1. Cuban currency is NOT traded internationally, so you can’t buy it in advance. You buy it when you arrive in Cuba.
2. Cuba has two major currencies: Cuban Convertible CUC and Cuban Peso CUP. The major currency and one used for first time visitors is the Cuban Convertible, CUC. 1 CUC = 0.85 USD
Note: a 10% penalty is charged when exchanging US dollars, so you will receive 80-87 centavos CUC per US dollar after the 10% penalty and 3% currency exchange fee.
If you have Euros or even Mexican pesos from previous trips, bring them to avoid the penalty exchange fee that applies only to USD.
3. The second currency, Cuban Peso CUP, is used mostly by locals and has very little value. 1 CUP = 4 US cents. You will be using those only for shared taxis, as bus tokens, or to buy small snacks. If getting familiar with both currencies is too much, definitely stick to CUC.
Make sure to always tip in the more valuable CUC.
Once you get a feel for Cuba – if you speak a little Spanish it will be even better – there are peso bars and restaurants that can be quite interesting.
4. AVOID currency scams! It’s not uncommon in certain situations to be scammed by being charged in CUC but given your change in CUP. Therefore it’s a good idea to know how to recognize the two different currencies:
Note: The 3 CUP bill with the image of Che makes a nice inexpensive souvenir.
Never exchange money on the street!
5. American Credit Cards do not work in CUBA – make sure that you have enough cash with you. You will not be able to get more from an ATM.