Understanding the vagaries of the Cuba currency situation has never been straightforward and, sure enough, from the start of 2021 things have changed even more radically.
Please note that this is a fluid situation so, as more information comes to light, we shall update this page.
Prior to these recent changes, Cuba operated a dual currency system.
All tourists, together with locals who had access to the tourist economy, used what was known as the CUC (pronounced ‘cook’) or Convertible peso.
The CUC traded at parity to the US$, ie US$1 = 1 CUC, and all tourist services were charged using it. So, if you were staying in a casa particular (B&B), paying for a meal, tour, taxi, fuel or whatever, you would need to pay in CUC. In addition, a number of shops (and bear in mind that Cuba has very few) would only accept CUC.
The other Cuban currency was / is known as the CUP and currently trades at approximately 24 to US$1.
All government employees and pensioners (ie the vast majority of the population) are paid in CUP. As all tourist services had to be paid for using the CUC, the vast majority of tourists never came into contact with the CUP.
Such a system was never sustainable in the long-term and, with the current Covid pandemic adding to Cuba’s significant pre-existing economic woes, the government decided to go for the big bang approach by simply ending use of the CUC.
What does this mean for visitors to Cuba? Well, at the most basic level, you will be given CUP and not CUC when you exchange money or use an ATM while headline prices will also appear much higher than you may previously have been used to, simply because of the different exchange rate. For example, a mojito that might have cost 4 or 5 CUC might now cost 100 to 120 CUP.
Aside from that, and especially in the short term, nobody is really sure how this will impact the island’s economy and tourist industry.
As a result of the pandemic, Cuba is currently receiving just a fraction of its normal visitor numbers and the vast majority of those that are arriving are staying in All Inclusive resorts where the need for cash is very limited.
In the towns, cities and countryside, aka the ‘real Cuba’, few if any casa particulares or restaurants are open so, as yet, it is difficult to evaluate the result of these new changes and, most importantly, any impact on prices.
As the island opens up and tourism slowly returns to normal, we should begin to get a feeling for the impact of these changes.
However, if you are visiting Cuba in the near future, please be aware that many guidebooks and websites will contain outdated information.
You still won’t be able to buy Cuba currency outside the island so make sure you either use it up while you’re there or convert it back to your local currency before returning home.
Added 28/04/22 – You may wish to read our associated feature on the Cuba Black Market.