CUBA’S DUAL CURRENCY SYSTEM
There are two types of currency in Cuba, both popularly referred to as the peso (to make things extra confusing!).
The regular Cuban peso (approx. $.05 USD) is referred to as “moneda nacional” or “pesos cubanos” and identified on signs as MN or less commonly CUP.
CUBAN CONVERTIBLE PESO: “CUC” (1.13 USD)
The Cuban Convertible Peso, or CUC (approx. $.87 USD) is used tourist places, and many stores and restaurants.
Changing Money- CADECAS
CADECAs are the official currency exchange houses (the name comes from: Casa de Cambio). NEVER change money on the street or with a money changer!!!!! This can be extremely dangerous and you will probably be given false bills. US dollars can be exchanged for convertible pesos, but a charge of 10 percent will be levied that the Cuban state justifies with its extra-costs caused by the US economic sanctions. Euros, Canadian dollars, British pounds sterling or Swiss francs can be exchanged for convertible pesos and there is no service charge.
It is possible to exchange any currency for convertible pesos (CUC) at airports, banks and hotels, and reexchange them when leaving the country. For changing money from foreign currency to CUC you must present your passport. For safety we recommend that you do these transactions in hotels such as the Hotel Nacional and Melia Cohiba. At these places you may only convert from foreign hard currency to the Cuban CUC, not the Peso Cubano. There are ATMs in Cuba, particularly in the larger cities, but they do not accept any U.S. issued debit or credit cards.
To change from CUCs to CUP there are many CADECAs scattered around the city. The closest CADECA to the gallery is on Línea between Paseo and A. There are two other CADECAs close to the University: one across the street from Copellia ice cream parlor on Calle 23 between J and L, and the other in the Focsa Building on Calle N and 17. In Habana Vieja there is a CADECA on Obispo Street.
How much you spend will depend on how much you integrate into life in Havana the way that most Cubans live. There is a double economy in Havana, the hard currency economy, initially and mostly tied to tourism, and the traditional state economy. If you stay in the tourist economy your expenses will be considerably higher! In the tourist economy the cost of living for a student in the Cuba is comparable to that of a student in the United States, while in the Cuban economy it is considerably lower (remember the nominal average salary here is about 30 CUC!).
For example, if you travel like a local, in collective taxis and busses local transportation will run you about $1-3 CUC ($1.13-3.40) a day. If you travel like a tourist, a one way cab ride will cost you between $3-15 CUC ($3.40-17 USD). Be sure to budget enough for local transportation. If you like to go out at night, plan to be taking taxis, which will run you about $5-10 CUC round trip each time you go out, but this is usually split among a group of students who go out together.