Two Peso in Cuba
The currency in Cuba is called Peso. Both of them are called Peso. So if people say Peso, then they are talking about CUC or Moneda Nacional (MN). Up to you to figure it out.
The CUC is the Cuban ‘hard currency’ that is pegged, roughly 1-1, to the US dollar. ‘Hard’ has a very relative meaning here since the CUC is only valid in Cuba itself, like Monopoly money only serves on the board. Try buying a real house or a candy bar with it and you will see. Most tourists think that the CUC is the only money they can use. Not true. The CUC is also called Dollar.
You can also use the Peso (MN)! This Peso is pegged to the CUC at 1-24/25. You buy 24 MN with one CUC and 25 MN will buy you 1 CUC. If your coffee costs one CUC, that would be 24 MN. Not knowing the difference and paying in the wrong currency ups the price 24 fold! Don’t worry it will not be the other way around since the Cubans know the difference very well…
Know the difference
Since both currencies are called the Peso the Cuban government figured out a smart way to make the distinction. The Peso CUC is indicated with a dollar sign with one vertical bar and the Peso MN is indicated with a dollar sign with two vertical bars. Smart!
The problem is that about half of the Cubans know this, about a quarter of the vertical bars is correctly put.
Money in Cuba: quite complicated
Thanks to this dual currency system the economy is opaque at least. To make matters worse some state companies are allowed a different exchange rate varying from 1-24 via 1-12 to 1-1. But that’s just nice to know, it does not concern the normal traveller.
To get money.
Let’s start with the basis. Where do you get CUC and MN?
CUC can be changed at any (almost any) bank, the CADECA (official exchange office) and if you are fortunate enough that your credit card works at the teller machines, they will spit out CUC for you. Don’t buy them on the street! There is no loophole to get better rates on the street like there were in the former communist countries… Just don’t buy in the street.
The CUC thus acquired can be changed in any CADECA (except the airport and hotels) into MN. Change a 20 and you will be good for a week.
When to pay with CUC and when with MN?
As a rule of thumb: If it seems cheap it’s CUC and if it seems rather expensive it’s MN.
– A Pineapple for 10 is… MN
– A taxi for 4 is… CUC,
– A coffee for 1 depends… You can have a coffee for 1 MN or 1 CUC…
– A pizza for 10 is… MN unless you are in a restaurant.
We have a whole list in our book on what you pay with MN and when to pay in CUC. The price of our book is not in MN nor in CUC, it’s in Euro by the way ☺. Seems expensive it’s cheap! Knowledge is priceless in a country like Cuba where the “no clue tax” is very hefty! Get wise here!
In practice, the MN and CUC are coupled in a fixed rate. So a 10 MN bill is just a 40 cents CUC coin. To be able to ‘talk’ MN (wich makes a great impact on how Cubans perceive you) a simple trick does it:
Conversion MN->CUC: Take off two zeros and multiply by 4 (hence 100 MN becomes 4 CUC).
Conversion CUC-> MN: add two zeros and divide by 4 (hence 200 MN becomes 8 CUC.
The end of the CUC?
In July 2015 the government announced they were going to abolish the CUC… A lot of shops are accepting MN to pay for imported goods (including ‘local import’). The CUC still exists today… The explanation of ‘local import’ is in our book 🙂
Now if this post contained information you did not know yet you might want to read this post about things you should know before you go to Cuba too!