The other day, I was browsing Instagram and someone had posted about how expensive food is in Cuba. This person reported that by their calculation milk was $7 and other foods were equally as ridiculously expensive. Seeing that, I realized immediately that this person was completely misinformed which compelled me to want to share some info on the dual currencies in Cuba. If you’re visiting Cuba, you need to know about the dual currencies!
There are two currencies in Cuba: Moneda Nationale aka Cuban Peso (CUP) and the Cuban Convertible Pesos (CUC). Both currencies have a similar look and feel, too. The CUC is tied to the US dollar so 1CUC = $1.
This is also the currency that runs the tourism industry and the currency that you’ll be getting once you exchange money in Cuba. The CUP, however, is the national currency that most Cubans earn and use.
I say “most” Cubans because those in the tourism industry or who work for international companies do get paid (or tipped, in the case of those working in tourism) in CUC. 1CUC = 25CUP. The interesting thing is that when you’re in Cuba, you’ll pay for goods/services in CUC but not all goods are quoted in CUC so if you’re uninformed, you may suddenly think that milk is $7 when it’s really more like $0.28. One way to know if the price for something is in CUC or CUP is to do the calculation in both. If it seems like it’s outrageously expensive in CUC, you’ll know the price is really in CUP.
Cubans don’t make a lot of money as most of their living is subsidized by the government. They get a certain allocation of food every month (although my guide said it’s not enough food by any means), and their housing and utilities are covered by the government as well. Considering that and the fact that average incomes are abysmal, it makes sense that most goods are quoted in CUP.
Interestingly, tourists may be “overcharged” for certain things just because you’re a tourist. For instance, a rickshaw ride is 1CUP for a Cuban, but if you’re a tourist, you’ll be quoted 1CUC. $1 for a rickshaw ride is still a steal of a price, but it is 25 times the price a Cuban would be paying! Havana also has an ice cream shop that is the best ice cream in Havana. There’s usually a super long line of Cubans wrapped around the street for the ice cream.
You can wait in that line or you can go to a separate tourist line which really means there’s no line.
Can you guess which one we went into? 🙂 . I thought the tourist line was special because only tourists can go there and essentially avoid the wait, but I soon realized that the tourist line has no one waiting in it because they charge you 1 or 2 CUC’s for ice cream there whereas in the normal line you can get ice cream for way less than that. I can’t recall what the price was but it may have been 1CUP or 2CUP instead. Still, $2 for ice cream ain’t bad! So again, as a tourist, expect to pay in CUCs and expect you’ll probably be overcharged, but rest assured, you’re still getting a good deal compared to prices at home. The only time you may not be “overcharged” is if you go into a local store (i.e., something not catered to tourists) since you’ll pay the same price as everyone else as long as you can tell if they are quoting in CUP or CUC.
If you’re planning to go to Cuba, now’s a great time to go! With Trump taking over the presidency, who knows what may happen to our relations with Cuba so better to go now while you can!
Last important tip: Even though the CUC is tied to the US dollar, you’ll pay a “10% surcharge” when exchanging dollars to CUC. Basically, $10USD gets you around 9CUC so even though the CUC is tied to the dollar, you get screwed thinking you can exchange money evenly. Plan ahead and bring Euros or Canadian dollars with you instead to avoid the surcharge.
Finally, if you want more tips, feel free to leave comments on the blog, but I am much more active on Instagram nowadays. Follow me on Instagram and leave a comment there and I’ll for sure be able to get back to you quickly.