For the time being (2017) there are still two national currencies in Cuba:
- CUC: Official name: Cuban Convertible Peso
- CUP: Official name: Cuban Peso (a.k.a Moneda Nacional or Peso Nacional)
1.00 CUC = $1.00 USD (fixed rate) and 1 CUC = 26.50 CUP
Both currencies are now available to everyone (foreigners and Cubans) without any restrictions, but CUPs are mainly used by the Cubans and CUCs are used by both the foreigners and the Cubans. Some establishments only take CUCs and others only take CUPs.
The CUP-only establishments are mostly for the day-to-day life, such as small grocery stores, street food, produce markets, cafeterias, public transportation, movies, etc. If you're travelling independently and/or off the beaten track, it's always handy to have a few Cuban pesos (CUP) on you when you're outside of a hotel or resort. In 2015, the Cuban government introduced new higher bills of 200, 500 and 1,000 CUP.
- ALL CASH PURCHASES in Cuba have to be made in CUC (or CUP); no other foreign currency is accepted
- TIPPING is made in CUC.
You can only get Cuban currencies (CUC or CUP) in Cuba.
These currencies are not traded internationally; so they cannot be bought in advance.
Exchange between USD and CUC is subject to a 10% surcharge (penalty)
This is the only foreign currency that is penalized with this additional fee.
Warning! Sometimes when buying an item in CUC, the change may be given to you in CUP. This scam is not very common but it would still be wise to become familiar with the appearance of both currencies and to be vigilant.
History of the CUC:
The CUC was first introduced in 1994 but the US Dollar still remained the preferred currency for tourists until November 8, 2004 when the Cuban government completely withdrew the US dollar from circulation. Since then the CUC became the "tourist currency" to substitute the US Dollar (USD). At first (November 2004) the CUC was pegged to the USD (1.00 CUC = 1.00 USD), then in April 2005 the exchange rate was changed to 1.00 CUC = 1.08 USD, and then in March 2011 the Central Bank of Cuba devaluated the CUC by 8% against all foreign currencies, so this measure now pegs again the CUC at 1 to 1 with the US Dollar
Future of the CUC:
In October 2013 the Cuban Government announced its intention to eliminate their dual currency system (CUC and CUP). According to our best knowledge, it seems like no schedule has been officially announced yet for this plan to eliminate the CUC and revalue the CUP; and so far (2016) there's no indication yet on when the CUC will be put out of circulation. More new to come...
Lily & Normand