You can’t get Cuban pesos in the US (or any other country for that matter) before you go to Cuba. You must wait in line at an exchange window at the airport in order to get Cuban Pesos. Unfortunately, this means waiting in a long line after a long morning of flying. In addition, the Cuban government imposes a 13% tax (10% penalty plus 3% exchange fee) to those who come from the US and want to exchange US dollars. One way around this is to get either Canadian dollars or Euros prior to going to Cuba. Lucky for us, Brian works at a bank with an exchange desk so we did the math to see if it made sense for use to get Euros prior to going to Cuba. Here’s what we learned.
We decided to take $500 USD to Cuba. That gives us a budget of $125 per day. One Cuban Convertible Peso (CUP) is worth $1USD. It’s basically a tourist currency that Castro created to be used only by visiting tourists. Cuban locals use the local peso which is called the CUC. If we took our $500 USD straight to Cuba to exchange, we would only receive $435 CUC. Our buying power in Cuba goes down 13% when we convert from USD straight to Cuban Convertibles. That’s a pretty hefty exchange fee! We checked at our exchange desk here locally and learned that we could exchange our $500USD into Euros (rate of €1.1363EURO to 1.00USD). We got €440 in exchange for our $500USD. When we take these Euros to Cuba, we will get an exchange rate somewhere in the range of €1.00 to $1.09CUC. This means that our original $500 USD will be exchanged from €440 Euros into $479CUC. Instead of getting $435 for our original $500, we will have $479 to spend in Cuba instead. In our case, it made sense to convert to Euros prior to our trip. If you can’t get a good exchange rate on Euros in the States, it most likely doesn’t make sense to convert before you go. Also, the dollar amount makes a difference too. Honestly, for such a small dollar amount, we could have easily just taken the hit and paid the 13%. However, since getting Euros was very easy for us, we decided to just go ahead do it.