WHAT CURRENCY IS ACCEPTABLE IN CUBA?
With a somewhat unusual two currency monetary system and a very unique political/social situation, Cuba's foreign currency exchange can appear a bit daunting for a first time visitor, but with the basic information below, most people should be able to grasp the essentials without too much trouble.
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. The hotel is the best place to change money.
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. For international exchange purposes 1.00 Cuban Convertible Peso = $1.00 USD. Note that there is a 10% penalty charged when exchanging USA dollars, both for you and a Cuban. You will only receive 87 CUC for one USA dollar when changing money, allowing for the 10% penalty and a 3% currency exchange fee.
2.) The second legal currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, CUP, which is rarely used by the vast majority of tourists, but it’s still something you should know about as it is perfectly legal for tourists to use it. For example, you can pay the ride in old taxis anywhere in Cuba in CUP. They cost between 10 CUP and 20 CUP per person depending on the distance and destination. However, you can pay for the service in CUC as well. Just be aware that there is no way to pay 10 CUP in CUC, so that will cost you 50 centavos CUC, which is 12 CUPs. You can also use CUP in local shops where Cubans buy their provisions.
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.
If you leave a tip, leave it in CUC.
It's rare to be scammed by being charged in CUC but given your change in CUP, however it's a good idea to know how to recognize the two different currencies:
Note: The 3 CUP bill with the image of Che Guevara 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.
At present this is the ONLY website that gives you the exact exchange rates that you will receive at a bank or exchange facility in Cuba.
USA travellers: 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. This is in addition to the 3% service charge. Very Important: Your full passport is required for ALL currency exchanges.
Always bring new(ish) bank notes, with no rips, tears or markings. All foreign coins are useless, same as almost anywhere else in the world. Resort workers or any Cuban in contact with foreigners will accept them, but then you're burdening another tourist with the task of exchanging the coins back into paper cash. In other words, leave change 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. Do not feel rushed!
Getting rid of your Cuban Convertible Pesos:
You can exchange your leftover CUC at the airport when you leave, but naturally you'll lose money in the exchange. A much better way to handle your CUC 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 enough to buy a snack and whatever you wish at the airport Duty Free shop or save it for your next trip. (Remember though, technically you aren't supposed to take CUC and CUP out of Cuba.)
ARE CREDIT CARDS, DEBIT CARDS, AMERICAN EXPRESS USED?
For the most part, U.S. credit and debit cards are not accepted in Cuba. Stonegate Bank, located in Florida, recently announced the issuance of credit cards that can be used on the island. Visit their site for more information Unfortunately, though it may seem troublesome to carry cash with you at all times, it is currently just about the only option for Americans.
WHAT IS THE TIPPING PROCEDURE?
Like anywhere else in the world, tipping is expected and appreciated in Cuba. Be sure to carry small coins with you at all times to compensate people for their services. You will notice that restrooms in restaurants and other public spaces usually have an attendant who gives you the toilet paper and expects a few coins in return. In all inclusive resorts employees are sometimes not allowed to take tips, and small gifts of make-up, toys etc. are greatly appreciated In all cases, don’t overtip, as believe it or not, it can be interpreted as a condescending gesture. Limit tips to 10-15% of your bill.
SOURCE: Trip Advisor