Learning About Exchanging Money for a Dive Trip to Cuba // Minding My CUC’s and CUP’s

, Learning About Exchanging Money for a Dive Trip to Cuba // Minding My CUC’s and CUP’s

What I didn’t know about exchanging money is a lot – in the past, I’ve always used my credit card with no exchange fees when abroad, but now I needed to exchange US dollars to Canadian, and then to Cuban CUC for a dive trip to Cuba.

Cuban Convertible Pesos are sometimes written CUC$, and called a cuc “cook,” or a chavito. The other currency in Cuba is the Cuban Peso, or CUP. I’ve read that both are called ‘pesos,’ but the CUC is less valuable, 1/25th the value.

You can’t exchange US dollars for anything in Cuba, so you must plan ahead. If you do choose to exchange at the airport, there is a 10% penalty and an additional 3% charge, so, 13% in fees.

Some recommend exchanging for Euros. Others suggest from the list below. The whole reason for taking cash to Cuba is that your American-issued credit cards will not work anywhere in Cuba. Some credit cards issued by Canadian banks will work, but not US credit cards.

The Options – Exchange #1

First, I read a bit about exchanging money, and learned that you can still purchase traveler’s checks, you can order online and have it delivered, and you can go to a bank. Traveling to Cuba – How To Deal With Currency Exchange talks about using Travelex online for free currency delivery.

I chose to go to a bank locally, so I started calling around to see how this works. Surprise! There’s a lot more to it than showing up and trading bills, which I figured, but still learned a bit.

What to Ask a Bank

There are many banks that offer foreign cash exchange. Call your own bank; that might be your best option since they might offer the service and they not charge you a fee. Tell them you are needing to make a “foreign cash exchange” of US for Canadian dollars.

Once you find one that offers foreign cash exchange, you will find that some will only perform the service for their own customers. That can be for people with checking or savings accounts, or even mortgage holders, but no one else.

Some banks will perform the service for anyone regardless if they have an account there, however, they will charge a flat fee for providing the service.

As a credit union member, my bank did not offer the service at all. So, the search began. Wells Fargo only offers the service to their members, so that was a dead end. Same with Bank of America.

The most convenient location for me that did offer the service to non-members was a TD Bank.

Fees and Limits

At TD Bank, their fee to a non-member was a flat rate of $10 per exchange. They told me there was a $1,500 maximum exchange limit, however, if I needed more, I could simply perform two exchanges and pay the fee twice.

As it turned out, you can only negotiate one of those $1,500 exchanges a day, so I had to conduct one exchange one day, and another on the next day. This meant it took a total of three days for the entire sum of cash to be delivered, so plan ahead.

The fee I paid as a non-member at TD Bank was $10 per $1,500, which is .0066%, which does not seem too bad.

Wells Fargo charged a friend of mine 3% for the transaction, or, $45. She said she could conduct a free-of-fee exchange there due to being a member of Wells Fargo. Having a credit card or home loan from a bank usually qualifies them as being a member.

Supply and Wait Times

I learned that while some banks keep a bit of foreign currency in stock – probably in areas where there is a lot of international travel – some banks keep none. This branch did not keep any money on hand, so they order it.

The wait time was one day, with a much better chance of of next-day delivery if you order the bills in the morning.

Wells Fargo informed me that if they did not have sufficient currency on hand, there would be a three-day wait for additional bills. So, again, plan ahead.

Exchange Rates

The exchange rate for US dollars to Canadian was $1 = $1.35 Canadian, or, $1 Canadian = .74 US.

Interestingly, the exchange rate upon arrival in Cuba is .74 Cuban Peso to $1 Canadian, or, $1 Cuban Peso to $1.35 Canadian.

That meant we would exchange our US dollars twice, and end up right where we started number-wise!

Leaving the US With Cash

So, we all have Canadian money, at various fees that we paid, and will buy CUC when we get to Cuba. CUC and USD are equal, so, our, say $1,500 USD that becomes $1,800 Canadian is then $1,500 CUC – on the second exchange, it’s back to the same value. 

The place you lose money is in the fees – whether percent or transaction fees. If we have CUC leftover and change it back to Canadian, we lose more, and then back to USD will cost me another $10. 

I suppose it is well worth it to spend $30 in three $10 fees to avoid losing $195 to the 13%.

Exchange #2 – CADECA or Bank

Upon arrival in Cuba, you might need money for the taxi, you have Canadian dollars, and you need CUC’s. The exchange rate at the airport is nearly the same as at banks.

There is a CADECA, exchange house, inside the airport in Havana, and one outside – the only difference is the outside one may have shorter lines.

Either will save you a trip to the bank, which has lower fees, but may be less convenient. On Cuban Peso vs CUC, it’s reiterated that the lines in banks are fierce.

I’ve read that hotels have the worst rates, so don’t wait until then.

Always get a receipt when exchanging money. It will have a count of how many of each bill – vericate that (verify and authenticate).

Watching Your C’s and P’s

$1 USD = 1 CUC
$1 USD = 25 CUP

When spending bills, make sure you receive change in the same currency. Don’t accept CUP as change from CUC – it’s worth far less.

Heading Home

After you pass security, grab one last meal on your pesos, then exchange back to Canadian so you can exchange one more time once you get home.

CUP // CUC Distinguishing

CUP: Has people on the note, is less colorful, there is no vertical line.

CUC: Has monuments, says “pesos convertibles” and a has vertical line on both sides. CUC’s are more colorful.

Which Currency Can You Exchange in Cuba

CAD – Canadian dollar
GBP – British Pound
MXN – Mexican Peso
CHF – Swiss Franc
EUR – Euro
DKK – Danish Krone
SEK – Swedish Krona
JPY – Japanese Yen
USD – US Dollar (a 10% tax is applied before the exchange)
CUC – Cuban Convertible Peso

In Which Currency Should I Take on My Trip to Cuba, the exchange rate as of February 19, 2019 was reported for both Casas de Cambio – Exchange Houses, and in hotels, ports, and airports.

Where to Exchange in Cuba

In that article, it’s advised to only change money at a Cadeca money exchange office, and not at a hotel. Apparently the difference in exchange rate at the airport Cadeca and one in the city is less than 1%, so convenience may be your deciding factor.

Some visitors reported that their most valuable commodity was time, so the time spent searching for a half or even a full percentage rate better was not the best use of their precious time when they could be socializing with locals.

Comparing the Rates Overall

Interestingly, the article mentioned above includes a comments section where many seasoned travelers to Cuba weigh in on the whole topic.

It seems that due to having to complete two exchanges, some people view the 10% tax from USD to CUC as less than the total of the other exchange fees for changing USD to Canadian then to CUC!

Also, plenty of information was presented on exchanging and spending USD in Cuba; that very often, with discretion, the Cubans would like to be the ones to earn that exchange fee themselves, so take crisp large denomination USD bills.

What Else to Read About Cuba Travel

How to Legally Travel to Cuba in 5 Easy Steps (After Trump Changes)

How to Travel Like a Local in Cuba (It’s NOT What You Think)

Facts About Life in Cuba from Baracoa to Havana

The 14 Best Places to Visit in Cuba in 2019

What to Read Next

The Importance of the Queen Conch to the Bahamas

How to Eat Well in Homestead, FL – or Anywhere

Updated February 15, 2021


Leave a Comment

WP2Social Auto Publish Powered By : XYZScripts.com
Application-Confirmation 1.0 Verify-File 013e980104dec2d39acba78865f09e1e316adccd