Last Updated on June 22, 2020 by Laura Cooper
One of the most confusing aspects of travelling to Cuba is figuring out what currency is used in Cuba, and what to bring.
Cuban currency is considered a closed currency, meaning you can only access the money used in the destination in that country. You cannot exchange your Canadian dollars to Cuban currency at a Canadian bank before departing for your Cuba vacation.
What currency is used in Cuba? Cuban Currency for Tourists
Cuba has two currencies: you’ll hear these referred to as the local currency, or Cuban Peso, and the Cuban Convertible Currency, or Cuban currency for tourists.
The two-currency system began in 1994, as a way for the government to deal with a weak economy. The Cuban Convertible Currency, or CUC, was initially created to be used in the tourism industry and for luxury goods. Today, it is solely used by tourists, at an exchange rate of $1USD = 1 CUC. One CUC is also the equivalent of 25 Cuban Pesos for locals.
So while both currencies are used in Cuba, what currency to take to Cuba is another question. Take cash in Canadian dollars. Because Cuba is a closed currency, you’re only able to exchange money into the CUC once you arrive: do so either at the airport currency exchange desk, or at your resort.
If you show up with the American dollar, you may not be able to exchange to the CUC, or be charged an extra 10% commission on your charge. Oftentimes, Cubans are charged extra to deal with the American dollar, due to the U.S.-Cuba relationship and embargo.
You will need to re-visit the currency exchange before boarding your flight at the end of your Cuba vacation: it is illegal to remove the CUC from Cuba, because it is a closed currency. If you return home with some coins or bills, these will be souvenirs: Canadian banks won’t be able to exchange them.
Are credit cards used in Cuba?
Leave your plastic behind. Although Cuba does accept some major credit cards, such as VISA and MasterCard, American cards like American Express are still not accepted in this island country, and ATMs and credit card machines are few and far between. Travellers cheques are also not accepted in Cuba.
Some resorts will have ATMs on site, and banks in the bigger city centres like Havana, are available, but cash is strongly recommended.
How does tipping work in Cuba?
It is recommended you keep a number of 1 CUC bills on hand for tips. Whether you’re tipping the wait staff, or maids, a few 1 CUC bills should do. There is no set standard for tipping in Cuba, but 1 CUC per bag for porters, 1 CUC per drink in local night clubs, and several CUC for taxi drivers is suggested. Small items to giveaway to people in Cuba are all appreciated as “bonuses” — some things to bring to Cuba to give away might include vitamins, toothbrushes, feminine hygiene products, and small toys or writing utensils.
You may also need to pay 1 CUC for the use of a public washroom in Havana. We recommend having Kleenex or toilet paper on-hand, as you may not be offered any – or be charged extra for it.
Keep in mind while you’re shopping for your Cuban cigars and rum, the following import and export rules upon leaving and returning to Canada:
On your way into the country (Cuba), passengers 18 years of age are permitted:
- 200 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250 grams of tobacco
- 2 bottles of liquor
- Up to 10 kg of medication
- Unlimited foreign currencies: Amounts above USD $5000 must be declared upon arrival
Passengers importing other articles must fill out a Customs Declaration form.
On your way home, you may export:
- Up to 200 cigarettes or 20 cigars without documentation or up to 50 cigars if they are in the original container, closed and sealed with the official hologram
- 1.14 liters of alcohol for persons aged 18 years or over
- To export items like art and antiques, obtain a permit from the National Registry of Cultural Objects. Legitimate vendors can officially stamp your receipt.
The Government of Canada website provides more information on Canada-Cuba relations.
You forgot to mention that Cuba is a 3rd world country, Canadians ( Brits French & Germans ) have for years been bringing items of a personal nature to the citizens, not just the staff ( maids buss people, waiters and others ) but to the citizens of small villages those hardest hit by Cuba’s Communism. We feel sorry for the poorest not only at home but abroad in Cuba especially. Bring spices, medicine, school supplies, feminine products, soaps whatever you can and can spare, and go visit a small village and see how they live. and share your enjoyment of their culture and lifestyle. you will go back….
Thank you Gary. My husband daughter and myself are going on a mission with my Bible study group and I’ve been searching for a list of things to bring while we are helping. Your comment is dead on. 🙂
They also really like undershirts, shoes, trendy clothes.
What part are you going to?
I was on my 4th mission trip with church in Feb.
You will be in love with the wonderful people.
I am visiting varadero 1st time any suggestions on a nearby village as I am bringing tooth brushes tooth paste soaps a few clothes for children school stuff email@example.com
These items should be well received. I brought items like skipping ropes , and colouring books & crayons. They is a big demand for feminine hygene products. If you are leaving gifts for the chambermaids, they will not take them unless you leave them on your pillow. Bon voyage.
IS IT TRUE THAT ITS NOT A MUST TO STAY AT A HOTEL BUT THERE ARE PEOPLE AT THE AIRPORT OFFERING PLACE TO STAY TO GET A LITTLE INCOME AT THEIR RESIDENCE ?
There is a church and a school in Varadero, we contacted Sun Wing and they provided us with a voucher to bring a suitcase down free, we left it at the church after a hurricane two years ago, filled it with medical supplies, toys, clothes, etc and then we stayed for their mass. They were so grateful
Hi Gary. Thank you for this. I want to do whatever I can to help the poorest. What kind of spices do you suggest?
Cuban food is NOT generally hot spicy – they cook a lot with cumin. coriander, bay leaves(laurel in spanish), oregano, basil, cinnamon. However, for the odd Cuban who likes hot spice, a bottle of hot sauce or a package of dried chilis make a very nice gift (if they don’t personally like it, chances are they know someone who will).
When we last visited Cuba my travel agent suggested we bring personal items as tips. On the last day at the resort I had still several items to give away. After leaving some things in the room I gave the rest to the bartender while waiting for the bus to arrive. The bus came before I could get my drink and I had to scoot. To my surprise, the very appreciative Bartender came out to the bus and delivered the drink to me in my seat. Personal items, clothing etc. are indeed appreciated!
Hi, thank you for your post! How do you recommend getting around, and how do I bring cash to change, aren’t we sitting targets then?
Depending on where you want to go they do have a taxi system ,horse and buggy,in varadaro they have buses and tour buses and if you no where you are going they have a enterprise car rental don t no the price you should check out Cuba before you go
The age to bring liquor into Canada is 19 not 18
that depends on the province
18 in alberta Manitoba and quebec
Not in Manitoba. 18 years old here.
18 in QC
Some provinces it’s 18.
unless you live in Alberta
The age to bring alcohol into Canada is dependent on the province you arrive in. So if you arrive in Quebec, it is 18.
Last time I was there, they really need shoes for kids as well as newborn clothes.
Cuba is a 2nd world country not a 3rd world country. Cuba has many ties with Russia.
I will be arriving in Cuba from Australia I’m August 2020. Has anything significantly changed since these posts?
I want to load my suitcases with as much items as I am allowed. Definitely spices, feminine hygiene products, toothbrushes and toothpastes, colouring books, crayons, skipping ropes, toys, shoes, clothes.. Whatever I can squeeze in for my girlfriend and family, hosts and friends I’m Havana.
Cuban people are so thankful for anything. They have much better phone and internet service now than when we first went in 2009. We are going in Feb. but if you have old cell phones that you are no longer using they are gold to them. Baseball is their sport so if you have gloves or balls that is wonderful. We met a teacher in a mountain school and take her pens and pencils every year. Women love to get calcium tablets and body powder as you can’t get it there. We go every year so these are just a few of the things we take of course take as many pairs of sunglasses, flip flops that you can and leave behind what you can replace for next to nothing here.
You can ask the airline to see if you can fill a suite case with stuff you want to give to the locals in Cuba some airline will not charge you a fee for that suite cases you bring.
I am looking to take some candy, practical items, ie feminine hygienic products, eye glasses, aspirin, school supplies, fishing supplies, toothpaste, brushes, clothes etc.. I would like to know of a small school or church in a village in the mountains near Club Amigo Los Corales, Los Carilsol . This resort is about 35 from the Santiego de Cuba pairport.
Clothes, lightly used or new. Shoes, towels, and all things we take for granite. Go to a small village and hand stuff out, in my own expense I was invited in for coffee and given a necklace that one of them made to show their appreciation.
I think there was an advisory to not bring too much stuff due to limited weight on aircraft. Money is always appreciated.
Money is certainly appreciated; however, it can be difficult to obtain items like hygiene supplies, school supplies, etc. in the stores (even if they do have the money), thanks to the US embargos.
Trade for honey, coffee, fruit, crafts. Take fish hooks and line, ASA, insect spray anything you use, they need. Ask a Cuban, even the folks that have a little money can’t buy what isn’t in the store. I go to local churches and schools and the staff can make sure those in need are helped. The women love the girlie things, make up, hair things, nail polish, fancy stockings. If you take pencils, take sharpeners and erasers… Chocolate is a huge treat. I love Cubans and their country so I take as much as I can. Get off the resort into the country side. Stop at a gate and give a family a gift… Small tools like multi screw drivers, even nails and screws, paring knives. I have been invited to eat in private homes and it is wonderful.
if you have any kids sports equipment they love it.
brought all my kid’s and their friend’s outgrown baseball, soccer and tennis stuff..
Thank you very much for your comments. My husband and i will visit Cuba for our first time and we feel the same way that you do. I just wanted to be able to do my little part. We have so much in Canada and are so blessed. There have been so many conflicting opinions but I am definitely going to take the things i have bought.
Great advice but we are not taking checked baggage, the connections are too tight so, we can’t pack “pointed” items, or too much liquid and anything that isn’the allowed in carry-on.
Give cash – that way they can buy what they need. The situation is not as dire as it once was during the special times. Even if you dont see it in the stores, believe me, the Cuban people know where do get things. That being said, although they may be able to buy many things there, they are expensive for the people there because of the embargo. But the difference in price here is not worth overlimit charges by the airline. Do not tip loonies or toonies(many people do) as these can NOT be exchanged at the banks for either Cuban currency (foriegn coin is not exchangeable in any country). Get small CUC bills for tipping. We also bring some US $1’s in case small CUC bills are not readily available.
A coworker, immigrated from Cuba, said that even if you have cash that some stuff is just had to get. Sometimes there’s eggs, sometimes not, sometimes soap, sometimes not. And if they have it, it costs so much more than it does here. $10 here will buy you much more than $10 there.
If you’re talking $10 Cdn, they most certainly can buy a lot there.
Thank you so much. Very very helpful info. Will be going to varadero soon and we will make sure we bring gifts to local villages.
I”m going this week. Renting a house in the village, Playa Baracoa. Thank you for all the suggestions of gifts. I will stuff my check in luggage to the maximum weight with needed items.
When you bring extra liqueur how much is duty per bottle
When bringing back liquor, make sure you place it in you checked baggage. I lost mine after the duty free purchase at Canadian Customs. As well when you buy your liquor make sure your receipt is included in the sealed duty free bag or it will be confiscated.
Very good advice. I love Cuba and have been there many times. However, I do not like the airport in Varadero. I have been ripped off too many times there. They under change you and a few of us bought rum at the airport and was put in a seal bag which you get charged for, but when we went through customs we lost it as they didn’t put a receipt in the bag through we asked them to
We are visiting Cuba on a cruise, what would you recommend we bring as we won’t be going to small villages. We are from NZ.
Also if you are hiring any of the locals for bike tours, snorkeling, etc., they are desperate for items like tire tubes, small repair kits, snorkel gear. They wear out with all the use and are not able to replace, and that’s their livelihood. I’m also taking huge (Costco) bottles of pain reliever and a bunch of empty prescription bottles; my Air BNB family is a doctor and they have trouble keeping “arthritis” medicine in stock (even though Cuba has a top-notch medical system, supplies aren’t endless).
Go to dentist and get sample tooth paste and mouthwash, If you have hotel size soaps and shampoos always good to give away. Make sure to give lions share to the locals that do not work at the resort as the resort workers get most of the items. Hats but mostly ball caps. Pencils and coloring pencils and note books greatly accepted and they all love hard candy. I buy biggest bag I can get and hand it out where ever I am. Female hygiene sometime liquidation stores have lots for next to nothing I take boxes of tampons if I can get them. However do not flash money around. Cuba is hands down my favourite of the Caribbean but still pays to be safe. We go with no jewelry, and wear pool shoes in and out of the water.
Please do not take or wear your gold or silver jewelry you may get robbed
I know I had my gold chain ripped off my neck one night Remember Cuba is a very poor country compared to others
Thanks for the wonderful information
Returned yesterday. Paid for and took one checked bag full of stuff for kids and misc. I was able to carry more than I needed for myself in my carry-on and personal bags. Wish I had taken some of these things: pepper and other spices, dried raisins and cranberries, nuts, “silverware” from Wal-mart (about $6 for 4 place settings), those small flashlights that use AA batteries, AA batteries (electricity off twice in 6 days), can opener, a couple of serrated knives, a plastic kitchen funnel (many liquids are put into used water bottles), re-usable tuperware type storage containers for food, microfiber “towels” about the size of our bath cloths. Spanish-English dictionary was a huge hit (bought almost new at thrift store here for 25cents, priceless there). Kids loved kid books. Scented soap and candle. [Wrap your head around these two comments: (1) I bought a gelato – 85cents per scoop; paper cup to carry it in: 50cents. (2) One of the first business licenses granted when “self-employment” was allowed was a license to re-fill the fluid in disposable lighters (and to replace the flint) The gas stove at our B&B required lighting to make coffee – the disposable lighter was beside the sink. [Please! do not dispose of the lighter!) Packets of fish hooks and line. Those silicone kitchen mats used for cutting boards. Pocket knives (have to check them!!!) Other folks suggestions are good. Anyone who thinks these folks have what they need – above subsistence – needs to have their eyes checked!
I was told by a local that diaper rash cream is unavailable in Cuba and is HUGELY appreciated.
Please can you suggest some needed items as a friend is going to school there.
I have been in Cuba 4 times and going again in few weeks.I always bring different things got the people .But, don’t feel that sorry for them.Many support the communist system but at the same time want to get hand outs.
This person must always stay at a resort and not visit the real CUBA.For the Cubans living in the country ,communist or not ,life is hard,money is almost nil they make do with what they can get and appreciate any and all help
I am really frustrated with this US embargo. I don’t see why us, Canadians that are so generous could not send them boats of goods and things that Cubans need. I am so proud to be Canadian but feel so bad and mad about our ”friends from the south”….. Every time I go to Cuba I bring minimum things for myself and the rest is full of goodies for ma Cuban’s friend. As I read in the comments, it is important to go to the villages and give away to them too since workers from the hotel sites are resseling the gifts given to them to their owns friends outside the hotel location so be generous and walk away from the hotel sites 🙂
j R I have read all yours commentatory sorry lots of people around the world going to cuba within a week or two seems like that they know cuba like they do know like theirs own home. its very nice to take nice things to the kids and others. but 25 years a go I was doing the same things taking things to them I was going 2-3 times every years when I gone back I nevrer saw the stuff that I brought to them I even tooke a television to then I never seen that T.V no more. everething was sold and I strogoling all that things from Canada to cuba, besids they steel your yeys from you.i am resident of cuba and I am Canadian.there is lots jobs they don’t want to work they are waiting for us to bring things. I have a house there let me tell you Canadians do not now what means poverty but some da will be. every body are nice when they get some from you. I am going tomorrow for 2 month if anyone understand cuba he must be a president.
MasterCard is NOT accepted in Cuba, at ATMs or at banks – October 2019
Good to know. Going in December. Will take my VISA instead.
The rate of change is not accurate if you change the USD at the gov owned banks you 0.80 CUC per 1.00 USD.
If we do or don’t do it, someone will laugh
Went to Varadero in December 2021. Very good doctors in Cuba but shortage of medications. If you go make sure to bring tylenol, asperine, vitamins.
Am going back in April and just went through my personal items and bringing whatever I didn<t use in a while. Nail polish, hair supplies, combs, brushes.
We tend to give everything to the cleaning Lady, but lets not forget gardeners. I saw gardeners and not so young on their knees to clean . I brought knee pads and gardners gloves. Also take one trip to village to hand out gifts. Toys, nylons,
Flip Flops, shoes, Spices, Hot Sauce, tooth paste, brushes, reading glasses etc… as mentionned above.