Spending money in Cuba
December 7, 2006 5:33 AM   Subscribe

How does one go about tipping in Cuba? How easily does one get money out there?

Last time I went to Cuba (3 years ago) tipping hotel staff was common place - a dollar here and there being the norm.

Since then they've changed to the convertible peso and I've heard it alleged many times that it's illegal for Cubans to own them.

Has this stopped tipping or does it just happen under the counter, or in dollars?

Secondly, we've been told that we can't get the money outside of Cuba and to take non-American based stirling traveller's cheques, and change them out there. How easy is it to do this? Is it a hotel reception job or a trip into town?
posted by twine42 to Travel & Transportation around Cuba (5 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I don't think it is exactly legal for Cubans to have dollars either. The abundance of dollars helped to fuel a large black market economy and that may be one reason why the government started to collect them. Many Cubans can still funnel dollars through their relatives living in America to get hard goods so I think you can still tip with the greenbacks, under the table of course.
posted by JJ86 at 7:59 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: My experience is based on staying at a resort in Cuba in October 2006. Tipping is still common place. I'm not sure where you heard that it was illegal for Cubans to own the CUC (convertible peso), but I wonder if you got it the other way around, because tourists are not supposed to have/own/spend the regular Cuban peso. CUC = for tourists, Cuban peso = for Cubans. I don't think it's illegal for Cubans to own the CUC as much as it is impossible for them to spend it anywhere once they leave the hotels.

CUC's are more expensive to buy than the regular peso, so tipping in CUC's is probably appreciated since it's worth more money to Cubans once they exchange it. We tipped only in CUC's and it is my understanding that staff can convert the CUC's to regular Cuban pesos for their own use once they leave the hotel.

More info:
- Resort staff will probably come up to you and try to buy CUC's off you in exchange for the CAD/US/Euro cash some people tip instead of CUC
- You should be able to convert your cash at the hotel (our resort had its own exchange counter) or at the airport. Not sure how easy it would be in town. We went down with Canadian cash and were able to exchange it into CUC at the airport without problems. I didn't see anyone with traveller's cheques - just cash. Do *not* bring American cash though, they can't do anything with it, and I am not sure you could exchange it.
posted by impactorange at 8:12 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: We went to Cuba in August 2006. My experiences were similar to impactorange's. Cubans use the regular Pesos, tourists use the Convertible Pesos (CUC). We brought Canadian dollars and changed about half at the airport and the other half at the hotel as we needed it. Did not see anyone using traveler's cheques.

You can use a Visa card (not sure about Mastercard, Amercian Express is definitely not accepted) in Cuba as long as it is not tied to an American bank. Since we could pay for the day trips and diving with the credit card, it greatly reduced the ammount of cash we had to carry, only enought for souvenirs, tips and snacks in town. Also, some hotels will give you cash advances off your card.

We tipped with the convertible pesos, which seemed to be the norm. At our hotel, the staff still accepted tips in all currencies and exchanged them at the hotel change counter. Because of this, no one came up to us to exchange CUC's.

You cannot get CUCs outside of Cuba. You can change US dollars at most change counters but there is a 10-40% penalty on top of the exchange rate, depending on the amount converted.

Note that the CUC is worth about 40 times more than the regular pesos, makes sure you are getting the right kind of bills back as change. This is not a problem in hotels though.
posted by TinTitan at 9:49 AM on December 7, 2006

Best answer: Oh, something else. If you bank with HSBC, don't count on your credit cards working in Cuba, even if your branch isn't US-based. A Canadian we met ran into this problem for whatever reason.

Also, I think it probably varies by hotel, but the exchange counter at ours only let you buy CUC, and wouldn't buy back our leftover CUC (we wanted CAD funds). I would suggest taking cash and only exchanging small amounts as needed to avoid leaving with CUC. We did use our Visa for things like excursions, though.
posted by impactorange at 10:13 AM on December 7, 2006

Response by poster: Guys, thanks for that.

I've now got a dilema - I've never checked an answer as best before, and now I want to check you all for your help.

Chocolate cookies for all.
posted by twine42 at 12:50 AM on December 8, 2006

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