The country has two currencies, which is fascinating for a few days, the National Peso written as CUP and the Convertible Peso written as CUC or also known locally as the kook or dollar.
There are plans to change to one currency and started the first part of this process on the 1st February 2015 by issuing new higher denomination National Pesos notes, and arranging for all establishments to accept them, perviously some shops would only accept Convertible Pesos known locally as dollar stores. There are no timescales on how long the transition will take so right now it is important to know the difference between them and how to exchange Convertible Pesos for National Pesos.
On the street in Cuba, the word “pesos” can refer to both the National Peso and the Convertible Peso, yes can be confusing.
One Convertible Pesos is worth or can be exchanged for 24 National Cuban Peso. This does not remove the confusion for tourists as Convertible Pesos, can be, but not always, referred to as dollars.
Don’t worry within a few hours or days you should be a pro.
The colour and images on the Convertibles Pesos banknotes are very different to the National Peso and the Convertibles Pesos banknotes have “Pesos Convertibles” clearly written on the centre. For first time travellers you can distinguish the difference as Convertibles Pesos have pictures of monuments on the front and National Peso have pictures of faces.
There are denominations of 100, 50, 20, 10, 3 and 1.
Items purchased in National Pesos are likely to have had price controls or be outside the areas of tourists. Ice Cream can be purchased for 1 National Peso but tourists do pay Convertibles Pesos, 23 times more as prices are perceived as low.
Before arriving in Cuba United States’ travellers should exchange USD dollars for any other currency, so Euros are best, but so are Canadian Dollars and British Sterling Pounds, (No, its not called Queen’s Elizabeth money and no I do not know HRH either!). In Cuba USD exchanges are taxed between 12-20%.