at any Cadeca or Bank. With few exceptions CUP is available at most non-resort Cadecas, non-Airport Cadecas and Banks.

    ==============================

    Accepted Currency: Always bring new(ish) bank notes, with no rips, tears or markings. All foreign coins are (of course) useless.

    (Resort workers or any Cuban in contact with foreigners will accept coins, but then you're burdening another tourist with the task of exchanging the coins into paper cash. In other words, Canadians, leave those Loonies and Toonies at home!)

    ==============================

    #1 Tourist Scam in Cuba: Unfortunately it's money exchange... fortunately though it's also 100% easily avoidable.

    Always take a calculator with you so you know the correct amount of CUC that should be coming to you. If you don’t have a calculator do NOT accept any transaction that doesn't come with a printed receipt. Take your time and re-count your money in front of the teller. No big deal!

    ==============================

    Getting rid of your Cuban Convertible Pesos: You can exchange your leftover CUC at the airport when you leave, but the exchange is a rip-off.

    A better way to handle it is to budget wisely during the last few days of your trip so you don’t arrive at the airport loaded with useless CUC. Bring 25 CUC (exact change, in cash) for the Airport Departure Tax and spend the rest at the Duty Free, or save it for your next trip.

    ==============================

    Lastly...

    1.) Travellers Cheques: They're are more hassle than they're worth. They're difficult to exchange and when you do find a place to accept them you pay a commission to cash them. If they do get lost or stolen they can't be replaced until you return home.

    Notable Exception: For Americans who have so few options for handling their Cuban budgets American Express Travellers Checks ARE a viable option. They've been accepted at BFI (Banco Financiero Internacional) and BM (Banco Metropoliano) for the last several years. Since you're not hit with the 10% surcharge penalty that cash faces the exchange rate is not bad. Important Reminder: You must have all the original purchase receipts with you to cash Travellers Checks and it's difficult to find places to cash them outside major centres.

    Americans should also investigate this option. It's particularly good for Americans who travel frequently to Cuba or for longer periods of time away from the all-inclusive resort scene:

    http://www.caribbeantransfers.com

    Lastly, Americans should also investigate any cost advantage to exchanging their USDs into another foreign currency in order to help lessen the 10% surcharge that Cuba levies against US cash. USD to CAD to CUC is usually much cheaper than exchanging USD directly to CUC.

    2.) Canadian Credit Cards: Any of the "Big Five" Canadian banks are fine. Royal Bank, TD/Canada Trust, Bank of Montreal, Bank of Nova Scotia and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce.

    No problems with PC Financial or Canadian Tire Mastercards as well. And for our friends in Quebec the National Bank Mastercard and Desjardins Visa also work too.

    Since they don't have a Visa or Mastercard symbol Canadian Debit Cards are useless.

    3.) UK/European Credit and Debit Cards: Many North American and UK/European Global Debit and Credit Cards like Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Nationwide, Post Office, Yorkshire, Tesco, HSBC, Halifax, etc. are fine.

    Of course they have to be non US affiliated and display the Visa or Mastercard symbol. Visa will work in an ATM, Mastercard means a trip inside to deal with a teller.

    Lastly, most UK credit cards now charge a foreign transaction fee of 2.75% which they disguise in the exchange rate back to Sterling. National's rate is lower and Post Office doesn't have this charge at all. Contact your card supplier to confirm their charges.

    4.) Useless Credit/Debit Cards: Citi Bank, Capital One, Maestro, MBNA, AMX, any Mastercard from a Canadian Credit Union, Diners, Egg, Santander/RBS, Abbey, Abbey National, Marks & Spenser, Alliance & Leicester, etc. are some of the US affiliated cards that are not accepted in Cuba.

    5.) Credit Card verses Cash: There is no extra fee for using a credit card. This often repeated myth is due to the confusion surrounding how credit card charges are calculated. The CUC cost on the card is exchanged into USD (1 CUC = $1.08 USD) plus the exchange fee (about 3%) gives you the impression the credit card company charged a fee, but in actuality the exchange process is almost identical to exchanging cash.

    6.) Passport: Always bring your Passport with you when you visit a bank or off-resort Cadeca. It's not always required, but if you're dealing with a credit card or a big pile of cash they'll likely ask for it, especially at a Bank.

    Hope this info helps!

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • I'm a native New Yorker and I just got back from a tour of Cuba. When I was planning my trip, everyone one I asked told me that the easiest thing to do was to bring cash. But, wandering around a poor country with a wad of cash in my pocket seemed like a really foolish thing to do.

    Since none of my credit cards would work there, I decided to open an off-shore bank account which I could access by debit card.

    For $34.99, Transcard Amigo Travel Club (www.amigotravelclub.com) opened an debit card account for me at their bank in Antigua. It was pretty easy to open the account. All I had to do was send them a signed form that I printed up on their website; a copy of my Passport; and a copy of my Driver's License.

    They then sent me a re-loadable prepaid international Visa debit card which I loaded with U.S. Dollars through their website. I could've sent them funds by wire transfer for only a 3% fee, but my bank would've charged me $40 for an international wire. So, I charged $5000 to my credit card and paid a 5% load fee.

    The card worked perfectly. I could withdraw up to CUC $430 /day at any ATM in Cuba or get a cash advance for up to CUC $430 / day at any bank or CADECA.

    The Cuban ATMs/banks/CADECAS charged me 11.24% (8.24% exchange rate + 3% a service fee) and the issuing bank charged me USD $3 for ATM withdrawals and $5 for cash advances.

    Because I was withdrawing CUC, I avoided the 10% "cash surcharge".

    When I returned to New York, I had some money left on my Amigo Visa, so I stopped by a Visa Network ATM near my apartment and withdrew the balance from my account.

    Since my Amigo Visa is good for 3 years, I'm going to hold onto it and use it on my next trip.

    I hope you found this information helpful!

    Rob
  • Terry will bank west mastercard workin cuba? Cheers mate. Im aussie
  • Sorry, I'm not an expert on Auzzie credit cards and have no clue if Bankwest cards work.

    I do know that Westpac Master Card and Westpac Debit Master Card are fine. VISA debit card issued by MECU ANZ Visa works - but not their Travel Card. Don't ask why, they have no clue. Wizard/28 Degrees Mastercard which is close to the best for overseas usage (no fees ) does not work because of their US connection.

    In any case even if you discover that Bankwest is okay never go to a place like Cuba with only one source of funds, obviously...

    Have fun.

    Cheers,
    Terry
  • Hi. I am planning a one month trip to Cuba on my bike. We would be staying in Casa Particulares. I am wondering (and confused) about some of the comments on money. I can not see myself briging enough canadian cash to last me one month - I would not feel save carrying that much money on me (no safety deposits in Casa particulares). Are travellers cheques then the better alternative - cashing them say, once a week when I hit a bank in a city? or using cash advances on my CIBC Visa cards?
    Thanks
  • Hi guys,

    Thanks for the posts. So Am I right saying the following:?

    a) American affiliated banks that issue either debits or credit cards are non-valid in Cuba
    b) There is no reason why other VISA and MasterCards that are not included in "a" should not work. It seems to be safer though to carry VISA debit and credit cards.
    c) Best places to exchange are banks and the airports. When you mean banks you mean banks in Cuba or banks in our respective countries. AFAIK CUC are not marketed, aren't they?
    d) Exchange 90% in CUC and some money in CUP
    e) CUC are accepted by both resorts and native Cuban People - I don't have this clear. If I hire a driver can I pay in CUC?
    f) Save 25 CUC per person leaving Cuba for tax purposes and spend what is left at the free tax shops rather than exchanging it back.
    g) Forget about $ and Mexican pesos
    h) Credit card transaction are free of charge - except the one applied for foreign use obviously.

    Lastly I have read in some posts on the internet that any transaction on your card is subject to a 11% penalisation whether this is a booking or withdrawal (http://uk.answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080521053505AAZI4ha). Is that true?

    And we were thinking to change a large amount of money to take with us all over our 15 days trip to avoid rip-offs. Is that advisable or we could be targeted by pickpocketing?

    Thank you very much.

    Dan. 
  • Hi Dan,

    Most of your queries are answered in the link I gave right above your post.

    a) Yes, as per the link.
    b) As per the link any non US affiliated credit card should work, but it is Cuba so there are exceptions. Anyone would be nuts to go to Cuba and depend on only one card.
    c) As per the link the best place to exchange is a Cuban Bank, any normal Cuban Cadeca, Cuban Airport Cadeca then over-the-counter usually being the worst, same as in any country.
    d) Unless you speak Spanish and you're an experienced traveller I wouldn't suggest buying any CUP until you determine that you actually need it. Lots of people get by with CUC only in Cuba.
    e) You'll pay everything in CUC.
    f) As per the link, yes.
    g) As per the link, forget about US Dollars and Mexican Pesos, yes.
    h) The 11% penalty on credit cards is an urban myth.

    Regarding exchanging a lot of money... Don't know how to answer when you give no clue as to your nationality or credit/debit card situation but surely you have enough info to form an opinion now?

    As to pickpocketing... it's 100% preventable. A
    pick-pocket doesn't have superhuman powers... they can't somehow
    magically teleport your belongings from your body into their
    possession, they have to physically get their grubby thieving
    hands on your stuff in order to steal it. Velcro, zippers,
    buttons, inside pockets, money belts, etc. etc. etc... there are
    LOTS of ways to easily make yourself pickpocket proof.

    Have fun.

    Cheers,
    Terry

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