Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

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Silver Bullet
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Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by Silver Bullet » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:04 am

I’m taking my top sales producers on a cruise to Cuba this weekend and would like to give them some cash to spend while visiting. Understanding the US Dollars aren’t accepted, should I exchange for CAN Dollars (favorable exhcange rate) and then convert to the CUC when there?

Anyone done this and have advice? Thanks!

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climber2020
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by climber2020 » Wed Jul 25, 2018 10:23 am

Posting to follow this thread. I'm going to Cuba in a few months, so I'd like to hear what people have to say.

mhalley
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by mhalley » Thu Jul 26, 2018 10:45 am

I don’t know anything about Cuba specifically, but Clark Howard always recommends waiting till you get to the foreign country to exchange to local currency. Also, local purchases on cc should always be done in local currency, not dollars.

https://clark.com/travel/handling-your-money-overseas/

Looks like those recommendations might not apply to Cuba. The recommendation seems to be to take plenty of cash, preferably in euros.
. Exchanging money in Cuba should be simple, but it’s not. There is a 10% penalty for exchanging USD on top of the standard fees for money exchange in Cuba. The best, and cheapest, an option is to withdraw money in Mexico or Canada at an ATM. You may need to notify your bank to increase the daily limit and alert them to the amount you are withdrawing and the country you are withdrawing in. We found the exchange rate at the time of our trip was best for Mexican Pesos. Another option is buying Euros/Canadian Dollars/Pesos in the USA and bringing them into Cuba with you. However, after the extra fees to buy them, and then the standard money exchange fees in Cuba, it might end up being essentially the same cost as the 10% USD penalty in Cuba.
https://www.gettingstamped.com/guide-fo ... 016/#money

How to get euros in the US
https://traveltips.usatoday.com/buy-eur ... 61375.html
Last edited by mhalley on Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:05 am, edited 1 time in total.

FireProof
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by FireProof » Thu Jul 26, 2018 10:59 am

You can exchange dollars, but there will be a 10% penalty. It's better to have Euros, Canadian dollars, or Mexican pesos, so it will likely work out better to bring those currencies in assuming you can get a reasonable exchange rate for those. If you have a stopover in Mexico or something, obviously just withdraw from the ATM in the airport there (but I guess there are a lot of direct flight nowadays).

If you have a debit card from a non-US bank, that's the best - you can just take CUCs directly out from ATMs in Cuba, which will be the cheapest option. I read beforehand that it was better to have a Visa card, but I had no problem withdrawing from any ATM with my Mastercard.

In general, things were much easier than they were made out to be on the internet. ATMs worked great, all the exchange places provide an official rate, so no worries about shopping around or getting fleeced (unlike in first world countries), and it was easy to exchange CUC for CUP, and spend CUP (bus fare of 2 cents, scoop of ice cream for 4 cents, delicious fresh juices and smoothies for 12 to 20 cents a glass!).

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by orlandoman » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:26 am

Visited Havana on a NCL cruise in May. There is a large exchange office right in the cruise terminal. There is a 10% penalty for U.S. dollars exchanged plus a 3% service fee ... so, the total cost to exchange from U.S. to CUC's is 13%, everyplace charges the same. You can exchange back to U.S. dollars the same place when you leave. That being said, there is no much to spend money on ... probably the biggest itens are a meal, cuban rum and cigars. Bottom line, you team won't need much.
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by livesoft » Thu Jul 26, 2018 11:30 am

Spouse spent a week in Cuba earlier this year. She just bought Euros from our bank Wells Fargo and did it online. The euro bills showed up in a Fedex envelop at our front door within a couple of days. I had to sign for the envelope. Fee was about 3% of transaction and otherwise exchange rate was excellent.
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dm200
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by dm200 » Thu Jul 26, 2018 12:10 pm

Don't know about Cuba -- BUT in some countries the US dollar is preferred to the local currency.

ianferrel
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by ianferrel » Thu Jul 26, 2018 1:12 pm

I went to Cuba in November of 2016.

It is as easy to exchange USD for CUC as any other currency, but you will pay an additional 10% tax that other currencies don't have to pay.

So, if you have an easy/inexpensive way to convert to Euro or CAD before traveling, that will save you some money. The downside is that whatever you don't spend you'll have to convert back.

You'll also want to get some CUP, since things are more expensive when paid with CUC (tourist money) than CUP (local money)

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by kayakprof » Thu Jul 26, 2018 3:17 pm

I've traveled to Cuba several times in the last five years, for a total of about 90 days. Here are my thoughts:

a. I've never been able to use a U.S. issued credit card or an ATM card in Cuba. U.S. banks do not allow this due to OFAC regulations. You can purchase some services for while you are in Cuba online before going using a credit card, but you'll notice these are generally routed through Europe (or Canada or Latin America).
b. A friend recently tried to use PayPal to make a prepaid purchase for travel in Cuba and it was flagged by OFAC. He has yet to get those funds back (8 months). I think it was because he used the word "Cuba" in the description and PayPal was required to report to OFAC.
c. Since Americans cannot use American banks or credit cards in Cuba, that leaves only cash (I don't think traveler's checks work either due to the regulations on American financial institutions). In my opinion, the best thing to do is carry US dollars and then exchange them all in the airport (paying the 10% fee). Exchanging at Cuban banks means waiting in lines for many hours. If, however, you are staying at a five start hotel they have exchange booths. So in that scenario, you can exchange smaller amounts at a time. If you are not staying at the five star hotel, they will generally, although not always, refuse to exchange your dollars. Then you are stuck going to the bank and waiting in line for hours.
d. Euros and Canadian dollars are not subject to the 10% fee in Cuba. If you already have Euros or Canadian dollars from a previous trip, take those instead of US dollars. Unfortunately there are pretty large fees from most banks (including my own bank) to exchange US to Euro/Canadian. And it takes about one business week. Over time, I have found this to be such a hassle for so little savings, that I now just carry US dollars and pay the fees in Cuba. Done and done - simple and easy.

A couple last thoughts. There are middlemen in Cuba who will exchange US dollars for less than the 10% fee. Finding one that you trust to handle your money is risky at best. Always count every dollar when exchanging on both ends of your trip. Even with the airport tellers I have had friends receive inaccurate amounts during the transaction. Take your time and count it yourself in front of the teller and before leaving the counter. Finally, sometimes the tellers in the airport run out of money... and if you leave Cuba with CUCs, I believe you will be unable to exchange them in the United States. Fortunately, there is usually a last-chance exchange counter open at the gate (usually).

Have fun, Cuba is wonderful!

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by kayakprof » Thu Jul 26, 2018 3:24 pm

Oh, one more comment. I disagree with exchanging to CUP. CUP is the local currency. CUC is tied to the dollar. In most tourist locations, you will generally use CUC. I tried using CUP the first time I went, and found it practically useless.

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by ianferrel » Thu Jul 26, 2018 5:46 pm

kayakprof wrote:
Thu Jul 26, 2018 3:24 pm
Oh, one more comment. I disagree with exchanging to CUP. CUP is the local currency. CUC is tied to the dollar. In most tourist locations, you will generally use CUC. I tried using CUP the first time I went, and found it practically useless.
It definitely depends on how you travel.

If you're going to stay entirely in tourist-heavy areas and buy touristy things and travel only by taxi, then CUC is all you need.

If you're going to wander around even a little off the beaten path and buy stuff from street vendors and restaurants the locals go to, you'll vastly overpay if you don't have CUP.

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galeno
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by galeno » Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:05 pm

I go to Nicaragua, Cuba, and Argentina fairly frequently. I take CASH in USD. One, five, and ten dollar bills are best. I try to pay EVERYTHING with them by approximating the price. The locals in all three countries will accept USD at a FAR better rate vs the banks or exchange houses.
AA = 40/55/5. Expected CAGR = 3.8%. GSD (5y) = 6.2%. USD inflation (10 y) = 1.8%. AWR = 4.0%. TER = 0.4%. Port Yield = 2.82%. Term = 33 yr. FI Duration = 6.0 yr. Portfolio survival probability = 95%.

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by livesoft » Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:10 pm

kayakprof wrote:
Thu Jul 26, 2018 3:17 pm
d. Euros and Canadian dollars are not subject to the 10% fee in Cuba. If you already have Euros or Canadian dollars from a previous trip, take those instead of US dollars. Unfortunately there are pretty large fees from most banks (including my own bank) to exchange US to Euro/Canadian. And it takes about one business week. Over time, I have found this to be such a hassle for so little savings, that I now just carry US dollars and pay the fees in Cuba. Done and done - simple and easy.
What? I have shown that it is easy and hassle-free. Yes, one has to plan a little ahead and click in a few places online, but the fees are 3% which is not "pretty large" to me.
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by whodidntante » Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:35 pm

You'll be there only for a short time, so do it the easiest way. If you were staying longer then it would be worth the effort to optimize.

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Silver Bullet
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by Silver Bullet » Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:49 pm

I went to a local currency exchange and ordered $2000 in Canadian dollars to exchange down there. Picking them up in the morning. 2.8% exchange fee

Thanks to everyone for the advice.

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by kayakprof » Thu Jul 26, 2018 7:04 pm

Thinking about CUP (the local currency) again. I've spend 90 days in Cuba in the last few years. In all of that time, I have not spent one night in a hotel... only in airbnb rooms-in-homes well outside of the tourist districts. I've spent maybe a day or two in old town Havana, the biggest tourist district next to the cruise ship harbor. In other words, I've done very little that is on the tourist path, and spent 95% of my time "off the beaten path."

Anecdote: Last January I went with a group of 20 Americans to Copellia (the famous ice cream place). They wouldn't even let me use CUP. They told me CUPs were for "locals only." I argued with them extensively, and eventually they allowed me to eat ice cream using CUPs. That meant that I paid about 10 Cents for an ice cream bowl rather than $1 US. It was a stressful situation for me, and stressful for the managers that tried to stop me. Definitely not worth it for any of us.

I will agree: if you want to purchase street food, CUP is the way to do it. But my caveat is that, street vendors aside, Cuban businesses do not really want CUPs from tourists, because CUP are practically worthless. The problem with CUP is that they aren't tied to anything. CUC is tied directly to the dollar.

misterno
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by misterno » Fri Jul 27, 2018 10:21 am

stupid of me I always thought traveling to CUBA was restricted to US Citizens

Can someone tell me how I can get to Cuba from Houston? Is there a cruise or flight?

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by livesoft » Fri Jul 27, 2018 10:25 am

misterno wrote:
Fri Jul 27, 2018 10:21 am
stupid of me I always thought traveling to CUBA was restricted to US Citizens

Can someone tell me how I can get to Cuba from Houston? Is there a cruise or flight?
Yes, book a flight to Havana. Use an internet search engine and get the answer in 2 seconds. Do not use bogleheads.org. :)
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galeno
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by galeno » Fri Jul 27, 2018 10:34 am

We're not US citizens. We have daily flights to Havana. Most of our family and friends go to Miami. We prefer Cuba.

Non-tourist Cuba is LOTS cheaper and far more enjoyable than tourist Cuba.
AA = 40/55/5. Expected CAGR = 3.8%. GSD (5y) = 6.2%. USD inflation (10 y) = 1.8%. AWR = 4.0%. TER = 0.4%. Port Yield = 2.82%. Term = 33 yr. FI Duration = 6.0 yr. Portfolio survival probability = 95%.

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by kayakprof » Fri Jul 27, 2018 11:37 am

The Trump administration created new rules for travel to Cuba. Although the changes were not drastic, there is one new restriction worth paying attention to in order to legally travel to the island. One is now supposed to travel with a "licensed" travel group. All of the cruise lines are licensed, and there are many small travel companies providing this service (very easy to find them online). These travel groups are required to structure the majority of each day while you are there, and have a guide with you during that time, and they seem to be following the previous "people-to-people" focus that the Obama administration followed, with 12 categories for visas. https://cu.usembassy.gov/u-s-citizen-se ... g-to-cuba/

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by Summit111 » Fri Jul 27, 2018 2:25 pm

DW and I visited Cuba last year via a Road Scholar.org organized tour...Highly recommended...We bought Euros at our local bank and converted them to CUCs in Havana.

Road Scholar is classified as “People to People” and we met college professors, the former ambassador to the UN, college students, economists, musicians, artists, and regular Cubans...The tour participants seemed to be well travelled, educated, and inquisitive. We had plenty of free time to explore on our own.

I even got to preform with several Cuban Salsa bands, and play baseball with kids in Ernest Hemingway’s front yard.

Trip of a lifetime...

Summit
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by friar1610 » Fri Jul 27, 2018 4:16 pm

My wife and I are going on an organized tour to Cuba in early 2019 so this thread has been particularly interesting. Fortunately, we will have a chance to get Euros prior to then. But here are a few questions:

1. Does Cuba accept 1 and 2 Euro coins/Loonies or only paper notes?
2. I assume you get change for Euros/C$ in the local currency; is that correct?
3. Has anyone without any particular ties to Canada (or another country) had any experience applying for and getting a credit card from any of those countries. (E.g., no relative in one of those countries whose address you could use.)

Thank you.
Friar1610

kayakprof
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by kayakprof » Fri Jul 27, 2018 7:35 pm

I would assume that they would exchange Euros that are in dollar and above nominations. Probably not less than a dollar. Yes, they will give change in the local currency. You should ask for the smallest bills you can get for the entire sum. Again, they often run out of money (and change in smaller bills) at the airport. I had a great time with a small tour company called "Ashe' Cultural Tours" https://asheculturaltours.com/. It is run by two professors - an anthropologist and a music professor who wrote a book about the drumming tradition in Cuban religion. We went to several santeria rituals and was surprised at how welcoming everyone was. One of these rituals was in a crumbling building in old town Havana - and the floor of the apartment was so far gone we were walking on planks. The music was intense and the atmosphere electric! We stayed in "airbnb" homestays, which I highly recommend as we got to know the neighbors and the home owners - and the food they cooked for us was spectacular.

Have a great time in Cuba - the music is wonderful, the architecture is amazing, the history worth seeing. And next year the 500th anniversary of the founding of Havana. I assume there will be big events happening.

PressIt
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by PressIt » Sat Jul 28, 2018 7:16 am

whodidntante wrote:
Thu Jul 26, 2018 6:35 pm
You'll be there only for a short time, so do it the easiest way. If you were staying longer then it would be worth the effort to optimize.
Just thought I’d chime in, as my wife moved here from Cuba when she was 20 and we fly back pretty often (both American citizens).

Easiest way = the best way. Also, kayakprof brings up some great points. Although I don’t think cup will do you too much good in havana. Havana operates primarily in cuc and is MUCH more expensive than the rest of Cuba. A meal in Havana ran me around $12 while a meal in more rural areas would be in the $1 range with street food being 20 cents or so.

I know it isn’t any option for you, but we usually Wells Fargo money to her family for a very small fee, and it converts 1:1 to the Cuba cuc. Then we just pick it up when we fly in. Prior to that we just brought cash and exchanged with locals who were getting ready to leave the country. If we didn’t have those options available, I would stick to just converting while we were there and paying the 10% fee... make life easy.

Have fun. If you can, bring some stuff to leave behind for the locals. Even trivial things you take for granted are highly valuable over there.

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Silver Bullet
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by Silver Bullet » Fri Aug 03, 2018 9:25 pm

Following up on this thread after just returning.
Found that some local establishments (including cigar and rum shops) actually accept US dollars (After I went through the trouble of exchanging US to Canadian, then to CUC at the Havana Terminal money exchange office). :( Retailers charge 13% “fee”. Restaurants and bars only want CUC’s.

Haven’t exchanged my Canadian dollars back yet, but that’ll cost me too.

Interesting 24 hours in Cuba. Definitely still third world feel. Infrastructure is poor at best, although they are trying to rebuild some areas of town.
Locals were friendly and appreciative of Americans and the money we’re putting into their economy. Wish we had more time to visit more of their country and get away from the city of 2.5 million, as I’m sure it would have provided a better experience.

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by livesoft » Fri Aug 03, 2018 9:27 pm

Cuban cigars are cheaper in Bermuda than in Cuba.
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Silver Bullet
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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by Silver Bullet » Fri Aug 03, 2018 9:48 pm

livesoft wrote:
Fri Aug 03, 2018 9:27 pm
Cuban cigars are cheaper in Bermuda than in Cuba.
Infrastructure is better too! LOL
I was actually pleasantly surprised at the prices. Paid $9.50 - $13.00 for Cohiba Siglo VI’s and Romeo y Julieta Churchill’s. Brought 6 boxes back and Custom’s didn’t even blink. Heck, they didn’t even ask......

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Re: Traveling to Cuba - currency exchange

Post by FireProof » Sat Aug 04, 2018 2:21 pm

kayakprof wrote:
Thu Jul 26, 2018 7:04 pm
Thinking about CUP (the local currency) again. I've spend 90 days in Cuba in the last few years. In all of that time, I have not spent one night in a hotel... only in airbnb rooms-in-homes well outside of the tourist districts. I've spent maybe a day or two in old town Havana, the biggest tourist district next to the cruise ship harbor. In other words, I've done very little that is on the tourist path, and spent 95% of my time "off the beaten path."

Anecdote: Last January I went with a group of 20 Americans to Copellia (the famous ice cream place). They wouldn't even let me use CUP. They told me CUPs were for "locals only." I argued with them extensively, and eventually they allowed me to eat ice cream using CUPs. That meant that I paid about 10 Cents for an ice cream bowl rather than $1 US. It was a stressful situation for me, and stressful for the managers that tried to stop me. Definitely not worth it for any of us.

I will agree: if you want to purchase street food, CUP is the way to do it. But my caveat is that, street vendors aside, Cuban businesses do not really want CUPs from tourists, because CUP are practically worthless. The problem with CUP is that they aren't tied to anything. CUC is tied directly to the dollar.
I had a very different experience in March of this year. At ice cream places, they never once asked me to pay in CUCs, although at the Coppelia in Vedado, they did mention that one could go to a special section to pay in CUCs to to skip the lines. Besides in the Old Town and the downtown of Vedado, normal restaurants were in CUP as well (and there were still plenty of CUP options in Vedado). In 3 weeks in Cuba and 2 weeks in Havana (staying the majority of the time in Vedado), we paid almost exclusively in CUP for everything besides lodging, although for us its largely a matter of pride not to get ripped off with tourist prices. Speaking native Spanish may also be an advantage.

One funny anecdote, though. Near downtown Vedado, there is a seafood restaurant called Siete Mares. We'd never even bothered asking prices, since it had white tablecloths and waiters, so we assumed it would be in CUC and overpriced (and we had our regular rotation of 4-5 solid restaurants nearby that were in CUP). However, one day after we'd already eaten, I went in and asked for a menu, and was pleasantly surprised to see prices in CUP, and relatively affordable ones (paella for 50 CUP ($2), rice with shrimp for 30 CUP ($1.20). My wife is a pescatarian, so the next day, we came back to eat there, and the waiter handed us a menu... with prices of about 10-12 CUC! We asked, "Hey, didn't you have a different menu yesterday?" and he said, "Oh, you want to pay with local currency?" Well, of course! We were able to get the CUP menu with no problem (and the food was pretty good), but if I hadn't asked the day before, we wouldn't have known, and would have assumed it was an expensive place.

Looking now, online it mentions that the restaurant is in local currency: http://www.cuba-junky.com/havana/restau ... mares.html I guess they just size people up when they enter and try to judge how price sensitive they look. When I went alone, I looked like a tough sell, but when I entered with my wife, they thought a couple would be much more willing to spend a lot! I don't know how often places are like that, and how often a place that seemed expensive could have produced a cheap menu if we had asked.

In general, don't rely on appearances. Also near there in Vedado, there is the Casa Balear, a very elegant mansion which we'd initially assumed would be expensive, but the mojitos and other cocktails are only 15-20 CUP ($0.60-0.80).

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