Inside Cuba: Currency and Credit Cards
The convertible peso (CUC) is a closed currency, which means it cannot be purchased outside of Cuba. You can change your money at the CADECA (money exchange bureau) at the Airport on landing in Cuba or in its offices around Cuba as well as in the Cuban banks and hotels.
For changing sterling cash, it will be better to travel with bills of £10, £20 or £50 denomination. The exchange rate at present is very good at roundabout 1.85 CUC to £1. You can check the daily rate at the following link, looking at Libra Esterlina and then checking the rate in the column headed CANJE:
The cashier at the CADECA will examine each note carefully sometimes by use of ultra violet light and also by manual inspection so it is very important that all your UK sterling notes are in good condition. Please note that no foreign coinage can be exchanged, notes only. A good recommendation is that you only exchange £10 or £20 at the Airport CADECA as their rates are sometimes lower than those at the CADECA'S offices inland, banks and hotels. In order to be at the safe place, also check the cashier's calculation, plus ask for a receipt and check the money you receive carefully and make sure it tallies with the amount shown on the receipt. It is recommended do not take travelers cheques because, not only will you pay a commission when exchanging them, but if you lose them you cannot get them replaced in Cuba; you will have to wait until you return home.
With regard to the use of credit or debit cards in Cuba the following applies: No card issued by a bank that has any connection with the United States will be accepted in Cuba. Therefore First Direct, Capital One, American Express and MBNA cards will not work in Cuba. UK debit cards with the VISA logo will not be able to be used to purchase goods or pay for trips but can be used in ATM's or to draw money from a CADECA office
Much is made of the so called 11% plus charge for using your credit card in Cuba, but this is a myth. As the CUC is not traded internationally, any transaction in CUC's has first of all to be converted into $US in order for it to be charged to your card. As the CUC is a valued above the US dollar and to buy 1 CUC at today's rate it costs around 1.1124 USD (when changing us cash money an additional fee of 10% will be also applied) therefore any transaction has to be multiplied by that figure (or whatever it is on any given day) to arrive at the charge in US dollars. When you receive your credit card statement the rate used to convert from US dollars to Sterling is the business rate which is higher than the tourist rate so that helps reduce the total transaction costs.
The new Thomas Cook credit card, issued by Barclaycard, offers a 0% foreign exchange fee on purchases abroad, effective from 30th June 2007, whereas most of the major banks cards charge a 2.75% fee.