There is a lot of confusion about currency and money in Cuba.
Last update June 2021
A lot changed since Cuba abolished the CUC. But before we dive into that some history:
A lot of people think, and a lot of websites claim that Tourists have to use CUC (Convertible Currency) and Cubans use MN Moneda Nacional). This is utter nonsense on a lot of levels!
Some mis information about currency
First of all: You can use MN as a tourist, and I recommend you do so, just to show that you understand money! Cubans use CUC all the time. You can exchange your CUC for MN in all Cadecas.
Secondly: The Convertible Currency is only Convertible in Cuba. Take it home, and it is worthless. Like Monopoly money is only money within the game. So it is only convertible in name.
Thirdly: People often ask me ‘how to spend their money without supporting the regime. Impossible! When you arrive you exchange your hard currency to Game Money. The hard currency is already in the government bank. You only spend Game Money (does not matter if you call it CUC or MN). If you do not want to support the ‘regime’, you should go elsewhere.
Fourthly: There is no double currency in Cuba! (I’ll explain below). Cubans pay 25 MN with a CUC and 3 CUC with 75 MN or with 2 CUC and 25 MN. Both are used simultaneously and are mixed up.
Difference between CUC and CUP bills:
Before I explain that there is no double currency, here’s how to distinguish CUC from CUP.
CUC bills have buidings and statues on them, CUP bills faces. That’s easy to remember because you need a lot of people (faces) to make a building.
Cuba is poor, and thus Cuba should be cheap. Both are untrue.
You might think that Cuba must be cheap because you’ve heard that a doctor earns 40 CUC a month.
Well, it’s not… (And a physician does not live on 40 CUC). Cuba is expensive. Nobody can live in Havana on 40 CUC a month. If you don’t want to go hungry, you need about a hundred. And if you want to buy clothes and wear shoes you need a hundred more and if you want to keep your house in a reasonable state that’s another hundred…
I believe that a Cuban in Havana needs about 200-300 CUC a month to live a decent life…
Because jobs don’t pay those salaries everybody is making money on the side. Or even worse, the salary people get is the pocket money you make on the side.
The average salary of 20 dollars is just a myth (we explain that in our book). So if somebody charges you 10 for half a day’s work, he’s not getting half a month’s salary, he’s just getting a decent pay.
All tips are welcome but don’t give foreign coins. I’m a European and come home with at least 4 pounds of coins every year because the Cubans can not exchange them and sell them to me.
They say that Cuba has a double currency… Moneda Nacional and CUC. (both are called Pesos by the way).
That’s an artificial debate. The MN is pegged to the CUC and always has the same value 25/1 or (24/1 when you are buying). So if something costs 25 pesos, it costs 1 CUC. If something costs 100 Pesos, it costs 4 CUC and the other way around. (small print… not taking into considerations Cuban companies.)
The idea of a double currency just makes things more complicated, but in reality, it’s just the same currency, expressed in different terms. You can pay something that costs 10 CUC with 250 MN or with 6 CUC and 100MN or 50 MN and 8 CUC. The conversion is always the same.
I think the debate is artificial because the US has a double currency too. Dollars and Dimes… There are always 10 Dimes to a Dollar so you can price stuff in Dollars and Dimes. If something costs 10 Dimes, you can pay a dollar!!! Really!!!
Back to the virtual double currency in Cuba: We recommend you use both because it shows the Cubans you understand the system. They are very surprised if a foreigner understands their money and it will bring down your budget and earn you respect.
Then came the USD
At the end of 2019 the government started opening shops that only sold in USD using a USD card. Thus introducing a real double currency system.
Immediately the black market value of the USD started rising because people needed them to buy in the MLC stores as they are called. MLC stands for Moneda Libremente Convertible or Freely Exchangeable Currency. The official Pesos is pegged to the USD at 24 but there’s nowhere you can buy the USD at that price!
In May ’21 they even stopped exchanging, the already limited amount, Pesos for USD at the airports for people that needed them abroad. This made the USD go trough the roof (64 as we speak) so now we have a triple currency system:
We have the Peso that is very rapidly depreciating thus creating a massive inflation that already was introduced by the government that raised prices by about 400% in January 2021 alone.
We have the ‘Official USD’ that’s worth 24 pesos and if you send money to Cuba to be converted into Pesos that’s the rate you get. (So that is a bad plan.)
There’s the ‘Street USD’ at the actual exchange rate determined by the market mechanism. The ‘Street USD’ is about 250% more than the official one.
People need it not only to buy goods at the MLC stores that are not available in the normal stores (and that is about everything). People traveling abroad need them to buy stuff there, import it and sell it on the streets for Pesos. This explains the incredible prices in Pesos at the moment. A pair of panties goes for 250 Pesos (which is 10 USD in official rate). A kilo coffee for 1000 or more!
For people that have acces, one way or the other, to USD this is great but for the normal Cubans it is a disaster!
Now that you understand the Currency get your budget under control!
We explain more about the so-called double currency system in our book… Even the Cubans believe there are two currencies!
We do have an entirely different view on Cuba than the main stream Travel guides and websites. We live here and did not understand it all after the two or three weeks most travel writers spend researching Cuba.
Here’s how you handle the street hustlers…