The official exchange rate in Cuba is not the real Cuban exchange rate.
Cuba can be either the most expensive country you visit in your lifetime or one of the cheapest. One of the determining factor is whether you can access Cuba’s black market currency.
Cuban Exchange Rates | The basics
Cuba once had a dual currency system. Cuba doesn’t have a dual currency system anymore. It had CUP the local peso used by local Cubans and the ‘convertible peso’ known as the CUC, which was a tourist currency tied to the $USD.
Now there is only the single CUP which is used by both locals and tourists alike. And the CUP officially floats around 24:1 on the $USD. There is no CUC and absolutely no difference between the money used by locals and tourists. It’s all CUP.
Sounds good right? I mean if you take $5000USD for your week in Cuba you’ll be rolling in cash because you’ll have around 120,000CUP at an exchange of 24:1. And the locals couldn’t be spending that in months, let alone in a week!
Mate, you’re in for one hell of a shock.
Let’s say you want a single Canchánchara (Cuban drink with rum and honey) at a medium-high priced establishment (that’s on par with a low-medium quality western bar). That will be 1500+ CUP. How’s your 120,000CUP looking now? Looks like you can afford less than 80 drinks before tips, food, water, transport, entertainment, tourist tickets, accommodation etc.
In short, you’ll be rather broke.
Admittedly, virtually everything is cheaper than alcohol. But to give you an idea of what food and transport cost because you won’t be cooking for yourself while on holidays and it’s too hot to walk, check out Mandao and Bajanda. Mandao is Cuba’s version of Uber Eats. And Bajanda is Cuba’s answer to Uber ridesharing.
Cuba’s Exchange Rate | Price Example
Here’s two screenshots to give you an idea of prices. Let’s say you want to eat a sushi roll and take a one way ride (not return) in a soviet era sh*t box (not an old American car) to a bar area…
That will be at least 800CUP. How’s your budget looking now with only 120,000 CUP?
What if there was a way to turn your 120,000 CUP into more than 550,000 CUP? Well, lucky for you there is. It’s called WhatsApp.
Cuba Exchange Rate | Informal Exchange Rates | Black Market Rates
Before you try and access informal exchange rates in Cuba, two points to consider.
First, it’s quite illegal to change money outside of government controlled channels. That’s because the government wants all those tourist dollars and more so lately, euros.
If you stay at or hang around an establishment that’s government owned or controlled, they’ll charge you more and will want to be paid in foreign currency. That’s right folks, the Cuban government doesn’t want to be paid in Cuban currency.
Second, almost every person that walks up to you on the street will want you to change money with them. Don’t do it.
They may slip you counterfeit currency. But more likely, they are changing your money using a WhatsApp group and giving you a lot less (10-50% less) than they are selling your dollars and euros.
Cuban Exchange Rates | How to access the better CUP exchange rates
Well, with those two points out of the way, it’s important to note that every single Cuban knows what the current black market exchange rate is. And they will tell you.
Ask a barman in a local bar or a waitress. They will tell you what the current rate is. There’s no need to beat around the bush or play coy.
If the person who told you what the rate is looks trustworthy and you’ve approached them in their workplace and they haven’t approached you on the street, you can ask them for a WhatsApp group they’d recommend.
The alternative is to ask your ‘casa particular’ host (AirBnB host) to do the exchange for you. But only ask your Cuban host to do the exchange once you know what the rate actually is as they will also take a cut. And once you know the real rate, let your Cuban host take a percentage but limit it to 3-5% or a fixed fee.
The advantages of having your local Cuban host take care of the exchange in return for a fee is that they will get the best deal and they will ensure you don’t get any fake notes. They’ll check every single note with a level of scrutiny I can guarantee you haven’t seen before.
Cubans and money in the same room is quite entertaining to watch. If you put money in a room with Cubans it’s like they all become Sméagol from Lord Of The Rings…
Cuban Exchange Rates | Still need help?
With the above said, if you can’t find somebody to change your money or you need a hookup; feel free to contact me through this blog and I may decide to point you in the right direction.
Yet keep in mind that it really is quite easy once you know to avoid the street scammers. And once you know to ask locals what the rate is before approaching others to do it for you.
Alternatively, you can also get a feel for where the rate may be on any given day by looking at Revolico and searching for ‘efectivo’ (cash). Revolico is Cuba’s version of Craigslist and is the place where you can buy or sell literally anything.
Revolico is available at https://www.revolico.com
At the time of writing this article, the $USD to CUP rate was jumping all over the place. But it was north of 110:1 on the $USD.
Where Can I Get More Information About Cuba?
I’ve made a Cuba Frequently Asked Questions Page (FAQ) available on this website. And I would strongly advise you to read it before travelling to Cuba.
My Cuba FAQ page will save you a lot of time and a significant amount of money on your trip to Cuba. Cuba is not the sort of destination in which you can just arrive unprepared.
Read the Cuba FAQ Page here.