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.